When I close my eyes, I no longer have visions of deer picking their way through the trees, and the voices in my head have completely stopped, but every now and then I believe I can still catch the faint scent of a mesquite campfire off in the distance.
It’s been a week now since I’ve been home, and I continue to be haunted by the memories of my time on a ranch in Sonora, Texas.
It’s been a week now since I’ve been home, and I continue to be haunted by the memories of my time on a ranch in Sonora, Texas.
There are places in time, I believe, that can have a profound effect on our lives; the consequences not always understood at the time. To sift through the experiences takes time, like an old tin pan, hunting for gold. You must allow for the hours and days of time to wash over the memories so that only the substantial parts remain. These you must chip away at and polish until the true treasure is revealed.
A Year Of Waiting
We talk of it often. The trip. How we look forward to it all year long and how even before our time is up, we’re already looking forward to next year. It’s a lot of pressure, really. A year’s worth of waiting culminating in four days of hunting and camaraderie. For many of us, it’s the one true break we get, and the one consistent factor for all of us is that the time goes by too quickly.
The experience on the ranch is a difficult thing to describe. Or at least why it has such an effect on me. I don’t have any experience with other ranches or hunting camps, but from what I gather from the guys who do, that it’s special here.
But unlike other trips I’ve been on, I don’t have unrealistic expectations for the trip. I am never disappointed as I know what to expect from year to year and enjoy the knowledge that much of the trip will be the same as the year before. There is a rhythm to life on the ranch. An order to each day that is comforting. At the same time, every year, and every hunt is different. Each time you go out to the blinds, you never know what you might see. You may see a bunch of does and spikes, or a monster buck might wander in on you. It’s this sense of opportunity and excitement that makes each outing an experience to remember.
It’s what brings you back. It’s what makes it worth the wait.
The Scent Of Cedar
It’s a quarter to six on Tuesday night and I’m sitting in a ground blind, a sort of igloo of cedar branches bound together around mesquite trees with baling wire. On the ground is a piece of shag carpet, put down to muffle the noise. The smell of cedar is strong. I’m sitting on an old metal folding chair, the kind you’d expect to find in a Sunday school class – just a little too short. The last of the setting sun is casting a warm, yellow light across the plains, making the normally monochromatic colors dance feverishly.
Looking out through a makeshift window, I am a voyeur to a world unknown to me. A world that is both wild, in every sense of the word, and absolutely peaceful at the same time. Not seventy yards in front of me, whitetail doe, fawn and young bucks feed and play in the dying light. A gaggle of turkeys makes it’s way through like a rowdy bunch of teenagers. They storm in, startling the deer, feed haphazardly and are gone again, leaving the deer feeling self-conscious and timid. Before long, first one, then another buck, comes slowly into view. They stop, sniff the air and proceed with caution. It’s a means of survival where there is no chivalry for the women and children. The young and weak are there to be sacrificed for the good of the strong. They feed easily yet warily, snorting and stomping at the slightest change in environment. They rely on their acute senses to recognize danger, but out here, in the middle of seven thousand acres, where they have little experience with man, they are less suspicious of the unknown. They have few predators and are therefore less skittish than their brethren elsewhere. If you make even a small noise, they will all stand up, perfectly still, looking in the direction of the offending sound and testing the air for strange scents. Although they can most certainly smell me, I sit perfectly still, blending in with the landscape, and the deer go back to feeding.
The fire gets started after we come back from our first hunt the afternoon we get there. It’s mostly mesquite and has the ability to burn extremely hot. Glass melts at approximately 1832° Fahrenheit. I know because I looked it up. I thought it was 1400° and Mike thought it was 2500°. So I looked it up when I got home and it’s 1832°. No matter what you say, that’s hot. I’ve seen the fire so big and intense, that the entire ring of stones that surrounds the fire was so hot you couldn’t touch it or even put your boots on it, for fear of melting them. Beer cans are easy. They collapse in a matter of seconds, but glass bottles. Now that’s something. When we’ve had the fire really smokin’, a glass bottle, when thrown in the coals, would take about 15 seconds then collapse into nothing.
Only in a camp of men could you build a campfire like this. If there were women involved, this would almost certainly be deemed excessive and we would be asked to stop. This is a fire that has had flames above the roof line and melts glass. No one needs a fire like that.
It gets started the day we arrive and it doesn’t go out until we leave. Needles to say, we go through a lot of mesquite; at least a couple of cords by my calculations. Maybe more. And these are not little logs. Some of them are as large around as a full-grown man.
Now that’s a fire.
Little Big Doug
Big Doug is a walking, talking laugh riot. It’s true, there are times when you want it to stop and he can go too far, but for all around laughs, Doug is a champ. Big Doug was called so, because when he first came out to the camp, he weighed close to 400 lbs. The following year, he’d had his stomach stapled and had lost almost two hundred pounds.
As Jeff pointed out, “It was like he lost a whole person. I barely recognized him.”
When he was still Big Doug, he had tried to explain what it was like making love to him. “Pull a refrigerator on top of you and stick a pickle up your ass,” he told us. “That’s pretty much it.”
I never met Big Doug, as he was already Little Doug by the time I met him. I don’t know for sure, but I get the feeling he was just as unselfconscious about his big body as he was his new little body. His weight loss was a major conversation point that first year I was there. After having lost almost half his body weight in a relatively short period of time, his skin had not had time to catch up. He had folds of skin just hanging off his body. Later he had another surgery to remove the excess and they took off 50lbs of loose skin. 50lbs!
“It was like he lost a whole person. I barely recognized him.”
But before the second surgery, he was still carrying it around. One night, Doug was standing around in his boxer shorts and a t-shirt (he was often dressed this way around the cabin), and he announced to the room, “My God, you should see my ass. You ever see a Shar-Pei? That’s what my ass looks like. A goddamn Shar-pei. You wanna see?”
On another occasion, he asked the room, “Any a you guys ever have hemorrhoids? Are they supposed to stick out of your ass like a bunch of grapes? Is that normal?”
Pastoring A Small Church
We’re on a shuttle bus at the Dallas- Fort Worth International Airport, waiting to be taxied over to our “Buddy Holly” plane, which will take us to San Angelo. We’ve been telling Doug about the evening before, basically trying to justify Jeff’s hangover. Doug has been egging us on, asking us about our night, telling dirty jokes and recalling recent drunken escapades of his own. In the middle of one of his stories, one that involved a stripper, a bottle of Jack Daniels and a small farm animal, he turns and notices a gentleman sitting across from us who is sitting with what can only be his daughter. On his right hand he wears a sizeable ring. Doug nods his head at the man and asks, “What kind of ring is that? Where’s it from?
“University of _______,” the man answers.
“Oh, I thought I saw a cross,” says Doug and then without skipping a beat and with no regard to the rather colorful story he’s just been telling, adds, “I pastor a small church down in Baton Rouge.”
I’ve only met Doug minutes before, maybe he does pastor a small church down in Baton Rouge. What do I know?
The man nods and smiles weakly. What can you really say to that? Doug turns back to us and finishes his story with a straight face and absolutely no shame whatsoever.
The Great Pumpkin
The first year, Darrel told Doug that he had to wear head to toe blaze orange. I’m not sure where you go to find full dress blaze orange for a 400lb man, but sure as shit if Doug didn’t show up ready to go. On the first afternoon, everyone was getting dressed to go out hunting, and Doug had somehow gotten nearly completely dressed without ever having looked around at anyone else. When he finally did, not only was no one dressed in head-to-toe blaze orange, no one had a speck of orange on. Everyone was covered in camouflage and here Doug stood.
“He looked like the Great Pumpkin,” said Jeff.
When Big Doug realized he’d been had, he turned to them and said, “Ah, man. Fuck you guys.” Everyone who had been holding back laughter broke now and fell about the cabin with Big Doug standing helplessly by in his extra large orange suit.
The Rules Of Poker
“What beats Four-of-a-Kind?” I ask.
“A Straight Flush,” answers Jeff, then adding, “Or a Royal Flush.”
“No it doesn’t,” argues Roger. “Nothing beats Four-of-a-Kind.”
“How about Five-of-a-Kind?” asks Pat.
“How the hell can you have five of a kind?” asks Jeff.
“I’ve got three threes and two wild cards,” says Pat.
“You can’t have Five-of-a-Kind,” says Jeff. “There’s no such thing, wild cards or otherwise.”
“Well, there ought to be,” says Pat throwing his cards into the pot.
“You can’t make up a hand just because there’s wild cards,” says Jeff.
This has been a point of dissension for days. We’ve been playing some rather odd games and people are calling for all kinds of weird wild card combinations. Some of the players have been trying to make up entirely new poker hands.
“So, what beats Four-of-a-Kind?” I ask again.
“Ask Chris,” says Roger.
Whenever we have a question about cards, we ask Chris. We used to ask the Huntmaster but he doesn’t get involved in poker anymore. Too much trouble.
Now I don’t know if Chris knows more about poker than anyone else, but he strikes everyone as honest and we are willing to trust whatever he says. He has an honest face, and a wholesome Texas look. He’s the kind of person that is sure to say, “Yes, sir.” He’s a bit quiet, but not necessarily shy. There’s nothing boastful about him. You get the feeling that he’d give you his honest opinion on about just about anything if you asked, but barring you asking, he’s probably not telling. He even looks like he’s from Texas, which of course, he is. And on top of it all he used to fly helicopters for the military. And he’s like six-eight or something ridiculous. None of us can figure out how he got in those choppers in the first place. But if he isn’t a quintessential Texan, I don’t know what is.
“Well,” I ask laying down my two Queens and two wild cards. Jeff has a straight flush showing.
“You win,” says Chris to Jeff. He carefully spits into a small paper cup and rearranges his chew. “Only two things beats Four-of-a-kind,” he says quietly, “Straight Flush and a Royal flush.”
“That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” Jeff says and grabs the pile of chips. “I told you.”
Despite the loss, I am having a fantastic year at the poker table. Last year, I think I lost every hand I played. I considered the money my contribution to everyone else’s fun. Winning wasn’t really my chief concern – which I think was obvious to everyone – having a few laughs and hearing tall tales was. The reason I’ve had such a good year this year is that I’m about even. I haven’t really won much, but I haven’t lost much either. I’m very happy about this.
Because the players change from year to year, the nature of the poker table changes pretty dramatically from year to year as well. The weather also has a big effect on the game. When it’s windy and freezing outside, and no one really wants to spend too much time out by the fire, the game is on in full force. But if, like this past year, the weather is mild and the wind lays down, it’s hard to drag the men away from the fire.
This year, Chris printed out a copy of all the poker hands and their relative ranking. Just in case.
Jeff is the Golden Child, both because he is the only son of the Huntmaster, but also because of a story he told one trip. I’m not going to repeat the story here, but I have a photo of the group of us sitting around the table inside, everyone laughing, and Darrel with his hand covering his very red face in embarrassment. It was a good story and apparently one Darrel was not familiar with. Who knows how much Darrel has learned of his son’s youthful exploits while on the ranch together. I would guess a lot.
Today Jeff is a responsible husband and father of two girls. He is no longer the wild child he once was, but there is often a glint in his eye as he recalls with fondness the wildness of this youth.
As you would expect, most of Jeff’s stories involve sex, drinking, or both. Usually both. And he has quite a collection. Many of his stories involve himself, but he also has ones that involve his two friends, Drew and Robbie. The following is one of the tamer stories.
Robbie And The Bull
“So there we were, down in Key West,” Jeff says. He pauses trying to remember something then turns and yells, “Dad, what was the name of that bar in Key West? You know, the one that was clothing optional!”
“The Bull,” calls the Huntmaster.
“Right,” says Jeff with a smile, “The Bull. Anyway, it’s this big bar on several floors, but the top floor is clothing optional.”
Several of us are sitting around the campfire in lawn chairs drinking beer. It’s a mild evening. The sky is clear, the stars brilliant, and the fire warm. So we’re drinking beer and telling stories.
“So we walk into the clothing optional bar and there’s Robbie, drunk out of his mind, sitting and talking to some people,” says Jeff. He’s already beginning to laugh and he’s the one telling the story.
“Jus’ sittin’ ‘ere,” he slurred.
This is maybe my favorite thing about being in Texas. It’s my second year and for the five days a year that I’m here, I laugh harder and more often than the entire rest of the year combined. Maybe I just happened to be with funny guys, but I like to believe that it’s a mix of factors that allow us to drop our guard, relax and shed months of stress.
“But here’s the thing,” Jeff is saying. “Robbie is sitting in a chair with his pants around his ankles, shoes still on, and his shirt pulled up to his armpits. He’s so drunk that in his mind, he’s naked. He just wanted to fit in with everyone else. As far as he was considered, he was naked.”
Jeff has slid down in his chair imitating Robbie. He’s rubbing his belly and sitting with his legs spread at the knees. We’re all laughing hysterically including Jeff. I have to actually get up from my seat and walk away I’m laughing so hard. I can barely breathe and I have tears coming out of my eyes. It’s not just the story, it’s a combination of other stories I’ve heard about Robbie as well. I believe every word of it.
“He looked like he was sitting on the john taking a shit!” laughs Jeff. “We asked him, ‘Robbie, what the hell are you doing?’ He just smiled and rubbed his belly.”
“Jus’ sittin’ ‘ere,” he slurred.
“You want him?” The Huntmaster asks.
“Sure,” I say.
We’re driving back to camp from our morning hunt. The Huntmaster is driving and I’m sitting in the middle with Terry riding shotgun. Terry and I each have a rifle between our legs and I have the Huntmaster’s rifle and shotgun on my left. I’m also bundled up, dressed for sitting still in a ground blind for four hours in freezing temperatures. I look like the little brother from “A Christmas Story” only I’m head to toe in camouflage.
The Huntmaster is already out of the cab and is leaning over the hood with his binoculars watching the game on the plains. He’s spotted a small herd of antelope with a sizable buck. Beautiful animals. They were introduced many years back from Africa or South Asia, I can’t remember which, and have thrived here ever since.
They’re very skittish. You only ever see them out on the plains, never in near our blinds. They like to be where they can see a long way off. Presumably they’re keeping a lookout for lions or something.
As I struggle to rearrange rifles and shotguns and wedge myself out the door, I’m trying to move quickly, but with a certain grace. I don’t want to do anything that might spook the game. I must be quick, yet smooth. Get out of the truck. The Huntmaster is waiting. He is not a patient man. Get out of the truck. Once out, I must chamber a round, turn and rest my rifle on the hood of the car. Get out of the truck. Don’t forget the safety. Get out of the truck. Everything moves in slow motion, like I’m moving under water.
The Huntmaster lifts eight inches off the ground. Everything is still in slow motion and I actually watch him rise off the ground, then turn toward me in midair. There’s a wild look in his eyes that appears to be a cross between utter fear and primal anger. His hat leaves his head and his white hair sticks out in all directions. His lips begin to move and while I can’t hear him from inside the cab, I can clearly read his lips, “S-O-N-O-F-A-B-I-T-C-H.”
I look down. In my effort to get myself out of the truck on the driver’s side, I have just leaned on the horn with my elbow. Of course, The Huntmaster was leaning across the hood at the time, so he got the full effect.
I don’t even look behind me to see the game. I look at the Huntmaster. There is fire in his eyes and with his hair doing this unnatural thing, for a second I’m afraid he might actually drag me out of the truck, put his boot on my neck and shoot me in the back of the head.
“I guess they’re gone, huh?” I whisper.
The spell is broken. He just shakes his head and bends down to pick up his hat, which is lying in the dust.
There is fire in his eyes and with his hair doing this unnatural thing, for a second I’m afraid he might actually drag me out of the truck, put his boot on my neck and shoot me in the back of the head.
“Yup, I’d say so,” he replies and climbs back in the truck.
I have to say that the rest of the ride back to camp was pretty quiet.
I never knew that a deer’s testicles were considered a delicacy until I met Smiley. I don’t know his real name but we all called him Smiley. I asked once about his name and my request was translated into rough Spanish. They told me of course, but since it had no equivalent in English, I quickly forgot it. Smiley’s background was equally unclear. He was most assuredly of Mexican decent, but of some indeterminate mix, and I don’t think he really understood English, but he understood me well enough, and I him.
Whenever we would come in from hunting, whoever was driving the truck would pull around back near the shed and honk the horn. Manny, along with his son-in-law and another friend I never got the name of, would come out to dress the deer. Smiley always came along.
Somewhere along the way in dressing the deer, Manny would reach down, cut the buck’s testicles off and toss them to Smiley who would snatch them clean out of the air with his teeth and run away on all fours. What do you expect from a dog?
A Rumble In The Jungle
There are those who believe, our wives and coworkers for instance, that we rough it while at the ranch. I think I can speak for the group when I say that we’re all pretty much okay with that. But the truth is, most of us are happier than pigs in shit. Rarely do I sleep so soundly, eat so well, or laugh so hard.
Everyone has a different threshold for how much sleep they need so some of the guys take naps, some go to bed early and others are up late every night. In the early evening, sometime after dinner has been eaten and the dishes washed, at least a few of the guys turn in. The rumbling starts soon after, and at first it’s just like an orchestra warming up. But later, when the late crowd has come in from the fire, the entire cabin erupts in a symphony of snoring. To some, it has a soothing effect. Others want earplugs.
One year, a coworker of Joanie (Darrel’s wife) came on the hunt. His name was Denny, but as we also had a Lenny, and we all kept forgetting his name he became Bobby-Danny. It started like this:
“What’s his name….Bobby…Denny…Lenny….what’s his name again?” By the end of the week, he was just Bobby-Danny.
There are two kinds of hunters I’ve seen come on the trip. Those that have every kind of hunting gadget imaginable and those who more or less walk out the door as they are. Chris is of the later. While other guys (me included) are dressed head to toe in camouflage, I’ve only ever seen Chris wear a camo jacket. He wears jeans, or Carhardts, and his camo jacket. He’s very low tech, but he always bags a deer or two, so obviously how he dresses has little to do with his success.
Walk into a Wal-Mart or sporting goods store, and there are aisles of gear available for hunters. Outside of the obvious clothing options, there are duck calls, turkey calls, bugles, and a whole host of scent lures and masks. You can buy buck urine, doe estrus, cedar spray and all kinds of other nasty shit to spray on yourself. Some of these are meant to attract the deer, and some are just meant to mask your own scent. I don’t like to be pissed on by anyone or anything, so I’m not real fond of the urine or estrus, but the cedar spray isn’t too bad.
Bobby-Danny was of the former camp. He had sprays and calls and lots of opinions on the mating habits of wild animals. The way he talked, he was obviously the great white hunter, but his success on the field told a different story. When it comes to hunting, I’ve found the less you say the better. Sit still, be patient and when the big buck comes into view, don’t hesitate. Make a clean shot on a good deer and you won’t have to say much.
It’s pretty much agreed upon that Kirby was an ass. There is also little doubt that he shot everything that moved. I never met the man, but he is talked about more at the camp than everyone else combined. He obviously made a big impression. I think he only came the one time. Big Doug had a particular hatred for the man, having worked with him for years. All you had to do was mention the name Kirby and you would set Doug off.
One of the more arresting stories told about Kirby was that he brought with him his wife’s used tampons to use as lures. They went to pick him up at his blind and they were hanging in the trees lining the road leading up to the blind and when they got to the blind itself, “it was covered like a fuckin’ Christmas tree.” I’d love to have heard the conversation when he asked his wife to save her used tampons for him.
Also, they said he shot everything he saw. Two bucks, two does, several turkeys, a pig, two axis deer (one in the velvet that he shouldn’t have shot) and a black buck. Then on the last day, he shot a third buck. He had only two buck tags but reasoned to Darrel that someone was bound to have an extra tag. Just a little presumptuous. Darrel was so mad he could hardly see straight.
We go through close to two tons of corn in our four days at the ranch. Bill feeds the deer for six months prior to our arrival as well, so all in all, that’s a lot of corn. Texas is one of the few places where you can hunt over bait, meaning that it’s one thing to feed the deer, it’s another to hunt right where you’re feeding them. So when you get dropped off at your blind, someone grabs a bucket or two of corn and spreads it around a clearing somewhere in front of the blind.
Some of the blinds are tight and the area in front of the blind is pretty close. While you’d think this gives you an advantage, it’s really a disadvantage because you’re too close to the deer. They’re skittish to begin with. If you breath heavy they can hear you. I prefer the blinds where the deer end up between 70-100 yards away from you. You’re close enough to get a shot, but not so close that the small does are joining you in your blind. So throwing the corn is a integral aspect of life on the ranch during deer season. Which leads me to another story.
When the deer are heavy in the rut, the bucks’ necks swell, they urinate on their back legs, and they lower their heads and chase the does around. During the rut, even the older cautious bucks can lose their natural inhibitions and will come in to the corn. The biggest deer will often never come in to the corn, staying on the outskirts in the trees. But if they’re chasing a doe, they’ll go wherever the doe goes, and the does come in to the corn.
Our week was over, it had been cold, but still, and we’d had a good week of hunting. We had driven back into town in Sonora, dropped our deer off at Sonora Deer Processing, drove to San Angelo and flown back to Dallas. This was when we used to fly into Dallas the night before, get up early and fly to San Angelo and drive straight our to Sonora. We’d be in the blinds by 3-4pm. When we left, we flew back to Dallas where we’d stay overnight again before flying home the next day.
So we were back in Dallas and after dinner we decided to visit the ballet. At least that’s what the boys call it. Other people would know it as either a gentleman’s club, or a tittie bar. On the way through town the first time, one of the Spanish dancers had called Darrel, ‘Poppi.’ That’s a term of affection that Latin girls will call their man, but in the case of Darrel, it’s also what his grandchildren call him. We had a lot of fun with that one. That’d be like you going to a strip club and having the girl call you gramps.
We had parked the big old Suburban and were walking in when Jeff mentioned that he half expected Darrel to grab a bucket from the back of the truck and sling a load of quarters across the parking lot. The strippers were sure to come a running. Jeff acted like his neck was all swollen, lowered his head and ran to the door of the club.
I nearly pissed myself. It makes me smile just to think of it four years later. Of course, we’re always a little punchy by the end of the trip. A lot of drinking, not a lot of sleep and too much food.
Chorizo And Cider
I turned Jeff Smith on to chorizo, a Spanish sausage “encompassing several types of pork sausage originating from the Iberian Peninsula and known as Chouriço in Portugal, which have in common the use of pimentos to colour them red.” Read the ingredients and it includes everything from cheeks to eyelids to assholes (they may have used different words). It’s wonderfully flavorful.
We were eating at a crappy roadside restaurant and I ordered some. Jeff, who will literally eat anything (and does), tried it and liked it so much, he ordered some for himself. When we picked up groceries, we decided to buy some for the ranch.
No one else likes it, which is fine with Jeff and I because it leaves more for us. Which brings me to my cider.
Darrel and Mike call it Pussy Beer, but truth be told, it’s Woodchuck Amber hard cider. They just don’t like it because no one from Nascar has a car with it splashed across the hood. I take a lot of shit for it, but I like it, they don’t have to drink it, and frankly I don’t give a rat’s ass. For that matter, it’s got higher alcohol content than anything else anyone else is drinking out of a can, so who’s the pussy?
But they keep buying it for me, which is nice, so I don’t complain too much.
It seems like it took me all day yesterday. I started out as I always do for a long trip, laying out everything on the dining room table. Jane hates this, but it’s the only way I can organize everything. Then I’d walk from room to room, collecting bits and pieces. Clothes from the laundry room, gear from the attic, a knife from my desk in the office, camera, boots, almost forgot extra batteries, hat, poncho, tripod, is that thing charged up, socks, gloves, check the weather – how cold is it going to be in the morning, more socks, long underwear, check the weather again, extra sweater, did it say it was going to be near 60° one day, short sleeve shirt just in case, camouflage jacket and pants, sunglasses, did I pack enough socks.
And that’s how my day goes. Unlike business trips, which I do every week, I’m more deliberate here. Normally, I pack in about ten minutes. Somehow this takes me all day. First, I have to account for wild swings in the weather. When we get up before dawn, the temperature will be hovering around freezing, whereas during the middle of the day, we’ll likely be sitting outside getting a tan. But I hate being cold.
All told, I always bring too much. I come home with unbelievably dirty clothes as well as clothes I never touched. I pack enough clothes to change everyday but I never do.
Take this morning for instance. I just checked the weather and it now looks like it’s never even going to get below freezing. I, on the other hand, have packed enough clothes to outfit me for a polar expedition. My biggest problem will probably be that I’m dressed too warm the entire time. But I leave for the airport in two hours and I’m not about to repack. It also now says that instead of possibly one day of rain, it might rain twice. Maybe even three times. I’m not as prepared for that. I have one poncho. Not raingear or anything. If it’s a steady rain, I’ll most likely just get wet.
But despite all the pre-game warmup, I can’t wait to go. This is the third year in a row I’ve been asked to go, and I’ve found that it is the week I most look forward to all year. I travel all over the country, to beautiful places. I stay in exquisite hotels with downy beds, wonderful service and spectacular views. I eat at the finest restaurants and drink the finest wine. I fly first class. But once a year, the place I look forward to most is a small cabin in the middle of a 7,000 square mile ranch, 90 miles off the Texas border with Mexico. I sleep on a cot in a room with eight to ten other men, burping and farting and laughing. We drink beer around a campfire, play poker till later than we should, survive on less sleep than I need, and don’t shower all week.
It’s true, this is not the Ritz Carlton. There is no wine list. There is no cheese plate. There is no down comforter. But I find I relax here more than any resort I’ve ever been.
I laugh more in a week in Texas, than I do the rest of the year combined. And I’m not talking about a chuckle or two. I’m talking about tears-coming-out-of-your-eyes, can’t-breath laughter. The kind of laughing you did as a kid at summer camp. And with it, you can almost feel twelve months of stress melt away.
Of course there are a few side effects. By the end of the week, when I close my eyes, I really do see deer walking through the brush. And I swear I can hear the voices of my fellow campers, even when I’m all alone. It’s kind of freaky. This is what comes from spending close to eight hours a day staring off into the bush. Sitting so perfectly still that by the end of the week, your shoulders are so stiff, you have trouble moving your head around.
But it’s all worth it. I come home refreshed, happy, and relaxed. I never know if I’ll get invited back, there’s a lot of people who want to come, and I’m not the Huntmaster’s only client. But what I’ve learned is how much I enjoy being outside, of having simple comforts, of relaxing with the company of a few good men who have become friends.
I don’t know if I’ll be there next year. But if I’m not, I’m going to find a few friends, and convince them that a week outdoors is just the thing we need to set everything right with the world. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be just a little better at packing.