Every Christmas season, I get "The 12 Days of Christmas" stuck in my head.
My family and I do our best to focus on the true reason for the season, which is the birth of Christ, but there is certainly nothing wrong with the fun traditions we have at Christmas here in the United States. Whether it is the many super catchy Christmas songs or the legend of Santa Claus, it is truly a special time in many ways.
Since I am bound to get that song stuck in my head, I thought it would be fun to give 12 outdoors encounters you can have this Christmas season right here in our great states.
Here we go...
South Texas Rut:
The whitetail breeding season in South Texas is just starting to kick off. The latest in the nation, it can run into February and offers Brush Country hunters the ultimate opportunity at scoring on a mega buck, which that region has in large numbers. There is nothing in deer hunting like watching a sendero in that area during the rut as bucks chase does, fight one another and exhibit truly awesome behavior.
Crappie fishing heats up when the weather cools down on the East Texas reservoirs like Toledo Bend where seemingly endless numbers of these great fish stack up in the old river channel. Check your local reservoirs deep holes and river beds for crappie in the coming weeks and chances are you will find some.
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Ridiculously Large Redfish:
The comeback of the redfish has been truly tremendous. Catching breeding-sized bull reds used to be a rarity but now it is commonplace and the giant fish can be caught in the surf and around our jetty systems year-round.
Natural bait is still the weapon of choice for bull redfish anglers. Lower a live croaker or cut mullet around a deep jetty hole or chunk it out past the second sandbar in the surf and be prepared to do battle with a brute.
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I love wildlife photography and while predator hunting can be fun, I prefer hunting them with a camera as it is incredibly challenging to get them into photo range. Bobcats can be called into within a few feet but it requires patience. Get you a solid electronic game calling unit, set up a ground blind on your deer lease or wood lot near your home and start calling. Bird calls and dying rabbits tend to work the best. Cats come in slow but will come in closer than you might like.
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The Texas Sharelunker season kicks off Oct. 1 but very few entries of 13 pound or larger bass start coming in until December. It is typically only a couple but I believe that has more to do with the lack of angler effort that the fish biting. Throwing big jigs and swimbaits around deep cover and structure can yield monster bass on virtually any lake in the state but Falcon, Sam Rayburn, Lake Austin, Fork, Choke Canyon and Conroe are my top picks for mega bass this month.
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If you can find something more fun than shooting at wood ducks piling into a hole in the timber let me know. I want to experience it. Texas wood duck numbers are larger and now with three in the bag limit we have an extra incentive to hunt the nations most beautiful fowl.
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My first hunt was walking down a fence line on my Aunt Anns property and spotlighting rabbits with a head lamp. And it was (and still is) legal. Hunting rabbits at night is loads of fun and is a great way to introduce kiddos to hunting. Plus, rabbits are super tasty and with the rain we had in much of the state this year, the cottontail and swamp rabbit crop is booming.
If you read the story I wrote about TF&G columnist Dustin Ellermann and my helicopter hog hunting adventure you know this is super fun stuff. We hunted with the JB Hunting Ranch in Matagorda County and had a blast. It is not for everyone because the price is high but if you have the means treat yourself to an incredible hunting experience. The ride in the helicopter alone is worth it.
Geese for Christmas:
Want a great Thanksgiving dinner? Then head out to the coastal prairie and take you a couple of specklebellies. These dark geese are delicious and super fun to hunt. We rarely eat goose for Christmas in Texas but new traditions can be made.
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Of course I would mention flounder. After all I am borderline obsessed with them. Very few anglers realize the first two weeks of December offers great flounder fishing around the passes leading to the Gulf. And not all flounder migrate out so there will be flounder in various areas in our bay systems throughout the winter. Switching to light spinning rods with fluorocarbon line and tiny curl-tailed grubs and shad imitations can help you score on these holdover fish.
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Very few fish taste better than whiting and there are tons of them in the surf this month. Look for clear calm days and fish dead shrimp or small chunks of cut bait to catch these odd-looking but delectable fish.
Hill Country Bighorns:
Our last Christmas outdoors treat is truly unique and this is the first place you will hear about it.
Thanks to rancher and exotic hunting innovator Thompson Temple, a new breed of exotic sheep is part of the diverse fauna of the region. It is called the "Hill Country Bighorn".
Thirty years ago Temple attempted to create a bighorn-mouflon hybrid that would be able to live in the rocky regions of Central Texas.
"The problem is bighorns have very poor immune systems so when they get close to domestic sheep they can die. The first experiment did not work out but the Lord blessed me with a unique opportunity in recent years," Temple said.
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According to Temple, Milt Sanburg of Montrose, Co. had a herd of mouflon sheep. Rocky Mountain bighorn rams from the nearby national forest periodically came over and bred a number of ewes. The result was 10 to 15 rams and ewes that were 1/2 bighorn and 1/2 mouflon.
"The rams were very impressive," Temple said.
"Alan Baier of Collbran, Co. and myself met with the Colorado Fish and Game. They were anxious to get the crossbreeds out of Colorado. An agreement was reached to transport the sheep to my ranch in Texas."
In recent years, Temple began replacing the mouflon portion of the sheep with a larger breed of sheep- Stumberg Sheep.
"I have also purchased Urial rams to do the same thing. The results have been fantastic. Heavy bodied rams with large thick horns have been harvested," Temple said.
True bighorns whether they are the desert or Rocky Mountain variety are extremely expensive to hunt. Hunters pay upwards of $20,000 (and in some instances much more) or draw tags in a lottery system to pursue these prized animals.
"I wanted to create a bighorn that is affordable for anyone. We have had only a limited number available because our herd is still growing but these cost a mere fraction of what a typical bighorn would cost," Temple said.
I spent time at Temples Ranch in Real County last summer and was amazed at how wary these sheep are in comparison to corsicans that were present for example. Most ram species hunted in Texas range from only semi wary to truly wild. These Hill Country bighorns were extremely wild.
During my brief stay, it was impossible to get photos of them on the main ranch but even in the breeding pen, they ran into their hiding area as soon as I walked up. This trait will make them a worthy quarry and give them the ability to elude predators like cougars and coyotes.
Hunting opportunities for these animals are limited at this point but Temples herd is growing and within the next decade, they will likely become one of Texas most sought after exotics. Encountering them in person was fascinating and I am excited there is a bighorn available for the average hunter.
We often talk about taking kids our hunting or fishing to spark their interest in the outdoors and that is important but simply allowing them to encounter wild things is equally important.
You see I have never been just interested in the hook and bullet aspects of the outdoors but have a deep fascination for the outdoors. I crave wild encounters in a powerful away and by having such a deep love for wildlife, all of my outdoors experiences are fuller and richer.
There are many times I have never taken a shot or even seen a deer, hog or other game animal I was pursuing but I always see something wild, beautiful and untamed.
With Christmas upon us in a year with a down economy, some of you might feel guilty for the inability to buy expensive gifts or any gifts at all.
If you are reading this column, you obviously have an interest in the outdoors and that alone allows you to give the gift of encounters.
Take your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and other children in your life, fishing, hunting or simply on a hike through woods. Approach it from the perspective that you are in a truly wild place and anything you encounter is a blessing. Whether it is a majestic red cardinal or a coyote, you are getting a glimpse at Creations best and instilling a love for the outdoors in a young person.
Sometimes the best opportunities for encounters for young children come in places like zoos and aquariums. They do not always have the patience for long hikes but a place like a local zoo. Photograph all of these excursions. You can get prints made from digital photos for just a few cents apiece and buy photo albums for a couple of dollars.
A great way to top off an opportunity to encounter wild things is giving them photos of their trip. These will help build powerful memories they will one-day share with their own children. I hope you can give any gift you see on these pages or in the store but if you cannot do not despair.
Never discount the power of giving those kinds that involve you investing your time in their life because most of the time they are the best of all.