A friend writes to set me straight on driving and hunting in Texas:
"You don't know the half of it.
"As a frequent bird hunter in South Texas -- but never having had the privilege to be invited to the Armstrong Ranch -- I thought I'd give you a little background. A close friend from San Antonio has long had a hunting lease on the Galvan Ranch, on the Rio Grande west of Laredo. It's nasty country, often miserably cold in the winter and downright uninhabitable during the summer, with razor sharp prickly pear needles and invisible cactus spikes that can penetrate the thickest canvas denim or leather boots, mean and vile-smelling javelina and rattlesnakes as long as a man is tall and thigh wide. When it rains, the caliche can stop a four-wheel drive vehicle in its tracks. That said, it offers some of the best quail hunting in the world.
"To get to these birds, though, a vehicle is required because much of the terrain is impassable for all but short distances. For longtime lessees, the transportation sport is every bit as competitive as the hunting. For hunting rigs, bigger definitely is better and nothing is too outlandish to be off-limits. If it can be imagined -- and welded together -- it's fair game, if you will. It's not uncommon to see Chevy Suburbans with heavy-duty suspensions and four-wheel drive with a second and even a third story, and the occasional lookout tower. My friend's Suburban, for instance, has a general, railed platform welded above the roof that allows firing from all sides. To the rear, is an extended area with a couple of comfortable vinyl-covered bench seats and room for coolers and gear. Above that platform is another that contains a motorboat's dashboard, with the steering wheel running down through the platforms and truck roof into the cab and attached to the factory-installed steering column, and the gas and break pedals rigged into the boat's gear shifts. There are additional bench seats on that deck, along with shotgun racks, and a rudimentary table and counter top for beverages and snacks, usually Coca-Cola, beer and saltines and jalapeños. It is there that most of the sighting, and BS-ing is conducted. On the back of the Suburban are feed tanks that can spray out corn kernels to seed the roads for deer. The truck can be used at night, since it is also outfitted with several jetliner spotlights.
"It is not often that any firing is done from the truck, however. For one, the engine is kind of loud. But rifle and pistol shots have been taken at rattlesnakes, javelina, jackrabbits, deer and empty cans. My friend doesn't have a skeet trap on the back but I have seen vehicles with them. You haven't lived if you haven't had the opportunity to hunt this way.
"To get back to the Armstrong Ranch, I have no idea what Dick Cheney's party was traveling in but I doubt it was a 'car.' At the very least, they were in a Suburban or something high enough to spot bird activity. Like our parties on the Galvan, not every covey would lure every hunter. If it's a small one, only a couple will go. If it's a good-size flock, there might be more competition. At least one person always needs to stay behind with high-powered binoculars, though, the better to direct everyone when the boots on the ground are trying to weave through prickly pear and head-high scrub brush.
"I'm telling you, Wlady, this is about as fun as it gets. Especially if it's a good group of guys, the quail are active, the sky is blue and the weather is pleasant. When are kids are able to come with us, it makes it that much more worthwhile, especially at dinner time. I don't care for the alkali showers in the morning, though.
"And, no, I've never peppered anyone with buckshot or been peppered myself, although one always needs to be aware that accidents do happen. Communication is always the key.
"My one regret is that I'm unable to go this winter."
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