Though I’ve gone to school in Texas for four years now, I’ve never been to the border. It’s a flashpoint for all sorts of tensions, personal, political, and more, but I’ve never had a reason to visit. That is until I had a day set to meet up with Roqué Rodriguez, predator hunter and all-around badass.
We rolled into his Roqué’s place after a 0300 start and a visit to at least one wrong house. Once we found the right place, we went straight to one of Roqué’s haunts for breakfast. After being mistaken for a federal LEO because I was wearing my only surviving pair of sunglasses, Oakley M-Frames, we were on our way back to his house to prep for our first night of hunting.
Growing up in the part of Pennsylvania often described as “Pennsyltucky,” I was introduced to hunting at a relatively young age. While my dad hadn’t really done much hunting growing up, my mother’s father lived for hunting. Outside of his family, hunting was his biggest passion. It was also his escape. I’d first been in his treestand around the age of nine or ten, “watching” him hunt deer, but mostly reading large novels and falling asleep in the November cold of rural Pennsylvania. However, the time with him, combined with the outdoors, ignited in me a love for the wilderness that still remains to this day. That being said, the last time I hunted for anything was 2017. The last time I hunted deer was 2015. The last time I’d hunted coyotes was, well, never.
We drove to a ranch that was owned by a friend of Roqué’s. Arriving in the late afternoon, I was shocked to see the condition this place was in. I’m used to a hunting property being a raggedy shack set way back in the woods, but that’s not the Texas way. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, South Texas, the trailer that has served as a temporary home away from home for its owner was immaculate. He had run electricity across the property, dug out and filled ponds, and created a beautiful area from which his hunts would originate. Flights of doves that rapidly amounted to more game birds than I’d ever seen in my life flew over our heads constantly. A roadrunner harassed a quail that protected their young. We even saw a coyote sprinting across a back field during a quick day reconnaissance. These all added up to be perfect ambiance for an evening of fajitas on the grill before it got dark.
Thankfully for Evan and I, we were given an introductory course on the loadout of a predator hunter. While we’re both very familiar and comfortable with firearms, thermals and night vision were entirely new to both of us. It was established that I would be behind the gun with its night vision while Roqué and Evan scanned with thermals. Who was I to complain about that arrangement? At almost 9:30, the sun finally dropped below the horizon to provide a stunning display of the big and bright stars of the Texas sky in a moonless night.
We moved under red lenses to our established location, where we set up and prepared to begin calling in dogs. Before we’d even begun to call, we spotted two coyotes in the field. However, they were a little over two-hundred meters away, and not only was I using someone else’s rifle and zero, but I was doing it at night, through NODS. If you’ve never used night vision before, imagine trying to shoot with a total and complete lack of depth perception. Because you’ve never hunted the animal, much less in this fashion, it could be fifty meters or three-hundred meters. And it’s hard to tell the difference. However, having an experienced hunter by my side calling distances made it an achievable task. As he called it in, I took a shot. Missed. I waited for the motion to stop, let my breath out, and squeezed the trigger again. Motion resumed, but at a frantic pace, jumping and bouncing. We immediately gave chase to not leave a wounded animal in the field. The night concluded successfully, with one less coyote prowling outside Falfurrias, TX.
While the second night concluded without even a sighting of a Nilgai, a massive Asiatic antelope that has established a population in Texas, we weren’t done learning lessons.
After departing from Roqué’s, we made a stop at a border crossing in an attempt to get our passports stamped. While we’re not terribly worldly people, we knew the dangers of crossing at a border town and planned on walking over, grabbing a beer or two, then walking back. Immediately upon entrance, we knew this wasn’t what was going to happen. The streets were empty, aside from stray dogs lying on the sidewalks, under cars, anywhere to get out of the blazing afternoon sun. Most businesses were closed, many permanently with boarded or shattered windows, and the ones that were open seemed to be struggling. It wasn’t a vacation town that college students lined up to visit for Spring Break. It was a place in despair, not without hope, but terribly tragic. As I snapped pictures of dilapidated alleys on my forty-five-minute jaunt, I thought myself a terrible person. These alleys led to people’s homes and my immediate thought was to wonder why missions groups felt the need to travel across the world when there were people in need separated from us only by a river. As we made tracks back to the border crossing, we encountered a line of over a hundred people strewn down the bridge, with blankets and sheets tied up on the fencing, keeping the sun off of them. These weren’t tourists. These weren’t adventure seekers. These were men and women with their entire lives on their backs, waiting at the border for an opportunity to apply for asylum. These were men and women willing to sacrifice everything to see a better life for their families.
After re-entering the United States, processing the thoughts of what we’d encountered and reckoning with our own privilege, we drove through miles and miles of empty Texas savannah en route to New Braunfels. A beautiful Hill Country morning of kayaking and afternoon of mountain biking sent us on our way, off into the proper Southwestern US. Our destination: a couch owned by my roommate in the oil field town of Midland, TX. We’d have time to talk through our experiences in the hours to come.