‘Twas the night before a Texas deer camp, and all through the antler filled lodge, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Ok, maybe the mice were stirring just a little bit, especially on a cold, wet early winter’s night, particularly around the storage bins for the bags of deer corn that get fed by the literal ton to scores of hungry whitetails.
And maybe the deer themselves were actually stirring too, pushed out of their early December slumber by both the chill of a wet night in the 30s and the annual rut where West Texas and the Texas Hill Country come together in a spectacular collision of caliche, cactus, mesquite trees, scrub oaks and rolling hills.
Certainly the hunters were stirring — ok, maybe it was actually just one single hunter that was stirring — kept awake by the promise of a new dawn in a deer blind, not to mention a chance to participate in Mossy Oak Camo’s annual writer’s camp at Vatoville, a 9,000+ acre whitetail wonderland in Schleicher, Crockett and Sutton counties.
Or maybe, just maybe, I was kept awake by a chance to once again sample the scrumptious buttermilk and pecan pies leftover in the camp kitchen after an inaugural evening of great Texas hospitality by owners Steve and Michelle Anderson.
Mind you, these are the real McCoy’s in the Lone Star State pie making world, not some store bought concoction from the nearest HEB store an hour to the west in San Angelo.
After rendezvousing in town with Tim Anderson and Jake Meyer of Mossy Oak camo and J.J. Reich from Savage Arms, Federal Ammunition and Primos game calls, our group made its way down rain-slicked highways on a Wednesday evening when Vatoville received 1.5 inches of rain, no small wonder in this usually arid corner of the Lone Star State.
Lying at the end of a bumpy and muddy road, the sprawling ranch fits the criteria for a good Texas deer camp as laid down by Dallas Morning News outdoors writer Ray Sasser in his deer hunting book entitled A View From A Tower Blind.
In that hunting tome, Sasser wrote that the best deer camps in the state of Texas are those that lay at the end of such remote lanes. After more than two decades of chasing these critters across the state, I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s absolutely right.
Following a night of limited sleep, Thursday morning dawned cloudy and cold in Vatoville as the wind stiffened out of the north, the morning temperature fell into the mid-30s, and the storm’s leftover moisture turned into a little bit of light snow.
Which made for an interesting backdrop as guides Ben Lawrence, Billy Bob “Bunk” Galbreath, and John Mayer took yours truly out for a refresher course in “Horn Rattling 101.”
Two minutes into our antler rattling session, it was obvious that these three guides know what they are talking about as a wide-eyed 2.5 year old 10-point buck came rushing in to see where the fight was.
With the arctic gale making it tough for rattling sounds to be heard across the ranch’s hilly terrain, we retreated for the warmth of camp and a chance to head out to the range to try out some new rifles, new ammunition, new optics and new gadgets.
A bit later in the afternoon, Jake Meyer and Bunk Galbreath took me to one of two dozen box blinds at Vatoville to see if we could find a mature 10-point or a burly management buck to wear my tag.
Before long, a steady stream of deer began moving in to the corn feeding station to try and stoke their internal combustion engines against the biting cold. The parade of whitetails included a number of does, a yearling buck, a broken rack eight-pointer and a stout six-point with a burly body and a snarly attitude.
On a day when it snowed several inches in portions of south and central Texas, the occasional burst of snow flurries at Vatoville kept us entertained and ensured a steady parade of hungry whitetails in front of the raised box blind.
Unfortunately, an opportunity for me to burn a tag on the first day of the hunt didn’t present itself although Tim Harmsen of the Military Arms Channel connected on a tall-tined eight pointer late in the afternoon. As a crowd of onlookers gathered around to admire the handsome deer in the back of the four-wheel ATV, I was consoled by the fact that Vatoville is crawling with whitetails, that the current stretch of wintry weather has them up and moving, and that tomorrow is a new day to go out and try again. With any luck, a burly old Edwards Plateau buck will come calling and get invited to my dinner table.
In the meantime, the dinner bell was actually ringing as Steve — Vato as most call him around camp — sliced up some fine smoked brisket and Michelle put out another scrumptious pie. Before long, our crew was battling full stomachs, sleep deprivation, watching a Thursday night football game, and telling more than a few deer camp stories.
If the overnight period proves to be sleep challenged yet again for yours truly, I might have to slip back into the kitchen.
To stare at the big bucks on the wall, not to mention scarfing down another piece of late night buttermilk pie.
All the while dreaming the big antlered dreams of a wide-eyed deer hunter trying in vain to sleep again as a strong December wind blows from the north and rattles the windows of a great little Texas deer camp.
Deep in the heart of a place called Vatoville.