Luke Clayton: Priefort feeders

Mike Ford shows off one of the Priefort feeders he helped design. These feeders close automatically when the slightest amount of moisture triggers a very sensitive sensor.

As hunters and lovers of the outdoors, we all have places near and dear to our hearts. These are places that the mere thought of brings a smile and rekindles great memories. Red River County in northeast Texas is such a place for me.

I spent my formative years growing up on our broiler farm there. Behind our little farm were miles and miles of what remains remote ranch land today. Back in the late ’50s and ’60s, this was one of the lesser settled parts of the state, and even today when driving the backroads I knew as a kid, I get the sense of going back to a time when things were much more simple.

Luckily, I still have friends in the area that include Mike and Lori Ford, owners of the Rio Rojo Rancho situated in the northwest corner of the county. I was with Mike’s uncle, John Earl, when I saw my first deer harvested — that was about 58 years ago.

Today, the deer herd on Mike’s ranch is astounding. I recently had the privilege of spending a couple of days there with my new Gearhead compound bow in quest of a big axis buck. The temperature was approaching 100 degrees and probably exceeded that in the hunting blind during the afternoon hunts. I did see some monster axis bucks, heavy of body and antler but none came within bow range, and they were moving at first light and again just before darkness. If I had a couple days to hunt, I’m positive I could have taken a good buck, but we decided to wait till a bit cooler weather to pursue these spotted deer. What I did see and had within bow range were some monster whitetail bucks.

Mike was a deer breeder for years and introduced the best of the best genetics to his self-sustaining herd. What I saw on this short early September hunt was a far cry from the whitetail deer I remember hunting as a teenager. Good genetics and a great feeding program have proven what can be done with a whitetail deer herd. Many of these pasture born and raised bucks that were 2 years old sported headgear that far exceeded the biggest bucks I remember being taken in the area when I was a young hunter.

My friend, Jeff Rice, who is the video guru that co-hosts and produces my weekly outdoor video blog, came along to hopefully film me arrowing a big axis buck. Jeff was in awe of the size of the whitetail coming out of the heavy cover during early morning and late afternoon to hit the Priefert feeders we were hunting over. Jeff was elated at the excellent footage he was able to get.

Jeff and I were equally impressed at the design of the feeders that automatically open and close when the slightest amount of moisture falls on a sensor. Mike helped design and perfect these feeders, which are now in use all over Texas and many other states.

One of the feeders not only dispenses protein feed but serves as a corn feeder as well. The two-section hopper holds both corn and pelleted feed. These feeders eliminate waste caused by moisture which equates to many dollars during the course of a year.

Yes, deer hunting in Red River County has come a long, long way from the days when as a boy I would scatter a little corn I robbed from my Dad’s feed room to hopefully attract deer in the little woodlot behind our farm. I remember getting off the school bus during deer season and taking my little .410 loaded with rifled slugs back to hunt deer behind the house. I was 16 years old before I took that first buck on my Uncle Jack Conner’s place near Bagwell. Back in the 1960s, it was a rare sight to see a deer and the mere sighting of deer tracks was enough to get my hunting blood pumping. Little did I know back then that I would one day have the opportunity to hunt true trophy class whitetail close to my boyhood stomping grounds.

It will be interesting to fast forward another couple decades and see the overall benefit of the great genetics that will definitely influence the overall deer herd in not only Northeast Texas but all across the state. Hopefully I’ll be around to witness the progression of a very positive thing. I’ll only be about 89 years old, and my buddy Mike will be about 80, just the right age to be considered a seasoned whitetail guide.

The Rio Rojo Rancho has a surplus of big axis bucks, and Mike is looking for hunters to help reduce the herd. He still has openings for a few trophy whitetail hunts. If you have yet to lock in on a ranch to hunt this season, visit the website first at www.riorojorancho.com, and then give Mike a call.

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