“Oh wow…oh wow oh wow!”
The words spilled out of Annie’s mouth. An Axis buck stood staring at our hunting blind not more than 60 yards away, antlers towering high above his head. A mating pair of Sandhill cranes flew over, calling back and forth to one another. The steam rose up from the ground as the sun hit the morning dew. Ducks and other waterfowl splashed furiously in the bay waters behind us. A scene from a storybook, first time adult hunter Annie had done an impeccable job of staying quiet in the blind- until then. I will never forget her enthusiast reaction. The axis deer slipped back into the brush, alerting to our presence.
In 2014, Powderhorn Ranch became the largest conservation investment in Texas history when Texas Parks & Wildlife purchased the 17,000+ acre piece of property along the Texas coastline near Port O’Connor, Texas. It’s former owner had imported exotic species such as Axis deer, Sambar deer, and Russian boar for recreational hunting. In addition, an abundance of white-tailed deer and waterfowl call Powderhorn Ranch home.
Guiding adults for the third year for Texas Wildlife Association’s Adult Mentored Hunt program, I found myself for the first time at this uniquely beautiful Texas treasure. Along with a film crew to capture the experience for Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation, Stewards of the Wild member Annie and I hit it off quick. Originally from San Francisco, California- Annie now calls Houston home with her boyfriend where they share a passion for fostering dogs. Like me, Annie was introduced to the outdoors at a young age but hunting was never a part of that experience.
We sat in the popup blind that day accompanied by Chris who was fitted to film our experiences for the weekend. Annie wore a small portable microphone. I was reminded just how challenging being a guide can be. I fidgeted and fumbled with setting up Annie’s shooting sticks for what seemed like forever. Ultimately, getting Annie in a comfortable shooting position, we waited.
We spotted a roadrunner. Then an armadillo.
That evening the wind had picked up a bit on the bay. I asked Annie if she had any interest in going for a walk to see if we could spot and stalk game. She smiled enthusiastically. Chris followed, doing a fantastic job of remaining neutral and “invisible” as he filmed our pursuit. Walking together I spotted something in the brush. The shed antler of a Sambar deer. Weighted and massive in my tiny hand we celebrated the cool find for the camera.
That’s when Annie spotted the herd of Axis deer staring at us as if in disbelief of our ideocracy. How long they had been watching us I am not sure. Chris still rolling, I set the rifle up on the shooting sticks and Annie took her position with confidence. Standing in tall grass up to their necks I coached Annie to wait and breathe. Time ticked by.
“I could hear your heart beating in the microphone.” Chris commented.
Annie and I enjoyed a second day of hunting together without the added pressure of the camera. We watched the sunrise and heard coyotes howl early in the morning, locating one another. We walked out to the bay and spot and stalked three Axis bucks however we could not cut the distance enough to give Annie comfortable shot. It seemed the Axis deer would win this time.
Out on the bay Annie smiled wide and described the “buck fever” feeling to me in her stomach she had never felt before. Not once did she ever complain about trudging through the mud or the muck in search of game. In fact, Annie spotted just as many deer as I did, if not more! Annie has everything it takes to be a great hunter- patience, a love of the outdoors and a positive attitude. I can’t wait to see where this experience takes her and I hope our paths cross again soon. Cameras rolling, or not.