Those Days Are Gone

One of the neatest ranches I hunted was along the Rio Grande River not too far west of Langtry, TX.  Yeah, that Langtry, home of the infamous Judge Roy Bean.

december-2007-015As I recall, the property was roughly 36,000 acres with about 15,000 acres or so south of U.S. Highway 90 and the remainder north of the highway.  I shared this lease with a group of hunters from the El Paso area.  Preferring whitetails, they hunted the north end since that was where most of the whitetails roamed.  This is the area of the state where whitetails and desert mule deer overlap.   I had desert mule deer on my wish list. I concentrated south, where the land was rougher as arroyos turned into canyons before dumping into the river.

There was an old abandoned ranch house out of which I swept the cobwebs and dirt, patched a window and got a bucket with rags and a mop and scrubbed the kitchen.  After a day it wasn’t too bad.  The land owner saw I was attempting to salvage the building so he rewired the thing and installed a water heater. From then on, it was nice.

I hunted there three years.  The bonus was fishing in the Rio Grande.  It took careful driving with a little prayer sprinkled in, but eventually with my Polaris Ranger, I could navigate down to the water.  It was pretty easy to get a dozen or so blue catfish with worms on the bottom.  The ranch was beautiful.  I loved the solitude and remoteness with no traffic noise or train whistles in the distance.  On clear nights, the stars were stunning.

Jack fishing in Rio Grande
Brother Phil with his sheep

It was an all season lease and I went there a lot.  Dove hunting was fun sitting at a water trough, and later in the year I got plenty of cardio vascular work chasing scaled quail.  Another exciting byproduct besides the fishing and birds was a large herd of Corsican sheep had migrated into the ranch.  This exotic game was icing on the cake.

Then things began to unravel.  One day I noticed something orange far to the south into Mexico.  I found the item in my binoculars and realized it was a wind sock.  Someone was putting an airfield across the border.  About two weeks later I came back to the same area and was stunned to see a graded road dropping off the high mountains in Mexico right down to the water’s edge.  On my side of the border, I could barely make it to the river in an ATV, but across the way anyone could approach the border in a Ford Mustang. Drug cartel—smuggling I assumed.

Well as you may guess, this bothered me.  I was often on the ranch by myself.  These guys were not seeking work in the U.S. but carrying drugs and money back and forth, probably with AK-47’s in hand.  Not good!

Two things happened to make me leave.

1 – As I parked my pickup near the house to unload gear on my next trip to the ranch, a black suburban raced up to the parking area in a cloud of dust.  Three men jumped out wearing bulletproof vests with large block yellow initials stamped on their windbreakers.  They did not have weapons drawn but they had their hands on their side arms.  “What are you doing here?”  they demanded.  I explained who I was and that I had the right to be there.  At that point they told me I had tripped a motion sensor which caused them to close in on me.  They gave me three phone numbers to call every time I entered and left the property, The Border Patrol, Terrell County Sherriff’s Department and the DEA.  They told me dozens of drug cartel carriers would cross the river at night, each with a 25 pound bag of drugs on their back.  They would deposit the bag in a ditch somewhere within the property I was hunting, then get GPS coordinates to their pick up contact on the U.S. side.  That carrier would tear down fences and travel cross country in one of those big military style Hummers with no flat tires.  All this was happening while I was sitting around a camp fire or sleeping alone in the old house.  Wow.

2 – I watched the movie No Country for Old Men.


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