Surprising Start

Published on Thursday, 4 September 2014 01:58 - Written by Steve Knight, Outdoor Writer

BUCHANAN DAM — It was supposed to be a short visit at a deer lease for dinner with friends, then back to Burnet to get organized for an opening morning dove hunt south of Austin.

Anticipation was high for the first day. The report from the landowner was that the bird numbers were so high he couldn’t shoehorn another one into the field.

I was excited because in the three or four years I have hunted opening morning there, the hunts have only been good and better.

Later Monday we heard it was as good as advertised. We never made it. As we finished supper at the lease, my hunting partner Mike Leggett said he didn’t feel good. Two minutes later, he was lying prone on the ground. Passed out.

Instead of spending the night getting ready for three days of hunting, he took an ambulance ride to the Burnet hospital where, after a battery of tests, they pronounced him dehydrated from three days of working on the lease. The patient survived the treatment, but didn’t make the hunt.

It was a warning for every hunter working to get a deer lease in shape during the Texas heat. Sure there are rattlesnakes around, but heat exhaustion and dehydration is a much more likely threat to people more accustomed to an office chair than filling feeders. In Leggett’s case, it wasn’t anything he did Sunday. In fact, it may have been a lack of water on Friday, with whatever happened Saturday and Sunday as kind of piling on.

With Leggett strapped to a gurney, I had to quickly decide what to do the next morning. I had been to the Austin field three or four times, but always in the early morning darkness. And as much as Austin has changed in recent years, I decided that wasn’t an option, so I called another friend who was supposed to meet us and told him not to come.

I thought WWMD, What Would Mike Do, if the situation was reversed. That decided, I moved into his camper at the deer lease for the night and decided to hunt with his friends the next morning. OK, there wasn’t running water, but the air conditioner worked just fine so it was a doable deal.

I had never seen the lease located not much more than a shotgun shell distance away from the Buchanan Dam, so I tagged along with Austin-area hunter John Tolbert to a tank location he had scouted.

It seemed like a perfect set-up for an afternoon hunt. I wasn’t so sure about the morning, but they had seen a lot of dove around the lease this summer so there was always a chance.

My other thought was I really didn’t know what surrounded the lease. It didn’t take long to figure out there were sub-developments somewhere in proximity because about an hour after sunrise, processions of white-winged dove flew sky-high over the lease headed for feeding grounds somewhere along the lake.

Tolbert was carrying a 12-gauge and I had a 20. Neither mattered. It would have taken a Howitzer to even get close.

I put out decoys, both Mojo and stagnant. My thought was being opening day that at least the young birds would be drawn in by the flappers. The stagnant decoys are always good to have in old dead mesquites around a water hole.

As the morning wore on, it became apparent we could have had decoys, a thousand pounds of grain and anything else — it wasn’t going to attract birds. Oh, we eked out a few, nearly a single limit between the two of us, but it wasn’t a barn-burning start to the season.

It was a better-than-nothing backup. An appetizer to what lay ahead after moving to better habitat the next two days.

Driving from East Texas and through Central Texas, one thing that was clear was that for most hunters, opening day looked more likely to be the weekend rather than the traditional Sept. 1 start. Brownwood was a ghost town compared to what it normally is this time of year. Outfitters throughout much of the region were expecting bigger crowds on the weekend than they had for weekdays.

And the hunting should just get better as the season goes along and the migration pushes birds in and out until populations become stable for much of the remainder of the fall.

For those waiting to get started, here is another rundown on the season dates:

In the North and Central zones, the first season remains open through Oct. 20 and then reopens Dec. 19 to Jan. 7, 2015. In South Texas, the regular South Zone season will begin Sept. 19 and run through Oct. 20. It will open again Dec. 19 to Jan. 25. The daily bag limit is 15, and hunters may possess up to three days of limits.

Have a comment or opinion on this story? Contact outdoor writer Steve Knight by email at outdoor@tylerpaper.com. Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter @tyleroutdoor.