Growing up on a poultry ranch on the westside of the Valley back in the 60s and 70s was a true serendipity that I believe fueled my passion for an outdoor and angling life. I have talked with various outdoors-minded friends and many grew up in similar conditions – a simple, rural lifestyle so common then.
Our ranch was about 350 acres that started out as tumbleweeds and rolling pastureland near a little town called Burrel, not that far from the crossroads of Five Points. It was a great place for raising turkeys and kids, far enough from the neighbors not to bother them but near enough to have a community of friends that would help with anything.
The key to my growing up was the universe of available activities and opportunities that no one but a ranch kid could have understood. Kids that visited from the city would arrive bored, but after we got through with them they never wanted to leave! What was the magic?
First of all, it was a hunter’s paradise, especially for a kid with a Sheridan pellet gun that could be pumped up to a max of about eight times. I terrorized the sparrows that nested in our big brooder houses, and all Dad asked was for me to not shoot holes through the galvanized tin roofs. The exotic birds (to me!) I hunted were the blackbirds that were very suspicious and smarter than the sparrows. It was a shooting gallery for a young teen, back in a day when it was still politically correct to pare down overpopulation.
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Squirrels and big rats were the next targets, since they burrowed in wherever there was turkey food that fell out of the troughs. The whole region was infested! A good .22 rifle was essential, and they had a bad habit of undermining the footings of the numerous 18-foot silos filled with tons of feed. We would back a trailer under the silo and fill it, and if the legs got undermined badly enough, you could have a disaster. Rat hunting at night could be epic near the feed bins! Video games can’t compete.
The back of our ranch had a medium-sized ditch/slough and a little weir. In season, there would be a decent flow of water and behind the weir lots of little fish. Riding our bikes a mile, with a couple of poles and a small trowel, we would dig up worms in the watergrass, then fish them behind the weir. Little bass, bluegill and carp would attack the bait! We had our own secret fishing hole! We only revealed our treasure to the visiting city kids we considered worthy. They never wanted to leave after that.
Another treasure we loved hunting were horned toads. When it got hot, they would leave the sandy areas and head for shade where we would collect them. They had horns all over them, but nothing to worry about. It was their ability to shoot blood out of their eyes at a threat that was eerie! Showing visiting, and at first unimpressed, city kids this trick scared them and earned us some grudging respect. They never forgot it!
Jackrabbits were everywhere. One foggy day I was out running in a vineyard row and I heard the dogs barking and coming toward me. I stood still as a big jackrabbit ran full-out down my row. It didn’t seem to see me in my brown sweatsuit, so I decided to kick at it as it went by. I swung my leg and hit the streaking animal, almost breaking my foot. The rabbit went head over heels for 20 feet … dead! A 20-pound rabbit at 30 mph is nothing to fool with: It hurt!
Besides scorpions, bulls, paddle bugs and little brine shrimp, we loved building forts out of boxes as well as making all kinds of secret little tunnels deep in the forests of alkali weeds! The ranch had it all for an exploring kid. Cities still bore me. Adventure … fishing … now you know why my wife thinks I’m hopeless! Never give up.
Roger George is The Bee’s fishing expert. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,