Lynn Burkhead — Outdoors world the perfect Thanksgiving backdrop this year

Herald Democrat
Few Texomaland outdoors enthusiasts need to be reminded of how challenging the year 2020 has been. But from the beauty of daily sunrises to the turning of the seasons to spending time with loved ones afield in the pursuit of game and fish, there is still much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving season.

To say that the year 2020 has been difficult — even for outdoors enthusiasts — might be the understatement of a year unlike any other.

But while there’s certainly been much to be anxious for and grumble about since the calendar changed on Jan. 1, there’s always something to be grateful for, as long as you’re willing to look hard enough, that is.

That’s what I’m hoping to do this morning as the last of my wife’s Thanksgiving Day pumpkin pie — or maybe it will be pecan this time—gets polished off with a couple of early morning cups of hot coffee.

With a Denison football game to call in a few hours on 93.1 FM KMKT, there won’t be any personal time for a hunting or fishing adventure this morning, but there will be a chance to hit the pause button and remember all that I’ve got to be thankful for this year.

I’ll readily admit that’s a more difficult chore this year, given the virus and my worries about its effects on myself, my family, and my friends. I’ve lost some friends through this, had a number of others gets sick, and have lived with the same worries and restrictions everyone else has for months now. In short, when the clock strikes midnight and another New Years is ushered in a few weeks from now, good riddance to 2020.

But even with that sentiment, I remain determined this holiday season to remember what I’ve got to be thankful for. For starters, that includes my family — my wife Charissa, my daughter Katie and her husband Tim, my son Zach as he prepares to graduate from SOSU in a few days, and my son Will, as he prepares to graduate from Stephen F. Austin next month and marry Ashley next spring.

As noted above, with a Yellow Jacket football broadcast upcoming, I won’t be able to get outdoors today, but my boys will be under no such obligations. In fact, as you’re reading this, they are likely to be in a deer stand or duck blind somewhere, enjoying another one of the Creator’s glorious sunrises easing over the eastern horizon.

As they settle in, they’ll likely feel a breeze against their face as the last of the autumn leaves fall from Texomaland’s various trees as wintertime approaches. And that brings something else to be grateful for in this season of Thanksgiving, just the simple fact that for all of the suffering and misery this year, at least the globe continues to spin on its axis and the sun has continued to rise each and every day.

No matter how much toilet paper you have — or do not have — out in the garage or in the pantry.

When that sun has risen each morning, it has often been accompanied by some form of weather and wind. Now admittedly, that wind has been a bit too much in places this summer and fall after the busy hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico. But it has also marked the changing of the seasons, and with it, a variety of different opportunities to get out and hunt and fish in the great outdoors landscape found across Texas.

For yours truly this past spring, that involved the pull of egg laden largemouth bass as they whacked a jerkbait in the pre-spawn, sucked in a green pumpkin lizard during the shallow water days of the breeding cycle, or obliterated a deer hair topwater bug as a fly line swished through the warmth of a post-spawn outing as the sun slipped towards the western horizon.

With that last idea in mind, I fished a fair amount this past spring with my 8-weight fly rod — by the way, kudos to Dallas-based Temple Fork Outfitters this past spring for a quick and painless rod tip replacement after a broken tip suffered by a slammed truck door — and in general, had a less productive year than I would have liked.

Part of that was from trying to stay away from people as the early days of the pandemic unfolded, the news headlines grew scarier, and we all became familiar with mask wearing and social distancing practices.

Ironically enough, even in a less than memorable spring, I actually caught my biggest bucketmouth bass of the year on one of the worst weather days of 2020. I never imagined a hefty largemouth in inches of water smashing my deer hair popper when a spring cold front blew in and had the afternoon temperature dipping into the upper 30s, but that’s exactly what happened. I guess in retrospect, that’s 2020 for you, right?

While I haven’t been out as much as I’d like this year, when I have, I’ve discovered that the world continues to turn and the outdoors remains unchanged, even if the lives of many outdoors enthusiasts has.

Here in Texas, Rio Grande turkeys still gobbled lustily this past spring, the stripers at Lake Texoma ferociously blitzed bait balls of shad this summer, and the mourning doves still flew fast and hard on the sultry breezes of early September.

As the fall season has deepened and the leaves have turned to the glorious shades found only on the Creator’s autumn canvas, white-tailed bucks were scarring local trees and digging with their hooves into the dirt over the past month. That, of course, has been followed by the November rutting frenzy as big bucks throw caution to the wind, run hard after a Grayson County doe, and continue the species for another year.

And then there have been the recent pushes of mallards, gadwalls, pintails, and more into the southern reaches of the Great Plains as the changing of the seasons and the north wind push the annual migration button once again. With any luck, cold weather in December and January will keep the greenheads pushing into Texomaland, visiting the decoy spread bobbing in front of a duck blind that you and your whining retriever are occupying in the special moments when dawn turns to the full light of day.

As December arrives here in the Lone Star State, unfortunately, the quail hunting is suspect as predicted, but there’s still a chance for upland bird hunters to turn their pointing dogs loose and remove treasured double shotguns from the gun case.

That’s because of the woodcock, a staple in northern upland gunning circles, which pushes south on the season’s north winds each fall. Since many of those woodcock — timberdoodles, as some like to call them — arrive in the Pineywoods of East Texas over the winter, they give a would-be upland bird hunter like myself a chance to unleash some #8s into the air.

And find out what spurred on the lyrical prose of such outdoor writing giants like Gene Hill, Steve Smith, George Bird Evans, and more as they described the pursuit of a bird that weighs mere ounces. All against a forested backdrop as a pointer goes from 60 to 0 in a single second, nose flaring, eyes bugged out, and the tip of a locked up tail quivering ever so slightly as the canine hunter gets a snootful of an iconic upland game bird that few wingshooters know anything about in Texas.

In a few weeks, I hope to have added that experience to my own personal outdoors bucket list sometime in either late December or early January. And then, with the calendar pages turning from 2020 to 2021, I hope to turn my attention back to pursuing the bass, stripers, bucks, and ducks I’m far more familiar with.

Like many of you, I hope to find myself still here 12 months from now, with the virus becoming a bitter memory in a year where faith is still nurtured, family is still cherished, and the pursuit of game and fish species in the great outdoors of Texas has continued on despite the pandemic.

If such hopes are realized, I hope to be another year older, another year wiser, and most certainly, another year more thankful for all that I’ve been given.

In the meantime, here’s hoping and praying that you experience the same and that those dear to you have enjoyed a safe, healthy and happy Thanksgiving that won’t soon be forgotten.

Even if the crazy year that it has occurred in certainly will be.