Thursday, January 6, 2011

South Texas New Year's

I know I'm weird but I can't think of a better way to ring in the New Year than tracking a wounded doe through the Brush Country of famed South Texas. Maya's uncle Andrew has invited us to The De La Garza Ranch along with the rest of the extended family, eighteen in all, to celebrate New Year's. Now, we're on our hands and knees, in the pitch dark, looking for tiny droplets of blood that will lead us to our wounded quarry.
It all started when Maya's Father Mike was remarried in Santa Barbara this summer. Sitting around a fire outside the pepper tree hotel, Maya had the brilliant idea of a reunion at the Ranch over New Year's. I believe everyone in attendance that night was reunited six months later under the lone star around a much bigger bonfire (everything's bigger in Texas). Gazing at the wide open Texas star scape and reflecting into my chilly microbrew I recounted the days events and considered it a blessing to be here.
Our flight out of Sacramento left at 6am that morning, not an easy task with two toddlers, luggage and car seats. I dropped the kids and Maya off at the terminal, sped back to the economy lot and jumped on a tram, not before nailing my noggin on the hatch of the freestyle hastily grabbing tanner's Thomas the Train sweatshirt (which I found once we returned home in the car seat bag, unworn). In the rush I forgot to note the parking location and paid for that later too but hey, we made it didn't we?
We nearly missed our connecting flight in Denver-which would've set us back a day-but instead sprinted (Maya carrying Sage and me dragging a belligerent Tanner) all the way across the airport, only to wait for an hour as crews de-iced the wings. I should probably omit the fact that Maya was ready to give up but I won't because this blog is "The Man's Side" and I'm proud of the fact that I didn't. "We're too late!" she cried, obviously unnerved and embarrassed by Tanner's wailing.
"We don't know that!" I retorted with my best Nicolas Cage impression. "We've just gotta get there!" The portly attendant asked us if we had heard her paging us as we breathlessly arrived at the gate, 15 minutes after the scheduled departure time. We chuckled to each other, giddy that the plane hadn't left us for a day in quickly-freezing-over Denver. We couldn't have heard a siren over Tanner's wailing.
We arrived in San Antonio two hours late but Aunt Andy was there with the De La Garza's Suburban and we were off for Catulla, home of George Strait and ground zero for big oil speculation. On the ninety minute car ride we witnessed no less than three accidents, one of which unfolded in front of our eyes in a cloud of smoke. It seemed obvious then that "The Big Guy" was definitely looking out for us. Welcome to Texas Baby! Let's go hunting!
If you've never been to South Texas, the landscape is thoroughly monotonous and impressive only for the fact that it seems to stretch endlessly into the horizon, an ocean of tangled branches. "Brush Country" pretty much sums it up. Different shades of gray interspersed with the occasional jolly green of a prickly pear cactus, smothered in a tan layer of dust, rolls out along lonely stretches of highway. Unimpressive of course, unless you are a hunter. The particular area where the De La Garza Ranch is situated is a world-renowned Whitetail Deer hunting haven, legendary amongst even the most casual hunting enthusiast. Hardware stores showcase feeders and box blinds on tall "quad-pods" that tower over even the tallest of camo and winch-equipped, four-wheel-drive trucks.
Word got out amongst the family of our harrowing airport travails and we were greeted as heroes at the ranchhouse, a white-washed and red-trimmed affair that seemed to sprout right out of the desert. Complete with snake-proof fencing it spoke to the weary traveler, beckoning him to a desert outpost after a long journey.
Uncle Andrew is instantly the friendliest guy you will meet and yet underneath runs a strong current. He is constantly on the go and always seems to have everything under control. His wife Christine belies the same electricity, a top OB/GYN, non-pareil amongst her peers, she epitomizes Texas warmth and hospitality. They make us feel welcome at once and Uncle Andrew is kind enough to broach the subject of hunting. "Oh Yeah, we'll set you up in the Rock Blind tomorrow. You should see a lot of game. Deer, Hogs, turkey, maybe even a bobcat or cougar."
The next day Aunt Karen and I post up in the rock blind before dawn breaks. The whirring of the feeder sounds off at 7am and ratchets up the anticipation. Something will be coming by soon it says. A doe materializes from the mist. A low fog has settled over the horizon and descends and recedes like the pulsing of a tidal swell. I set the .270 rifle up on the window and get a good look at her. The De La Garza's have a strict management strategy for their property. They harvest only one mature buck each year that meets their specifications. As such, it's important to harvest a few mature does each year to keep the buck-to-doe ratio up and thin the herd appropriately. The trick is to find a mature doe that isn't trailing fawns. Just as I started to seriously consider taking the mature doe, a young fawn stepped out from the mist. I told Karen that we wouldn't take this one and she thanked me for sparing her the agony. I teased her later that she was "holding me back" but after seeing the fawn, it wasn't a question. There is just too much game around the ranch to take anything other than exactly what you're looking for.
For the next two hours we watched a family of deer mill about, at times spooky and staring at the box blind, other times browsing contentedly only yards from our location. I noticed that the fawn had "nubs" and the other two deer were bucks. One was a small 2x3 and the other -"Daddy" we called him- had an identical but much larger and taller rack. There's nothing like observing wildlife from a hidden vantage point. I could tell that Karen enjoyed playing "hide and seek" with the family of deer and just watching them in their natural surroundings. Although we didn't find a doe or a hog that was suitable for taking, we definitely gained a better appreciation for the nature that surrounded us here in South Texas.
To be continued....