Discussion in 'LUKE CLAYTON' started by Luke Clayton, Feb 19, 2009.

  1. Luke Clayton

    Luke Clayton New Member

    by Luke Clayton

    Luke Clayton

    Jacksboro, Texas - Sixty miles northwest of Ft. Worth, lies 15,000 acres of pristine prairie and creek bottoms that for about the past 144 years, has been known as the Richards Ranch. It’s rare for any ranch to remain in one piece, under the ownership of one family, for seven generations. Back in 1998, the ranch opened its gates to commercial hunting. Deer, turkey, quail, dove and of course, wild hogs were present in large numbers. My association with the ranch goes back about ten years, I was fortunate to enjoy hunting the ranch the first year it opened its gates to the public. I remember standing on the porch of the old camp house with Brent Hackley, the seventh generation owner/manager, and hearing plans for the construction of rustic cabins, a big pavilion for group meetings, a new lodge that was to be built around the old camp house, a skeet range and several other additions that would one day make the ranch a home away from home to the visiting hunter or fisherman.

    When I pulled up to the lodge last week, the place looked exactly the way Hackley had predicted almost a decade earlier. Cabins were tucked away into the grove of oaks behind the main lodge. A shining new pavilion was situated a few hundred yards from the main lodge which encompassed and expanded upon the old camp house that served us well several years ago. It felt good to be back on my old hunting grounds and with my old friends. The buildings and amenities were new but the “feel” of the old working cattle ranch was still there.

    Wes Winget, who has spent a lifetime guiding hunters and fishermen, heads up the guiding operation on the Richards. A couple of good friends, longtime outdoors writer Bob Hood and Todd Lucas were on hand as Wes announced it was time to load up in the pickup and head to our evening stands; it was getting late in the afternoon and the wild hogs would be hitting the winter food plots soon. It’s amazing how land, if not plowed under in farming operations or developed into roads or subdivisions, changes very little through the years. As we drove down the ranch road, things looked exactly as I remembered them a decade ago. On my right was the pond, skirted by oaks and cottonwoods that had long been a favorite roost site for wild turkey. I once set up a quarter of a mile away on the top of an oak covered hill and called in a big gobbler. As I pointed out the spot and inquired to Wes if the birds still used the area for their night’s rest, he replied that they had probably been roosting here way before either of us was born and, thanks to a commitment to keep the land in its pristine state, turkeys will hopefully be roosting here long after we’re gone.

    Knowing that we were the only three hunters on the entire 15,000 acre ranch was a good feeling. Wes dropped me off a few hundred yards from the food plot with corn feeder that I would be hunting. A comfortable box blind was situated on the south side of the field and as I approached the blind, I watched a flock of turkeys trot across the green cover into a wood a couple yards distant. This was going to be a good hunt, killing a hog would be considered a bonus. It was one of those perfect winter days, not really cold but with just enough chill in the air to need a light jacket. This was my first time to hunt this area and I set there in the blind contemplating the direction I expected game to approach. To my right was an opening in a creek bottom that seemed a natural route for game to enter the big food plot. In about ten minutes, I detected movement along the little draw; an approaching doe with a couple of last year’s fawns. The deer disappeared into the thick cover and soon entered the field. Then deer began pouring into the food plot from along the draw as well as the opposite side of the field which was hidden from my view by the contour of the land. I was surprised not to see any hogs but when Wes and Lucas came to pick me up after dark, they naturally inquired how many porkers I saw and did I kill one. “There are no hogs in this area, I kidded them, “I counted a total of 28 deer on the food plot at one time, there was no room for a hog to stand!” Thirty minutes earlier, I heard the very distant, very faint sound of a rifle shot, I hoped our buddy Bob Hood had connected with a good eating porker.

    A couple miles from the area I hunted, we drove up to the field Hood had been hunting. On the ground was a 165 pound sow that was in perfect condition. She looked as though she had been fattened in a feed lot; prime eating! Bob had counted 9 longbeard gobblers and several deer during his set on stand. Back at the lodge, the hog was promptly field dressed and hung up to cool and we set down to a great dinner and made plans for our morning bird hunt.

    Photo by Luke Clayton

    Quail hunting has long been one of my outdoor passions and the next morning, when a brace of great pointers hit the ground, I was unsure who was more excited, me or the dogs. Birds were plentiful and shooting good. There was just enough wind to concentrate the birds scent and the dogs did a masterful job, working from downwind, with their heads high until they caught the hot scent of gamebird, then went to work pinpointing the singles, doubles and coveys. After a few hours hunting, we had harvested enough quail for several big dinners. We took a short break and headed to another field for some more shooting on chukars. Quail are excellent eating but chukars might be a bit better. Fried quail or chukar, served with hot gravy, biscuits and rice is a meal fit for a king; a meal I have planned soon back at home with the family. Chukars, native to the grasslands of southern Eurasia, are about three times as big as quail and fly just as fast. They’re a very sporting bird, almost as large as a pheasant that have become very popular on upland hunting operations in the U.S.

    Photo by Luke Clayton

    As I drove though the big iron gate, leaving the Richards Ranch behind, I was happy to see a long time plan come to fruition. The old cattle ranch that I hunted years ago has now become a destination for hunters from all across the country, it remains undivided and is still as rugged and pristine as I remembered it to be. May the tradition go on forever!

    At the present, there are still a few openings for spring turkey hunts on the Richards Ranch. For more information, go online www.richardsranchtexas.com or call the ranch office at 940-567-5607. Upland hunts will continue through mid March.

    WATCH ON www.youtube.com – I did a short video on the hunt at the Richards Ranch and included ways to prepare upland birds and cure pork. Check it out at www.youtube.com keyword Luke Clayton or Smokin Tex


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