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Friday, January 13, 2012


A Deer Hunting Trip Remembered

I imagine the hunting trips of my youth compare to numerous others hunting trips. By the time I was old enough to hunt, my father and grandfather did not have deer hunting property nor were they on a yearly deer lease. So, I would often go hunting with my father when he was invited by business acquaintances and his friends; or, the three of us would go and my grandfather would pay for day hunts or a day lease. The later of our options (day/day lease hunting) would result in several possible outcomes: a fun trip (successful or not), an interesting trip or a disastrous adventure. Of all the hunting adventures I remember from my youth, two disastrous adventures stand out and one of those is deer hunting related.

Whether or not my grandfather heard of this place from a friend or found the advertisement in the newspaper, I do not know. But, considering the final outcome, I would imagine no friend would refer us there. Sure, he called about it before he paid the initial payment. He was a money conscious man; he wouldn't have just paid that amount of money without at least speaking to the owners/leasers about it first. Unfortunately, a phone call to a place in deep Southwest Texas will only net you what the leaser wants to disclose; and, it's pretty hard to verify that without seeing it firsthand. So, in the days before Google Earth, Yahoo topography maps and Yelp or other online review sites, my grandfather had nothing to go on besides what he heard on the phone. And, apparently, that was enough to convince him. Since we do not have that initial advertisement, I imagine it was something like this: ATTENTION Hunters: 100,000 Acres. Managed Property. Limited hunting for past 10 years. LOTS of deer. Luxury Accommodations. Gourmet Food. For Information Call: ***-***-****.

This adventure started like countless others we had with the exception that one of my cousins was going hunting with us. We left the day before a holiday; my parents were not of the opinion to check me out of classes for days at a time for frivolous trips. [You should know my dad always went prepared for a trip. We took almost anything you could imagine.] This trip, as there were four of us, we hauled all of our gear in a basic covered trailer behind my grandfather's mid 90's model Suburban. We started for Kerrville on old I-10 and made our way towards one of my favorite places to eat, and ultimately towards our reminiscently disastrous and funny adventure. Almost every deer hunting trip, my father/grandfather would stop at one of two restaurants; they became some of my favorite places to eat because I began to associate them with our time together, in addition to the restaurant's good food and atmosphere.

Those two restaurants were The Little Red Barn in San Antonio and Anna Marie's Alpine Lodge and Hotel in Kerrville. Since I have family in San Antonio, I still eat at The Little Red Barn, though not often. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the name of the one in Kerrville; so, I called the Kerrville Visitor's Center to see if they could help and they provided me with the name used in this story. When we stopped in Kerrville, we found an ominous sight. The restaurant, one of my favorites, was inaccessible. We discovered that someone had set the Lodge and Hotel portion on fire (bystander's remarks) interesting and the restaurant was blocked by what appeared to be all the fire trucks and police cars in Kerrville. Since we couldn't get our truck and trailer in the parking lot, we ate elsewhere. I forgot where we ate instead; apparently it was not memorable. After eating, we proceeded on our way. I remember it seemed like we were driving through the same scene for hours; it was just one constant stream of flat ground and limited hills of desert-like landscape.

One of my favorite games from these trips was deer spotting; and, it's still one of my favorite things to do when on a trip through Texas, or anywhere. I'd simply see how many deer I could count, especially when we were near the place where we were going to hunt. This time, I thought I saw deer everywhere. Looking back, it was probably just the landscape playing tricks on my eyes, or all the deer that were scared away from our destination (but, I am getting ahead of myself). After what seemed like an eternity (I was young), we arrived at dusk. We drove through the long entry way to a ranch-style house where a ton of vehicles were parked. We went in and my grandfather paid. First major clue (if you don't count the vehicles): we were invited to the remainder of the gourmet evening meal: spaghetti pasta stained with red sauce lumped together in a basic sauce pan on top of a stove with a spiral burner in a very mundane and small kitchen, which was nowhere near gourmet. Needless to say, we declined.

After that, we were shown to the stellar accommodations. Second major clue: bunk beds stacked 3 high in a 10am ceiling room. Once we got our things stowed for the evening, we talked a little and then got into bed. My cousin was on the bottom bunk, I was in the middle bunk and my dad decided to have the top bunk because it was the hardest to get in (and because I think he worried that I would roll out). To say there was limited space doesn't even come close to the truth. There was little space on the bottom two beds, but the person on top got to sleep with the ceiling less than 2ft from his face. And, at the time, my dad was a pretty large man and him getting on the top bunk to begin with was treacherous. He thought, though he didn't tell me at the time, that he was going to fall through the bunk springs, crush me and have to explain my injuries to my mom. With the three of us squeezed together in one place, my grandfather slept in a different bunking system close by.

In the morning, we discovered my grandfather was missing. We looked for him everywhere. My dad was in borderline panic mode at this point: after a night of fitful sleeping, worrying that he might break the bed and crush his son, he woke up to realize his father-in-law has gone missing in the middle of nowhere. Then, my dad decided to check the truck and found him. My grandfather had taken to the truck because the snoring was so loud and decided to spend the evening sleeping in a vehicle without the heater running and the outside ambient temperature falling to about freezing. Third major clue: After locating my grandfather, getting suited up for the morning hunt and getting our gear organized, we met at least 2 dozen people outside the ranch house.

We were instructed to divide up between 2 pickup trucks and squeeze at least a dozen of us in the bed of each truck. Our truck drove us through the property (following the first) and eventually split up at a fork. Our truck drove maybe 100 yards from the fork and stopped. They let a person out and drove about another 100 yards, stopped to let another get out, and drove on. This went on until it was our turn. When it was our turn, we got out and received limited directions to the stand. And, before we made it 5 yards off the road, the truck commenced its routine and left us in the dark. Thankfully we made it to the blind without a mishap. That morning, we neither saw any deer nor did we hear anyone in the endless countryside fire a weapon. So, we chit-chatted and we both read a book.

Regardless of our trip's outcome, our purpose in going was to get away, spend time together and enjoy God's Country; if we were lucky and skilled enough to kill an animal, it was a plus, but it wasn't a need. Sure, my dad and I always hoped of shooting a mature, hug-racked buck, but our trips were worth more than that. I admit, initially I just wanted to go hunting with my dad; but, as I aged, so did my perspective. There's just something indescribable about being away from a city and being in the woods, or desert in this case. It's relaxing, but you really do appreciate how wonderfully amazing God made our planet. And, in my case and my father's, we haven't been on a hunting trip together since I was completing my undergraduate degree in 2000. For me, I haven't been deer hunting since 2002, almost 10 years ago. I miss my time in the woods, the alone time and bonding time; I miss the time I was able to spend with my dad most of all. Even with all the other types of hunting, my dad and I never seem to have the same off days. Getting back on track and back to our adventure, we continued to hunt that evening and the next morning without either set of hunters (me and my dad, my cousin and grandfather) seeing anything.

I don't think I saw a single deer killed in the entire camp the first day and a half we were there. The second evening, my dad and I finally heard a shot ring out over the flatness. And, as we were going through the evening pickups, we discovered my cousin had shot a deer, but he had gut-shot the deer. I love my cousin, but in the two trips he took with us, he gut-shot two deer (one on each trip). In this case, we searched for a half an hour and couldn't find any sign of a trail. So, we were left to our only option, return to the cabin empty handed. The next morning marked our last morning and last hunt. Like the last couple days, with the exception of the prior night, no one saw a single deer. My cousin and grandfather were in the same location as the previous night, so they eventually gave up on sitting and started looking for the deer again; we found them at it when we came to pick them up.

When we got back to the luxury accommodations, we packed up and were about to leave when we saw 4 guys on an elevated platform return from hunting. Even with their platform and their guide, none of them saw a deer. (As for my cousin's deer, they found it a couple days later. It was about the size of a Great Dane before it was dressed.) Leaving, we took the same route home as we took to this luxurious ranch. We stopped in Kerrville again to try that restaurant to find that someone had set fire to the Lodge again. We decided to eat somewhere else, and it was as memorable as the previous place. When we finally made it home, initially our morale was low. But, with the passing of time and the more we tell this story adventure that has transformed from a disaster to something that will forever be remembered in the annals of our family's hunting history, especially among those hunting trips shared by my grandfather, my father and me.

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