PORT ARTHUR —
Antlers changed Ken Swenson’s life.
The Orangefield resident has hunted his whole life but a few years ago, he became aware of the ultra large-antlered whitetail bucks that were being selectively bred and sold in the deer market.
“I saw these giant bucks and said, ‘I want in’ and my family and I have invested a lot of time, money and our passion into starting a high quality deer operation right here in Southeast Texas,” Swenson said.
He and his family have been kind enough to host me and a variety of kids from my church and their ranch to feed, photograph and interact with a host of animals ranging from their whitetails to corsican rams.
Last week my wife Lisa and I and our friend Tracy Ellis and her daughter Ashlyn took our pastor’s daughters Abby and Rachel Rose out to the ranch for the afternoon.
As the nine-year-old twins fed “Bucky”, a massive young buck I told the girls the difference between antlers and horns and how the buck’s horns are still growing and in velvet now.
They marveled at the fact the buck that was friendly now would not be approachable in a couple of months when the rut kicked in and they antlers would be used to defend territory.
Watching the girls marvel at the antlers really got me to thinking about the value of antlers.
The Swensons and other deer breeders across the state along with ranch owners bank antlers to attract people who are willing to pay for access to antlers. All of the hard work that goes into ranching and breeding deer and managing property essentially center around antlers.
Deer hunting is of course about much more than that but there is no way it would be nearly as popular if bucks were antlerless.
Antlers intrigue people.
Abby and Rachel were captivated by the growth of the antlers and how they were soft now but would soon be super hard.
Growing up I was intrigued that once antlers were shed in the spring, they became food for squirrels, mice and other rodents who gnaw on them for their calcium content.
My father, Chester Moore, Sr. was and still is blown away by bucks with unusual and wide racks. His favorites are those that go straight out past the ears or have as he calls them, “Christmas tree” tracks.
He said he calls them that because, “You could hang a bunch of ornaments off of them.”
East Texas hunters tend to be a little more practical than most and there is a common saying that says, “You can’t eat antlers.”
What that means is the backstrap and hams are the most important part of the deer to them and as someone who is essentially a meat hunter, I agree, however I would be lying if I said antlers did not excite me and in some ways to a great extent.
Last year I shot the best buck of my life on a managed low-fence area with Diamond M Whitetails and it was one of the rare times in my life when the antlers grew as I approached the buck.
Most of the time hunters shot a buck and what looked large at a distance, got smaller once it hit the ground and it was time to get it field dressed.
This buck however kept growing and I was happy to call back and report the good news to my Dad.
He knew fried backstrap was now on the menu but the antlers were the center of the conversation.
And they usually are at every hunting camp around the state.
As happy as hunters are to take a doe for meat, no one talks for hours on end about the mature doe that yielded a bunch of meat. It is all about monster bucks and usually the one that got away or they captured on their game camera.
Believe it or not, we are only a little over six weeks away from the archery-only whitetail season opener.
That means the antlers of the bucks in our region and beyond are hardening up and realizing their full potential this year. Rain, range conditions and of course age will factor in how big the individual antlers will be and hunters are already speculating on what they expect at their leases.
Thinking about watching those girls with “Bucky” last week made me realize, hunters are not much different than kids when it comes to antlers. They put smiles on faces and bring up lots of fun conversation.
The secret to happiness in life is retaining childlike faith and a sense of wonder and if we forget about record books, big buck contests and all of those other fun things just for a second it is easy to see antlers in those of us who truly appreciate whitetails.
Antlers are just plain cool and if we are not ashamed to admit it, they bring out the kid in all of us.
(To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can hear him on "Moore Outdoors" Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI. you can find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/extremewildlife.)
Chester Moore, Jr. Outdoors Column for Aug. 9, 2012
PORT ARTHUR —
Antlers changed Ken Swenson’s life.
- Chester Moore column: Give summer crappie a chance
- Chester Moore column: Alligators tip off when flounder on the move
- Chester Moore column: The East half of Texas is catfish country
Chester Moore column: Bank fishing good approach on catfish
Summer is one of the best times to seek catfish in Southeast Texas and thankfully, for local anglers without a boat, there are catfish in just about every canal, drainage ditch and bayou in the area.
Fishing from the bank has its disadvantages but there is a way around it. This involves making the fish come to you.
European catfish and carp anglers who typically fish exclusively from the bank use a system called “ground baiting,” which involves putting chum out with the bait. They attach a small cylindrical device above their swivel, which holds chum and dispenses it as the water rushes by. The problem is these rigs are not readily available in our marketplace.
However, with a little ingenuity, taking a 35-millimeter film canister, punching a hole in the bottom and on the lid and then punching more holes along the side can make a similar device. This acts as a perfect chumming device and is very inexpensive.
Not everyone has film canisters these days so the softer plastic aspirin bottles will also get the job done.
Rig this above your swivel and weight, and then fill it with your favorite chum. Now you will not only be chumming the area you fish in but also bringing fish directly to your bait.
Any kind of chum will work, but a mixture I have had some success with was menhaden oil (available through many mail order offshore supply catalogs) mixed with soured milo. The oil creates a huge chum slick and when it mixes with the milo, the smell is almost unbearable, which means catfish love it. The best part is that a little bit goes a long way.
Something else to consider is using jack mackerel as bait.
This oily fish is available in larger supermarkets in a can for less than $1, and I can attest it will bring in fish. While fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and tagging sharks for the Mote Marine Laboratory, my partners and I were able to chum in and catch nearly 40 sharks while using less than two cans of the stuff. It is oily and stinks to high heaven, so catfish should love it.
For anglers interested in using film canisters to chum their bait, something else to consider is the use of a popping cork. Even if your bait is on the bottom, you can rig a popping cork above it and attach a baited film canister below. This will allow you to do some extra chumming and use the cork to “pop” the chum out whenever you want to release more.
Another great tip for land bound anglers is to use braided line. In talking with several anglers who pursue brackish blues from the bank, I have learned that loosing striking fish can be a problem.
I am not sure as to the reason but a definitely solution is using a braided line because they have no stretch. When making long casts with monofilament from the bank you have the potential for lots of line stretch when can make a poor hookset.
Sixty yards of line might have five or six feet of stretch and that is plenty for a big blue to undo. When using a braid like Fireline, Gorilla Braid or Spiderwire you can forego these problems and greatly enhance your chances of putting some catfish in the frying pan.
(To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at email@example.com. You can hear him on the radio Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI or online at www.klvi.com and watch him Saturdays on GETV.org on “God’s Outdoors with Chester Moore”.)
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- Chester Moore column: It's time for bowfishing
- Chester Moore column: Whistlers, snook and ballyhoo, oh my!
- Chester Moore column: Bank hot spots have great value
- Chester Moore column: Go deep, fish jigs to catch truly big bass
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