Lynn Burkhead — Texas’ big and grand outdoors world beckons in 2022

Herald Democrat
Like guide Rob Woodruff piloting his boat on an early morning  East Texas fishing trip, it’s time for Lone Star State outdoors enthusiasts to consider a new year of outdoors possibilities. Thankfully, there is no shortage of hunting and fishing options over the next 12 months.

The Christmas decorations are now down, dutifully tucked away in the attic and the garage until jolly old St. Nicholas decides to show up next December.

And with that, it’s time to contemplate the dawning of a New Year tomorrow, as 2022 comes roaring in at the stroke of midnight tonight.

While we can all hope and pray that the next 12 months will prove kinder, gentler, and more enjoyable than the past couple of pandemic years have been, it’s time to look ahead and make some plans about a calendar on the wall without a single mark on it.

Yet, that is. Because if you’re an outdoors enthusiast in Grayson County, Texomaland, or anywhere else in the Lone Star State, there’s never enough time to enjoy everything that the outdoors world can offer during the course of another spin around the third rock from the sun.

But we can always try, right? With that in mind, here are a few thoughts about how I might spend a few days in the coming year. And I bet without much thought, you’ve probably got a few good ideas too.

January — I’ve always held a special place in my heart for late season duck hunting in January, a time when greenheads — especially during the glory days of Grayson County peanut farming — would finally make their way into Texomaland. Let the water to the north freeze and skim ice develop on local waters, and you would often be picking a limit of peanut stuffed mallards at the end of a hunt. The peanuts are gone, and the greenhead numbers aren’t as good locally as they once were, but there’s still enough. Add in a few gadwalls, wigeon, and a late season canvasback, and there are few better places to be than a North Texas duck blind in January.

February — Small game, and maybe a late season hunt for bobwhite quail in another part of Texas, is a great way to spend a February day. Few people hunt squirrels or rabbits these days, but they remain plentiful, public land hunting opportunity abounds in much of Texas, and few others bother with such critters anymore. It’s a shame, because they are plentiful, tasty, and the way that many began their pursuits afield. Dust off your .22 rifle or 20-gauge shotgun during the year’s second month, bag a few cottontails or bushytail squirrels, and find a Steven Rinella recipe after some great hunting fun that many have forgotten.

March — The third month of the year means bass — as in BIG largemouth bass — in much of Texas. The big lunker parade can begin as early as mid-February in a mild winter, so adjust your plans accordingly. But this is when the biggest largemouths push shallow for the spawn, with egg laden females often finning in mere inches of water. Catch a double-digit giant, carefully cradle it for a photo, and let it go to fight another day and keep the next generation of Lone Star State lunkers going strong. And if it happens to crack the magical 13-pound mark required for a Toyota ShareLunker bass, call the 24/7 hotline at (903) 681-0550, donate it briefly to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and help others all across Texas enjoy our state’s rich bass legacy for years and years to come.

April — While the fishing is still good for big bass — and spawning crappies — the real star across Texas this month is a loud-mouthed Rio Grande or Eastern gobbler proclaiming his love for all the world to hear. Slip in within a couple of hundred yards of a roost tree in the pre-dawn gloom, take the old longbeard’s temperature as he gobbles on the roost, and call accordingly as you invite him to the Easter or Thanksgiving dinner table.

May —– Not many people fish for bluegills these days, but if there is ever a month to start, it might be the month of May as these feisty panfish make saucer resembling beds all across the shallows of many North and East Texas lakes. A cane pole, a gold wire hook, and a box of crickets will take a limit quickly on the best waters. Ditto for a three-weight or four-weight fly rod with a nymph, a dry fly, or a terrestrial pattern at the end. You can catch big saucer sized ‘gills until your arm hurts, but only keep what you need for the dinner table, putting the rest back to keep the panfish game going strong another year.

June — As summertime arrives, head for the Texas Gulf Coast and some saltwater adventure. From big reds and some sharks in the surf at South Padre Island to redfish and speckled trout on the flats of the state’s many saltwater estuaries, there’s no shortage of angling action on the state’s upper, middle, and lower coasts this month. And if you’re a little more adventurous, book a guided trip and head offshore for some hard fighting game fish that live out in the deep.

July — There are several great times on the calendar each year to go target the striped bass riches at Lake Texoma. Late fall and winter can produce some trophy catches. Late spring can produce great action after the spawning run. And if the year is wet, there can be some great fishing in the Red River below Denison Dam. But for my money, give me a hot summer day, a lake surface boiling with blitzing stripers early in the month, and a fly rod loaded up with a shad resembling topwater popper.

August — For yours truly, the month that fall football practice starts for my beloved Denison Yellow Jackets also marks a month of preparation for me as a hunter. From making sure the bow is sighted in as I try and punch the 10-ring on a 3-D foam whitetail target to powdering a few clay pigeons on the back 40 as dove season and teal season approach, be willing to put some sweat equity into this month for a lot of fall hunting success.

September — This month is all about wingshooting, and well, maybe some pigskin action from the Yellow Jackets, the Longhorns, and the Cowboys. No matter who your favorite gridiron team is and who you’ll be rooting for this month, be sure that your September plans include a few good dove hunts around the Sept. 1 opener and a sultry early autumn morning on a nearby mud flat or dwindling pond as the blue-winged teal come roaring through. It’s fast shooting, you’ll miss a lot, but the smiles are big, and the eating is good at the end of the day, making it all worthwhile.

October — For many, the month of Halloween means the first chance of a chilly morning and a chance to climb up into a tree and see if a local whitetail might have a hunger for acorns dropping to the ground or yellow corn nuggets getting spun from a feeder. But the end of the month also typically brings the start of quail season. If you’ve got a good lease, know the right hunting friend, or want to book a guided trip, a warm autumn day behind a locked up bird dog with a snootful of Gentleman Bob's scent is a great way to spend a day afield.

November — The next to last month of the year is one of my favorites. For one, it’s the month of my birthday, although I’m tempted to quit counting those as the years continue to quickly slip by. It’s also a time when the early season ducks — think pintails, green-winged teal, redheads and wigeon — come roaring through on the first northerly breezes on their journey to the Texas Gulf Coast. But for this month of Thanksgiving, I’m most grateful for big racked bucks on the prowl as they heed the hormones surging through their burly bodies, chase the nearest whitetail doe as the rutting frenzy begins, and give deer hunters the most magical hunting days of the fall. My biggest bucks have fallen in November, and it’s can’t miss time to be up in a tree with a bow in your hand.

December — I love Christmas, I love family, and I love celebrating the Savior’s birth. I typically try and dial back my hunting time this month, trying to savor all of the above in the most wonderful time of the year. But that doesn’t mean I don’t slip out every now and again for a little post rut deer hunting action, a trek down south for the Brush Country rut in the counties south of San Antonio, or a visit to a local duck marsh with a couple of dozen Texas-rigged decoys on my back. Like the holiday season that I enjoy so much every year, this is not a time to rush about, but instead a time to savor all that’s good in life, to enjoy the outdoors world as the final leaves fall from the trees, and to relish the grandeur and bountiful riches given by the Creator above.

And maybe scratch the Lab behind the ears, sip a cup of steaming hot coffee, and thank the Good Lord above for the passage and blessings of another rich, full year.

With that in mind, here’s wishing you and those deer to you — oops, how about dear? — a rich and prosperous New Year!