November 28, 2011

"Trophy Bucks, Coyo-dogs and Bozo the Clown...

After nineteen years of serving my country with the United States Navy in various places all over the contiguous forty-eight, I headed back home to Texas to serve out my final four years.

When I left, in 1976, Texas was a one-of-a-kind place. When I got back, I realized Texas was still a one-of-a-kind place, only different this time. They say, “things come and things go” and that’s true about any place, even Texas. I came back to a Texas that had a state lottery. I bring that up because I remember as a young man hearing the politician’s vowing to never let that happen in the Great State of Texas. But things change and some things came to Texas and some other things left.

One of the things that went away were the laws in place that to us, were ordinary and every day happenings back then. The “Blue Laws” had gone the way of the “ice box”, the Model T and hand cranked telephone. These laws were in place to prevent folks from purchasing certain “labor” devices on the Sabbath, or Sunday. You couldn’t buy pots and pans, or eight track tapes or even panty hose. I still haven’t figured the panty hose one out. But none-the-less, those aged, almost Mosaic-seeming laws went to the wayside.

But one thing that disappeared that I wasn’t expecting, were all the friends I grew up with. I guess I just thought they’d all stay right there in that little Central Texas hamlet and work the peanut farms, dairies and pecan groves until they died. But like me, the biggest portion of them moved to the Metro-mess (Dallas/Ft.Worth) or other cities nationwide and got married and settled down.

Why is that so monumental in my mind? Well, I’m a deer hunter and all of the folks I knew with deer hunting land had moved away. I know that sounds trivial, but I can remember those high school days of hearing my friends say “I got an eight point out at Beattie” or “took a nice ten point on grandaddy’s land in Hico”. They are all gone. But not to fret. There are other alternatives for us hunters that don’t want to buy into the “country-club” deer lease programs.

First and foremost, The Impulsive Texan is a thrifty-minded soul and can’t see putting out $750 per gun to go hunting. Second of all, The Impulsive Texan holds a position in a local government that hasn’t seen a pay raise in, count-em, four deer seasons. Yep, four years with no increase in pay, but inflation hasn’t stopped moving. But on the positive side of that, I have an amazing job in a great town. Thank you Lord, for the blessings you bestow on me.

The alternatives I speak of are the public hunting lands that we as Texans and Americans have access to…for now. We have the National Parks, the Corp of Engineers properties, the State of Texas Type II lands and the National Forest Service, of which, the LBJ National Grasslands are a part of. There are two National Grasslands and both are wholly contained within the State of Texas. God bless Texas.

My wife and life and hunting partner, Terri, have kind of adopted a small parcel of the Grasslands that we frequent quite often. It’s only an hour away, it’s small and loaded with live oak trees and the native Texas grasses that the lands derived their name from. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place and we love going there.

There are advantages and disadvantages though to hunting public property, but for us, the Grasslands is all advantages. There aren’t a lot of deer there, but guess what there aren’t a lot of either? Hunters… So even though we don’t see many trophy bucks or the masses of deer that private leases hold, we get something better and that’s privacy and safety.

Each year Terri and I enjoy time away between October 1st and the last weekend in January, by going to the Grasslands with hopes of harvesting a “public domain animal”. And each year, even though we see deer, there is always some reason why we didn’t harvest an animal. Usually it’s bow season and the animal is 75 yards away, or it’s after November 1st and you can’t harvest a doe and they are the ones that walk within roping distance of you. It’s usually quiet, uneventful and peaceful up there in our little hunting hamlet. But all of that changed this weekend. Yeah, it was one of those weekends.

On most weekends up there, we rarely see a soul, but this Saturday morning, we saw three souls we wish we hadn’t. It’s a cool, breezy, Saturday morning and I’m somewhere in between the state of sleep and being awake. I’m sitting in my chair, head bobbing, when suddenly I swear I dream that someone is whistling a tune. Well, it turns out, it wasn’t a dream. I open my eyes and to my right, I see a young man, walking along in a yellow safety vest, whistling his favorite tune with a cup of coffee in his hand. I seriously don’t believe what I’m seeing. He’s on the other side of a stand of trees and suddenly makes a left like he’s going to come into the clearing that I’m watching over. Like Hades he is! I stand up and put my hands up in a gesture of, “What in the name of green-horn stupidity are you doing”. He immediately saw the orange vest and my .50 caliber Wolf Black Powder rifle that was pointed in his general direction and quickly melted back into the trees. At the same time, my cell phone lit up. It’s Terri screaming at the top of her lungs “Who the h#11! are those idiots that just walked through my hunting site???? I told her that I had no idea and she said they disappeared into the woods and thankfully we didn’t see them again the entire weekend. I think they got the message.

Feeling the morning hunt was pretty much ruined, I headed to the van to get something to eat and for a bottle of water. I’m sitting in the van, munching on the homemade mixture of nuts, seeds and other goodies, when movement catches my eye to the right. Coming down the trail, exactly the one that I take in and out of the woods, was what appeared to be a dog. Harmless enough, right? Well it gets to the barbed wire fence that I had just crawled under not ten minutes before and starts sniffing. I know it smells me, but usually domestic animals don’t hesitate so long on the human scent.

I then realized, this dog is probably a ferrel coyo-dog or a mut hybrid coyote-dog that came to be when a wild coyote and a domestic became pretty close friends. I had never seen one before, but in all appearances, it looked like someone’s cattle dog was lost or it had been dropped off on a desolate county road. I sat and pondered a minute or so if this indeed was a coyo-dog. As it circled the van in search of whatever she had scented, she stopped right by the driver’s door, where I was sitting enjoying a snack. Now most quality cattle dogs are the breeds that have off-color or multi-colored eyes. But I instantly knew the little lady wasn’t a domestic dog by the copper-colored eyes that I had seen many times before on coyotes. She was a coyo-dog and she was hungry.

Since she didn’t seem interested in leaving the area where the scent of food was, I pulled my pistol from under the seat, chambered a round, grabbed a large piece of jerky and slowly opened the door to find out if this was the victim of a heartless owner or an actual coyo-dog. Well, it didn’t take long to figure that out. She immediately bolted and ran for cover in the woods across the County Road. She stayed at what she thought was a safe distance and wouldn’t even react at all to my endless “Here puppy, puppy, puppy” beggings. I laid the jerky on a piece of concrete that was holding up a road sign, grabbed my things and went back into the woods to my stand.

At nightfall, I headed back to the van and the jerky was gone and the little Coyo-dog was in her spot across the road 45 – 50 feet away. She didn’t move as I put up my gear and headed down the trail to find Terri. Before I left, I put another small piece of jerky on the concrete and headed out.

Of course the jerky was gone by the time we got back to the van some 20 minutes later and I could see her eyes glowing when I shined the flashlight at her as she lay down on the little hill across the road. But no amount of whistles, calling or motions to “come here girl”, by me or Terri, worked to get her to come closer. So I put out another small piece of jerky and headed back to the hotel. The next day, when I thought the day couldn’t get any stranger, it got stranger and in a big hurry too.

It was Sunday afternoon and Terri and I are back in our stands, hoping to see some straggler deer walking around in the afternoon. What happened next defies all explanation and it could ONLY happen to me. Once again let me say, there are advantages and disadvantages to hunting public land.

As I sat quietly, the sound of a circus-clown horn suddenly pierces the afternoon air.You know the ones they have on the little cars they drive into the main arena??? Yeah, that kind of horn!!! What the???? Seriously???? As I am sitting there not believing what I’m hearing and trying to separate confusion and insanity, that horn blew on and on and on. I’m thinking, what in the name of creation is Bozo the Clown doing in the woods, right in the dead middle of deer season??? Turns out, the house next door to the Public Hunting Land was having a birthday party for either Junior or Suzy and Bozo the Clown and part-time Deer Scatterer was the main attraction. I can honestly say, I exercised more sound judgment in that moment than I ever have in my adult life. I came with in mere seconds of being guilty of Capital Clown Murder in the First Degree.

But a bigger disappointment than being treated to a circus act in the middle of hunting season happened next. I had been in my hunting blind, in the same place for two years, with never seeing an animal to harvest, except those of course, that I couldn’t at the time due to the hunting rules. Each weekend I would see the animals passing through the woods in a thicket about 75 – 100 yards to my left but it wasn’t clear enough to squeeze off a shot. So I decided Sunday afternoon to get a little closer and leave my blind for the last hunt of the weekend. I had settled in to the new spot and was waiting for nightfall to come and hopefully I would see a deer close enough to take. What happened next was absolutely amazing.

I was sitting in a crouched position with my rifle propped up on a “trigger stick” and it was pointing off to my left. Suddenly, off to my right I hear movement. I look slowly to the right and it’s a small, three-point cull spike buck and it’s right there! When I say right there, I mean right there. I was crouched under a cedar tree and it was at the edge of the limbs, not 11 feet away. I’m in camo and it’s getting dark, so the little guy never saw me. But, there was one big disadvantage to this situation, he’s so close that if I swing my gun around, he would be gone before I could pull the hammer back. Also, if he knew that a human was around, he or his older brothers, uncles and granddaddy would never come back. So, I sat and watched this encounter unfold for at least 10 – 12 minutes. He gingerly made his way out from around the tree, but he never would clear enough for me to get the gun in to position for a shot. He must have sensed something was wrong, because he stopped for just a split second, looked straight into my eyes, made an about face and slowly disappeared into the woods from where he came. After that, I gathered up my gear and headed to the van to come home.

I went on down the trail to help Terri get her stuff packed and to the van and the first thing she tells me is, “I saw him, he was here”!!! I knew immediately “who” she was talking about. We have an old, devious buck out there that we have fondly named “Ole Number Seven”. He’s probably a 12 point or more and has been around for possibly 7 – 9 years or longer. That’s a pretty long life for a buck.

Terri commences to tell me the story of how he came to the edge of the clearing, but would never step out far enough for her to get a shot off. He stayed in the trees and didn’t give her a chance to shoot. That seems to be the story of our hunting trips.

I asked her, “which way did he come from”? She answered, well, he came from the grassy area right in front of your stand, I was wondering why you didn’t shoot at him. Oh wait, you moved tonight, didn’t you”? I felt the nausea move over me instantly like a blanket. I moved away from my hunting blind and the king of the woods walked within 35 feet of where I was sitting? Seriously? I needed water, I needed to sit, I needed to throw up. I couldn’t believe I missed out on the deer of a lifetime, because I grew impatient. Seasoned hunters will tell you, “If you see deer coming through an area, sit tight and be patient, you will get a trophy deer”. Well, I guess I need a little more seasoning… maybe a little seasoned salt rubbed into the wound would help right about now. I still can’t believe I broke a cardinal hunting rule.

As we walked back and to get my mind off of Ole’ Number Seven, Terri and I were talking about the coyo-dog that I had now named “Tramp”. We had gone to a little diner for breakfast earlier in the day and picked up a can of dog food. I had given it half of the can earlier in the day and as we were leaving, I put the rest out for Tramp hoping she would find someone else to feed her, because we couldn’t come back for at least two weeks.

We drove back to Decatur reliving all of the weird things that happened that weekend and were having a good laugh about them as we pulled into a combination 24 hour fast food/bathroom/gas and national fast food chain restaurant/gas station/restaurant. Yeah, one of those places. I headed to the ordering line and Ms Terri headed to the ladies room. When she came back, we ordered two combo meals, staples of any large, national chain of fast food restaurants. This is a can’t fail plan, right? Wrong.

It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten at this place, but the patty on my burger was about the thickness of piece of bologny. It was supposed to have this wonderful char-broiled flavor, but I swear I didn’t taste the meat at all. Terri was just as disappointed with her order. She got the “Jr” version of what I ordered and when we got to the table, I thought she’d ordered a breakfast biscuit with sausage. The bun was about the same size as a small biscuit and the meat looked exactly like a sausage patty. Just a word to all of my friends, neighbors and family, don’t EVER pass up a What-A-Burger for any other kind of burger, EVER. We choked down a bite or two and gave up and headed to the door.

Now, we didn’t even take the time to change clothes so we’re still in hunting camo from head to toe..hunters, right? As we get to the van, a nice looking, well dressed young man in a starched shirt and docker-type slacks wearing those cute little tassled, loafer-type girlie shoes asked, “Well, did you catch anything”? Awkward silence…I had to hesitate for just a second and replay the question in my mind that he’d just asked. We’re in camo and he asks if we “catch” anything? I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to answer that question. Good judgment finally won out after three seconds of question processing time and I answered “No, we didn’t get a thing” and got into the car.

Now I have to be honest here. The urge to jump into the deep end of the “smart-aleck pool” almost got the best of me. Had it been ten years ago, my answer might have been something like, “Well, there we was. I was sittin’ in my sixteen-foot homemade fishing blind, when off to my left I saw the wake of a deer-fish moving through the grass. I took my trusty “Ugly Buck Stick” and made a perfect cast, five feet in front of him into the tall grass. Since he was in the rut, he immediately pounced on the Deep-Diving Deer Blaster  and gobbled it up. I fought that sucker for nearly ten minutes and at the end, he jumped three feet in the air and slung the bait out of his mouth and disappeared back into the brush”. Here’s your sign buddy, we were hunting! Bill Engvall would have been so proud of me!

Yes, we had a great laugh at that one. As we headed out of town, Terri started searching frantically for her phone. She said “We have to go back. I left my phone in the bathroom or at the soda fountain where I was getting the drinks”. So, 15 miles out of Decatur, we make a U-turn in the median and flew back to town. For ten minutes we looked for that phone, we asked patrons and employees alike if they had found a phone. Nothing, nada, zip…we get back in the car convinced that she’d lost her treasured “Text-O-Master” phone, when she sheepishly looked at me and said, “Uhmmm, my phone was in my upper pocket, I only checked the lower one”… the sound of silence.

I can honestly say I’ve never had a weekend filled with so much action with non-hunting intruders, a touching encounter with a wild animal, missing the buck of a lifetime, Bozo the Clown making a twisted impression, lost cell phones and tassled loafer wearing she men. Could anything else happen to top all of that? As we drove on, I remembered, have to work tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving and a very, Merry Christmas!!!!

The Impulsive Texan

"I may not get much done, but I sure am slow"...