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Hunting Antelope in New Mexico, Part 1
August 23, 2010.
Tuesday, June 8, 5:05pm
Checking my email, I'm excited to see a message from New Mexico Game and Fish.
"Congratulations!" it starts.
Turns out I've beaten 1 in 15 draw odds and pulled a New Mexico antelope tag. Great bucks down in New Mexico, and great season dates at the end of August. Very excited about getting such an early start on my hunting season this year.
Thursday, August 19, 8:03pm
Eating at the Wendy's in Trinidad, CO, just across the border from New Mexico. Antelope season in the unit where I drew my tag opens on Saturday. I'll spend the night at the Motel 6 in the Raton, NM, trying to catch up on sleep a little before a 4:30am wake up call. I'll get to the ranch early tomorrow, scout all day, then shoot a big one on opening morning ... I hope.
Friday, August 20, 9:22am
All hope is lost. Well, not quite that bad, but it's sure not going great.
The tag I drew is through New Mexico's Antelope Private Lands Use System (A-PLUS). A-PLUS is a voluntary program that landowners can choose to participate in. If they do, they get approximately 80% of the licenses issued for their property that they can use or re-sell, while the remaining 20% go in to a public draw.
The license I drew was through that public draw. I was assigned to a ranch of about 5,000 acres near Springer, NM, in the northern part of the state.
New Mexico Game and Fish gave me the contact info for the ranch owner when they notified me of my ranch assignment. But I'd had a tough time getting hold of the landowner, who lives out of state. I did chat with his wife, who was not familiar with the A-PLUS program, but I was never able to hook up with the rancher himself, depsite a dozen or more calls.
When I found my way to the ranch this morning, I was met with locked gates. That wasn't quite what I expected, but no big deal, probably.
NMG&F had given me the rancher's New Mexico phone number, but it was clear to me that he must be back at his out-of-state home. Using the rancher's full name and the Texas address that NMG&F had given me, I was able to use my new iPhone to Google up a phone number for him.
Not only that, but Google revealed to me that the ranch owner was actually the former mayor of Amarillo, TX, where his primary residence is. There were actually quite a few Google hits on him -- apparently a pretty successful (rich) man. Kind of interesting.
When I called, I reached the rancher's wife again. When I told her who I was, she told me her husband (who I'll just refer to as The Mayor) was out of town. But, she had spoken to him about my earlier calls, and he had no knowledge about antelope hunting on his property.
She was very nice, but also insistent that I'd need to talk to The Mayor about this when he returned from a business trip later in the afternoon.
At best, I won't be doing all the scouting I had hoped for. At worst .... well, let's not go there yet.
So, instead of scouting, I'm sitting in my truck under a nice shade tree at a park in downtown Springer, staring at a very graphic sign asking visitors to keep their dogs from pooping all over the nice green grass, and wondering if there's some sort of hidden message in there for me...
Friday, August 20, 11:16am
Having nothing better to do with my time, I dug through the paperwork that had come with my license and found the number of the NMG&F Area Game Manager.
I gave him a call and he was able to provide some more info.
He recalled that the ranch I was assigned to was under new ownership, and speculated that since The Mayor had not owned the property long, that might explain his unfamiliarity with the A-PLUS system. He even took the time to pull the application that The Mayor had submitted for participation, and saw that it had not been signed by hand -- someone in The Mayor's office had apparently used a stamp to affix his signature to the application. This further explained the confusion.
I hated to ask the question, but I did -- The Mayor seemed like a nice guy and I hoped to work this out amicably, but if he refused me access ... well, could he refuse me access?
The answer was no, his agent had affixed his signature to the contract, therefore he had to let me on with my public tag. Kind of reassuring, but I wish this wasn't all such a pain in the neck.
Friday, August 20, 3:30pm
When my phone rang, I saw that it was the ranch manager, who I had met earlier and made friends with. We had swapped cell phone numbers.
"Alex! I just talked to my boss on the plane, and he said you can't come on."
The ranch manager was just doing his job, so I made a point of keeping on friendly terms with him.
But I was starting to get pissed.
I got back on the phone with my contact and Game and Fish, and he was almost as frustrated as I was. He promises to give The Mayor a call right away.
I was back at the park in Springer, staring at the dog shit sign again.
After a while, I get a call from my G&F contact.
"I talked to The Mayor, and he's going to let you on. Apparently The Mayor's Son sent in the agreement, and The Mayor didn't know about it. The son wanted to get the landowner allocations for his buddies, but they never even did anything with those. I basically told him that the best way to make this whole situation go away was to just let you on, and he agreed."
Well, I don't feel overwhelmed by Texas hospitality, but at least things were resolved.
The ranch manager pulls up next to me in the park -- it's not hard to find people in a small town like Springer. He confirms that his boss had relented, but that he'll have to keep a close eye on me.
That is more or less OK with me -- it will be good to have someone show me the ranch, but hopefully he won't breathe down my neck.
And it's good knowing that the 4 other license allocations for the ranch are going to be unused. I have no competition, and can hold out for the best buck the ranch has to offer.