|CONTROLLED BURN AREA|
|LIVE OAK COPSE|
|RESTORED SPRING AND STREAM|
|PETS TEX AND BUBBA|
|LLANOS RIVER, MASON, TEXAS|
I found Blue Mountain Peak Ranch in the Teas Hill Country while surfing the Internet looking for a place to possibly hunt wild hogs. Their web site interested me and I started an email and then phone conversation with them, the upshot of which was that Joan and I received an invitation for a tour.
We have been visiting the west-central Hill Country the past several years and find it much to our liking, though very different from our Wisconsin Northwoods. The Hill Country, like most of rural Texas, is privately owned ranch country. It is semi-arid, often close to desert in its western limits, but has an abundance of trees and shrubs interspersed with grassland. The dominant trees are live oaks, a species of red cedar (Juniper), cottonwoods and some willows and elms in lowland areas, the shrubs a mix of sage, mesquite, Texas sumac and others, and the grasses and forbs are mostly dry prairie species. Since white settlement and the introduction of cattle there has been much overgrazing and resultant deterioration of the native vegetation, but the region remains beautiful nonetheless. The hills vary a great deal, from rolling country to short, precipitous peaks, and high plains and mesas west. The rivers and streams are often shallow or almost dry. Cattle, tourism and some oil and natural gas production dominate the economy. The towns and cities are mostly small. The area has a distinctly German immigrant background with a strong overlay of Mexican culture. One of the best places anywhere for authentic German food and beer is Fredericksburg, in the south central Hill Country. Blue Mountain Peak Ranch is located southwest of Mason, towards the west central part of the region.
Blue Mountain Peak Ranch is owned by international businessman Richard Taylor, whose goal is to establish it as an environmentally conscious wildlife and trophy deer hunting destination. The ranch cooperates with several Texas universities and state wildlife biologists. The Hill Country is prime whitetail deer habitat, since browse is so plentiful. Many deer are free ranging across property boundaries, but ranches with appropriately high fences can retain a private deer population and a longer and more varied hunting season.
Trophy deer hunting is expensive, but since the herds must be culled to promote trophy racks,the cost of hunting of does and smaller racked bucks is not prohibitive (Blue Mountain charges about $200 per day for non-trophy deer hunting, see their web site, http://www.bluemountainpeakranch.com for details). Feral hogs are an environmental problem and can be hunted at any time without a license, the charge usually in the $250 range, not bad really because the hog meat is natural, reportedly good, and plentiful. I took my deer rifle along but did not hunt, as the weather was warm at the time and I hadn’t made any arrangements for processing (maybe next winter). I was spooked by the prospect of several hundred pounds of rapidly aging pork in the bed of the pickup.
Our tour was scheduled for 2:00 PM Friday afternoon, our guide being the ranch manager, Mike Day. We were met at the gate on Farm Road 1871 by Brandon, Mike’s son, just returned from five years of Marine corps service, his last tour being in Afghanistan, and we thank him for his service to our country. The ranch is 830 acres in size, about 1.25 square miles, and for several years a successful effort has been made to eliminate most of the Asche cedar trees (Juniperus Aschei) through controlled burning and selective hand cutting. The cedar trees are native but very invasive, mostly because they produce so much seed and are not good forage for either cattle or deer. They intercept and utilize the 26” average rainfall to such an extent that little moisture is left for other vegetation and almost none reaches the water table, resulting in the elimination of natural springs and streams. Blue Mountain now has flowing springs and streams again, with the control of the cedar tree population and the continuing reestablishment of native grasses, forbs and shrubs. A neighboring ranch has attempted cedar eradication by solely mechanical means but that seems to me not as effective as fire, and disturbs the thin, rocky soil to the extent that erosion appears to be much more of an issue.
Our tour was by a four-wheeler Gator, a vehicle which accommodated all of us, and could traverse virtually any terrain. The hood-mounted AR15 and 227 Winchester rifles made it look pretty lethal. It appeared as though we might roll head over heels (so to speak) on virtually vertical descents, but we remained, somewhat miraculously, upright the entire time. The ranch has four game feeding stations and accompanying blinds. The feeders are automatic and timed, and hogs and turkeys, as well as the deer, utilize them to supplement their diet. This is a different kind of hunting experience for those of us used to lots of public land, but it is not at all like shooting ducks in the proverbial barrel, as one might assume. Blue Mountain hunters are assigned an area to hunt and left to their own devices, and to success as determined by skill, ambition and the circumstances of the day. Blue Mountain’s deer carrying capacity goal is a herd size of approximately fifty deer. Texas deer tend to be smaller in size than Wisconsin deer, but generally have much larger racks, which is why trophy hunting is so popular. At present the only cattle on the ranch are Tex, an out sized Texas longhorn steer, and Bubba, a black Angus.
Blue Mountain Peak Ranch has been credited by the Texas DNR as a model for environmentally sound land reclamation and management, and they cooperate closely with state wildlife and range management experts, as well as with nonprofit conservation groups. Plans include the construction of visitors’ accommodations and classrooms, and the establishment of an environmental learning center. Nature tours and hikes, birding and photography are all encouraged and available at a very reasonable fee. I find all this an interesting and viable alternative to much government owned and funded outdoor recreation.
We saw a few hogs, and Brandon put the sights on one but didn’t get off a shot. And, as the day drifted toward night, deer ventured out of the heavy cover to browse. We saw lots of hawks, small birds and a bald eagle. Joan and I consider ourselves lucky to have had the experience of visiting Blue Mountain Peak Ranch and its Texas sized hospitality, and I do hope to bring home the bacon in the future.