LUBBOCK — Let’s be honest here. If you are going to go hunting or fishing, you would rather go with family and old friends.
After all, the shooting and catching is just a part of the overall experience. It is what you do the rest of the time that makes the trip special.
That is why I was a little skeptical when management suggested I start organizing trips through Tyler Paper Outdoors. I can be pretty set in my ways, and my view of a good trip is probably a little different than others.
That was before last weekend and a quick trip to Lubbock to hunt Canada geese and sandhill cranes with six of my newest friends — Tyler’s Jack Morse, his son, Wesley, and son-in-law Lance Buckley, and Jim Hill, of Hideaway, along with his son Houston, and son-in-law Pat Connor, of Dripping Springs, who made up the first group to take one of our trips.
Actually, before leaving on the trip I started getting apprehensively excited. I have known Jim Hill for decades. He is in the boating industry and we crossed paths from time to time. I had only met Jack Morse in preparation for the trip, but felt the affable emergency room doctor was the kind of person I would like to be in a camp with.
Everyone drove separately and met at the lodge Friday evening. It could hardly be called five star or even four star, but for a group of hunters to base out, it was perfect. Plenty of room, almost enough beds and for some odd reason a small organ along the wall in case anyone felt musical.
Austin outdoor writer Mike Leggett was along on the trip. We have hunted together for two decades and know each other’s weaknesses and strengths backward and forward.
Immediately this odd lot, who that morning had only hunting in common, suddenly came together as friends. That hunting link expanded to sports, even though everyone had their own favorite team, and a number of other guy topics.
After a while, the group started finding a lot more in common between them. Leggett had grown up in Carthage where Morse had once practiced and they each knew all the local dirt on everyone who was anyone.
The Hills and I have a lot of common friends.
We met our guides from Crooked Wing Outfitters that night — Athens native Alex Brittingham and John Phelan, who is from Beaumont. We hooked up again early the next morning for a long drive to Floydada. In the field everyone pitched in putting up the hundreds of decoys before climbing into their layout blind at first light.
Setting up a goose spread is a lot of work. Everyone in this group helped without being asked, but that isn’t always the case. Those who do find it part of the experience. Even before the first shot, they know how much work the guides go through and to what expense it costs them to work in the business..
That same perspective is sort of what I was going through. I have hunted with a lot of outfitters under a lot of different circumstances through the years, but never as the paying customer. I am normally there for the photo shot as much as the gun shot. I don’t even need to pick up my gun to have a good experience if the outfitter is a good quote.
Yes, a good hunt is nice, but I am normally looking more for a story than a limit.
Saturday morning I wanted a good hunt. Not for me, but for the six hunters laying next to me on the South Plains farm field on an overcast morning. And believe me, when a group of hunters jumped thousands of geese and cranes off the nearest roost in the dark as they went in to duck hunt, I felt it in the pit of my stomach.
Then the hunt didn’t just explode. It started more like a trickle, and instead of geese the first few birds knocked down were cranes, which isn’t all bad. I knew the guides were doing their best and hoped the hunters noticed as well.
As the morning went along, the action picked up. Suddenly the trickle of birds became a flood and all the hunters in the spread ended with a limit of geese, with nine cranes thrown in.
Spirits were high and everyone was happy as the decoy spread was torn down and thrown back in the trailer, a job that takes much less time than putting it together.
What I didn’t know then was that morning didn’t turn out to be the test of new friendships. That came the next morning on a crane hunt that turned out to be a goose, well, in this case, a crane egg.
The 1,500 birds there the day before evaporated as conditions changed from Saturday’s cloudy and foggy to a high blue sky. Those that did come by had a spread before. The area needs more winter cold to bring in new birds.
To be honest, I would have called the hunt at 9, but that wasn’t the experience the others had come for. By 10:30, however, it was a consensus.
As Jim Hill said, that is why they call it hunting and not killing. I hope the others had the same sentiment. I know the guides felt bad. I certainly know I did.
At the end of the weekend, I wouldn’t trade the experience. There were some hiccups, but everyone thankfully seemed to roll with them. It was a learning time for me and situations that will be improved on in the future.
And now, I look forward to my next trip, this time to Mexico bass fishing, and then more down the road.
You know, making new friends isn’t so bad after all.