From August 2011

El Coyote

Lying awake in my bed on those autumn nights so long ago I well recall the southerly wind brushing lightly across my chest as I listened to the calls of nocturnal creatures as they engaged in their secret life after dark along the Brazos river bottom. A screech owl softly whistles from his perch in the ancient mesquite only a few feet from my window and the rustle of a jackrabbit nibbling on grass nearby were but two of the many melodies that I strained to hear in those impressionable years some half a century ago on the old League Ranch in Knox County, Texas. But the lead singer had yet to make an appearance and sleep would not come until I heard at least one stanza from this furry artist whom I knew was gearing up for his nightly gig somewhere along the brushy river bottom or perhaps along the meandering course of Rattlesnake Creek to the west of our home.

The soft light of late evening reveals the intelligent and penetrating eyes of this mature male coyote

We know the coyote has been a creature of intrigue for at least a thousand years as the form of this little canine appears in the form of petroglyphs and pictographs in rocky grottos throughout America. My intrigue began early in life on the old League Ranch where the howl of coyotes echoed across the badlands in the hours of nightfall and I imagined the life that they lead out there in the surly country along the Brazos river.

These tiny coyote whelps open their eyes at about seven days of age. Living in dens that range to about 8 ft. in length and two feet deep, the pups will lounge around the dens sleeping and chasing insects until reaching about 8 weeks of age when they began venturing short distances to hunt and rest.

It is said that some of the greatest and most astute naturalist in history were hunters and trappers, individuals who virtually lived in the outdoors and possessed a keen sense of observation for all living creatures around them. Thus I became a student of coyote hunting and, once in college at Texas Tech University, engaged in coyote research that further developed the depth of knowledge on this fascinating and durable canine that has captured the imagination of so many people through the ages.

In a tireless loping gait coyotes can travel great distances without stopping to rest.

A source of folklore and to some an enigma of puzzling character, the coyote will continue to be a creature of delight and perhaps to many an animal of disdain. Speaking for myself, the some 45 years of fascination that I have possessed for this animal has enriched my life greatly and I hope you will enjoy this visual introduction to“Coyote” as I offer you here a few images from over 25 years of engaging photographically with this resourceful little canine.

Awakened after I crawled near his resting spot, this coyote raised his head and look inquisitively at the intruder with the camera.
Coyote tracks in the snow tell of a restless night of hunting on a cold winter night.
A big mature male enjoys the warm sun rays after gorging on a dead cow during the winter months.
A two month old coyote pups feeds on a rabbit.
A pair of three month old coyotes drink from a stale stock pond during the drought conditions.
A beautiful male coyote seems to pose for the camera on this cold winter morning in the rolling plains of Texas.

The Ritual Of Autumn

I recall the day I came home from school and walked through the front door to be surprised by my brother holding a new shotgun, the simple but beautiful little Stevens single shot .410. I had been ragging on my father to get me a shotgun of my own for some time and now a dream was fulfilled. It was the autumn of 1959 and I was 9 years young.

Often times I have entertained the question of why my brother, Rick, and I developed such an interest in hunting at the early age that we did. Both were given Daisy air rifles at age 5 years and have never looked in the half century since. Is it a primal need that is buried deep within the genetic code of all people, suppressed by some but resurrected by others in a time of need or at a selected point in ones life? The answer is an elusive one and to be dealt with on a personal level at one time or another.

The ritual of autumn

I do know that in historical accounts of young Anglo boys being captured by Indians during the 19th century pioneer era, few if any of the boys wanted to return to the ways of their parents. The love of the chase was too alluring to be left behind. I think without doubt that allure still exists today if only given a chance.

Experiencing a special moment afield

 

Dove season is almost upon us and I wait in anticipation for the first evening of that day. It might seem a bit funny that I want to be on site, standing in the simmering heat of late summer, sweating profusely  with 28 gauge in hand and eyes and ears trained to the sky alert  to the whistle of incoming game. But in the whole scheme of the hunt, I really don’t care if I kill a dove or not. If they don’t come I will fire a shot anyway, perhaps at a rock or even an emaciated mesquite tree, but I will fire that one round. The rest is a ritual that has defined the life of so many boys from the rural outback of our Texas.

When the smoke is gone and the echo of the little shotgun has faded away I will pick up the empty shell and inhale the fragrance of burned powder. A hint of insanity… perhaps it is. You see, that one empty shell and the fragrance within will take me on so many hunts from the past, some great, some ok but all worthy of revisit.

Once again I will clutch that little Stevens .410 and the two precious shells given by my father and fantasize about having a full box of 25 to shoot as I wish. Once again I will be 12 years of age and standing with my brother at the stock tank near our home on the League Ranch and shooting dove so fast that we were hard pressed to retrieve all of the downed dove before they were partially devoured by our mixed breed ranch dogs. Once again I will be with my young sons, coaching them on the importance of safety and watching with pride as they too clutch that same old Stevens .410 and create memories for themselves to revisit someday. And I will think to the near future when I can stand with my grandson to coach and tell him stories of days gone by and of hunts from another time.

My youngest son, Pate, with the old Stevens .410

Yes, the ritual of autumn is almost upon us and I hope you can enjoy it with a loved one or friend and share those great memories with them as I have shared mine with you.

 

My oldest son, Hunter, with a dove and the old Stevens .410

 

With an eye and ear to the sky we wait for the whistle of incoming dove.

 

The magic hour

 

Be a part of their lives...teach our youth well.

 

Resurrection of the Lost Bison Herd

It was in the northern Texas panhandle in the spring time of 1874 and small bands of buffalo hunters were gathering at the famous Adobe Walls to initiate the beginning of the great slaughter that would, in four years, decimate the southern herd of bison into near extinction.

At the site of Adobe Walls where the great Texas slaughter first began.

In the early 1870′s it was estimated that some 3.5 million bison grazed the plains of Texas but by 1878 so few bison remained that hunters began leaving the plains and directing their efforts at ranching or heading to the cold buffalo ranges in Wyoming and Montana where the herds there had survived due to Indian hostilities in that region.

Due to the urging of his first wife Mary, Charles Goodnight decided to capture and place on his ranch about 200 head of wild bison from the surviving few left on the open Texas range. After about 133 years of running free on the ranch land of the historical J.A. Ranch , Andrew Sansom , the Executive Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife decided that it would be in the best interest of Texas and to the bison legacy to stage a capture event and restore the animals to a safe haven on the Caprock Canyon State Park land near Quitique, Texas. Here it was hoped that they would be protected from being killed off by hunters and eventually propagate to a healthy number.

 

A bison bull grazes beneath the shadow of the Llano Estacado.

November 1997 will be a month I shall never forget.  The capture crew and I were gathered at the old J.A. Ranch Headquarters to begin the historic capture of the last remaining nucleus of southern plains bison on earth. About 40 animals were running wild on the sprawling ranch and I was designated the only non-employee of TPW to document the capture.

For the next four months the great buffalo hunt was again reborn on the immense Texas plains although this time the goal was not one of death and destruction. By the end of the capture approximately 30 bison made it through the capture and genetic test procedure and were moved on to the safe haven of Caprock Canyon State Park. It was truly one of the great historical events of our 20thcentury and I thank Andrew Sansom and all of the men and women who participated in this great endeavor. Years

The last of the southern plains bison move across the open plains of Texas before the capture effort had begun.

have passed like water flowing to the sea and today, unfortunately, we have seen the passing of at least two of the original capture team members. Thus so, I would like to take this opportunity to salute all the members of this intrepid team of contemporary buffalo hunters whose professionalism in the capture and handling of these wild and dangerous creatures was second to none. And a salute to the fine pair of men who have slipped the surly bonds and no doubt are viewing us from a better place, nodding their head in approval that the herd is well and now proclaimed the Official Bison Herd for the State of Texas. A job well done my friends…

 

A dangerous job under the best of conditions the capture was begun in November of 1997 and proved to be a cold and dicey undertaking. All hands were ready and willing however.

 

The processing pen where the captured animals were brought before being transported to Caprock Canyon State Park.

 

Shadows of the new buffalo hunters. Men and women bent on preservation instead of destruction.

 

Releasing a bison into the receiving pens at Caprock Canyon State Park.

 

Buffalo hunters bent on preservation. A salute to all.

Wildlife of North Texas

My career as a  photographer began innocuously enough after my major professor at Texas Tech University loaned me a camera in 1972 with the instructions to document the data I was collecting for a research project on coyote dietary habits. I became enthralled with the camera and what Kodachrome could do in rendering the color I saw when afield. Once the research was completed and I had to give the camera back I went out to Plains Camera on 34th St. in Lubbock and bought my first outfit which consisted of a Canon TL and a 50mm F1.8 lens. My career was about to began and I did not even know it.

In the early years my photo endeavors were almost exclusively directed to wildlife and the behavioral aspects thereof.  I broke into editorial shooting in the late 1970′s and by the mid 80′s was shooting heavily for the Big Three New York publications of Field & Stream, Sports Afield and Outdoor Life. During these years I shot approximately 50 cover images for these magazines including images published in many of the top nature publications in Europe. However I began to tire of doing exclusively wildlife and by the early 1990′s had branched out into many other angles of photography that would more fully satiate my creative intent. Sky, people, landscape, and history fascinated my creative spirit and I turned away from wildlife for quite some time to focus my energy and lenses on so many other fields of interest that would describe the great state of Texas.

A tremedous whitetail buck moves nervously across the open plains. Canon 5D MK II and Canon 400mm F5.6 lens handheld.

They say that our lives comes full circle and I suppose that this may be true. I have had a renewed interest in photographing wildlife and am excited at the prospects thereof. Although documenting truly wild creatures and not those rented from game farms or those confined in small areas behind fences requires a tremendous amount of time, effort and knowledge of natural history, I find excitement and renewed energy as I go into the field knowing that the indigenous fauna of Texas is my goal.

A wild javelina bounces across the rangeland to escape the percieved danger of my presence. Canon 5D MK II and Canon 400mm F5.6 lens handheld.

Too many people believe that fine wildlife photography can be achieved by simply spending a tremendous amount of money on  camera gear and then head  into the field. This is far from the case. In order for a consistent flow of great images to occur one must be well learned in the habits of the target species. By this I mean one must attain a thorough understanding of the behavioral traits of the animal of choice in order to recognize and capture the nuances that sets your photo apart from the rest. Understanding great light and its application, having the right equipment for the job and attaining knowledge regarding  your target animals  natural history will put you far ahead in the game.

This black-tailed jackrabbit or "hare" exhibits the huge ears that define the species. Note the warm backlighting on the ears so that even the blood vessels can be seen. The huge ears of the jackrabbit actually help dissipate the body heat during the hot days of summer. Canon 1D Mark II and Canon 400mm F5.6 lens handheld.

In this blog I offer you some images that define a few wildlife species from the rolling plains of Texas.  Many of these images were taken through several years past during my adventures over  the big ranch country that defines this region of the state and some are the result of my recent forays into the brush after once again having a renewed interest in documenting the natural fauna of North Texas. Immerse yourself in the spirit of the photographic hunt and come with me and my Canon cameras as we walk, crawl and wait in the burning heat of summer and the bitter cold of a Texas norther for the right shot. Enjoy!!

Four bull frogs wait out the summer heat with an escape route in mind. Canon 5D MK II and Canon 400mm F5.6 Lens handheld.
Three whitetail bucks wait for cooler temps of twilight as the sun sets on this hot summer day. Canon 5D MK II and Canon 24-105mm F4.0 lens handheld.
A wild bobcat stalks through the winter kill grass and eyes my position with curiosity. Canon 5D MK II and Canon 400mm F5.6 lens handheld.
A rare patternless diamondback rattlesnake peers curiously into the lens of my camera. Canon 5D MK II and Canon 70-200mm F2.8 lens with extension tubes handheld.
A fabulous whitetail buck moves through the high grass on a large ranch in the rolling plains. Canon 5D MK II and Canon 400mm F5.6 Lens hand held.
Canadian geese rise into the sun of early morning. Canon F1N and Canon 500mm F4.5 lens hand held.
Two rogue wild boar face off for a fight on a big ranch in north Texas. I lay in a hog wallow to get this photo. Canon 5DMK II and Canon 400mm F5.6 lens hand held.
Two big whitetail bucks duke it out on the rolling plains of north Texas. Canon F1N and Canon 500mm F4.5 lens hand held
A photo of "yours truly" sitting by a coyote den in 1974. Canon TL and Canon 50mm 1.8 lens with Kodachrome 64 film.

 

Photographer and Benjamin native is now a hero

Meinzer honored for pioneer spirit

A portrait of photographer Wyman Meinzer, as captured by Robb Kendrick.Benjamin native Wyman Meinzer is known as the “Official Photographer of The State Of Texas,” as decreed in 1997 by then-Gov. George W. Bush.

That’s quite a bulky title to carry around, but the 60-year-old laughs it off.

“I never set out to achieve anything that’s happened to me,” Meinzer said. “It’s always been a case of someone else recognizing the love I had for the art.”

At noon today, Meinzer will receive some further recognition. The Frontier Times Museum in Bandera is inducting Meinzer into its Texas Heroes Hall of Honor.

It’s a designation reserved for “remarkable individuals and wondrous characters who, through their leadership, creativity, example and hard work, keep the pioneer spirit alive and help keep Texas, Texan.”

That description isn’t selling this year’s class short. It includes the consistently outrageous fringe politician Kinky Friedman, Houston Livestock Show mastermind Louis Pearce, highly decorated Bandera cowboy Scooter Fries, and the late rodeo legend Toots Mansfield.

Meinzer says he’s still trying to digest the “tremendous honor.”

But his work speaks for itself: 20 photography books, 250 magazine cover credits and a whole cupboard’s worth of awards.

Not bad for a guy who started out studying wildlife biology at Texas Tech University.

Meinzer, who grew up in a ranching family, got his first real camera for a class assignment. He used a 35 mm shooter to collect data on wild species.

As soon as he had to hand it back to the professor, he went out and bought another one.

From there, it was a career of trial and error. But what kept Meinzer questing for just the right shot, with just the right light, was an abiding love for his home state.

“You can never see it all,” Meinzer said. “Even after 30 years, wherever I travel I see something new.”

But seeing something new is the name of the game. Meinzer claims that he’s “never left a footprint” on the trails at Big Bend National Park. Why go there to shoot, after all, when that landscape has been so well-documented?

The greater challenge, Meinzer says, lies in the unknown.

“I’d rather go out to places that are less-seen, if they’ve been seen at all,” Meinzer said.

This article was originally published here © 2011 Abilene Reporter-News.

Sojourn into a Wilder Land

Several years ago after presenting a paper on coyote behavior at a symposium on predators in Kerrville, Texas I struck up a conversation with a friend and west Texas mountain lion hunter by the name of Bill Pat McKinney. B.P. was working for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on the Black Gap area and kept an eye on lions crossing out of Mexico with the intent of eating the desert bighorn sheep residing at the “Gap”. B.P. intimated that he and his wonderful wife Bonnie were retiring and heading into Mexico to run the big El Carmen project for Cemex. It was a huge undertaking of restoring the mountainous country back to its original wilderness state which included restocking the range with indigenous wildlife that had been killed off after decades of uncontrolled hunting by the locals. I had heard of this wild country with its black bear and lions so was interested when B.P. invited me to come down after he and Bonnie had settled in.
Within a few months I found myself on the banks of the Rio Grande River awaiting the boat to cross my equipment into Mexico. Soon the rowboat arrived with B.P. and his men aboard ready for the long trip into the mountains. Once on the south bank of the river he paid the boatman and we were loaded into the pickup and headed on the long journey of 50 miles of dirt road. After passing through a military checkpoint the rest of the trip was uneventful until we reached the base camp below the brooding 9000 ft. crest of El Carmen.

Canyon overlaps canyons in the rugged holds of the El Carmen

For the next week B.P. guided me through a region that had been lost in time, forgotten by the modern world because of its rugged remoteness. We rode mules and horses into the canyon holds and viewed panoramas that would defy the imagination of most people. It was truly a land lost to the 20th century. Carmen mountain whitetail and black bear abounded as we crossed streams and forested canyons. Bear skulls lay in abundance , evidence of a great population where they could die of old age in this forgotten land. It was truly a journey back in time for this Texan and his cameras.

Autumn monsoon rains brings flowing water to the El Carmen

Over the next decade I would return to continue my documentation of this fairy tale land and visit my old Texas friends, B.P. and Bonnie, in their beautiful hacienda nestled in the depths of a huge canyon in the El Carmen range.
I hope to return and continue my photographic endeavors in the El Carmen but will not do so until some semblance of civility returns to this great country of Mexico. Enjoy the images herein of a wild and woolly land…the majestic Sierra del Carmen.

Autumn splendor in the El Carmen
Fog shrouded sunrise
A rugged and unforgiving land
Weather moves in over the El Carmen
Standing atop El Carmen at 9,600 ft elevation
Monsoon rains bring springtime to the desert floor
El Hardeen in the distance and Texas lies beyond