Reunion Weekend by Randy Rowley


On January 1, 2005, my son Ryan and a host of other soldiers headed for Iraq after attending a ceremony in Waco.  Ryan specializes in forward reconnaissance, a skill that wasn’t needed in a country that had already been secured.  Therefore, he spent the bulk of his time guarding VIPs.  He guarded Four Star Generals, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Donald Rumsfield.  He also guarded the editor and staff of the Veterans of Foreign War magazine.  They took pictures of him and interviewed him.  He was quoted in the feature article and even graced the cover of the October 2005 issue of the Veterans of Foreign War magazine!

Ryan was gone for almost a year, but it seemed like ten.  Every time that I would hear or see in the news that a soldier had been killed or maimed, I would flinch.  I have to admit that I often said a prayer of thanks when I learned that the unfortunate soldier wasn’t him.  I wasn’t glad that someone else’s son was hurt or killed; rather I was happy that it wasn’t Ryan.

Ryan and I always had our best times in the field or on the sporting clays range.  Before he left we went deer and hog hunting on 11/26/04 – 11/27/04 on the Haun Ranch near Victoria.  I killed a hog during that venture but Ryan was skunked.  He was disappointed that he didn’t get his first deer and I was determined to help make that happen for him upon his return.

Ryan returned home the following December.  Less than a week later, we headed to the CzC Ranch near Mercury.  Our plan was to hunt all day Saturday and also Sunday morning.  Our mission was to get Ryan his first deer.  For this hunt we had something new with us – babes!  My wife, Chris,  and Beth, Ryan’s girlfriend of the time came along.

On Saturday morning, Ryan and Beth hunted in Tim Price’s stand and Chris and I hunted in the tall tower blind.  This blind is really a one man blind but Chris and I were able to squeeze in using small chairs.  We saw a couple of does at the feeder an hour before sunup with my night vision monocular but they left shortly thereafter.  After sunrise the shooting started.  I counted nine shots, two of which were Ryan’s.

Less than an hour after sunrise Ryan called me on my two-way radio.  He had taken a yearling doe and a gnarly seven pointer that had one antler significantly longer than the other and points going every which way.  As Chris and I had the truck and we weren’t seeing anything moving, we went to go get them.  About 10 minutes away from the stand Ryan called and informed us that he had just shot a third deer – a spike.

At this point in my life I had been hunting deer for 29 years and the best that I had done was three deer during a weekend.  Ryan tied me in one morning!  We loaded his deer and headed back to camp.  Ryan and I gutted and skinned the deer while the ladies fixed brunch.

We switched stands for the evening hunt.  When I got to Tim’s stand, I put out half a bucket of my hog bait.

About an hour before sundown, a yearling doe came to the feeder.  She was very cautious and took several minutes just looking around.  I passed my binoculars to Chris and she spotted two hogs that were about 40 yards past the doe.  I saw them too and got my rifle ready.  They must have seen the movement because they turned around and ran away.  I mentally kicked myself for not moving slower.

Around a half-hour before sunset a herd of about 15 hogs descended on the feeder.  It was like someone had rung a dinner bell.  They ran to the feeder like a heard of hungry lumberjacks running to an all-you-can-eat pancake house.  They congregated in one big blob.

There were two big hogs on the right.  I wanted to shoot one of them, but they were constantly moving and always had other hogs either in front of or behind them.  Finally, a medium sized boar in the front gave me a broadside presentation and I took the shot.  He fell without taking a step, as did another boar behind him that we hadn’t seen.  There were several times where I could have probably gotten three with one shot but my chest freezer was already half full and with Ryan’s three deer it was going to be very full.  I also was unwilling to risk wounding an animal and causing it to suffer.

Chris and I loaded up the hogs and headed back to camp.  Ryan and Beth saw some does.  Ryan and I gutted and skinned my hogs while the ladies cooked dinner.  We enjoyed a nice fire before turning in.

When I shot the two hogs our hunt was over.  I already had three deer in our chest freezer and knew that Ryan’s three deer and my two hogs would take up every inch of remaining space.  Everyone planned to sleep in the next morning, except for me.  I planned to get up before sunrise and go fishing at the large pond.  I was indeed the first one up, but it was at 10:00 AM.  I loaded up the gut bucket from the previous evening and dumped the hog guts.  I then went and started to fish.

Within 45 minutes I had caught six bass.  I started fishing with a Rapala Rattlin Shad Rap but lost it on a cast (a bass must have weakened the line).  I then switched to a Suspending Shad Rap.  Beth pulled up in Ryan’s truck and watched me reel in my seventh bass.  She retrieved the tortillas out of my truck and told me that breakfast was ready.  But I was having so much fun that I stayed and caught four more bass before heading to camp.

After breakfast we went back to the lake.  Beth caught four bass (her first fish) including a five-pounder.  I caught three more.  Chris and Ryan were skunked but Chris had a large bass on her line that threw the hook.  After about an hour we headed home.

I’ve been bass fishing on and off for 30 years, including almost two years as a member of the Austin Christian Bass Club, and the best days fishing that I have had until this day was four bass.  Catching 14 bass in 1 ¾ hours made me feel pretty good, although to be fair, just about anyone could have done the same (throw crank bait, reel, set hook, reel in bass, repeat).  During our first FCS hog hunt at the CzC, the large pond was at about 10 acres.  Now, due to a drought it was down to two.  The bass were all congregated and were hungry!

This was, by far, my best weekend in the outdoors to that point.  Sure, I’ve shot bigger animals than I did that weekend and I’ve had great times with my FCS friends but this reunion weekend made all of those trips pale in comparison because it was the culmination of months of anticipation and longing and because Ryan holds such a special place in my heart.

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The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverse mouth I hate.