As Christmas Day fades into the rearview mirror, there is once again little doubt in my mind that the month of December is without a doubt the most wonderful time of the year.
After a week of gathering with family and friends — we sure missed your presence Dad — the brightly wrapped presents under the tree are now possessions, the Santa cookies and the Divinity are nearly gone, and its almost time for the lights and decorations to come down until the next scheduled visit from St. Nicholas.
As I reflect on the message and meaning of the Nativity, it’s also time to contemplate a year of blessings — and challenges — that came during 2017. Not to mention making a few course corrections just in time for the coming of a New Year as the calendar prepares to flip to 2018 on Monday, Jan. 1st.
If you’re searching for a few ideas about how to spend some time outdoors in the coming year, then consider a few of these month-by-month suggestions:
January — There is nothing better on a cold winter morning than to hear a mallard hen squawking back to a pleading comeback call from a Sure-Shot Yentzen One2 duck call.
If the tone is just right — and it almost always is on any Yentzen call that Charlie Holder sells — the ducks will turn on the corners and more than one greenhead drake will “put their boots on,” reaching bright orange “red legs” for the water
As the dog whines in anticipation, if my shot rings true, then the main ingredients for a duck dinner will be collected. And with a little luck, perhaps there will also be a flash of silver banded jewelry for the duck call lanyard.
February — The second month on the calendar is a good time to go on “pig patrol,” aiming to bag a few hams, tenderloins, and backstraps as we all do our part to trim down Texas’ out of control wild hog problem.
First introduced into what is now Texas in 1539 by Hernando de Soto, feral pig herds expanded in the mid-1600s when the LaSalle expedition brought hogs to portions of the Texas coast.
How many wild pigs are there in the Lone Star State now? With some two-thirds of the state providing adequate habitat, some 2.6 million wild hogs were estimated to live in the Lone Star State back in 2011 according to a study by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
A good number live here in Grayson County. How many? Well, one friend has trapped a few dozen this year while another has seen deer sightings decrease as the local porkers have expanded their numbers.
And out at Hagerman NWR, refuge personnel continue to wage war on the unwanted and destructive feral swine.
The bottom line here is that February is a good time to take a few feral hogs from the landscape. Because even if you do, odds are it will only make a dent in their burgeoning numbers.
March — While the third month of the year can sometimes be chilly, there’s no better time for an angler to catch a double-digit largemouth bass than during the Lone Star State’s version of March Madness.
While lizards and soft plastics can work wonders on spawning fish in skinny water, don’t forget Chatterbaits, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and jerkbaits used to tempt big pre-spawn females just off the bank on a breakline in eight to 12-feet of water.
For a March change of pace, there is no better place to target a 30-inch speckled trout - a so-called Gator Trout - than in the waters near the King Ranch in sprawling Baffin Bay. Show up with a good saltwater baitcasting rig…and a tape measure, of course.
April — While this is the peak month for wildflowers in the Lone Star State, it’s also time for a little tomfoolery.
Because whether you find yourself in the woods chasing a Rio Grande turkey gobbler — or a rare Eastern bird in the state’s northeastern corner — there isn’t much in the outdoors world that matches Mr. Johnny Gobbler sounding off and bellowing his amorous intentions for all of the world to hear.
Especially when you snap off the safety on your shotgun and invite the lovesick longbeard to Thanksgiving dinner.
May — Truth be known, few things are more fun than a two or three-weight Orvis fly rod, a collection of small poppers, some light leader material and a lake filled with the moon-like craters of bluegill spawning beds.
When conditions are right in the late spring and early summer, the fishing is superbly good on several East Texas lakes with a good supply of bream beds. So good, in fact, that a hundred or more bream can be caught in a single outing.
That’s why my Orvis-endorsed guide friend Rob Woodruff’s mobile number is on speed dial this month as I anticipate catching a few bluegills for the sizzling peanut oil while releasing the rest for outings in years yet to come.
June — It may be the most inhospitable piece of water in the state, situated literally in the middle of nowhere in southwest Texas to the north of Lake Amistad.
This river, the aptly named Devil’s River, traverses desert terrain that is literally crawling with rattlesnakes, scorpions, tarantulas, and “No Trespassing” signs.
But devilish surroundings or not, it may also be the most scenic fishery in the state thanks to the river’s turquoise clear and cool spring-fed waters featuring smallmouth bass weighing five-pounds or better and largemouths tipping the scales from five to eight-pounds.
With a couple of experienced guide services offering multi-day float trips, take this “bucket list” angling trip before it gets too hot.
July — Tom Bean resident Steve Hollensed has made a career out of chasing Lake Texoma striped bass on the fly with his Orvis eight-weight fly rods.
And while a number of months shine for such fishing — including right now since Hollensed reported last week he is catching good numbers of big stripers on the fly — there is perhaps no month better than late June into early July.
Why? Because that’s when the reservoir’s famous summertime linesider blitzes literally explode into action on the 89,000-acre reservoir.
Find an acre or two of Texoma surface water boiling with stripers voraciously feeding on threadfin shad and you’ll remember the sights and sounds for years to come. Especially after you toss one of Hollensed’s hand-tied poppers into the melee and feel a striper sound for the bottom.
August — Read the angling literature and all of the experts say that Florida is the place to go for a tarpon.
But not for me. As a Texan — especially one enthralled by the return of migratory tarpon to the Lone Star State’s saltwater in recent years — I hope to jump and land my first tarpon at Port O’Connor, maybe with Texas saltwater fly rod guru Capt. Kevin Townsend, host of the popular TV Show “The KT Diaries.”
And with any luck, it will happen during the late summer of 2018, on a fly rod of course.
If the fly rod isn’t your thing, you can target big, deep water tarpon off Galveston with Capt. Mike Williams of Tarpon Express. Or you can try for tarpon around the state’s big jetties or in the Padre Island surf with spinning tackle or baitcasting gear.
September — As a hunter, Sept. 1st ranks right up there with the celebrations of Christmas, Easter, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, my anniversary and the birthdays of my wife and kids.
While I loathe the searing heat and drought of a Red River Valley summer, I don’t mind it so much in early fall as I sit around a dwindling waterhole situated near a harvested grainfield or a sunflower patch.
Especially when the local mourning doves begin to fly as the late afternoon sun sinks slowly towards the horizon.
October — While the 10th month of the year means early archery season for Texas whitetails, it’s also stick-and-string time for the state’s “other” deer, the mule deer.
Admittedly, taking a big antlered muley with a bow can be especially difficult. But it can be done as former Dodd City resident and Grayson County College student Jonathan Burpo proved on the opening day of the 2004-05 early archery season.
After seeing a big Texas mule deer during pre-season scouting, Burpo capped a lengthy stalk with a 20-yard shot from his Mathews bow. The shot was good and Burpo’s big muley — his first bow-killed animal ever — also happened to be the best Pope and Young Club mule deer buck ever taken with archery tackle in the Lone Star State.
While I’d like to top that phenomenal 5-by-5 typical muley - it sports a net score of 185 7/8 inches - I doubt I’ll ever be that picky when a good Panhandle or Trans Pecos mule deer buck wanders by just close enough for me to silently bring my bow back to full draw.
November — Dallas Morning News outdoors writer Ray Sasser has often said that he once asked Murphy Ray, one of the early gurus of modern deer management in Texas, when the best time was to tag a big Lone Star State whitetail buck.
Ray’s answer? Sasser quotes him as saying: “I’ll take the rut. You can have everything else.”
If you’ve ever been perched in a North Texas treestand as the November woods come alive with gnarly antlered bucks chasing estrous does around, you totally understand why.
December — I’ve often said that if I lived in prime pheasant country, I’d be ruined thanks to a noisy and gaudy upland bird sporting more colors than a Christmas tree filled with ornaments.
Why is that? Because marching through a grain field, tromping through CRP grasslands, or busting the brush next to a creek-bottom in pursuit of wild ring-necked pheasants is about as fun as wingshooting can get.
Add in the fact that a rooster is as fine an epicurean experience on the table as the outdoors can produce and its easy to see why I am so enamored with these birds.
With any luck, the last month of 2018 will find me back in Texas pheasant country, tromping through the Panhandle in pursuit of a limit of ringnecks.
Just in time for another Christmas celebration with family and friends.