Christmas is a time for family and the outdoors.
Sometimes the latter is the best excuse to get away from the former.
However, the most fruitful of days involve both, bringing together those whom you most emulate and the joy of a shared pursuit that’s as much an exercise in tradition as anything else.
Christmas week for me has led to a shift in priorities.
As a youngster the anticipation was greatest during the morning trek down the hall to see what stack of mystery was nestled beneath the tree. Getting older, the eagerness for presents gave way to the budding expectations of a hunting trip, no matter the circumstances.
The best quail hunting conditions I’ve seen came on a hunt in Tamaulipas in Mexico during a Christmas weekend that brought snow across South Texas, leaving sandy bay shorelines with a delicate coating of powder that soon dissipated. The political conditions and widespread violence have since changed the hunting possibilities in that portion of the country, but during our memorable hunt we flushed at least 30 coveys a day behind pointers who only understood commands in Spanish.
Nothing was lost in translation though as the playful pups stopped every so often to look back and give a pronounced canine grin at my father and I as if they simply were reveling in how many birds there really were, too.
I also can’t help but think of all the great pheasant hunts we’ve had during our time in the Panhandle. From Stratford to Olton and many other small towns in between, there was no shortage of brilliant long-tailed roosters rousted from a variety of stubble and other hiding spots. More than anything the success of the outings rested with the slowdown to everything that comes in small towns.
Driving back toward the big city, you couldn’t help but marvel at how every house along the way was festooned with Christmas lights and holiday cheer, no matter the setting or situation. It’s not always like that anymore.
The lights on the horizon also always seemed brighter during this time of year, especially on goose and sandhill crane hunts up toward Dumas and Dalhart. Before passing winter days in Alaska, those were among the coldest of mornings. A 15-degree sunrise was made even cooler by a 15 mph breeze that chilled an entire hunting party to the core. However, it’s a proven fact that once the birds lock in on the spread and come piling in, the icy tentacles quickly release.
Frigid holiday conditions aren’t reserved solely for wingshooting pursuits though. Deer hunting excursions to West Texas during late December also can be downright arctic, especially when gusts of stinging, dusty wind batter the top of an elevated tripod stand. The best whitetail hunts always seemed to occur under this combination of elements though, bringing out late-season bucks that those on our lease of long-time friends had never seen before.
It didn’t always mean that someone pulled the trigger, but that’s also not the sole reason to brave the surroundings.
Sometimes fishing makes its way onto the calendar this time of year, providing a hunt of a different kind. An expedition from years back on the famed San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico is among the quickest angling memories to surface. A notable Christmas vacation started on the ski slopes in Colorado to the north and ended with numerous drifts through the river’s legendary waters. My father and I caught and quickly released dozens of chunky rainbows surpassing 20 inches on some of the smallest insect imitations and lightest tippet imaginable.
Until then, even a 12-inch brown trout caught in the high country of Colorado during the heat of July seemed like a trophy on a fly rod.
In that regard, outdoor pursuits have a way of putting things in perspective and highlighting what truly is important.
I hope this year continues to provide you and your family and friends with more Christmas memories, but most of all I hope it brings the opportunity to give back, especially to youngsters. The gift of the outdoors is something that will never fit under a tree, but its value also can’t truly be measured – unless it’s calculating the smile of a child or loved one.