Thoughts From the Blind
I RECENTLY CAME ACROSS some notes I took on one of the last trips I took with my father in early December 2014.
We spent a couple of days with my buddy Josh Slone and longtime friend and rancher Thompson Temple on his Rocky Top Ranch.
The goal was to document Temple’s exciting Hill Country Bighorn (sheep) project which I later wrote about here, but when I came across these notes I realize I had some thoughts I have not shared with you.
And it gave me a glimpse of what I think about when I’m in peace in the great outdoors.
These are some of the random and possibly deep thoughts that came out of the peaceful time in the rocky, rolling hills.
The ringtail (often mistakenly called “ringtail cat”) have to be one of the most elusive creatures in Texas. They are common in the Hill Country and Trans Pecos but rarely seen. They are also one of two mammals in Texas often called “cats” that are not really cats at all.
My friend’s ranch has plenty of ringtail sign, but he has never seen one there in 25 plus years. If you catch a glimpse of one count yourself fortunate.
The other “non-cat” is the “civet cat”.
The spotted skunk is sometimes called a “civet cat” although they are no cat at all.
According to the Texas Wildlife Diversity program, spotted skunks are the smallest skunk, and fairly slender and weasel-like with males normally less than two pounds and females at around one pound.
“It is distinguished from the striped skunk by a white spot on the forehead and one in front of each ear. On its ventral side, it presents six stripes on the anterior of the body, and a pair of interrupted white stripes on the posterior along with paired spots on the rump and base of the tail.”
The quickest way to score on a big specimen of any animal is to go to the area with the least hunting pressure. Very few hunters go more than 100 yards off of a road or logging trail. By finding the part of a hunted property with the least human traffic, you can virtually guarantee encounters with big deer and other game.
If you took an early Native American hunter, one from a remote tribe in South America for example, and stacked their hunting skills against ours, we would look seriously inadequate.
Their very survival relied on their ability to get close to game and kill with bow, spear and blowgun. We can’t get the job done half the time with rifles that can easily take out game at 300-plus yards.
By taking on all of the technological conveniences we have lost something, and I believe it is instinct and intimate study of nature.
The late Tony Houseman once told me of shooting a kudu in Africa and not being able to find it. The next day they were nearly two miles away, and the local trackers said they found the footprint of that very kudu. He balked (as I would have) and thought there is no way they can tell by the footprint.
A few minutes later they found the animal dead 100 yards away where a leopard had gotten hold of it.
That’s the kind of things we have lost.
There are times a fisherman needs to simply go to a pond or local bayou and soak an earthworm under a bobber and see what bites. If we ever lose the excitement of watching a bobber go under, something is seriously wrong.
When I was a kid, virtually every bobber at the tackle shop was the classic red and white with the blue stem. If you put a little weight below it, the red would barely show as it floated in the water with a hunk of nightcrawler below it.
I have been into the technical side of fishing for a number of years and enjoy the intricacies of figuring out which lure is best to fish on the exact kind of line, rod and reel.
But I also like to sit in a lawn chair on the bank and watch a bobber move along in the current until something pulls it under.
As a child, it was all about catching the longnose gar at the gully down the street from my house. The bobber would start moving back and forth and usually swim down the canal before the gar decided to pull it under.
Later it was catching crappie over brush piles. No fish (even my beloved flounder) excited me more than a sac-a-lit so it is always with great anticipation to have one of those spotted beauties suck one under.
I often hear people talk about wild game meat being “gamey.” My honest opinion? The meat has either been handled wrong or the gamey taste is in the person’s head. Deer tastes like deer not beef, and for that I am glad.
On the trip these notes came from, Josh Slone fixed Dad and me some patties made of Corsican ram, ibex and Catalina goat and they tasted wonderful.
Variety is the spice of life and if you hunt and fish, you have plenty of variety in meats to choose from, none of which are “gamey” in my opinion.
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Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus)
Description: The Ringtail is a cat-sized carnivore resembling a small fox with a long raccoonlike tail. Its bushy tail is flattened and nearly as long as the head and body, with alternating black and white rings.
Life History: These animals are almost wholly nocturnal and spend the majority of the day sleeping in their dens. They leave their dens at night to feed. Ringtails eat a wide variety of foods. Birds, rodents, carrion, reptiles and amphibians, and insects such as grasshoppers and crickets form the bulk of their diet, although they also eat native fruits and berries as well.
The breeding season of the Ringtail is in mid-spring. Most litters consist of two to four babies, which are born covered with short, pale hair, unable to see and hear. By the age of four months, young Ringtails have acquired their adult coloring.
Habitat: Ringtails live in many different habitats, but they prefer rocky areas such as rock piles, stone fences, canyon walls, and talus slopes. Ringtails are expert climbers, capable of climbing vertical walls to find the most protected crevices, crannies, and hollows in which to build their dens. In woodland areas, where they are less common, they den in hollow trees and logs. They have also been observed living in buildings.DistributionRingtails are distributed statewide, but uncommon in lower Rio Grande and Coastal Plains of southern Texas.