There are a few “givens” that you will be exposed to when you find yourself growing up in Houston, Texas:
- Football (and I’m not talking about the kind where everyone runs up and down the field kicking at the thing) of any shape or form including street tag, little league, junior, senior, collage or professional American football.
- The space program…everyone, sooner or later, bumps into something space related.
- The Houston Fat Stock Show and Rodeo…the largest rodeo in ticket sales and cash prizes in the World.
- Vacation Bible School…why do you think they call it the Bible Belt?
- Deer Hunting…I don’t care if you are driving a garbage truck, working in a steel fabrication shop or at NASA, come the fall, the main topic of conversation will eventually turn to all things deer hunting.
When I was a young man back in the late 1970s, I was renting a little house with a large back yard that had gone to seed. My best friend, Paul (now gone from us) showed up at the house one day running on about the end of civilization. I am not sure if he had been listening to a local fanatic on the radio or he had been in a conversation with some of his “alternative life style” buddies or had bumped his head, but that was the first time I had truly considered the possibility of surviving some form of apocalypse.
One must remember that while I was in elementary school we routinely practiced nuclear attack drills (they called it “Civil Defense” then). The Cuban missile crisis was very familiar with young and old alike. Houston has one of the largest oil refinery facilities in the world and is only a hop, skip and a jump (figuratively speaking) from Cuba. Even at that tender age, I distinctly remember conversations amongst ourselves joking about how taking our glasses off would really help if the Commies hit with everything they had. Everyone naturally assumed we would all be killed outright.
At any rate, Paul’s conversation brought up the question of hunting/trapping for sustenance in an urban environment, ammunition, shelter, water supplies and other topics survival related. Anyone interested in surviving in the wilds of metro Houston surely would be thinking about using the packs of wild dogs and stray cats as a food source. I know the subject of eating domestic “pets” may be disturbing to some, but in far too many cases, the strays I refer to are anything but pets. “Feral” and “populations” would be a more appropriate term.
The use of firearms in this pursuit would only attract unwanted attention. Archery seemed a natural solution. Since I had previous experience in the sport, and now had a practice area 45 yards long, the survival discussion eventually resulted in a trip to the local archery shop. It had been some ten years since I had broken my 20 pound youth recurve, and the Grayling Green Fred Bear Kodiak Magnum recurve I found at the pro shop fostered an immediate lay away down payment. I think I gave a total of $70 for that 45 pound Kodiak Magnum brand new. I also bought my Bitzenburger fletching jig at the same time.
Suitable target backdrops, hours of practice at my “range” and many Sundays at the Buffalo Field Archery Club’s range produced a level of proficiency that fairly screamed for a hunting excursion. Paul and I talked the subject to death, and I decided at least one serious hunt must be carried out.
Just north of the City of Houston lies the Sam Houston National Forest. It is managed by the United States Department of Agriculture and is the southern border of what is still known as “The Big Thicket”. Legends tell of settlers traveling under the dense canopy of trees, being unable to see the sun for weeks at a time, becoming hopelessly lost and dying of starvation. I don’t know the truth of that story but it sure compelled a young Boy Scout to always carry his compass when hiking there. Since the National Park was less than an hour’s drive from my home, it was the obvious choice for scouting.
I contacted the National Parks Service and ordered topographical maps of the area closest to home. We reasoned that the maps would show us the most likely area to find our quarry, the wiley whitetail deer. Our target area was to have water, cover and food sources combined with difficult access. My goal was to find an area most distant from any paved road. As things turned out, an area along an abandoned pipeline was far and away the most remote section of dark green we could find. There was also relatively easy access to a nearby agricultural development, a small stream crossed the pipeline almost exactly in the middle of the area and some low hills rose to the east.
Our first sortie was in May. You might think, “Oh, what lovely weather for a walk in the woods,” but you would be wrong. Already, canteens filled with water were number one on the list of equipment to be carried a field. We arrived at our parking area mid-morning, quietly got loaded up, burst into a full sweat and entered the forest, all the while skirting the edge of the trees along the pipeline.
We walked very slowly, stopping every five or ten feet to use the binoculars to peer into the brush. It was about three quarters of a mile up the pipeline (a slash of cleared ground about thirty to forty yards wide) where an eight point buck, still in velvet, sauntered right across our path! Man, were we excited! As they say, the proof is in the pudding and our plotting and planning had obviously been right on track. When the buck vanished into the brush we scouted where he had crossed about fifty yards on both sides of his travel route. The place was littered with tracks! This was where I would build my first elevated stand.
We scouted the entire pipeline through the area we had planned, but found nothing compared to the area where the buck had crossed. It was just on the south side of a small creek that ran east/west clearly marked on the topo map and right at the bottom of a series of low hills, covered by dense forest and undergrowth.
At that time, Texas regulations stated that leaving a permanent stand in the forest was verboten. Over the next few weeks I returned a few times to cut small pines for building ground blinds and one elevated stand in the spreading branches of a low oak tree overlooking the intersection of the creek, pipeline and main game trail. Eventually, I had fabricated a bio-degradable platform of three and four inch pine trees lashed and spiked to the basket-like branches of the oak. The platform was only about eight feet off of the ground but was virtually unrecognizable as a platform to the casual observer from the ground. It also provided an excellent vantage point for surveying the surrounding brush. Another benefit lay in the fact of its size. It was a little over five feet wide and just over six feet long. I could lay fully extended on the platform with my equipment beside me during the long wait for the not too distant planned sunrise.
Licenses were purchased, broadheads sharpened and my bow was the veritable lightening bolt of Zeus in my hand. If I could see it within thirty yards, there was going to be a green Bear Razorhead and a large hole in it as sure a Texas skeeters sound like B-52s.
The long awaited day came. I loaded my Plymouth Fury station wagon and made my way to the chosen campground. I arrived in the early evening after work, on a Friday. The following morning would be the opening day of archery season and I was ready! Darkness came and I built a small fire while finishing my dinner and completing preparations for the following morning. I planned to rise at 3:30 AM so that I could make breakfast and leave a cold camp.
A big plus for driving the full-sized Fury (Suzi, as she was popularly known) was that a four by eight sheet of plywood could be laid down in the back and the tailgate closed. That way, I had no need of fooling around with a tent and I could close the windows for protection from the nuclear-armed, aforementioned B-52s.
When I finally went to bed, I was completely alone in the campground.
My Big Ben wind-up alarm clock went off at 3:15 and I heard the constant thrum of a small engine running. I sat up and flipped on my flashlight and discovered a huge motorhome parked in the neighboring spot with his generator running! I crawled out of my bed roll and got dressed. Then shining a light around the campground, I saw a great number of the sites had pop-ups, pickups with campers and many motorhomes, and quite a few had generators running. While I slept, the place had filled to maximum capacity!
Needless to say, I was dumfounded at this development and could not imagine that these folks were all bow hunters. I had not bumped into a living soul other than deer, squirrels and birds during my scouting expeditions. Not to be dissuaded from my mission I made breakfast, broke camp and drove the eight miles to my hike-in point.
I stalked my way to the platform and hied myself into the branches of the tree, strung my bow, freed my ammunition and laid on my back, staring up into the stars, waiting for the break of day. I lay patiently and so comfortably as to think to myself this would be a good place to take a nap. There was no way I was going to nap however. I had gotten plenty of rest, planned this trip for months and I was in high expectations of seeing game.
Gradually, the stars darkened and I could see nothing in the sky. Some time later I thought I could just make out the outlines of the tree branches against the sky. I wasn’t sure so I continued to watch. Sure enough, the light was coming. I could not bring myself to make noise yet because I still couldn’t make out the definition of the branches much less even begin to shoot yet. Yes, the sky was definitely brightening. I decided to rise to a standing position and reached out for my bow, so as not to knock it off of the platform, and then I heard the dogs.
In the distance I heard dogs barking. I thought it must be the farmer letting them out for their morning romp and did not get worried until I heard the first shot. “Shot?” I thought, “Who would be shooting at this time of the morning during archery season?” The dogs were still barking, then the second and third shots came. I heard two shots from another direction and some more dogs.
It was only then that I put the late arrivals, the fancy rigs, the late sleepers, shotguns and dogs together. It was also the opening day of white-wing dove season!
I thought frantically to my self “Maybe all of this blasting of the woods will scare a deer my way.” It sounded like good idea at the time. Then I heard another shot. This time it was much closer than the rest, and then a cloud of pellets came flying through the branches of the nearby trees. That’s when I yanked off my camouflage head net, hat and top coat. I was not about to be blasted by some hung-over Bozo with a twelve gauge just because he thought he had seen something moving in the trees. I came down off of my stand and made great show about walking up the center of the pipeline cut and back to Suzi, making myself highly visible to God and all His creatures.
Back home I skulked around for a few days, nursing my bruised ego, and slowly came upon the realization that even though my plan to elevate my status to Great White Hunter With a Bow had fallen flat on its face, I had learned a lot from the experience and had been rewarded with great fun in the scouting, planning, practice and execution of my safari to The Big Thicket.
Now I make certain that there are no overlapping seasons before I begin laying my well made plans, and I haven’t been run off any stands by any heavily armed Bozos recently.