Late season hunting opportunities abound across the state, but many hunters have abandoned the marshes and woodlots for the comfort of their warm fireplace. If you thrill to the sound of whistling wings over decoys or the sight of a big meat hog slipping within view during the last moments of daylight, this might be a mistake! We modern day sportsmen and women have it made when it comes to staying warm and dry. With today’s modern fabrics, it’s now possible to dress for the occasion and remain comfortable afield, regardless the weather. Long gone are the days of long john’s worn under blue jeans and a plaid hunting coat.
Granted, hunting during the dead of winter might not be as comfortable as it was back in early autumn but cold weather hunting does have its advantages. Keeping meat chilled without having to rush to a processor or pack a big cooler full of ice in anticipation of a harvest are a couple of the things I like about hunting this time of year. Big game such as deer, hogs and javelina are up and moving more this time of year, most of the acorn crop is gone and wildlife is depending more on supplemental food in the form of food plots and wildlife feeders. Find their food source and you are well on your way to filling your freezer with a supply of healthful and tasty wild game.
Duck and goose season continue through Feb. 27 in the north zone. I must admit, because of my addition to hunting deer and wild hogs, I haven’t shot a single duck so far this season but that will change next week. Deer season ends in the north zone this weekend and I already have my new Redhead brand mallard decoys strung up with cord and weights and my spinning wing decoys supplied with fresh batteries. The marshes adjacent the woods where I hunt deer are packed with mallards, pushed south by the cold fronts up in the midwest. When snow and ice cover the crop fields up north where waterfowl feed in late winter, they often make a mass migration to more southern climes and the past few weeks has seen a big influx of mallards, gadwall and widgeon in many areas.
I am pretty well stocked on fresh venison and wild pork, but I am longing for some marinated mallard breasts stuffed with jalapeno and cream cheese, wrapped in bacon and grilled over hot hickory coals. I’ve been inquiring with some of my waterfowl guide buddies about geese in the northern region and most are reporting scant numbers but this could change with the passage of a severe cold front up north. Big winter wheat fields often hold large numbers of snow geese during late season. Goose numbers have dwindled along the coast in the past decade. My long-time friend Mike Ladnier, who has for many years operated Bay Prairie Outfitters not far from El Campo, has moved his hunting operation way north to Saskatchewan, Canada, because there simply are not enough geese wintering on the coast to provide good shooting for his clients. Many goose hunters today that for years hunted the rice fields along the upper coast have concentrated their efforts in the Panhandle or north Texas. Knox County usually provides great late season hunting on Lesser Canada geese.
For the past several years, I have enjoyed an archery javelina hunt up in Knox County with my friends at Ranger Creek Ranch. Many people believe it’s necessary to drive to south Texas or the desert southwest to hunt javelina but in truth, there is a very healthy population of these toothy little brush pigs in Knox County. Years ago, they were stocked on the huge Waggoner Ranch and their numbers spilled over to adjacent ranches. With the close of javelina season Feb. 24, there’s still plenty of time to plan your hunt. I get a lot of laughs when I tell fellow hunters that I absolutely love cooking and eating javelina. The meat tastes like a blend of feral hog and venison, and is very lean and tasty when slow smoked with moisture. I usually prepare fajitas from javelina backstrap when we are lucky to get a javelin early into the hunt. Most of my fellow hunters commit that once they tried the meat, they consider it as good or better than fajitas made from beef.
Quail season continues through Feb. 24, and quail numbers are thankfully rebounding across many of the western counties. Granted, most of us don’t have access to good wild quail hunting property nor the dogs to hunt them but there are some very fine preserves around the state where hunters have the opportunity to hunt released birds. I usually schedule an upland hunt or two between now and March. There is something very special about quail roasted in butter and Ritz Cracker crumbs in a Dutch Kettle, cooked on the side of a campfire using hot coals.
LET’S NOT NEGLECT FISHING- Some of the biggest stripers of the year are being landed at Lake Texoma. Bill Carey with Striper Express says trophy class stripers are being landed on jigs with 10-inch soft plastic trailers. Huge schools of gulls are now present, pointing the way to feeding fish. At Lake Tawakoni, the trophy blue catfish bite is about as good as it gets. Drift fishing with big pieces of cut bait is paying off with plenty of jumbo size whiskerfish. If a good mess of eater channel catfish is your desire, consider heading to Lake Fork, baiting up a couple of holes with range cubes and keeping a good cheese bait within inches of bottom at depths of 20-28 feet.
Yep, there is lots to do in the great outdoors the next couple of months, then there is spring turkey season to look forward to. So, break out that warm winter clothing and let’s get after em’!
Listen to “Outdoors with Luke Clayton and Friends” on radio stations from Nebraska to Texas weekends or anytime online at www.catfishradio.org.