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The Central Texas Outdoors
One of the best things about the Central Texas area is the abundance of places to hunt and fish. From largemouth bass to rainbow trout, big whitetail deer to the elusive white wing dove, this area has it all.
Starting with our area lakes the opportunities are clear.
Lake Travis, Canyon Lake, Walter E. Long (Decker), Lake Austin and Town
Lake all have friendly bank fishing and boating.
Canyon Lake is known as a favorite for bass fishing. Top water lures in early morning hours can produce good quantities of quality bass. Perch fishing is also a favorite around rock out cropping using worms and crickets for bait.
Walter E. Long or Decker as it is known by the old-timers is a great place for hybrid stripers and catfish. Bank fishing is available and there is an old bait shop right outside the gate. There is also a large population of giant large mouth bass that live in this small power plant paradise.
Lake Austin is renowned for its large bass and a favorite for night bass fishermen. It is also a favorite for recreational boaters and so fishing on off peak days and off peak hours is recommended. This lake has produced some record-breaking fish. Cat fishing and striper fishing at the upper end has also produced some monsters.
Town Lake in downtown Austin. Rent a canoe in Zilker Park or bring your own, this lake in the middle of the big city is a breeding ground for big bass. It is overlooked because of its proximity to the core of the city but don’t be fooled. Bank fishing has not been real good because it is hard to find a good spot- but an avid angler can find a honey hole if they are persistent.
The Llano, San Marcos, Blanco and San Gabriel rivers are all phenomenal fly-fishing destinations. This area boasts the largest fly fishing clubs in the country. A river float trip is something every fisherman or woman should try. Clean, clear cool waters offer a floater a relaxed trip as they cast along the shore for bass and perch. Fall and spring temperatures bring out the best in these fishing destinations. Try surface flies in the morning and late in the day. Clousers and wooly buggers during the middle of the day. Some bank fishing is good with kids; try around the bridges and shorelines with worms or crickets.
There are also many ponds and streams to fish in Central Texas and in the local communities that surround the area. Check with local parks departments and Chambers of Commerce for maps and directions.
Hunting in Texas is a 5 billion dollar a year industry. The central Texas area boast one of the largest populations of whitetail deer in the country. Day leases, guides and outfitters are available for those traveling or just short on time. Public hunting lands are available and they can be found easily on-line or by ordering the public lands catalog from Texas Parks and Wildlife. Here are a few tips on selecting a guide or lease to hunt with.
Reputation: Get references and check them out. There is no better way to find out if a guide service or lease is worth the money than talking with someone who has hunted with them or on the property.
Type of hunting: Are you compatible with your guide or is the lease a bow hunting only. What does your guide specialize in, bird, deer, varmints?
Cost: This can very from lease to lease and guide service to guide service. Does the lease have accommodations, water, electricity, stands, feeders and they been filling the feeders? Does your guide trip include lodging, meals cleaning and packaging your game?
It will be harder to discern a piece of land than a guide of course but as with anything you invest hard earned money into, a little time in researching can save you a lot of time, money and regrets later. The most important thing is to just get outdoors, even more important than that, take the kids with you.
For more information, tips and links to help you find out more about the outdoor in central Texas check out www.texasoutdoorzone.com.
Winter Hog Hunting, Bringing Home the Bacon
As the feral hog continues to procreate and work its way into every nook and county in Texas, the lover of pork should rejoice. Yes, for the farmer, rancher and occasional golf course maintenance worker they are becoming a problem that won’t go away. For the hunter, the extreme grocery shopper, the opportunities to stock the freezer with ribs, chops and breakfast sausage are better than ever before.
Like fruit, wild game has different times of the year that it is better to harvest. For hogs it is winter. They have spent the fall porking out on acorns, small sprouts and the corn from feeders near and far. A thick layer of natural fat is marinating their ribs and hams as they wallow in nature’s cooler waiting to go home with you.
Where to look for the pork department in your hunting area.
Cold weather removes the vegetation along creek banks and between pastures, exposing the natural hiding places for hogs during the day. Check wallows, the mud pits on the edge of a creek or tank where water is or was. Another great way to find the hogs’ movement is to walk your property fence lines. Look for the game trails that pass under or through your fencing. Tree trunks will also show signs of pigulation with mud rubs on the truck in areas where they are active.
Drawing them in.
Firearms and arrows.
Shot placement is important if you are going to get all the finest parts of the meat; after all, that is the plan. Shoot from the neck up if possible. Never, ever leave your ambush spot right away. Pigs are greedy and many times will come right back out. I have seen them eat corn right on top of their fallen comrades, even nudging them out of the way to get the corn under them.
Bow hunters, beware of shooting the shoulder area. Big hogs, especially the hybrids and the Russian boars have a thick, cartilage shield over their vitals around the shoulder. You won’t make a kill shot through these plates of armour. You will need to take a shot when the hog is quartering away, of course, but the cart ledge goes back further than just behind the shoulder. This is a tricky shot but doable. Again any broad head or draw weight you would use on a deer is good.
Selecting the right porker for your freezer.
When you down a pig it is best to gut and hang it in a cool place for as long as you can, maybe a day or two. Hang them head down and rinse the body cavity several times a day. Do not, if at all possible, butcher your pig and put the meat directly into the ice chest. Leave as much fat on the meat as possible for your butcher. The natural fat is far better than the added beef fat or pork fat they add if you don’t.
Pork is a mainstay at our home year-round. Hog hunting is a family favorite. Winter brings us to nature’s meat counter each winter for specials on the finest pork available anywhere. Hams, ribs, chops and breakfast sausage from wild, free-range pork is one of the finest and leanest meats available. Don’t miss your chance to stock up this winter; with 2 million roaming Texas alone, there is plenty for everyone.
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The Texas Ram Slam
The opportunities to hunt in Texas are boundless. The deer season is long, the hogs are everywhere and dove, duck, pheasant and quail cover the countryside. For years the Lone Star State has also been the frontrunner for exotics game hunting. The first reported stocking of exotics in Texas was to the King Ranch in the 1930s from the San Diego Zoo. Since that time they have been accepted and cultivated into world-class animals across the state and country. In some cases the populations of these species in Texas now exceed the populations in their native countries. The mouflon sheep and Corsica ram were introduced in the late 1930s as well and have become a favorite for hunters. The challenge has always been there, but it was the grouping of several of the ram and sheep species that brought one special hunt to forefront -- the Texas Ram Slam.
The Texas Ram Slam is a work in progress for me. It is something I can plan, strategize and daydream of for months before each outing. Some guys I know have gone out and accomplished it in just a few days, I am not interested in ram-rodding it; I want to savor the experience and pick good animals and interesting ranches to hunt.
One of the leading experts on the Ram Slam is the humble Thompson Temple. Temple was instrumental in the birth of the slam. His background is solid including the interesting fact that he started the Records of Exotics in 1976.
Temple explains the slam, “The Texas Ram Slam can be done just about anywhere in the U.S. now where game ranch hunting is available. I call it the ‘the poor boy’s slam,’ the option to the expensive North American Grand Slam.”
The North American Slam requires the hunter to take all four subspecies of wild sheep in North America recognized by the Boone and Crocket Club: the Dall sheep, Stone sheep, Rocky Mountain bighorn and desert bighorn. Most of these hunts require the hunter to get the tags in state lottery style drawings. You can buy some of the tags from outfitters or in auction settings but expect to pay thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of dollars.
When you begin planning your Texas Ram Slam it is important to know your outfitter or ranch owner. I have heard stories of hunters being sold old goats, crossbred sheep and mixed breeds that don’t have a name. There are some ranches that may include or offer additional rams or sheep that are not part of the slam for an additional fee. Just make sure you understand which rams are which and how to score them.
The official rams to collect for the Texas Ram Slam would be the Texas Dahl (white)– Corsican Ram (brown without curling horns) – Black Hawaiian Ram (black) or Mouflon Ram (brown with horns curling into face). There are some crossbred bloodlines out there that have been used to increase horn size or color but are still recognized under these breeds.
Affordability is also a feature that cannot be overlooked. There are hunts for rams that start as low as $150. This is a great way to get kids involved in the sport without breaking the bank. When you hunt with kids they need to see game; if not you lose them quickly to boredom. Most ram hunts I have been on have been well organized and the success rate is high.
If you are going to hunt record book animals, expect to pay anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 for a gold class. These rams should bear horns 30+ inches in length. Silver record will be in the 28” class and goes from $500 to $2,500. The bronze is in the 25” range and can go for as little as $250.
Temple said you need to ask yourself the question, “What is the purpose of the hunt? Is it the experience, the trophy, the harvest of the animal, the challenge of the hunt, time spent with someone? Ram hunts can be very affordable and you can accomplish some or all of these things.”
The prices vary for several reasons including lodging, actual quality of the animals and guide fees. Take time to check around and get references from the outfitters or ranches.
When it comes to firepower for what can be a very illusive game animal, I would recommend a flat shooting long gun like the .270. There are a lot of ranches that offer pistol hunts for rams, which can be one of the hardest and most rewarding adventures you can experience. There is also the archer who lives and dies by the bow. The ram slam can be a great way to sharpen your skills and test your abilities.
The Texas Ram Slam is great way to spend the “off season” hunting. With all the options and ranches available just about anyone can begin to work on their own slam and the “ram”-ification will be an improved collection of hunter-décor and skills.
A Birthday Gift for Dad on His Son’s Birthday
Now I have never professed to be the best bass fisherman. In my younger days I bass fished every week, sometimes twice a week. I fished in bass tournaments in my local area and always thought I was going to “kick some bass” but never did. I spent hours and hours walking the isles of the local Academy stores; luckily we didn’t have as many options on where to shop as we do today. I bought a really nice bass boat back then and have kept it under a cover and super clean ever since -- that was 18 years ago.
I still fish a lot and spend time strolling the isles at any and all outdoor shops. But today I fish for fun and relaxation. I realized I am not a winning tournament fisherman. On a warm sunny Saturday recently I went fishing with my oldest son Cody. Cody and I began fishing together when he was very young; today he is 22 years old. We were fishing for bass hard for several hours when we made our way into a secluded cove. Along both sides of the cover were brand new floating boat slips. We trolled to the end of one section and tied up to have lunch and fish for catfish.
As we broke out the sardines and lunch meat we relaxed in the warmth of the sun. A cool breeze and scattered clouds tempted us with sleep. Cody emptied the excess mustard juice from the sardines into the water next to the boat before he was going to eat his half of the can.
As the juice flowed, he said excitedly, “Wow, there are some huge perch here.” He immediately grabbed the lightweight spinning reel and tied on a small golden perch hook. “What do we have for bait? Give me a piece of your cheese,” he said as he reached across the deck. Jalapeno cheese didn’t seem like it would be a good perch bait, but it was.
We spent the next three hours catching perch bigger than your hand. Beautiful green and yellow specimens that fought hard to avoid capture. We laughed as we wrestled with them and joked at the ones that got our bait. On several occasions we snagged a greedy catfish looking for a free meal. They were small but fun to catch.
This trip was a birthday trip for my son. He wanted to hang out on the ole boat for a day. We used to do this every year on his exact birthday when he was growing up. We got letters from school for unexcused absences, and he was hollered at by his mom for coming home way after dark on what was usually a school night. We didn’t care, and on this trip we were remembering those days. Time goes by so quickly. Kids grow up too fast. I love those days floating on the boat, no cell phone, no pager, no problem. Just me and the boy.
We resumed bass fishing as the sun was setting and worked our way back
to the boat launch. We were worn out, sunburned and hungry by the time
darkness lay over us. When my son was little he would always ask if he
could rest his eyes on the way home. That was his way of asking permission
to sleep on the drive home, and he always did. This trip home he joked
about it but we both sat quietly reflecting on the day. I don’t
know if he realized what a gift he gave me that day. Not only was it some
of the best fishing fun I have had in a very long time, but I also got
to spend the day with him. Thanks, Cody, for my gift on your birthday.
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