"ALONE IN THE OUTDOORS" by Luke Clayton Luke Clayton Holt River Ranch, Palo Pinto County, Texas - Were coming to you via laptop computer this week. Im making plans to head back home this evening after spending a couple days hunting wild hogs and deer on a 4,500 acre piece of outdoor paradise situated along a 4 mile stretch of the Brazos River. No big bucks or good eating wild hogs were harvested so far on this outing, nor is there the normal campfire banter with friends. Circumstances dictate that I hunt alone this time and, the experience is one I highly recommend, at least occasionally, for everyone that loves spending time in the outdoors. Theres something very satisfying about being self sufficient in an environment that has the very real potential to be unforgiving. I arrived at camp yesterday, midday. The first order of business was to prepare for the evening meal. Long ago, I discovered that with a little forethought, meals of canned chili and bologna sandwiches can be avoided. Before leaving home, I mixed all the ingredients for venison meat loaf and placed the meat in a zip lock bag on ice in the cooler. I also grabbed a container of frozen wild pork stew, prepared a couple weeks ago, from the freezer. Well seasoned meat loaf, with plenty of jalapeno and bell pepper, onion, garlic and tomatoes from the garden and pork stew makes a good combination for camp dinner on a cold winters evening! Before heading out for the afternoon hunt, I placed the meat loaf in my cast iron skillet, put the lid on and placed it in the oven at 250 degrees. I can remove the lid and brown the meat upon my return after dark; the frozen stew was left to begin defrosting. I left a note on the table at camp, stating the area of the ranch where I would be hunting; I wasnt expecting any guests but thought it a good idea to inform folks where I would be. The drive to the stand was a measured 2.6 miles on the odometer. When I reached the upper banks of the Brazos, a flock of 25 or so turkeys crossed the road in front of me, obviously heading in the direction of their roost tree. It was getting toward mid afternoon and only a couple of hours of daylight were left. The stand I was heading to is where I harvested a nice 10 pointer with my bow a few weeks ago. John Bryan, my friend that runs the hunting on the ranch, had disked a little food plot back in the cedars around the stand but due to a very dry fall and early winter, the green field was sparsely sprigged with green shoots. Deer have the uncanny ability of finding the most nutritious food available and while walking across the field, I noticed lots of deer and hog tracks. It was obvious that even though the cover crop was sparse, animals were already feeding heavily upon it. The breeze was from the Northwest and I left the window of the blind closed on the south end. I figured this would help keep my scent better contained, besides the north and east window provides the best vantage point to the corn feeder, situated about 70 yards away. I had my 50 caliber TC Triumph muzzleloader loaded with 100 grains of Pyrodex and 225 grain sabots. It was nice to be enclosed in a blind rather than up in a treestand on this hunt, especially with the stiff northern that had blown earlier in the day. My intent was to harvest a mature doe or possibly a wild hog. Im sure my vantage point, not far from the banks of the Brazos, was several miles from the nearest human. Looking across the beautifully rugged landscape, I could envision bands of Native Indians camping and making their living from the plentiful supply of game in the hills and fish in the river in years past. Overhead, I heard the distant call of a flock of Canada geese, obviously pushed a bit farther south with the passing of the stiff cold front. A big, brilliantly green cedar tree, about 40 yards from my blind, became headquarters for a pair of cardinals. Both birds were red but the male was colored such that Daniel Webster, when compiling his famous dictionary, should have included a photo alongside the definition of the word red. Photo by Luke Clayton A lone hen turkey came by the feeder and pecked away at the corn that had been distributed then, as I looked away and then back, she had disappeared. I heard the squeal of hogs coming from the direction of an isolated pond a couple hundred yards distant. I needed some more pork for our upcoming sausage making day and hoped the porkers had an affinity for corn. I had the opportunity to take two does from the ranch and my primary objective was a bit more fresh venison. When a little 100 pound boar came out of the brush, early into the hunt, I let him walk, hoping for venison. About fifteen minutes before dark, I sensed that I needed to turn around and look out of the south window, the window that I had left closed. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a slight movement; a big doe easing out of the cedars to feed on the sprouts of oats. Then, 3 more doe followed her into the field, only 60 yards from my stand. With absolutely no way to prepare for a shot, I watched the deer feed until they were blanketed by a cloak of darkness that is blacker than pitch in the Palo Pinto Mountain range. BACK AT CAMP - Its tough to call my afternoon hunt unsuccessful, even though I never touched off the charge of my muzzleloader. Id watched all sorts of wildlife and regenerated myself with a sensory overload of sights and sounds that can be heard only in a remote place. The meal of meat loaf and soup was excellent and, with this column completed, its time to do a little reading and get rested for tomorrows hunt. Im now beginning to re-read John Graves Goodbye to a River. He mentions the Post Oak Bend of the Brazos and the exact ranch Im hunting. Good night to all! ***************************************** OUTDOORS TIP OF THE WEEK: The second split of duck season is underway. Duck numbers are on the increase in most areas but keep in mind these newly arriving birds have seen hunting pressure for several weeks as they migrated from the northern states and Canada. I usually enjoy better success when I cut back on the calling, use a face mask to avoid spooking birds and use a motorized spinning wing decoy. I also re-work my blind to make sure Im well concealed. When hunting isolated ponds and sloughs, as few as a dozen decoys will bring the birds in close. On open waters, spreads of 100 or more decoys are sometimes necessary to attract ducks. 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