When a New Chapter Opens for Joshua Creek Ranch

Realistically we have only two seasons here in this Texas Hill Country. The autumn/winter seasons sort of run together with mostly mild days, intermittent cold nights and lots of sunshine for six to eight months. Then spring comes and all too soon yields to four months of warm (sometimes VERY warm) summer weather, marked by long, sunny, and mostly dry days. As for Joshua Creek Ranch, we have just two seasons as well. They happen to coincide with the autumn/winter and summer seasons. We refer to our seasons here as “hunting” and “farming/construction.”

It’s no great intellectual leap to figure out which time of year is my favorite. Obviously it’s the autumn/winter/hunting season when the torturous temperatures of the Texas summer fade away to brisk mornings in the 40s, and delightfully sunny afternoons in the 60s. It’s paradise, and tends to stay that way for six to eight months.

Not only does it feel like paradise, it looks like paradise. Historically rainy September gives a last burst of growth to the parched yet resilient pasture grasses that endured the hot summer. The upland bird hunting habitat gets better by the day until the first frost that typically comes by Thanksgiving. From then through the rest of the hunting season tufted tops of long golden grasses wave in the afternoon breeze, sheltering quail, pheasant and partridge till their scent is detected by the expert pointing dogs at the Joshua Creek Ranch.

There’s a sound of paradise, too. It’s the “buzz” of the bird hunting business that resumes at Joshua Creek Ranch each October through March. The phone is ringing with requests for reservations, guests are arriving, shotgun blasts are heard in the distance, aroma of the fire pits fills the evening air, porch lights are flickering at all the lodges, and the dining room beckons the hunters with delectable presentations of quail, pheasant, and venison. What fun. It’s like a giant household with company coming and going all the time.

RickterryThe new CEO of Joshua Creek Ranch, Rick Terry.

This particular autumn/winter hunting season of 2013-14, I’ve got still another reason for calling these my favorite months of the year. A new chapter opened for Joshua Creek Ranch in November with the hiring of a Rick Terry as CEO to join our team of dedicated individuals. Rick’s primary objective: enabling Joshua Creek Ranch to raise its services to an even higher level of excellence. And there’s a secondary objective I’m equally excited about: enabling ME to focus on some things beyond Joshua Creek Ranch, like grandchildren, travel adventures with my husband, Joe, and taking time to enjoy this Ranch in addition to working at it.

I won’t deny that it’s hard taking a step back from this business that’s largely consumed me for 25 years. And I probably couldn’t do it except for the encouragement of Joe and my confidence in the professional management and marketing expertise of Rick. But I’ll still have a role and it’s one that really lights a fire in me.

  You know the CEO’s primary objective I mentioned, the one about “raising the Joshua Creek Ranch services to an even higher level of excellence?” Well, I get to be involved in defining and developing the infrastructure for those services. In fact, we’ve already accomplished one of them that is serving our clients right now in this current hunting season. A seldom-used bunk bedroom at Cypress Lodge (our lodge where meals are served) was converted to a private dining/conference room. The flexibility that this opens to guests is fantastic. Couples can enjoy a quiet candlelit dinner in the main dining room while a group of hunters cheer their favorite college football team to victory in the private dining room. A corporate group can carry on a private business conversation over their meal while other guests dine jovially in the nearby comfort of the main dining hall.

Exceptional services and facilities planning are underway as I write. New, high-end private accommodations are on the drawing board, as well as an extension of the sporting-clays course. A duck shooting scenario is in the works and hunting habitat improvements are in the making for spring 2014.

The new chapter that’s opened for Joshua Creek Ranch is an exciting opportunity for our business, our staff, our members and clients, and for me as well. We’re ALL-IN for the plans we have to raise the level of excellence for services at Joshua Creek Ranch. There’s so much to look forward to!

Ann Kercheville is President of Joshua Creek Ranch. Located in the renowned Texas Hill Country just 45 minutes northwest of San Antonio and 90 minutes southwest of Austin, Joshua Creek Ranch occupies a uniquely diverse terrain including miles of Joshua Creek and Guadalupe River bottomland planted in fields of grain crops for prime upland and deer hunting habitats. You can visit their web site at http://www.joshuacreek.com.          

Why Winter Requires Ammo Changes

“Late season birds are tougher to kill because of their thicker feathers and heavier layers of fat and down.” How many times have you heard that? I’m sorry, but it’s not true. 

As fall wears on into winter, wild waterfowl and upland birds have progressively LESS access to food. This is due principally to snow cover. So fat layers and muscles of wild game birds do not get thicker or heavier as fall hunting seasons transcend into winter. 

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Guerrilla in a Ballroom: a Brief Lesson in Civilized Hunting

As something of a militant public-land duck hunter, it is a point of pride for me that I can do well – sometimes really well – in a section of marsh so crowded with hunters that most people I know refuse to go there.

“Let ‘em work” – are you kidding me? Birds don’t “work” in this place – the second they get into range for any hunter, a volley is unleashed, and if those birds don’t die, they’re outta there, along with every other bird that had been thinking about dropping down for a look-see.

On a recent hunt there, my buddy Charlie and I watched, mouths agape, as three snow geese became enchanted with a chorus of robust voice calling from three tule patches, and made one pass, and another … and … another! … before someone dropped one. Three passes! Pretty sure that’ll be in my mental highlight reel forever.

Lord, when I watch hunting shows where mallards work and work and work before assuming the holy position – cupped and committed! – I think to myself, “Must be nice.” Imagine, a mallard practically motionless 20 yards in front of your face. How could you miss?

Then I go back to my guerrilla-style hunting, bring home ducks, and realize life’s not so bad.

Of course, the problem with this is, much like a girl who’s been waging guerrilla war in the jungle, if you stick me in a ballroom, I’m not gonna know how to act.

This has been on my mind a lot lately because I have an invitation to a really nice club later this month, a club so storied and venerable that I’m not allowed to spend the night there because I lack a “y” chromosome, the kind of place where, I’ve been informed, they “mostly shoot over the decoys.”

So how does that work?

I got a preview last weekend on public land. Not my usual spot, but another place my friend Jake hunts. We had to hustle to stake our claim, and after the decoys were all set up, I asked the question I should’ve asked long before: “So, do they come in really close here? I’m shooting a modified choke. Do you think I should change it?”

Jake was non-committal, which I interpreted to mean, “They might. Or they might not.”

I left the modified choke in.

The flight before shoot time was amazing, with lots of cheeping teal, meeping gadwall and whistling pintail and wigeon zipping around us. But I knew that didn’t mean anything – by this point in the season, I knew it was likely to turn off like a light after the first shots were fired.

When shoot time came, Jake and I were not the first to shoot, but we didn’t have to wait long.

It’s all kinda fuzzy how it went down, but I was looking at Jake across the tule patch when his eyes widened and he said something like “On your right!” No mistaking the urgency there.

I spun around in time to see four (I think) ducks landing no more than eight yards in front of me, coming in from the right. The light was dim, but I could see a hen about two feet off the water, and a drake about four feet off and others I couldn’t afford to even look at because I had already acquired my targets.

“Holy shit!” my inner guerrilla shouted (in the ballroom). I don’t think I actually screamed, but I might as well have, because I felt like I did the first time a pheasant exploded at my feet. OK, the first 20 times.

Oh, had I only adopted a pheasant-hunting mentality.

I shouldered my gun and took aim at the hen (Hen Police, don’t freak out – I’d already determined they were all spoonies).

Bam! She dropped.

In a moment of rare greed, I swung on the drake, who was now about eight feet in the air, still around the same distance out.

Bam! I missed. He was practically frozen in the air in front of me, and I missed.

I can’t remember what happened next. I either shot again, or I turned my attention to the bird on the water. Jake said something later about me emptying my gun. Did I do that?

Regardless, my hen was swimming away quite vigorously. Jake’s black Lab Lucy was already in the water so it wasn’t safe to shoot again, but I followed her out. Lucy came within nipping distance and the hen flapped quite vigorously on the water, quickly putting a lot of distance between them. Clearly I hadn’t hurt her too badly.

I shot at her again, and watched my pattern hit the water two feet behind her. Regained composure, shot again, put the pattern right on her. But she was still swimming.

Fortunately, she was in thick grass, and it wasn’t hard to get to her and finish her with a quick twirl.

Wow. Four shots. Maybe five. Man, I’d be a crappy witness.

Jake and I replayed that scene a few times, and I had to laugh at myself. Those ducks were so close that my pattern was probably at best the size of a baseball. I had so much time, but I panicked like they were rabbits, bodies halfway into the briar. When I dressed the spoonie, it was clear that my first shot had just hit her wingtips – it was a miracle she stayed down.

For the rest of the morning, I fervently wished another group would come in like that so I could do it right. But the “replay” button in hunting is notoriously sticky – I know it’ll be years before I see that sight again. We got a few shots after that and left with better straps than most that day, but nothing came in again like those spoonies.

I guess that was my jungle-floor lesson in ballroom dancing. I should probably count myself lucky.

Holly A. Heyser is the editor of California Waterfowl Magazine. A hunter, forager, writer and photographer, she lives in Sacramento, California. You can see more of her work at hollyheyser.com.

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