I had always heard the old saying about “if you can’t beat ‘em join em;” well I must admit that in a fair amount of situations that trusty old saying can sure come in handy. As a local duck hunter I, like plenty of others, have taken a beating so far this year. Sure there have been a few good hunts and yes I know I’m lucky to just get out and enjoy the opportunity, but sometimes that’s just not enough.

In my opinion, I needed a change of scenery, preferably someplace full of birds and plenty of chances to shoot them. For several years now I have made an annual trek to the Panhandle and the wonderful hunting keeps me going back for more. I figured now was just as good a time as any to hit the road. Soon, I had a small army in tow with visions of a waterfowlers paradise dancing in their eyes. This trip would be the earliest in the season I had ever been, what an eye opener it was.

All the reports you hear about the ducks being farther north are absolutely 100 percent true. They are packed in the panhandle like cordwood. The record rains of October have every small body of water full to the brim and even spilling over in some places. All this water coupled with plenty of food and warm temperatures doesn’t make the future very bright for us farther south. That is unless you decide to go where the birds are.

On this trip my son, Hunter, and I had the good fortune of bringing some really good friends along for the festivities. The group included Chance and Jonah Lemoine of Bridge City, John, Forrest and Hunter Gothia and Tim Schossow, also from Bridge City.

Chance, Jonah, Hunter and I flew up on Friday to meet my good buddy Terry Cooke of Straightline Outfitters and get set up for the next few days. The Gothia clan and Tim pulled a marathon drive up on Friday night and met us in Amarillo the morning of our first hunt. We made a short drive east of town and got ourselves set up to hunt in a field of corn stubble. The primary target was geese, specifically Canada geese and there were plenty of them in the area.

Unfortunately we had a little bad luck as another group of hunters set up on the property adjacent to us and really screwed up the program. We scratched out a few geese and watched as line after line of birds would get set up to hit our spread only to be flared off by the other party. Tough luck, but that happens sometimes. The highlight of the morning was watching the unbelievable numbers of ducks in another field get up and circle around. The numbers of birds were mind blowing, just really hard to describe it and give the full story.

Day two had us on another quest with a little bit different target, we were after Sandhill Cranes. The crane population in this part of Texas is just staggering, literally thousands of these big birds stay here all winter. After another drive east of town we again set up in a field of corn stubble with our guide Terrel Cooke and had much better results. The cranes did exactly what every waterfowl hunter dreams of, feet down in the decoys and fully committed. The morning was a huge success as we shot 9 limits of sandhill cranes and probably could have shot another 9 if we wanted to. I had never before hunted cranes over decoys, all the ones I had ever shot were stragglers who wandered into a goose spread while I was guiding down south. This hunt was a real treat and one I won’t soon forget.

The final hunt was an extra special one as it was just the youngest hunters of the bunch and myself. Chance, Jonah, Forrest, and Hunter were set for one more duel with the cranes and geese. In the early morning darkness they moved around like seasoned pro’s setting up decoys according to Terry’s instructions. Once the spread was set and shooting time finally came, we were treated to an aerial display. Ducks, geese of all species, and cranes were thick as thieves and it seemed like they were all in the air at once. The cranes did their thing and finally decided to visit our spread. An hour later we had 7 limits of cranes on the ground and enough smiles to light up the county.

If you have never had the opportunity to go up towards the panhandle and experience the thrill of this style of hunting you owe it to yourself to go and see what it’s all about. Along with all the ducks, geese and cranes there are a ton of pheasant as well. Talk about a great day, geese and cranes in the morning followed by an afternoon of pheasant hunting. Doesn’t get much better.  For more info on hunting in the panhandle give the guys at Straightline Outfitters a call at 806-679-3462 or check them out on the web at www.straightlineoutfitters.com