Sunday, May 30, 2010



By © Russ Barnes

Joe Heidelmeier sounds off about what in his background made him an outfitter, an out-doors-man, and a guide to hunters -- as well as others who like to learn about the natural world.  These two audio pieces profile more than just a “hunter.”  They demonstrate a comprehensive perspective -- through the eyes of an enthusiastic storyteller and chef -- of our ecology and humanity’s relationship to it.

Joe may be reached at in Austin, Texas

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Part One of a Series of Six Articles

AC HUNTING RANCHES, near FORT MCKAVVET, Texas, May 21, 2010. 
By (c) Russ Barnes.  All rights reserved.

Wild turkey take wing here like the Royal Air Force. Deer -- Whitetail and the prized exotic Axis deer -- leap across a sparse prairie meadow. Feral piglets congregate roadside along Route #1674. A rattlesnake stretches out the length of its body and crosses the road.

The sun is up and the air is dry.  On the southwestern horizon, the moon is setting.  And looking out into the big Texas blue sky is like looking into the darkness of deep outer space, as we cruise in Joe Heidelmeier's 250,000-mile-old Ford truck -- "Silver" -- this early May morning on our way to the ranch.

[NOTE: Discounts, Premiums for outdoorsmen and their companions -- You must mention these articles to AC Ranches and you will get 20% off your selected hunting and outdoor journey.  Check out AC Hunting Ranches for rates and bookings at:  Contact Allen Spence for information about transportation from Austin or San Antonio:  (325-387-2085) Future articles will feature other hunting and regional premiums which you may access by contacting AC Ranches or this website.]

We had started out in the early morning darkness from Austin, two-hundred miles to the east, traveling along Route #71 on our way to the hunting grounds, the fields, the elk, the antelope, the springs, the caves -- to live oak, mesquite, ticks and chiggers, to bull frogs in watering ponds fed by windmills, dammed up by three levels of old stone masonry on the AC Ranches.

On our way to vistas at 2400 feet above sea level, down to the barns, the hospitality, the cowboys, the hunting and the challenges of all AC Ranches' 20,000 acres.  And on our way to the ranch house of our hosts, Allen and Allison Spence, marked by an eighty-foot high-tech flag pole, with a windmill pumping water from the aquifer beneath, and from there to what would be our own quarters for the next four days among the several hunting lodges and houses spread across the landscape.

Our own version of "City Slickers" -- Billy Crystal and pardners -- come this time to Texas:  Sharon Barnes, my daughter, an award-winning filmmaker from New York City;  me, a writer from Washington DC; and our friend, Joe Heidelmeier.  Joe is the 'non-city slicker' among us. Although he lives in Austin, he spends much of his time as an outfitter on Texas ranches  -- a hunting guide and a knowledgeable outdoorsman.

Allen takes us to our digs at the White Rock House  -- also known as Uncle Albert's House -- one of the hunters' lodges on this expansive ranch.  Allen's boss says to me, "Look what God sent me -- Allen! His honesty is straightforward." The gift to us is that Allen is our guide to the hunting grounds, "where the wild things are," the unique spots in the wilderness, and the lore of the ranch for the length of our stay.

We ride with him in his 1998 Dodge truck with its Cummins diesel engine across the breadth of the ranch, traveling from hunting blind to hunting blind, to deer feeders, to watering pools, to magical places few people on earth have ever seen.

This 20,000 acre spread is also a place of farm crops  -- especially turnips, which the ranch hands pickle along with beets -- and herds -- of black angus cattle, goats, and sheep. Sixty miles away from the nearest grocery store, the ranch is a place not easily reached by the "outer world."  If you need to call 911, it will be a while before your help can reach you. Here you must depend mainly on your own resources, your wit, and with the help of your ranch compadres.

But the ranch has snake bite kits, implements for removing ticks, antibiotics, and a full range of other first aid paraphernalia -- things one should expect to be available on a well-managed ranch and which you will find here on AC Hunting Ranches.

First evening out in Allen’s truck, Thursday, May 6, 2010. Allen and Joe in the front seat, Sharon and I in in the back seat.  It is just before twilight -- the time that the ranchers call the “magic moment” -- when the sun is ready to set on the west Texas horizon.

Sitting in stillness in a blind overlooking one of the 'tanks,' we are dazzled by the wildlife traffic which approaches the man-made tank to drink.  In the dry air, in the diminishing western sunlight, the herds gather and frolic across meadows and fields before disappearing into the mesquite, juniper, and live oak brush.

Every day, Sharon goes for a run on the ranch road in front of our digs -- where hawks and buzzards glide overhead and the fields stretch out to the far horizon -- a decided contrast to the streets back home in Brooklyn. Gradually her sense of time slows down to a measured pace, a feeling of being at home in this world. 

Later in the stay, the ranch owner says to us, “When you come here, you own this ranch.  You really become yourself here.  You feel like you get younger every day.  Dirt in West Texas grows on you.”

[Next Installment:  Don't miss it: Animal behavior, the herds, the flocks, and the energy of fences.  Leave your email address by contacting, and you will be prompted for the next edition of this story on “Travel with a Twist.”]
To see more articles in this AC Ranch series, go to: 

Links: The Ranch:
An Outfitting Guide Describes the Harvest -- Two audios range over topics covering outdoorsmanship. Click here:  Hunting Guide
Sonora Texas information at:
Many thanks to Anne Tongren for providing her excellent editing skills.