Hunting With the Pols in Texas
by Glenn Smith, Tue Feb 14, 2006 at 09:17:57 PM EST
I thought it may help to provide a little background on political hunting in Texas. It's everything you think it is, and more. I've actually been on these hunts, as a journalist, staffer, and consultant.
The closest I've ever come to witnessing the horror of a downed hunter was many years ago, not too far from Vice President Dick Cheney's shooting of Harry Whittington. A reporter accidentally shot a jeep with his rifle. The jeep was empty. The jeep's radiator was blown to shit.
When I learned to hunt, my father took me to the Texas Brush Country, up the border a bit from real South Texas, just north of Eagle Pass. You've heard of Eagle Pass. On the Mexican side now the city of Piedras Negras has been taken over by drug dealers. Many people are killed there each month, none of them in hunting accidents.
Anyway, this was many years ago. My father was from Kentucky. He grew up on a farm, and hunting was about food. He was old school. He never did talk to me about the facts of life. I think he sang gun safety lullabies to me from my infancy. He was damned serious about it.
Once, a friend's son shot a deer in a deep canyon after sunset. The kid didn't know if the deer was dead or alive. He walked back to camp, shrugging it off. My father never said a word. He just ducked his head and motioned for me to come with him. He and I tracked that deer in the dark of night for hours. We found it. It had died. We hauled it out of the canyon. You didn't shoot a deer a leave it wounded or dead.
Well, hunting with politicians, lobbyists and hangers-on isn't like that. By the time I'd gone on one of these political safaris, I had quit shooting anything, anyway.
I was put off hunting in my 20s by the new breed of hunters. A sorry, sorry bunch they were. Weekend posers who overcome their accurate views of their miserable, weakling lives by dressing in fatigues, drinking, and ignoring the ridicule of the destitute, enslaved prostitutes in Mexico who would take them to dark rooms. You just know most of these guys kept on their black socks with the worn out elastic.
Once, some up-and-comers from East Texas went bird hunting (one was an elected official who I covered as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle). They never did hunt. Just drank and partied in Mexico. They bought some frozen quail at a grocery store on the way home so they'd have something to show their wives. Trouble was, they'd left their guns in one of their garages, a little oversight discovered by the women-folk. I think that was their last hunting trip.
Another time, and I'm getting to the part about political hunting, a justice-of-the-peace I knew in Huntsville was trying to make friends in high places. He started a little hunting guide business on the side. He took a party of hunters from Brown & Root (now more famous as Haliburton) to an East Texas ranch owned by an old man but run by the old man's son. The first morning of the hunt, before daylight, the son loaded the oil equipment execs into the back of his pick up. The old man was asleep on a rug in the back. The hunters were careful not to disturb him. The son drove the execs around the ranch, letting each off at his appointed deer blind. When the last hunter stepped from the truck, he remarked to the son on what a sound sleeper his father was. "Oh, Dad died last night," the son said casually. "I just wanted to get you out in the stands before I drove him to the funeral home."
This was during period of transition in Texas, when colorful families hadn't yet been overrun and undone by Haliburton goons and their Italian firearms, by suburbs and agribusinesses tycoons. The newcomers were worse than barbed wire or fire ants. Right behind them came the politicians.
LBJ might have started this trend. But he had a real ranch. Johnson got a kick out of watching city slickers step in cowshit and get wide-eyed at a howling dog they were certain must be coyote. Special interest lobbyists who made a fad of hunting simply figured out that a hunting lease was a great place for a little male bonding, a few invisible pay-offs, a place to do serious bidness.
By the time I made it to one of these political hunts the specialists and experts had turned most hunting leases in Texas into petting zoos, except when the pen-raised or corn-fed game nuzzled in close enought to get petted, they got the shit shot out of 'em.
It wouldn't do to have it so a politician might miss. That might make a politician feel bad about himself. He might blame the lobbyists that brought him hunting. Bad bidness.
More than once a sharpshooter was along to squeeze a round off at the same time as the unsuspecting guest (a neophyte's ringing ears hid the sound of the sharpshooter's shot), just to make sure the game went down. Legend has it that freshly killed deer are sometimes propped up in oat patches just to be shot dead again by drunken politicians who never figure out they've killed deer that had a-risen from the dead. I said they were taking there to do serious bidness.
Here's what you do on a hunt with politicians. You go to a great big, really big ranch with a great big ranch house, Mexican servants, comfortable beds, and you play cards (nowadays you can watch cable t.v.) and drink at night. It's generally true, by the way, that politicians no longer drink as much as they used to. I haven't noticed that the laws have gotten any better.
You wake up and tell stories about everybody else's snoring in the bunkhouse (or guest quarters, whatever, bundle up, split up into teams and head out to the petting zoo. You take a mid-morning break. You head out again. Servants go and pick up any game that got petted to death. Sometimes the ranch hands will know the dead deer or wild hog by name. I'm not kidding.
The politicans get congratulated on their marksmanship. Bidness is talked about over a lunch served on the veranda. The politicians, full, happy and certain they are the greatest hunters ever, tell the lobbyists, "You got a point there." Then everybody goes out to a deer blind or a sunflower field and sleeps away the afternoon.
Now Dick Cheney was not on this kind of hunt when he shot Harry Whittington. This was a very exclusive hunt, and, Harry Whittington is a very nice man who never did like this pat-a-butt part of Texas politics. Harry is a businessman, a lawyer, a reformer, and a Republican. He probably had more fun taking his family to real petting zoos where guns aren't allowed.
No, the Armstrong Ranch is a quiet little spread of a gazillion acres nestled in the heart of Deep South Texas' Prickly Pear Heaven. It's more civilized, you might say. You might.
This is the final transition in Texas. Hunting by auto, shooting by autocrat. Those who own smart bombs never need to learn how to aim or shoot.
But the Cheney incident is the first time, the very first time, a politician in Texas refused to take credit for what he shot.