TP&WD Tyler County Ranch Hunt Review

For those not in the know (where the know is poor Texas hunters with no lease and no family land that’s been around for generations), Texas Parks & Wildlife has a system that is essentially a lottery for hunts around the state in State Parks and WMAs and other state owned land. The locations get shut down for the duration of the hunt and typically the winners get assigned particular compartments to hunt in. I’ve been applying since around 2011 and have been lucky enough to win several including a very exclusive Caprock Canyons hunt.

This year, I won a hunt on private lands in Travis County that was last week. The private lands hunts cost a little bit more to enter ($10 versus $3 for other types) but if you win them, they don’t have an entry fee which makes it a pretty good deal. When I applied for this hunt, there was no description of the hunt so I thought “Hmm a hunt in the Hill County on private lands? That sounds like a great deal.” As it turns out, they probably don’t provide a description because they don’t want the general public to know where the hunt is.

Without disclosing the location, I’ll just say it’s essentially in the city limits of Austin. It’s a beautiful piece of property but isn’t what I’d actually call a Travis County Ranch. The property is managed for the two endangered species, the black capped vireo (recently delisted so yay) and the golden cheeked warbler. Deer are a threat to the habitat of the birds so there are management hunts on the property to keep the deer population in check. And by in check, it apparently means way below normal.

The hunt itself is well managed and the sheer size of the property at four thousand plus acres means you feel like you have the place to yourself. There are seven blinds on the property but only four were in use for my hunt. The hunt ran from Thursday at noon to Saturday at noon. We were in assigned blinds which meant you didn’t see much of the property other than where you were selected for.

The hunt I won was an Antlerless/Spike plus unlimited feral hogs hunt which is essentially a cull hunt meant to reduce the number of does. In most of Texas and most Texan hunters like to shoot bucks which results in a bad ratio of bucks to does. So these management hunts typically restrict you to only does or spike bucks which means a buck with one horn with no points. Last year, I was on the Richland Chambers WMA archery hunt and it was exactly the opposite because they had had a huge flood two years prior that really wiped out the deer population. So they wanted does to rebuild the herd. On that hunt, I saw nothing but does of course and shot nothing. This is kind of foreshadowing. Also, this ranch doesn’t seem to have any feral hogs so that unlimited feral hogs thing shouldn’t get anyone’s hopes up. When I see “unlimited” anything, I start to think Chinese Buffett gluttony but that’s not the case here. The hunt administrator said he might see 1 hog a year.

After orientation, I got to the blind about 2:30 on Thursday and sat until 6:15 or so. That night, the only notable mammal running around was a coyote with a bum leg who I started calling Gimpy since he showed up later in the play. Friday morning, I was in the blind at 5:15 and stayed until 11:30. In those six hours, I saw a bobcat right around 8 AM, a decent sized six point buck who came loping in at 10:45 right about the time I thought I might leave the blind and a roadrunner.

That night, I was back in the blind by 2 PM and sat until 6:15 again. I saw a little four point buck come in around 4:30. Then Gimpy showed up again briefly, gamely hopping along on three legs. Then at dusk, a big eight point buck came in that was definitely a shooter on any other property but because of the no bucks rule, just visual candy for me. I watched him eat corn for about 15 minutes before wandering off into the scrub.

Early in the afternoon, an Eastern Phoebe started perching in the mesquite right in front of my blind and dive-bombing insects which was fun to watch. He put on a show for probably 30 minutes.

Saturday morning, I was in the blind again at 5:15 and sat until 11. I saw the same little four point from Saturday come into the feeder at first light and then the big six pointer came in at 9:45. I also saw two Woodhouse’s Scrub Jays, a pretty blue bird that I’d never seen before that ate as much corn as the deer did probably. I never saw a hint of a doe.

My blind was on an area of the property where the original farmhouse stands. The hunt administrator said they believed the home was built originally in the 1870s with some additions later in the 1920s. It’s badly overgrown and could use some basic caretaking but just being near it and thinking about what life was like for those people 150 years ago was pleasing. I wandered around the homestead and marveled at the rock buildings that someone knew how to build in 1870. I fear if I had to build a house today, it would be something out of the Three Little Pigs first couple of stanzas.

For the hunt, I stayed at the Wyndham down by the airport at 35 and 290. It was pretty convenient but was one of those hotels that was built in the 80s and looked its age. It smelled like a casino without the added benefit of having a casino. On the plus side, at 4:30 AM, it was 18 minutes away from the ranch which is way better than sleeping in a tent. I ate Saturday night at Bill Miller’s BBQ which was a decent place, very old school, and apparently run by nothing but high school and early college age women. It’s no Franklins but then I didn’t have to wait in line 3 hours to get decent brisket and sausage.

Overall, I’d probably apply for this hunt again, just with much lowered expectations. I enjoyed just being on the land, watching nature all day with no expectations for any level of success. It was a convenient hunt since it’s in Austin and would be really good for kids. But at 12% success last year and with only one person taking a deer when I was there, it’s definitely not as promising as many other TP&WD hunts. So caveat emptor and know what you’re getting into.

Notes On A Sermon – The Right Time

Then I felt too that I might take this opportunity to tie up a few loose ends, only of course loose ends can never be properly tied, one is always producing new ones. Time, like the sea, unties all knots… — Iris Murdoch in The Sea, The Sea

As God’s fellow workers, we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the tie of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
II Corintians 6:1-2

Whereupon I begin a series of possibly 1 to N posts writing my thoughts down on the Sunday morning sermon at Kessler Park United Methodist Church. This Sunday we talked about time and our usage and abuse of it, our habit of treating it as an unlimited resource and our stewardship campaign of this year which is called Connect 52. A central theme of Connect 52 is giving an hour to God and possibly the church every week so that if everyone participated, we would collectively spend 52 hours each this year on God.

Of course, this likely caused some anxiety in those people prone to the disease as they wondered where in the clearly not unlimited supply of time they hold could they possibly find an extra hour. Reverend Magruder wanted to address this anxiety because finding that proverbial extra time in our not so unlimited time bucket was not the intent. The intent in fact is an analyzation of our usage of time to see if the way we currently spend our time is in fact both useful to God and to ourselves. The question is not “can you please find an extra hour in your week to spend with God and the church?” but instead “can you find an hour, any hour, not an extra hour, that you are currently spending frivolously and instead redirect that to a more meaningful use, a use for God or for growing relationships or giving back to the community?”

Framed in this way, the question becomes clear and anxiety free. Well, except that Rev. Magruder invoked the Death Clock as his main tool for bringing to the forefront our typical attitude towards time as an unlimited resource. The Death Clock tells you when you are going to die. It’s morbid. But it’s also surprisingly freeing in a Stoic way that causes us to confront our own impending death (and no matter what the Death Clock says, our deaths are impending from a geologic consideration of time). I’m going to die on September 21st, 2046 which saddens me because that’s before the State Fair of Texas starts that year. There is another Death Clock which apparently got their actuarial tables from some guy at State Farm whose cat just died as they are significantly more depressing. According to that site, I’m done for on Monday April 12th, 2038. The good news is I won’t have to pay taxes that year. Oddly, average male testers with my BMI have an average life span of 81.7 years. must somehow know I had 3 donuts and a handful of Hershey’s kisses for lunch yesterday.

Regardless of the results of the fun sites above, I apparently have less than 30 years left and in the case of the latter, less than 20. I was sure I was going to live forever. Thinking about such things might in fact reintroduce the aforementioned anxiety regarding time even if the church didn’t selfishly want .03% of my remaining 169,995 hours. Or instead, the results might refocus one on things that matter and time wasted in a very limited lifespan. There is nothing that can be done about the time washed under the bridge at our feet and so we shouldn’t worry about the past. Also, nothing can be done with the time we have left though we can try to increase our allotment with healthy choices. Instead, only the moment is important and how we are spending it which is what II Corinthians 6:1-2 was saying.

Rev. Magruder then talked about what he thought were the four top ways we misallocate our time. The first was by spending too much time on work. I am fortunate in that this is not a problem for me mostly. I have come to a certain detente with my position at work and for the most part, never think about it at home and I rarely work extra hours. Others are not so lucky and spend an inordinate amount of their limited lives thinking about something for which they aren’t properly rewarded or considered. If you are working for The Man as they said in the 60s, you owe him no more of your life than the agreed upon 40 hours. Even if you don’t work in a salaried position, there is always the question of if spending time on work is better for you than spending it on something more rewarding.

The second big time misallocation is distraction, especially in our distracted, divisive anti-social world. We are regularly manipulated through our own actions and the actions of corporations vying for our eyeballs and money to spend our time in ways we may look back upon in disgust when the Death Clock man comes calling. iPhones apparently now have a way to see how many times you looked at your phone and what you did on it. Android P has something similar. I do struggle with this one as my 16.2K tweets can attest. Luckily, those 16.2K tweets are hilarious and widely read.

The third misallocation of time is not spending enough time with God. This of course almost goes without saying, even for those who regularly give to God and the church, as our society becomes less and less religious over time. Even for those who are non-believers, this can be phrased as not spending enough time doing things that improve society or community.

And the fourth misallocation is procrastination which is a massive loss of time for me. There is always tomorrow. I can work out tomorrow. I can stop eating carbs tomorrow. I can stop drinking tomorrow. I can write that novel or application or whatever tomorrow. But as the verse above points out, now is the appropriate time. There is no other more appropriate time then now to begin.

Facing the fact that time is rushing away through our fingers like sand at the beach can be depressing. Or it can be a way to refocus (or possibly focus for the first time for many of us) on what is important. With only 169,995 hours left, I better go do some pushups. And start writing a great deal more often.

Turks And Caicos Trip 2018

My employer’s semi-occasional trip to the Caribbean was this past weekend when we whisked off to Turks and Caicos for four days. This year, Harper had aged out of the “kids under 2 get to go” rule and so we had our first trip in two and a half years sans Wobbles. This was exciting and terrifying, lonesome and relieving all in one. We left on Thursday from DFW. When we got to the airport, we learned that there had been scheduling problems with the 767 we were supposed to fly on and that it was still in Italy. For a replacement, Atlas Air had decided to send us on one of their 747s which was big news. The plane sat 460+ people and since we only had around half that, there was plenty of room to go around. Alas, it wasn’t as James Bond-ish as I had hoped. There was an upper deck but it was just seats, no disco ball, no gold lame wallpaper. It was mostly just flying on a REALLY big plane. As a plane junky, I’m glad I got to do it but it wasn’t overly different than a 767.

Upon arrival to the T&C airport, we disembarked in a rain shower and proceeded through customs and immigration which for a Caribbean country went pretty smoothly. However, waiting for taxis to the resort was less so. There, the natural tendency towards inefficiency kicked in. It’s always shocking to first time travelers to these countries how different attitudes are towards getting anything done. As we stood in the taxi line for 30-45 minutes in the fall Caribbean heat, I was reminded of David Foster Wallace’s essay on cruise ship travel, highly recommended. Travelers, largely (and large, sometimes extra) American and European stagger off planes into the humidity of the tropics and expect to be whisked away to the lovely all-inclusive air conditioned resort enclave, the brochures of which they have been staring at longingly for weeks. Instead, they are met with the “taxi line” where four empty vans sit across the parking lot while a bunch of people with no apparent logic try to figure out what nine people out of the line of a thousand should get on the next van.

My first inclination is to attribute this to an intention to manage the experience whereupon the workers mean to keep people in the heat and misery so that when one gets to the resort, one is struck by the wonderful contrast and therefore thinks the resort actually is paradise. However, this would require coordination amongst multiple entities and frankly, coordinating multiple entities in the Caribbean is an impossibility. So I have to assume the taxi-line phenomenon is just an artifact of “island time” writ into employment. Nothing seems to happen with alacrity on an island there. In fact, alacrity is an oxymoron of sorts. Things can happen quickly or things can happen cheerfully but nothing can happen briskly and cheerfully. Return travelers know this going in yet still, the American tendency towards “things must be done NOW” is so ingrained that after 15 minutes of standing watching nothing happen, it becomes almost impossible not to take over the process.

Thankfully, the interminable wait eventually ended and we did arrive at Beaches Turks & Caicos which is a semi-walled resort on the north side of the main island. Here we checked in, were handed rum drinks and sent off to various rooms throughout the compound, all of which had the AC set on the Ice Age setting. Driving from the airport, it is fairly apparent to anyone with a sliver of observational skills (which is about a quarter of the van as everyone else is staring at their phones) that air conditioning is not a universal luxury on the island and in fact, almost no buildings seem to have it. Yet here, every room of the sixteen thousand or so rooms all have their thermometers set on “Turn the sweat dripping off the Americans into icicles”. Self awareness kicks in (I assume) and I am struck by this juxtaposition. The people of the island, who I might remind readers lived through a category 5 hurricane just the year before that devastated the island, have none of the luxuries we are affording ourselves of. Compounding the contrast is the fact that almost all of the tourists are white in shades ranging from Scandinavian Pale to New Jersey Mafia Gold to Italian Bronze, sponsored by Glidden while almost all of the workers are black. Knowing that many of the workers go back to homes at night with exactly none of the amenities we are enjoying makes clear that the majority of the money ends up in the coffers of some monolithic development company in one of the aforementioned very white countries. it raises a certain amount of touristic guilt. Making things worse, Turks doesn’t seem to be the kind of place you leave the resort much (though some intrepid people did) and so most money spent is not shared with the islanders.

So just as DFW noted in Shipping Out, there is something unbearably sad about the place, a place where rooms go for upwards of $2000 a night in the high season which is about 1/15th of the per capita GDP. While the experience is not nearly as structured for pleasure as it might be on a cruise ship, it is still quite controlled. Which is not to say it isn’t a very relaxing place to be especially if you are into having all the food and drink you want at pretty much any time you might want it. We ate 3, sometimes 4, meals a day. Occasionally, we had multiple entrees at the same meal because, well, it’s included. Diving was included which is the best part of the trip. Regardless of the rest of the experience, time spent in the water on a pristine, protected reef, is amazing. The dive boats were crowded this time but not overly so. We saw several large sharks, a big ray, turtles, barracuda, lobsters and a whole host of Caribbean fish. Grace Bay is a protected area and it shows. Just snorkeling off the beach resulted in seeing four sea turtles and tons of fish. It’s a marine paradise.

While on the trip, I read Goldeneye: Where Bond was Born. It’s the story of Ian Fleming’s time in Jamaica, a similar island paradise with similar political and cultural history (they were both British colonies, Jamaica achieved their independence in the 60s while T&C remains a British dependency). Jamaica was a rich creative source for Fleming but he lived there in drastically different circumstances than the ones under which we visited T&C. He bought a few acres on the north coast with a beach that had been only reachable by boat. He built a very spartan, masculine house where the ideas for Bond would be embellished and worked on in an ascetic atmosphere (though he still had a staff of 3 or 4 and plenty of fancy parties to go to. He wasn’t much of a party goer though).

During that time period, the rich of the Western world were discovering the Caribbean in general and Jamaica in particular. The country was undergoing many of the issues that I discussed earlier in becoming a resort destination. American hotels were being built frequently and the charms of colonial Jamaica were being lost. Many of those charms may seem nostalgic under close examination but there is no doubt that visitors at that time were forced to interact with the people of the country in ways that visitors to T&C are not. When one is whisked directly from the airport to a walled resort, it is easy to ignore any thorny cultural or political problems. I do recommend the book if you are a Bond fan or if you are interested in the history of the end of the British Empire. It struck me as being not dissimilar to what America may very well be going through today. Our exercise of empiric powers was never quite as overt as the British but there can be no doubt we have had our fingers in places throughout the world. When the British Empire began to crumble after WWII, many people such as Fleming (and Noel Coward, heavily discussed in this book) longed for the old times of the Empire, times when relations between races and peoples were more clear cut, less ambiguous and the native peoples didn’t make so much noise about independence and self governance. It is fascinating to read about Fleming’s experiences during this time period.

If you have the opportunity to visit Beaches Turks & Caicos, I do recommend it if you have a taste for extravagance and pampering. It is not a real experience in any meaningful way but for a brief time, you can experience what it is like to be rich and waited on for everything. Many of the guests are what one might consider nouveau riche. They bring entire families to a destination by plane where upon arrival, everything is handled. Dinners are all the same, regardless of location, not because the food is the same but because there are no real choices involved. Activities are structured and there is no real danger of having a terrible time. If you don’t like the food, order something else. There are no consequences, no searching, which I suppose is appealing to some people. But consequences are often the spice of life, the genesis of stories you tell as a family for years to come. In 12 months, I will remember nothing of the food or drinks I had this weekend. But six years later, I still remember the muffuletta from Frank’s after walking through the French Quarter in the late August heat of New Orleans in search of the restaurant. There was nothing pleasant about trying to find it, sweating in the New Orleans tropical weather, making wrong turns, etc. But then the cold beer, the attitude from the waitress, the sandwich itself, the time spent with a new found love of my life. All of those things are what make experiences memorable. Getting served two entrees because I couldn’t decide what I wanted while the staff probably went home to eat things they had to? Only memorable in its American ostentatiousness and gluttony.

It was odd to me this year to come back from the trip so unrelaxed. Much of that is due to other circumstances like owning two houses and the ongoing insanity at work. But I believe it’s also because I want real experiences now, not manufactured, all you can eat extravaganzas. Our daily life is “all you can eat” in many ways. Everything is already out our finger tips and visiting a place that provides that same thing in spades is boring in many ways, maybe all ways. I terribly enjoyed the ability to read for hours on end without too much interruption but that could have happened anywhere, in a campsite in the East Texas woods or at a small VRBO place on the Texas coast. I love the salt life, the diving, the beach and incredible blue waters of the eastern Caribbean but there are probably other ways to experience all of that.

As always, we wonder if this is the last trip for OT and there are plenty of signs it might be. It will be the last one for many of my coworkers who will move on to other places of employment. It is wonderful to work for an employer to provides this amazing perk but much like my ongoing ambivalence and confusion about my continued usages of Amazon, the trip causes me some level of anxiety, a certain amount of wallowing in American style guilt and a regular examination of the consequences of traveling to these locations without once venturing into the town to experience something less tourista and more local. I think our next family trip will likely be a trip to the coast but a coast that requires us to deal with consequences and contingencies and I am looking forward to it.