Shortly after I started my current position, our primary business partner set up a couple of bird-hunting trips on back-to-back weekends. I work in the energy business, and I’m one of VERY few women that do so, with an even smaller subset of women in managerial or executive roles. So, it’s my job (privilege?) to be one of the guys.
The first trip was for dove hunting at a location south of Hebbronville, Texas, not far north of the Mexican border in a remote ranching area. It was so close to the state line that the Border Patrol had random checkpoints on some of the dirt roads leading in and out of the ranch. Hebbronville is where the first Texas woman cast a ballot, two years ahead of the 19th Amendment.
The area is wild and open, sparsely populated, heavily Hispanic, and full of wildlife. We arrived at the hunting lodge late in the afternoon, where we got to meet the camp cook, relax, watch the sunset, and have a few beers (something strictly prohibited during the hunting hours). In addition to a well-equipped kitchen designed for preparing ranch-sized meals, they had a pit barbeque and grill, where the cook and his hands spent hours preparing a coal bed and later grilling wonderful steaks.
The next day, we drove over to the fields. The standard way to hunt doves in this area is to walk through the rustling, dried vegetation, and wait for the dove to fly overhead. The “bam-bam-bam” is followed a few seconds later by the sound of hundreds of shot raining down on the field stubble. I’m a lousy shot, as I don’t lead enough, so I think I probably got two dove all day. I enjoyed the afternoons and evenings more, sitting in the camp and talking into the long night.
The second day, we went to a field further away, and got to see some beautiful areas in this semi-arid place. Close to sunset, we would see deer, javelina, coyotes.
The cook fed up with vats of chili, cornbread, pinto beans, salad, and other hearty south Texas foods. Breakfast was a full fry-up of eggs, pancakes, toast, sausage and bacon, gravy and biscuits, fruit. He also helped clean the birds and put them into freezer bags. Stupid me, I went and left mine in the freezer, which is a shame because I know a good way to prepare dove, with mushroom sauce, but someone else got to enjoy them.
The next week’s trip was more enjoyable. We went to the famed King Ranch in south Texas, near the town of Kingsville.
The King Ranch has a fantastic history. King ran away from his indentured servitude in New York, at one time was a river boat captain, and eventually ended up near the current Texas/Mexico border. He spent his life, as did his sons and grandsons, turning a dry land into one of the original cattle ranches in the United States, as well as horses, cotton and fruit. He also employed entire families of the local citizens. Today, many of the ranch hands and managers are the descendants of the original crews. One ranch superintendent told me that he and his father had been born on the ranch, attended the schools that the King family built and staffed, and had studied on scholarships. The King Ranch upbred the first American cattle recognized as a unique breed. They have been well-known for decades as conservationists and wildlife managers. I suggested you read an abbreviated history here.
The Ranch has a hunting lease area, and so have a couple of vehicles that look like pontoon boats on wheels. The first afternoon, we drove to some gorgeous areas, and were shown around small areas of the places, before being dumped in an area where quail were known to hang. Quail hunting is a bit different from dove hunting. Quail tend to run along the ground in a covey, and won’t take wing unless you nearly walk on them. Their wings beat a characteristic whir, so you hear as well as see them when they take off. The fun part of this trip for me, besides getting to see beautiful country, hang with some great people, and eat camp food, was watching the dogs! Brittany spaniels are a common quail dog. The handlers brought the dogs from the kennels in special cabs, and released them as soon as we got to the location. Watching the dogs run and sniff and madly change directions, following their noses, was great fun. They were well-trained, and responded instantly to the handler’s voices and gestures. I’m still amazed at how easily they would locate and retrieve the birds. I tried petting the dogs a few times, but having been raised as working dogs rather than pets, they were completely uninterested in us, only wanting to chase birds and tussle with each other.
Another great part about the second hunting trip was the housing. Oh, they weren’t any fancier than the first location (in fact, even plainer). We stayed at a fishing lodge about 100 feet off of a cove on Baffin Bay, south of Corpus Christi. To use a cliché, the water was like glass, without a ripple. A light at the end of the dock shown into water that appeared turquoise and sea green: clear and still. A row of fishing rods stood invitingly on the rail, so a friend and I stood at midnight, casting, catching local trout and then releasing them. We hooked a fish with nearly every cast. It was still, balmy, and very zen – at least until a party boat pull up a few hundred feet away and began playing mariachi music at full blast.
We ate fantastic lunches at the ranch (the cook had been the chef for the King family for decades), but at night we found our own way. A real treat was the King’s Inn restaurant near Riviera, Texas. It’s the kind of place that locals will go to every week, even when ‘local’ means an hour drive. Most of the fish is local, and their specialties of huge onion rings, fresh tomatoes and avocado salad, are wonderful. The restaurant is next to the water, if you’re lucky enough to get a seat by the window.
As usual, I may have shot one or two birds, but I gave those to the other guys, as they all seemed bent on having big cook-outs with their earnings.
I didn’t come away with a love of bird hunting, but I did enjoy the camaraderie and the outdoors, even if it was early September and STILL SUMMER!