Finding myself with time to spare lately, I did my first standby hunt through the Texas Parks & Wildlife system this past week at Old Sabine WMA near Lindale. Earlier this year, with much less time on my hands, I forgot to apply for any of the gun deer permits so standby became my only option. Luckily, I was the only one to show up Wednesday morning and got my choice of remaining spots in the hunt.
The Old Sabine hunt is a good one. The biologists and employees are helpful and considerate. In most years, they actually have a cookout the first night for all the hunters which is a first in my experience with draw hunts. Unfortunately, Covid has changed protocols and they were unable to do that this year. Still, they offer to teach people how to field dress game, they’ll come help you track and get anything you shoot out of the woods and they do their best to make sure you have a good experience.
This hunt this year occurred at a pretty bad time (full moon) and the weather was atrocious for hunting with high winds, highs in the mid 70s and overnight temps in the high 60s. More like surfing weather than hunting weather. While there isn’t much you can do about the weather, one thing I learned for the future even on draw hunts is to cross-reference the lunar cycles and try to avoid full moons. When it’s as bright as it was this weekend, deer and hogs are far more nocturnal and move very little during shooting hours.
I choose compartment 4 which is on the far west end of the 5700 acre area. I had done some reading and thought there might be more hogs there. My compartment was 241 acres with a little bit of river border but mostly just large, bottom land hardwood. We’ve been rather dry here which meant it was difficult to find sign or tracks. I ended up setting up the in a semi-clearing that separated some large timber areas from a slough. I’d seen some game trails going back and forth and thought they might use the clearing to move into the woods to feed. I had brought both my climbing stand and popup blind. However, given the density of the brush and forest on the WMA, the popup was mostly useless. I spent all my time in the climber.
Unfortunately, no deer or hogs agreed with my plan. Over the course of the 2 days and 4 sits, I didn’t see anything larger than a squirrel. Compounding the heat and full moon problem, just getting in carrying the stand and basic gear resulted in me sweating like a feral pig because of the heat and humidity which didn’t help matters. Still, it wasn’t just me as the hunters in the compartment next to mine that I talked to in the evenings saw nothing the whole weekend too. In fact, nothing was shot the entire time by anyone on the hunt, 15 or so hunters. In talking to the biologists afterwards, about half of the drawn hunters left before the hunt was over. This is another key lesson of these hunts. People often quit before the hunt is over. If you think there is another compartment you’d like to try, it’s worth asking the TPWD folks if you can switch.
Overall, it was a good time to be in the woods even with all the adversity. Mostly a lot of bad luck with the weather which was pretty unexpected for December. Of course, the day the hunt was over, a big cold front came through with some rain, making this weekend perfect hunting weather. Such is life. I ended up walking a lot of compartment four and found an old fish camp. The shack is sitting on top of an old Coleman pop up camper. It’s interesting to think about what it was like 30-40 years ago. Who went to the trouble of building those shacks out in the woods just to fish a muddy river? The property was acquired by TPWD in 1994 so they are all pretty run down now.
This is probably the end of my hunting season though there’s an outside chance I could get up to Arkansas and try to take a deer on my in-laws property. Deer season ends in a few weeks and I don’t think I’ll have a chance to get back out in Texas. I did two draw hunts this year, one squirrel and this one at Old Sabine. I also hunted dove 3 times on public leases near Bonham. I got out more this year than in previous years so I’m happy about that.