I n late April, I got word through a good friend that Lyle Jordan had passed away. The name won’t mean much to most of you, but the man meant a great deal to Texas waterfowl hunting—and to me.
Jordan Farms was a sprawling expanse of rice and soybean and open fields south of I-10 a little closer to Katy than Brookshire. It was there, all over those acres, where I learned to hunt ducks and geese with some of the state’s earliest and best goose shooters.
Jordan was among Texas’s first farmers, back in the late 1960s if memory serves, to recognize commercial value in the growing flocks of snow geese and swarms of ducks that took such keen interest in his crops. A few fellows from Houston, and then more and more, enjoyed shooting the big birds at dawn and still, if necessary, being able to muster for at least half an office day in the city.
Into the 1970s, what started as a handful of guided hunts on weekends turned into a steady, seven-day operation through winter, and that bloomed into addition of groups of hunters who paid for the right to hunt “somewhere” each seasonal morning.
That’s where I entered the picture, late in that decade, as a friend of a friend who plunked down a couple hundred bucks to be part of a 10-person group—three of whom had any clue how to do what we all so eagerly wanted to do.
Every winter morning, two hours before sunrise, most of us waited in the frigid parking lot outside Jordan’s storefront in town. G uides and group leaders met with our lessor inside the small room and huddled over a plywood “map” of the farm. Negotiation and discussion followed over who would hunt which numbered field. Washers were plunked onto the board, one by one, until everyone had a spot.
There were arguments some mornings, especially over prime pintail flats on sunny days. Ultimately, however, the decision always rested with the man whose hands had worked those fields since he was a child.
This was long enough ago that there were no full-bodied goose decoys. Nor were there cones or wind socks or anything else that looked much like a goose. Most of us still were shuttling diapers and bedsheet squares into the fields, and a wet hundred of those in a burlap sack is every bit as heavy and cumbersome as you can imagine.
And, for the record, we did all this toting and dragging across sloppy ground without the aid of any ATV or even so much as a plastic sled. Just legs and backs, both of which were sore more than not during the season.
If you were standing “here” and wanted something in the field over “there,” you lifted it up and carried it in—and out again, including hulls, preferably with a dozen or two geese on the opposite shoulder.
We shot lead back then, too, and plenty of it, from modified barrels choked in the factory. Most of us chose pump guns, because the auto-loaders couldn’t take the grit and grime.
Somewhere along the way, Jordan came across some heavy plastic that he cut into squares and tested on the sharp eyes of the snow geese. The material was white on one side and black on the reverse, which was about as ideal a coincidence as ever happened in outdoors gear. He had thousands of the rags sacked and ready, and he loaned them enthusiastically to anyone who needed them. And man, did they work.
Occasionally, if the farm wasn’t too busy, Jordan would join us on a hunt and show up with a few extra bags of plastic. The bigger the spread back then, the better the snow geese, whitefronts and Canadas liked it.
We all had calls and whistles around our necks, and most of us at least were adequately skilled to fool gray-feathered young geese. A couple of guys were groundbreakers, however. I wish I could positively identify the man who, somewhere on Jordan Farms, first blew a specially-tuned Olt T-20 predator call at a specklebelly. The sound, when yodeled just so, was irresistible to those brown birds. I’m not sure who blew those first notes, but I’m confident the gullible bird that heard them never heard another sound.
At its peak, the Katy Prairie was winter home to more than a million waterfowl annually—along with hawks, bald eagles and dozens more migratory species. Our average goose hunt was nearly three times the national average for geese, and the duck hunting was nothing short of stellar.
Lyle Jordan may not have started it all, but he was there from those first thunderous volleys through the smattering of shots that occasionally are still fired over a few remaining duck ponds out that way.
During the many years I hunted Jordan Farms, long before I guided anywhere for anyone, I learned a great deal from Lyle, his guides and my friends. If I were younger by a dozen or so years, I’d try to name the men who shared so many cold, wet, absolutely glorious mornings on that ground.
Instead, I’ll just consider each of us descendants of a man who saw the Katy Prairie change from nothing but farmland into one of the continent’s most outstanding waterfowl wintering grounds—then into the unrecognizable sea of homes and businesses it is today.
I’ll miss Lyle Jordan the same way I miss the Katy Prairie.