Tuesday, November 8, 2011

No Joy

As regular readers know (and my thanks to both of you...) last weekend was the opening of deer season down here. In keeping with the bizarre way things have been going the last few months, this year's hunting experience has likewise been on the strange side. But first, a little background.

I was raised to be comfortable around firearms. We also spent a fair amount of time camping, fishing, and in general enjoying the outdoors. However, my father wasn't a big hunter, so my early firearms experience was limited to target shooting. When I got out of the Army back in 1975 and took my first job in the corporate world, I became friends with a couple of good ol' Texas country boys who just couldn't believe I'd never been deer hunting. Roy and Ronnie were brothers who were a few years older than me. They took me under their wing and treated me like their little brother. Of course, in this case that meant the Texas country version of tough love. Roy and Ronnie often had disputes and were prone to settle them with fisticuffs rather than words. I never got into a knock-down-drag-out with either of them, but there was a little pushing and shoving on occasion. Of course, once the dust settled and the first beer was opened whatever the argument was about soon faded into insignificance.

Roy and Ronnie were also pretty rough practical jokers. I still shudder when I remember pulling open my desk drawer and discovering a live rattlesnake coiled inside. Their explanation that they'd wrapped a rubber band around its mouth to keep it shut did little to reassure me, especially once we saw that the rubber band had broken. The drawer got slammed shut pretty damn quick while we figured out the best way to deal with the situation (a metal trash can and a couple of Austin phone books were involved, in case anyone finds themselves in a similar fix).

Anyway, Roy and Ronnie introduced me to the joys and frustrations of deer hunting. They had a lease out near Sweetwater, which hosts the world's largest rattlesnake roundup. Yes, I've been there. Yes, I've eaten fried rattlesnake (it really does taste like chicken). And no, I will never do either one again. Once is more than enough for some things.

One of my most enduring and endearing memories of hunting with them was the day we were walking back to camp and saw the biggest rattlesnake I've ever seen in my life slithering across the path. Both brothers let out a loud whoop, threw down their rifles, and went tear-assing after the snake. The snake, understandably confused by the two lunatics running towards him instead of away, tried to escape by heading down a nearby hole in the ground. Unfortunately for him, he'd just eaten and had a bulge about the size of a football in his mid-section. Ronnie got there first, grabbed the snake by its tail, yanked it out of the hole, swung it around his head a couple of times to build up momentum, and then cracked that snake like a whip. Popped its head clean of its body. Damnedest thing I ever saw. Even without the head, that snake pegged out at damn near six feet.

Roy and Ronnie skinned the darn thing, salted it, rolled it up, and put it on ice to take home. The plan was to tack it to a board and let it cure, then make a couple of belts out of the skin. Of course, Roy and Ronnie got in a fight about the best way to do this, so the rest of us just sat back and waited for them to get tired of whaling on each other.

I hunted with Roy and Ronnie for years. Unfortunately, I left the Austin area for another job in Houston. At first we stayed in touch but over the years we gradually drifted apart. I don't know where Roy and Ronnie are today, but wherever it is I can guarantee it's not boring.

By the time I got to Houston I was a confirmed hunter. I made new friends and hunting compadres. This resulted in a couple of decades of hunting the same lease, this time in Central Texas near the small town of Albert (just outside the thriving metropolis of Blanco). Great lease, great friends, but time had its way with us. Several of the old-timers got too feeble (or too dead) to continue hunting. And after 20+ years the landowner died, and his son sold off the land. About that time I moved back near San Antonio, so by mutual consent those of us who remained on the lease agreed to move on as well.

For the last few years I've taken a new approach to hunting. Between work and family, it's been difficult to get away for multiple weekends during the season, so I've been taking one week-long hunting trip. I usually go to a ranch in Wyoming where we know some folks. I get to hunt mule deer and pronghorns, and one of these days I'll draw an elk tag and really fill the freezer. It's a different way to hunt than what I'm used to - kind of like going to a resort for a week where you're pampered and spoiled, and don't have to do anything. It's a lot of fun, but I missed the camaraderie and sense of ownership that you get from having your own lease.

All of which brings me to this year. My older son (38 years old, from a previous marriage) found a lease near Dilley. Dilley's claim to fame is that it is home to the Dolph Briscoe Unit of the Texas state prison system. As a matter of fact, our lease is right across the road from the prison, just a little over a mile from it.

Like I said way back somewhere near the top of this post, this is a bit of a strange year. The previous hunters on this lease didn't renew this year, so it went on the market. A group of five other hunters signed on, leaving two spots open. My son and I took them, so we're hunting with a bunch of strangers. They seem nice, and also seem to know what they're doing, so hopefully there won't be any problems. but it is a little different from what I'm used to.

I also didn't get a chance to do much pre-season scouting. In fact, I only got there once before the season started. I didn't even get to make opening morning, instead showing up mid-day and hunting Sat. evening and Sun morning. In my one scouting trip I found a place to set up that overlooks the intersection of a couple of game trails, with plenty of deer and hog sign, so I was cautiously optimistic. However, I didn't see a damn thing that first evening.

Once it got too dark to shot I headed back to camp. Foliage in South Texas brush country consists of plants that have thorns, spines, stickers, or some combination. It makes cross-country travel difficult, so most folks stick to established trails. I was moseying along one such trail when I heard the unmistakeable sound of a disturbed rattlesnake dead ahead. There he was, coiled up smack in the middle of the trail. I didn't feel like going backwards, and couldn't go around him. He didn't seem inclined to move, so we just stood there for a few seconds and stared at each other.

In addition to my rifle I was carrying a .357 revolver, primarily in case I ran into a bunch of hogs. It was loaded with solid slugs, not rat shot, but at that point I didn't care. I unholstered it and cranked off a few rounds. The first one went high, but the next one hit the snake. He thrashed around for a while and didn't seem in any hurry to settle down, so I busted another cap on his scaly ass. That quieted him down quite a bit, but not all the way.

By now it was nearly full dark. I knew I'd hit the darn thing twice, but it was still twitching and moving around. So I took my flashlight in one hand and a big rock in the other and dropped the rock on the snake's head. Then I took this picture and cut off the rattles.

It's not a very good picture, but all I had with me was my cellphone. The snake was about four feet long and about as big around as my wrist.

It was also the only critter that got shot this weekend.

The weather was warm and muggy. Game was scarce. More hogs, coyotes, and bobcats were seen than deer. Hopefully things will pick up when the weather cools off. Unfortunately, I won't be able to go back for at least two weekends. But it was nice getting out, doing some hunting, and spending time with son #1.

And I'm sure my next hunt will result in a freezer full of venison...


Harper said...

Growing up in Kansas and then moving here, the method of hunting seemed really strange. Every opening season weekend all the men of the family and their hunting buddies would show up at my grandparent's house and would hunt their farm property. Scouting consisted of asking Grandma and Granddad where they had been seeing deer the most. No one ever came back empty handed. Never heard of a blind, feeder or any other bait and hide method of hunting until I got to Texas.

I hope we get the chance to meet up at the official home of Camp Blownstar next year, you will be duly impressed by the fauna, both domestic and imported.

CenTexTim said...

I'm not a big fan of feeder-and-blind hunting, but the brush down here is so thick and thorny, and the ground so rocky, that there is no way to move through it quietly. You have to sit in ambush and hope the deer come to you.

In West Texas (and Wyoming) where the country is more open we do spot-and-stalk hunting. That's much more challenging and enjoyable.

re: Blownstar - looking forward to it, as long as there aren't any snakes.

Bear said...

Any day spent in the woods beats a day at work... I just got back from a weekend upstate (we're still in bow season though) and I can't believe how much three days has recharged my batteries!

Glad to hear you got to have a good day with your son though. Good luck in advance for the next time you're out.

p.s. Wyoming hunting may have ruined me for our regular gun seasons here in PA though. I agree, spot and stalk is much more enjoyable and takes a bit more effort.

CenTexTim said...

"Any day spent in the woods beats a day at work" - you got that right, Bear.

Glad you had a good Wyo trip. It's addictive. I can't wait to go back.

Old NFO said...

Ah yes, the 'joys' of Texas deer hunting...LOL