Luke Clayton: Fall is just around the corner

Outdoors columnist highlights telltale signs that the seasons are beginning to change

Luke Clayton
Daily Light contributor
Whitetail bucks are shedding the velvet from their antlers in preparation for the rut (breeding season). Bow season is only weeks away. If you aren’t fired up about hunting seasons, you probably will be after reading Luke’s column this week!
Luke Clayton

How about the cooler mornings we’ve been enjoying the past week or so? Each year I look forward to mid September when I know we have those sweltering summer days officially whipped. Oh, the heat is not over, those of us that have spent a lifetime in Texas know that. We’ll have a few more hot days but the nighttime cooling temperatures will become more common as the month progresses and within a few weeks, if we get outside just after a passing cool front, chances are very good we will hear the wavering cry of migrating white front geese, the first to wing their way down from the northern climes where they spend the summer to raise their young.

Blue and greenwing teal are already here in good numbers and many waterfowlers are salivating at the thought of the opportunity to enjoy some freshly harvested teal breasts wrapped in bacon and cooked over hot coals. The early teal season is our second fall hunting opportunity, just after the opener of dove season. Yes, for those of us that love the outdoors, we are about to again experience all the best that Mother Nature has to offer. I had the opportunity to spend an early morning in the east Texas woods last week, doing some early scouting for the upcoming archery deer season and noticed the sumac leaves just beginning to turn. In a month or so, sumac, sweetgum and hickory trees will light up the woods in the eastern part of our state. States in more northern latitudes have their aspen and maples to give color to the Fall but to my way of thinking, nothing is prettier than a grove of sumac bushes aglow with fall colors or hickory or sweetgum trees adorned with their yellow and orange leaves.

Acorns are already beginning to drop and deer hunters need to keep in mind that in years with a bumper acorn crop, deer often snub their noses and bypass corn feeders to get to an oak tree dropping acorns. Deer love all sort of acorns and will readily devour them but the sweet flavor of water oaks are their favorite. Find a white oak with a bumper acorn crop and you are hunting over the best natural “bait” in the woods.

Oak trees on the edge of fertilized hay fields are often deer magnets. I used to hunt from a little metal shed situated in the middle of a small grove of oaks in a heavily fertilized hay field on a friend’s ranch. The oak grove was about 100 yards from heavy woods and just about 30 minutes before dark, deer would come running out of the woods to eat the heavily fertilized acorns. In my mind’s eye, I can still hear those acorns hitting the tin roof of that little shed and see those deer sprinting out of cover to eat the ones that fell to the ground.

It seems deer and wild hog hunting gets the lion’s share of interest these days and squirrels are often overlooked. As a youngster growing up in rural Red River County back in the early sixties before the whitetail deer boon, squirrel hunting was a big event each fall. Squirrel season never closes in the western portion of Texas but in east Texas, bushytails are legal to hunt beginning October 1. There is something very special about heading out on a crisp fall morning with a shotgun loaded with number 5 or 6 shot or a tack driving rifle in quest of a “mess” of squirrels. I vividly remember squirrel hunts in the late nineteen fifties when I was 9 or 10 years old. The smell of the fall woods, the shaking of limbs as a big fox squirrel scurries through the treetops or the “barking” of a squirrel that senses all is not right in his section of the woods. Squirrels were a highly sought after game animal back then and they were not nearly as numerous as today. There are few game dinners I enjoy more than a big skillet full of squirrel and gravy, with white rice served on the side. Add a few “cat head” biscuits to clean up the gravy and the meal takes on gourmet qualities!

Now is the perfect time to get in some practice with the rifle or bow that you plan to use to put venison in the freezer this fall. In years past, I’ve made the mistake of waiting until late October to check the zero on my hunting rifles. If you plan a trip to your favorite range within the next couple weeks, chances are good that you will have the place to yourself with possibly one or two shooters rather than waiting in line for a shooting bench in a month or so. It’s always best to “slip away” during weekdays if possible.

I have been preparing for the opener of whitetail archery season by shooting a few groups of arrows each week. I usually shoot ten or so arrows at my targets several times per week and have learned to shoot each arrow as though I were taking aim on the biggest buck of my hunting career. It’s better to shoot 10 arrows using proper form and concentrate on doing everything right than twice that many hurried and haphazard shots. The majority of today’s broadheads fly about the same as practice points but it’s always good to do your practicing prior to a hunt with the same broadheads that you plan to hunt with. I have hunted with mechanical broadheads for many years and most brands fly exactly the same as practice points but never assume they will, I have had different brands shoot to different points of impact.

As a well known outdoors writer once penned years ago, “My health is always better in the fall.” I agree 100 percent! For we outdoors folks, could this be because of a positive mindset? Maybe so, we do have so much to look forward to the next few months!