The past few weeks have brought a tremendous amount of change for the critters that inhabit the Cross Timbers landscape, and I was fortunate enough to witness some great examples.
I hadn’t been able to check my trail cameras in more than two months thanks to the monsoons that took over Oklahoma. I kept waiting for things to dry up, but it became clear that wasn’t going to happen. So I hiked through a swamp for more than a mile to retrieve three cameras that were all still up and running, and full of pictures.
I had no idea what to expect. The first fawn that appeared was on May 20. The doe seemed young, but also favored the area, appearing on camera with her fawn a few times into June. A different camera picked up a fawn on May 31, which looked as if it could have been born that day.
I don’t think I’ve had fawns on camera this early before. It’s a great snapshot into the past. The gestation period is for whitetail deer is 195 to 205 days, allowing hunters to look back and pinpoint the breeding period and timing of the rut.
The cameras also captured a few bucks which is always fun. Antler growth is rapid at this point in the season, and the difference of a week was very noticeable. They went from velvet nubs on their heads to beams and points in a short period of time. When finished growing in August, each set of antlers will be as unique as a fingerprint, and never re-grown the same.
Probably the best trail cam picture was of two great horned owls. The owl in the foreground had its wings out covering a kill, and the owl in the background was looking on with intense interest. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time I’ve captured a great horned owl on trail camera, and maybe the most interesting part was the picture was taken at noon, with a temperature of 90 degrees.
You never know when you take a long and soggy hike if was worth it. Sometime you have a successful hunt, sometime you find antlers, and in times of flooding it’s the only way to retrieve cameras that became inaccessible. My wet feet were worth it.
I happened to run into the guy who hunts across the road on my way out from getting my long lost cameras so we chatted or a while. We were sharing our worries about the productivity of turkey nesting this spring, among other things, when both of us turned around to see a tom running by.
Upon further examination, this turkey was following six or eight pullets. The guy who hunts across the road said, “You know, I think there’s a bearded hen out here.”
I said, “Yep. There she is.”
This was no jake. This hen had a solid 9-inch beard. I’ve seen a few bearded hens, but never one that that was a no-doubt shooter on opening morning. And I’ve never seen one following a small flock of her own young.
A whole new generation of critters is beginning to emerge from the Cross Timbers. I’ve been lucky to witness a few of these moments. Keep your eye out and you might see a few of your own too.
Jon Kocan is the Stillwater News Press outdoors writer and a longtime hunter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.