Hunting Adventure of a Lifetime...Lost in the Woods

Secreted in their blind by first light, Rod Snell of Harlingen and his mother Maud wait patiently in the brush country north of Raymondville for their quarry to appear. She cradles a 300 Winchester Magnum, the weapon of choice for this vivacious 70 year old grandmother. Neither Rod nor his mom has any hint of the adventure awaiting them.

Wildlife is abundant on their lease and numerous deer and javelina move about, but they are hoping for a nilgai antelope. Nilgai are native to India but were introduced by the King Ranch in the 1930's. Since then, the adaptable antelope have spread throughout the ranch country of southernmost Texas. They are a popular game animal and excellent table fare.

After approximately an hour, a nilgai cow emerges from the thorny brush, but something spooks her before Maud can squeeze off a shot. Nilgai are challenging animals to hunt. They are extremely wary, possessing keen noses and superlative vision. They are also very large, with mature bulls exceeding 700 pounds.

The term nilgai is derived from the Hindi work "nilgaw" (blue bull) and refers to the dark bluish color of adult males. The bulls have short dark horns that are lethally employed when they battle one another. A fight between two big bulls is quite a spectacle as the massive animals attempt to gore one another, and sometimes it is a fight to the death.

Suddenly, a huge bull materializes in the sendero and starts walking toward the hunters. "He was facing me, and then he turned and starting moving off," Maud recalled. "I pulled the trigger, and the nilgai fell down."

"It was a solid hit that sent the bull flipping onto his back," Rod said. "He started kicking and thrashing on the ground. Then all of a sudden he gets up and runs away. We were sure he wasn't going far and hoped he would die quickly."

Mother and son remain in the blind for an anxious fifteen minutes. They do not want to pressure the wounded animal into fleeing farther into the vast thickets of mesquite and cactus.

Maud is an experienced hunter. She grew up in France during World War II, and accompanied her father as he set snares to capture pheasant and other creatures for the family to eat. "The Germans took our guns, our cars our bicycles, but my father knew how to live off the land, and we never starved." She married an American soldier and after coming to the United States introduced him to hunting. It became a mutual passion, and the hunting tradition was instilled in their children.

"When we got to the spot where she had dropped him, we saw broken branches, thrashed dirt, but no blood." Fortunately, there had been a light drizzle the night before and the ground was soft enough to follow the nilgai's tracks. "There was a very slight drag mark in the dirt from where the bull was dragging his left foreleg." The trail led under a barbed wire fence and into the adjacent United States Fish and Wildlife Service refuge.

Leaving their rifle behind, the duo enters the refuge expecting to quickly find the bull. "We were scared there for a moment, because we couldn't find a blood trail, and then finally the Indian here, (Maud glances with a smile to her son), found some blood and so we started tracking the blood one drop at a time."

"The way she had shot him, she had broken his left shoulder. He couldn't put any weight on it so he was dragging it. The only way I was able to track him was by a drag mark about two or three inches long."

Maud happens to have several tea bags in her pocket, and they use them to mark the trail. They circle for 15 or 20 minutes going out over 100 yards or more looking for the telltale drag or blood. If they find none they hike back to where she has hung a tea bag next to the last track and repeat the process.

"There were so many times I was ready to give up, but something inside me said to press on," Rod said. "There were times during the tracking when deer, pig and nilgai tracks intermingled, but I was always able to eventually find a drop of blood or the familiar drag. I don't know what possessed us, but we were just so determined."

"I told my mom several times let's just give up, but she said no, let's go a little further." This is a lady who survived the German occupation by honing her hunting wits, and she was not about to call it quits. "We were not going to let it go," she said.

After four hours and probably as many miles Rod walks into a clearing and suddenly the brush explodes 25 yards in front. The wounded bull is running again, despite his broken leg. "All I could think of was how I wished I had my rifle. I could have dropped him. As I watched him go, I thought if he can survive for over four hours there was no telling how long he was going to keep on."

Rod walks out of the thick mesquite and back to where his mother is waiting in a nearby sendero. "My mom had shot the bull before eight and now it was nearly noon. We probably tracked him a good five miles into the refuge. We decided to call it off, and with our focus on tracking the bull no longer on my mind, I realized that the brush was not familiar. I began to worry about where we were. As we walked, I tried to figure things out, but we had gotten turned around so many times. It was overcast so the sun was not visible. The wind was swirling, and I could not determine what direction we were headed."

"I wasn't really worried about getting lost with Roderick the great Indian," said Maud with a twinkle in her eyes. You know you are in trouble when your mom starts calling you by your full name.

"I don't know if you have ever been lost before, but that thought; Where are we? creates another thought and another thought and they start compounding. You wonder how are we going to get back, when are we going to get back?"

"And the funny thing is, just the night before I had read an article about illegal aliens that try and walk across the ranch country, and they get lost and they die. It's vast, its huge this ranch land. They showed all the dots where they had found illegals, and I thought we are going to be one of those dots."

It's early February so it's not too hot, but by 1 p.m. they have walked several miles with no food or water since beginning their trek five hours previous. "I did not want my mom to over exert herself so I started running down senderos trying to find our way back. After running down one of the senderos, I heard some crashing in the brush. I looked up and there was the bull again. I ran back to my mom and grabbed the knife she was carrying. I knew the bull could not run very fast, so I started to sprint into the brush after him."

Lost and armed with only a hunting knife, Rod charges off in pursuit of the nilgai, but what is he going to do if he catches up to the wounded bull?

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Copyright 2007 Richard Moore