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Quarantined at the Ranch

Hunting season has passed. The leaves have erupted, the grass is growing fast, the lawnmower is tuned, and as usual, the weed eater does not work; a sure sign that spring has arrived.  In the back of my house, in the sunroom of a converted carport, I sit each morning with the rising sun watching the deer at the feeder and the newly arrived hummingbirds swarm their liquid sugar. It’s been a long winter. Turkey season is here, and the speckled trout and redfish at the coast await my arrival. The freezer’s full of venison, accompanied by a few doves from last season, but the freezer is still needing turkey and a few fish to fill the void.

     And so, I sit, contemplating my next outdoor excursion, but that’s about all I can do…contemplate; because I’m stuck at home like so many Americans.  An unforeseen virus has attacked, leaving millions of people quarantined within their homes for their own safety and to prevent further spread. Therefore, people are sitting at home, going for walks, watching television, glaring at the computer screen—working at home, visiting social media outlets, doing some online learning, and whatever else the internet will bring them. Everyone has been affected, directly or indirectly, and 2020 will go down in history as a peculiar year. However, if you’re fortunate to live in the country, or you own or lease a ranch or small property, perhaps your outdoor adventure hasn’t been so abruptly canceled. There are numerous things you can do to make the most of the quarantine. 

The first couple weeks at home, at the ranch, or at the hunting lease weren’t bad.  You’ve cleaned, painted, repaired, mowed, and mended and completed all the chores you’d put off for several years.  Now you sit, relax, and ponder what to do next. Fishing the tank has lost its luster, the turkey is in the freezer, and you don’t need any more hog meat.  Before you get back to life’s hectic pace in the city, here are a few family-friendly suggestions to do at the ranch which may help you through these troubling times. 

This is prime time to look for shed antlers. They’ve just dropped and haven’t had time to bleach out or be chewed on by the rats and squirrels.  Looking for sheds is a favorite pastime of mine during the spring. The best places to look for them are around feeders and trails leading to them, especially protein feeders.  Another great place to look for sheds is around tanks and water troughs. And as with feeders, follow nearby trails, and walk the drainages that lead into them.  Frequently deer use these areas for travel corridors where there is always fresh vegetation that deer love to munch on. Search open fields, oat fields, or prescribed burn areas which attract deer with its fresh growth. Look along fence lines as well, because as deer jump over or crawl under the fence, antlers frequently are knocked off. Over the years I’ve had several flat tires from antlers which were in the road along a fence line.  Finding a nice shed antler also gives the hunter an idea of what type of buck is growing or has survived the season.

Spring Shed found at a Ranch in Seguin, Texas

Spring and early summer are excellent times to learn about nature, especially wildflowers and birds.  Grab a good, colorfully illustrated wildflower book and a bird book and spend time looking and identifying the species. Once identified, take a little time to learn about them. It’s a fun way for everyone to learn about nature, and the family will take pride in identifying an Indian paintbrush, Buttercup, Lazy Daisy, Vermillion Flycatcher, Painted Bunting, or the difference between a black vulture and turkey vulture just by the way they fly.  Your family will remember these things for the rest of their lives.

Scavenger hunts can also be very fun. Pick out things you can find in the pasture, such as an antler, flint rock, red flower, birds nest, mesquite bean, horseshoe, snakeskin, prickly pear pad with a hole in it, piece of barbed wire, etc.  The list is endless and can provide hours of fun for the family. Make sure adults are with the youngsters, or they go in groups, being observant of snakes.

Go out at night, driving around with a spotlight watching nature in their native habitat.  Spotlighting is one of our children’s most cherished memories. Stop and call predators, either to hunt or just for the sport and enjoyment of watching them come to the call.  Being nighttime and you’re in the country away from the bright city lights, grab your telescope and spend some time learning and teaching the kids about the stars and constellations. Show them the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, the Milky Way, and the great hunter… Orion.

Other fun things to do with the family include teaching and practicing archery.  Set up a target behind the camp and watch the kids enjoy hours of fun with a bow and arrow, and you can probably use the practice yourself! Plinking with a BB gun or pellet gun is always fun and a great opportunity to teach the youngsters about gun safety.

Scavenger Hunt by 8-year-old Tyler L. at a Ranch in Southeast Texas.

Hiking, biking, ATV’ing, exploring, hunting arrowheads, watching for small mammals, turtles, and snakes are also great activities.  I recommend that you have the children keep a diary of their time at the ranch.  Each evening, have them record the day’s activities, including pictures and samples (like a flower petal).  In a few years, the family can revisit the diaries and remember the summer of 2020 as a year of exploration and discovery.

Finally, don’t hesitate to reach for a good book and enter a world of your own choosing. Allow your imagination to transfer you to new, more pleasant surroundings of your choice. If you enjoy fiction, pick up a good novel whether it’s a western, murder mystery, drama, romance, sci-fi, or classic, find your sunroom and enjoy.

As for me, I enjoy non-fiction tales of Texas and the southwest, hunting, fishing, and natural history.  J. Frank Dobie, a prolific writer and noted chronicler of Texas and the southwest, has written many interesting books including Coronado’s Children, Vaquero in the Brush Country, Tales of Old Time Texas, The Voice of the Coyote, and many more; plus my favorite, The Ben Lilly Legend, about one of the greatest bear and lion hunters that ever lived. Other good, classic, natural history tales include The Old Man and the Boy, Goodbye to a River, Adventures With a Texas Naturalist, Adios to the Brushlands, Wildlife and Man in Texas, and for the deer hunter, the book that started it all in Texas…Producing Quality Whitetails by Murphy Ray and Al Brothers.

Spending time at the ranch during this quarantine does not have to be all work and no play. Use this time to enjoy what God has given you and cherish the time you have with the family and the great outdoors.   

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