Well, it’s over. Except for the NFL combine and draft, and a few other anemic football-related events and news stories that’ll pop up from time to time, the football drought has begun, and it won’t end until the summer training camps open up and give some relief.
Now we’re faced with a weekend television lineup that features winter sports, bowling, soccer, college basketball games, televised poker, auto racing and eventually baseball. But none of them reach that deep sports itch that football fans need scratched.
Unlike Dr. Hunter Thompson, however, we shouldn’t despair. There’s plenty for a sports-loving Central Texan to turn to, and springtime offers the opportunity to get out of the recliner and transform from a spectator into a participant.
And that’s just what I did last weekend, along with a couple dozen of my lifelong, as well as some new friends. We headed out on a 4-day pilgrimage to a secluded Texas Hill Country ranch to grab the deer by the horns and scratch our itches, so to speak.
The Hill Country is home to to a variety of wildlife, including native white-tailed deer, Axis deer, wild boar, mountain lion, rabbit, squirrel and an occasional black bear. The crystal-clear river running through the ranch’s canyon teems with sunfish, bass, and catfish.
In addition to the more traditional outdoor pursuits, we spent our days sitting around the campfire, walking the wooded trails and shooting targets along the limestone riverbed. We also did some odd jobs around the cabin and campground as well as just sitting and pondering.
Some of us came to get away from something; others of us used it to get back to something. Some remembered those who no longer throw shadows around the fire. Some just came and waited for something to happen. And plenty did.
Granted, a lot of what is said during a weekend with 25 guys on a ranch in the middle of nowhere has to stay off the record, and as a semi-respected semi-journalist, I vowed to maintain the trust, so this column will be a little shorter than usual.
But there was some legitimate outdoor success going on, too, which is where I’m going to focus now. A few guys, including longtime friend Eric Sprague, who gave me permission to use his name in the paper, had some success fly fishing in the river’s deeper holes. Overall, our fishing team hauled in enough fish to make a meal if they hadn’t been practicing catch-and-release.
There was also a dedicated crew of hunters who made it to the blinds and stands each morning and evening in pursuit of an Axis deer, which are abundant in the area and aren’t restricted by a closed hunting season since they’re classified as an exotic species.
It was Saturday night before a shot rang out from the hunting grounds. One of my oldest and most valued friends, Spencer Woods, who was serving as the camp’s spiritual and hunting guide, sped up on his Gator, jumped off, ran up to the game of washers, and announced that he had seen a big Axis buck in velvet making its way to the stand that Central Texas outdoorsman and musician Casey Kelley had been hunting.
Kelley, who was on a hot streak, resisted the advice of his fellow campers to get his gun and move into position, opting instead to finish out the game. A short time later, carrying the Washer Championship Trophy in one hand and his rifle in the other, hopped aboard Spencer’s taxi and rolled off into the woods.
Only a few minutes after the rest of us had completely forgotten that anybody was hunting, we heard the shot, followed by another, and we knew that we had a job to do — stand around in the dark and watch somebody field-dress his deer.
Big events like the Super Bowl and the annual camping trip to the ranch are important milestones, but the weekly games and get-togethers are just as important. Don’t forget to have a good time along the way.