Highs and Lows in Texas
Several years ago, 2006 to be exact, I was invited by my father-in-law to go hunt on one of his friend’s trophy whitetail ranch in South Texas. He was barely finished asking before I emphatically said yes! I immediately started having visions of all the “Bucks of Tecomate” and other whitetail hunting shows I had watched on TV and the anticipation of me actually getting a chance at a monster whitetail. That vision was quickly erased when he continued with the plan; we were going to go to the ranch and cull does, hunt quail and javelina, and maybe get a chance at a pig. The opportunity at any type of hunting was cool with me!
We flew into San Antonio and, after gathering our bags and meeting up with our host, started the several hour drive towards the ranch. Somewhere along the way we stopped at an Academy Sporting Goods store and I thought I had died and gone to heaven! We don’t have anything like that around here (other than the drive to Bass pro or over to AZ to Cabelas) and I was amazed at the low prices for all sorts of hunting and fishing equipment. I grabbed a new gun case, some random t-shirts and a bag target for my bow. I then went to the counter to pay and told the lady that I also needed my hunting license and tags. Because I pay over $100 dollars for a license and 2 deer tags here in San Diego, you can imagine how surprised I was when she told me that my Texas license and tag book was only $25 because I was active-duty military. Thank you Texas!
We made one more stop for dinner at one of the best Mexican restaurants I have ever eaten at and then were finally on our way to the ranch. The drive took us through miles and miles of private ranches and deer leases that provided glimpses of multiple deer and other animals along the way. Once we finally went through Dr. Lemmor’s gate and were on his ranch, I immediately started seeing a few deer here and there. We got to his “camp cabin” and got settled in fairly quickly. There were several others joining us on the hunt so we had a little time to spare before he would give us the “rules of the ranch”. I made good use of the available time by fishing in the small pond in front of the cabin and soon the reports of “fish on” were being heard by all. Even Dr. Lemmor was surprised to see the quality and quantity of bass I was pulling out of and releasing. He had stocked it the year before and apparently they were thriving on their new environment.
Soon, the other parties started rolling in and eventually we all gathered for a meet-and-greet and to receive our rules. There were a couple of Texas police officers, a fireman and his wife, who was a high school science teacher, a fishing guide and his buddy, my father-in-law, my brother-in-law, and I. We all gathered around in the living room of the cabin and listened up as Dr. Lemmor welcomed us to the property and eventually told us where we could hunt and what we should expect to see. I have to admit, it was a little difficult to pay attention to everything he was saying because the walls were adorned with mount after mount of trophies from the ranch and other hunts his family had mad around the world. He had just about everything you could imagine on those walls! By the way, the “cabin” was actually a house that many of us would dream of owning! He then told us that we were there strictly to cull does, shoot javelin and quail, and that if we had an opportunity at a pig, not to hesitate to pull the trigger. Those Texas boys sure do hate pigs! Under no circumstance were we to shoot a buck.
After the serious business was over, we all filed outside for a Texas-style BBQ and a couple of adult beverages (or more). We had a good old time sharing stories and meeting each other. Eventually I was introduced to Linda (the school teacher) and learned that she was to be hunting a stand a couple of hundred yards away from my bother-in-law and I the next morning. She seemed pretty cool and I was impressed with the stories she shared of her past hunts. After eating dinner and having more beers than most of us probably anticipated having, we all started going inside and hitting the sack.
The next morning we awoke to the smell of bacon and eggs and all the fixins’. We had a nice breakfast and then Dr. Lemmor sent a couple of the guys to one side of the ranch and told my brother-in-law (Brad) and me that we would be riding with him to our stand. We gathered our gear and went outside to the warming truck. Immediately, I noticed what turned out to be an electric feeder attached to the back of Dr. Lemmor’s ranch truck. I asked him what it was for and he just said to wait and see. Eventually, after everyone was loaded, we started on our way through the maze of narrow roads that were lined with mesquite so thick that it made me wonder how we would see anything at all while hunting. The narrow path eventually opened up into fields and fields of plowed winter crops and food plots. Also in the first big field was another, although much smaller, cabin that Dr. Lemmor informed us was where we could hang and process the deer. After passing the cabin, the road made a hard right turn. We stopped and he pointed to a tri-pod stand and said that Linda and her husband would be there. He flipped a switch in the truck and started driving. I asked him what the switch was for and he simply told me to look behind us. What I saw quickly put a little disappointment to the whole experience. He was spreading corn on the road as we drove towards our stand! I have to admit, although I enjoy watching a lot of the deer hunts on TV, I just never have been too keen on hunting over feed (just a personal preference). I reminded myself that we were culling does in order to thin the herd and increase the quality of the animals. We eventually came to another tri-pod and he told us that this is where we would be hunting. He also said that once we got in the stand, we would see another feeder that was exactly 100 yards away. He told us when he would pick us up if we hadn’t got anything, reminded us to only shoot does and javelina, and was on his way.
Brad and I climbed up the ladder and got in our little hunting abode and immediately started seeing animals. The road that we had just gone down had no less than a dozen deer and a couple of javelina on it already! We decided not to shoot in that direction because of Linda and her husband and to instead focus our attention on the feeder that was 100 yards away. After only a few minutes, the feeder threw out some crushed corn and instantly the animals started appearing out on nowhere. The first to appear was a nice covey of quail and they were quickly joined by a few small javelina. I really wanted to bag one of those little boogers but held out for a few minutes when all of a sudden a doe appeared. Brad hit the deer with the range finder and called out the marks. When she was at 125 yards and broadside, I let her have it! We hadn’t been in the stand for more than fifteen minutes and I already had a deer on the ground! I asked Brad if he wanted to wait to see if another one would come out of if we should just go get the doe. We agreed that although it was cool enough to leave the deer for a little while, it would be better if we got it field dressed as soon as possible. So, we climbed down and started navigating our way through the thick mesquite. We reached the small clearing where the feeder was and quickly saw my deer off and to the right. Upon reaching the deer, I instantaneously was overcome with shear disappointment. My doe had buttons on HIS head. I almost cried!!! It didn’t matter how much Brad tried to console me and try to tell me that he also had thought it was a doe, I just kept hearing Dr. Lemmor’s instructions to “under no circumstances shoot a buck”! It was too late to take it back so I made the call on the radio and told him that I had a deer down. He said that he and my father-in-law (Cole) had heard the shot and were already on their way. As I rolled the little guy over to start gutting it out, I noticed that one of its hind legs was pretty torn up and looked like he had recently been attacked by a coyote. Whether he would have made it through the next night I’ll never know, but that erased just the tiniest bit of disappointment that was already filling my head. Had I just put this guy out of his misery without knowing it? Who knows?
Well, Dr. Lemmor and Cole arrived at the road just as Brad and I were dragging the deer out of the mesquite. Just like a little kid would do when they know they’ve been caught doing something bad, I lowered my head and told my host that he was going to hate me. I didn’t have to say anything more. “How big is he” he asked. At first I couldn’t get a good read on how mad he was, but soon was a little relieved when he noticed the injury on the deer’s leg and said “you probably put him out of his misery”. Although still very disappointed, I at least didn’t feel like I was going to give back my breakfast any more. He then asked if the buck was by himself or with any other deer. When I said he was by himself, he asked if I hadn’t heard him tell us that if we saw a solo deer, it was probably a buck. I admitted that I hadn’t heard him say that and that I probably was day dreaming of the mounts on the walls when I missed that very important piece of information.
We loaded the deer up in the truck and headed over to the small cabin to hang and butcher the deer. I was surprised to see that Linda and her husband were also there and they were cleaning a deer that Linda had shot. Somehow in the confusion of my events, I hadn’t heard them shoot. Once we had my deer hanging and I relived my embarrassing story to these complete strangers, I began shinning the deer. After I had the hide down around his neck and was about to take the head off, Linda asked if I minded if she checked for larvae in the deer’s head. She said that her class was researching some sort of bug that was being found in the nasal cavity. Of course I was intrigued and gave her the go-ahead. She promptly grabbed a hacksaw and proceeded to cut the deer’s head in half from its nose though its brain. She then said that it didn’t have the larvae but proceeded to give me a refresher course on the anatomy of an animal’s head (from the inside). I found it very interesting to relearn and was more impressed to see her at work.
We finished butchering the deer, packing them in the freezers in the small cabin, and then headed back to the ranch cabin. Several other does had been harvested by the other hunters and I listened as everyone gave full and detailed reports of what they had seen to Dr. Lemmor. Not only was he logging the information of all the deer that had been harvested that morning, he was also telling everyone the names of the bucks that the others were describing having seen. We all enjoyed a nice lunch and then some took naps while I and a couple of others explored the ranch on the quads. I spent he rest of the day driving around to different ponds and plucking some quality bass out each and every one of them. It was pretty good therapy that temporarily erased the bad thoughts that had filled my head earlier. Soon it was time to head back to the ranch so everyone could head out for the evening hunt. I told Dr. Lemmor that I was still pretty disappointed in myself and was going to skip the evening hunt. Although I truly believe that he wasn’t that upset with me, he could tell that it was still eating at me and told me that maybe I should just try to take a javelina and forget about the deer that evening. I am a true believer that bad thoughts in your head can ruin a hunt and that idea held true during my quest that evening. For as many animals as I had seen during the morning, I was surprised to not see a single javelina during the evening hunt. The sun soon set and all of the hunters started finding their way back to the cabin. One of the police officers had killed another doe and was down at the cabin taking care of business. He radioed that he needed a knife sharpener and Brad volunteered to run it over to him on the quad. Minutes after Brad took off on the quad, he came racing back and said that there were several javelina right around the corner and that he didn’t think they had spooked. I grabbed my rifle and Linda and Brad joined me to go after them. We eased around the edge of the mesquite until we could see the javelina and noticed that they were working their way back into the cover. Brad had the binos and said that the second to the last one from the left was the biggest of the bunch so I put the cross hair on it and squeezed one off. That thing let out a squeal that brought chills through my body. It sounded like a baby screaming! We watched as the passel scurried off into the thick cover and out of sight. We gave it a few minutes and then cautiously made our way up to claim my first javelina. Once again, disappointment overwhelmed me when I didn’t see the dead animal where I expected it. Instead, I found a blood trail and drag marks leading into the thick mesquite.
We walked back to the cabin to get flashlights and a handgun and everyone told us to just forget about it. They said that they are treated as varmints and it wasn’t worth the worry. Although what they said may have been true, after what had occurred to me in the morning, there was no way I was going to leave a wounded animal. Of all the people in the camp, Linda was the only person who wanted to go with me to find the javelina. We loaded up with everything we needed and set out. I had heard plenty of stories about how nasty these animals can be when cornered or when protecting their young, so I could only imagine what could happen if we stumbled on it when it was wounded. We reached the tracks and headed into the mesquite. The drag marks indicated that the animal was dragging its hind legs which meant that I had probably broken its spine and it shouldn’t have been able to get very far. Well, about 500 yards later, we finally caught the reflection of eyes in the shine of our lights and identified it as my javelina. As we slowly inched our way within range, the beast started clacking its teeth at us with the craziest sound I have ever heard. Once we were at a distance that we determined was close enough, I asked Linda if she wanted to shoot it. She said no and that it was my javelina and that I should do it. I then told her that I didn’t want her to shoot it for any other reason than the fact that I wanted to share the experience AND the animal with her since she was the only one willing to track it with me. She happily accepted and sent a round right in the boiler room. What must have been an hour had passed by and we finally returned to camp with my….our, javelina. The original shot had actually put about a 2-inch crease right through its back and cut the spine in half. How that thing dragged its body through the mesquite for 500 or yards, I’ll never understand.
My 3-days in Texas found me harvesting the little buck, the javelina, several quail, and my first duck. I had several failed stalks on a couple of other does with my bow and one oh-so-close chance at a pig. Between all of the chances, harvested animals, and fish I caught, I would say that I had my fill of highs and lows (I know, I know, that seems to be becoming a theme here) in Texas. Thank you Dr. Lemmor for a fun-filled long weekend!