Swann Ranch

This was yet another TYHP hunt.  On this hunt, we were hunting for whitetail does, spikes, and hogs.  Since it wasn’t deer season yet, we were using the ranch owner’s cull permits.  I had applied for about 60 hunts this year, and it’s not surprising to me that I got picked for three of them.

We drove for 3 hours to get to a restaurant/gas station in Putnam where we met with the other hunters and the huntmasters.  Once everybody was there, we drove to Swann Ranch.  It was a 30 minute drive, but only because we had to drive very slowly because of the bumpy dirt roads.  But I’m not complaining– bumpy dirt roads are a symbolic part of hunting.

When we finally got to the ranch house we were staying in, which was a metal barn with a concrete floor, I looked to the right and saw a pen full of deer.  It turns out it was the breeding pen for Swann ranch– they have a very successful one going on there.

As uncomfortable as I made the lodging sound, it was actually very nice in the end.  We filled up air mattresses and threw sleeping bags on top of them, and it was actually very nice.  Other people had brought elevated cots with sleeping bags, and one of my friends had actually brought a little enclosed cot for himself.  I was pretty jealous of him.

On the drive in, it had started to drizzle a bit, and there were some very heavy clouds in the distance.  The other kids and I were starting to hear some thunder.  And then it started to rain.  At first, it was just a moderate rain.  Some of us, including me, went to show off the waterproofness of our coats and jackets.  But then, it started to really rain.  And I mean, REALLY.  It poured so hard that evening.  There was lightning and thunder all around us.  One of the lights outside blew out.  And it rained long into the night.  It sounded like someone was on top of the roof with a machine gun.

I was way too excited to sleep, so I sat on my mattress/sleeping bag awake for a long time.  I saw 4 deer just outside the barn– three does and an 8-point buck.

We were woken up really early the next morning.  Breakfast consisted of Pop Tarts and other plastic-wrapped, bad-for-you, delicious pastries.  We went into the stand with our guide, Billy.  We were hunting over a feeder.  That particular spot was supposed to be full of pigs– but we didn’t see a single thing.  It turned out we were making too much noise that morning.

When we got back, we had a late breakfast of pancakes, egg/bacon casserole, and biscuits.  I was starving, so I ate a lot.

After we ate, I grabbed my slingshot, and my friend did the same, and we went and shot rocks off the edge of a small cliff.  The slingshots were pretty powerful, which I found out in great detail when I accidentally shot myself in the hand.  It drew blood.  My hand hurt really bad, so I went with another friend and looked at the deer in the pen next to the barn we slept in.  These were the deer Swann Ranch had for their breeding program.  There were a few nice bucks in the pens.

We changed guides for the evening.  We went out to the stand fairly early at 3:30.  Our guide, whose name was Raymond, poured out some deer corn in front of the blind, even though there was already a feeder.  But that seemed to pay off.

We sat and waited and glassed through our binoculars for a long time.  We didn’t see a single thing, but we heard a couple gunshots.  Then, all of a sudden, we heard an outbreak of yipping and barking from our left.  It was coyotes.  Those were on the hit list!  I whispered to my dad, “If any of those come in here, I’m going to shoot them dead, because they’ll scare away the deer anyways.”

However, I didn’t get that chance.

I was staring through my binoculars at a tree when my dad slowly reached over and grabbed my thigh.  One of the huntmasters had told us the night before that when he was a kid, he was taught to grab his partner’s thigh because that was under the stand’s windowsill.  That way, the deer wouldn’t see the movement as much.  I knew what was coming.  I looked away from my binoculars and saw a young doe coming through the trees at a fair pace.  She kept looking over her shoulder in the direction we had heard the coyotes yapping their heads off.  They had scared her in to the feeder.  Plus, when we made a bit of noise, she didn’t give us much thought– she was more worried about the coyotes.

I was hyped up.  I could not get steady with my .270.  My guide told me to calm down and take a few breaths, and that I had plenty of time.

Instead of going to the feeder, the deer, strangely enough, went to the corn scattered on the ground.  I tried, and tried, and tried to get steady– and I did.  I pulled the trigger.

BOOM!  The doe ran straight for the bushes.  I didn’t want to lose this deer.  And it didn’t look like I was going to– the deer went straight down in the bushes.

“Thank you Lord!!!” I yelled.  I had prayed for this for a long time.  And he had answered my prayers once again.

Our guide went out and moved the deer to the road where we could find it more easily in the oncoming darkness.  When he got back, he said:

“That’s a young buck.”

I was scared to death, but he said it would count as a spike.  Sweet relief.

We waited some more.  I was staring the tree through my binoculars again when I got my thigh grabbed again.  There were a couple of does that had come in through the bushes.  But they wouldn’t come out and give me a clear shot.  Later, my dad said it was because our guide had had to go out and move the deer, and that had spread scent all over the ground, so the deer wouldn’t some any farther than the bushes.

We didn’t see anything else that evening except for a very large skunk.  I looked at the stars with my binoculars while we waited to be picked up.

On the way back, the ranch owner lent me a spotlight to look for deer on the side of the road.  I was looking, looking, looking and wasn’t seeing anything.  Then I saw a HUGE amount of deer to our left!  Then I looked to the right and saw the barn.  It was the deer in the breeding pen.

After we got back and got the deer skinned and cleaned and the meat in the meat freezer, everyone told the story of their day.  Only one person hadn’t shot anything.  It had been a very good day.

I slept a lot better that night because I was already so tired.  We woke up early again.  I somehow forgot to eat anything.  We tried a different stand that morning.  I looked at birds for a while– and then we heard something.  On top of the blind.  What the heck?  We still don’t know.

We sat for a while longer.  I was watching the birds when we saw a few deer coming in.  My heart started pounding again.  They didn’t come in to the feeder, though– they went around a clump of trees.  We couldn’t see them, but I heard them snorting.  That was an alarm call.  But we didn’t think that we had spooked them.  Anyways, they ran off back into the forest, except for one.  That one stayed on the treeline for a second and looked at us.  Then we were saved by the bell– well, maybe I should call it the grinding rasp of the feeder going off.  This brought the deer right back in.  My guide loaded the gun carefully and quietly and handed it to me.  I slowly got the barrel up on the windowsill.  I just had to get the forearm of my rifle up, and I could shoot them.  But the evil, unknown hunt-spoiler to our left spooked them.  We don’t know what that was, but it was certainly a pain in the butt.

That was all we saw for the morning.  So we got down from the stand and waited for the ranch owner’s son to come and pick us up.  I actually got to drive the ATV all the way back to the barn.

So I went home happy.  I’m still applying for TYHP hunts by the truckload.  I want to go hunting again really badly.  I got a shotgun for my birthday, so I would take a bird hunt as willingly as a deer hunt.

We tried the liver of this deer, but didn’t soak it long enough to get all the blood out of it, so it was not very good.  Next time, we need to soak it longer.

The buttonbuck I shot at Swann Ranch

The buttonbuck I shot at Swann Ranch

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My First Bird Hunt

This was another TYHP hunt.  Surprisingly enough, it was right smack dab in the middle of Pflugerville.  I only had two weeks before this hunt to learn how to shoot a shotgun (accurately).  I was using a 20 gauge.  We drove over the curb of a very busy road and along the side of a cornfield, and then we were there.  Just like that.  The kids who hadn’t done any shooting yet, which included me, of course, went to go warm up with the shotguns and try to bust some skeet.  I couldn’t hit a single thing– I hit underneath the clay bird every single time.  Then my dad pointed out that my length of pull was different because I didn’t have my shoulder pad on.  So I put on the pad and tried some more, and then I really started to hit the skeet a bit more.

We weren’t seeing any doves at all, but the huntmasters said that the doves usually came in at about 4:00.  And when we went into the field where we would be hunting at about 4:30, we were already seeing a few doves.  So they were a little bit late that day, but not too late.

My friend Matt set up next to me.  The doves really started coming in after a while, and Matt shot at every single one.  One of them passed close to me.  I shot at it and hit it– but it flew off anyways.  We could easily tell I had hit it by the white cloud of tail feathers hanging in the air.

After much more shooting and a sorer shoulder, I hit another one– and it went straight down.  I whooped, put down the shotgun, and ran over to the fluttering bird.  I was trying to finish it off by cracking the neck, so I pulled, and pulled, and pulled the head sideways– until it came all the way off.  Oh well.  It was dead anyways.  But it did get in a few more headless flaps.

I ran over to show Matt, when some doves came in from the left, where I had been.  My dad had told me to stay where I was, but I wanted to show Matt my dove.  Matt told me to get next to him, which I did, and then he shot at the doves.  A bird folded its wings at his shot and fell at my feet.  It was a much quicker kill than mine had been.  My dad said, “See?  If you had stayed over here like I told you to, you would’ve shot another dove.”  I told him it was worth it because Matt had got one too.

Later, another dove came in.  I hit it.  It slowed down a lot, and if I had remembered I had another shell in the gun, I could’ve easily finished it off.  But my prayers had been answered.  Ever since I got picked for the hunt, I had asked God continuously to let me shoot at least one dove.  And I did.  I’d never gone bird hunting before, and now I’m addicted to it.

That evening, we plucked the bird and put it in a plastic bag.  Everyone introduced themselves around the campfire and we did “Thorns and Roses.”  In other words, everyone talked about the good things of the day and the bad things.  There weren’t any real thorns, though.  They were all jokes like, “There were too many mockingbirds that we couldn’t shoot,” and stuff like that.  For me, the only thorns were that I couldn’t stay there for the rest of my life and shoot doves.

Since we were only 30 minutes away from home, my dad and I drove home that evening.  We got up really early the next morning and drove all the way back to the property we were hunting on.  It turned out we were the early risers: there were only a few people up yet.  We had a breakfast of Pop Tarts and then we were off.  I chose a slightly different spot this time.

We didn’t see any doves for a while, but they came eventually.  They were really high, but I had plenty of shells and there was no harm in trying, and failing.  I already had my one dove anyway.  It seemed that everybody was taking this outlook.  A flock of doves would fly over way too high to hit, and you would hear 12 shotguns spitting little pellets into the air.  Often, after the shooting, you would hear the pellets hitting the ground around you.

All the doves flew way to high that morning– except for a few mourning doves.  These two stupid birds flew right in between all the hunters.  Quite a few shots rang out, and this time, one of the doves went down.  My friend had hit the dove, but someone else had brought it down right next to them, so they got the bird.

All the doves were flying to the same place, so me and my dad decided to move.  The new spot seemed to be a little bit better, except for the fact that all the doves were still flying too many miles above the clouds for us to shoot them.  Except for another pair of foolish mourning doves.

The two doves flew right at us.  It was a great shot opportunity.  By all rights, I should’ve been able to hit one of them.  But I didn’t.

I guess it was a lesson to be grateful for what I get.  And after my slight disappointment, which was only very slight, I went back to being euphoric about the dove in the freezer.  But two weeks later, we still haven’t had a chance to cook the dove, because of another upcoming hunt which will be in the next post.

Laguna Atascosa

This hunt was a TYHP hunt.  TYHP is Texas Youth Hunting Program.  It’s associated with the state and available for youth hunters from ages 9-17.  You simply apply for hunts, and you get picked or you don’t, so its best to apply for nearly every single hunt.  However, you do have a much better chance of getting picked for a hunt when you haven’t been on any TYHP hunts yet.  The fee for hunts is only $150 for one adult and one youth.  Additional people can come along for an extra $50 each because TYHP provides meals which have to be payed for.  I have gone on this hunt, which was nilgai and hogs, as well as a dove hunt and a deer hunt.  This hunt was unsuccessful as far as harvesting game goes, but I had an absolute BLAST.  TYHP is a great place to meet new friends that hunt, and in between hunts, you get to screw around by your tents, or cabin, or wherever you happen to be staying.  On this hunt, we stayed in tents.

Laguna Atascosa is a National Wildlife Refuge.  Generally, this would mean that you can’t legally hunt there, but the hogs and nilgai are both invasive species, so the biologist wanted them off the place.  This was one of the hunts that happens on multiple occasions.  Another group of TYHP kids had gone on this hunt the previous year and harvested hogs, but no nilgai.

For those of you who don’t know, a nilgai is a very large antelope-like animal that is native to India.  It has a reputation for being an extremely tough animal, and many people think you have to have a magnum caliber to go for this.  However, this is not very accurate.  Some of the experienced hunters at our camp said that my .270 Win. would do the job just fine.  People who have a hard time bringing a nilgai down are usually chasing them around in trucks, which raises the animal’s adrenaline level really high, which makes them harder to bring down.  We were simply hunting them from stands.  Another thing that gives nilgai their titanium reputation is that they have a shield of tough material over their shoulder, so you have to shoot the animal behind the shoulder or the bullet won’t do as much damage.  I was using Nosler Partition bullets.

Laguna Atascosa is a truly beautiful place.  I saw some really amazing birds, and an alligator under the bridge we were driving over.  Some of the birds I saw, like the common chachalaca, can only be found in the southernmost part of Texas and in Mexico.  We were only 26 miles from the border on this hunt.  A few of the other kids got pigs; again, nobody got nilgai, and I didn’t even see any big game– but I had a great time.