TESTIMONIAL ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE AT THE PATIO RANCH
I first would like to introduce myself to the viewers of this article. I am Gary M who served twenty years in the Marine Corps working in the capacity of a ground operator, specializing in Scout Sniper and Force Reconnaissance operations. During my odyssey as an enabler that secured our nation’s freedoms, I had the privilege to travel abroad to third world countries and do my part in securing not only the local populaces’ freedom, but that of my fellow countrymen right here in the United States. Before I finally retired from the Marine Corps, my unit was deeply involved in combat operations in Fallujah, Iraq 2004. It was during this time frame, my whole platoon came under the heaviest fire we had experienced since the initial invasion of the city. Each member in my platoon was wounded multiple times that day to include myself, as I had been blown down two flights of stairs by a rocket propelled grenade blast. I suffered shrapnel wounds to the neck and had fractured both my neck and lower back. I was awarded the Purple Heart Medal a few days later along with a few others and put right back on the front lines in an effort to continue combat operations. After a few more deployments, I finally retired in 2012.
In August of 2013, Mr. Rusty Hicks, the executive director of Combat Marine Outdoors, which is a non-profit organization whose focus is taking the wounded, injured, and ill on once in a life time hunting opportunities, informed me that a very special hunt had been lined up by the Houston Safari Club, represented by Susan and David Kalich, and invited me to participate. Without giving it a second thought I immediately jumped on the opportunity and began to pack my bags. A few weeks later I was in San Antonio, Texas on my way with a few other wounded warriors to the renowned Patio Ranch, owned by the Stumburg Family and managed by Gary Ploch. When we arrived at the ranch, I was the first to meet Gary who was a soft spoken gentlemen who I immediately trusted based on his demeanor alone. He made me feel very welcome. Gary showed us our accommodations, which were top notch to say the least, and
went into the history of the ranch. I was absolutely floored when he took us on the tour. I felt as if I were in a structure that was part time machine, part museum, and part hunting lodge. The history of the rich and famous that frequented that ranch before us, along with the animal trophies on the walls, all had their own unique stories behind them. I felt very privileged to be there. Not long after our brief tour of the area, I had the honor and privilege to make the acquaintance of both Susan and David Kalich. They informed us of the available quarry that we would be hunting, and out of the choices provided I elected to give chase to the Stumberg Ram, as they were only grown and harvested on that particular ranch. We quickly zeroed our hunting rifles and snapped to it as the hunt was on. We scouted everywhere for the Stumberg Ram herds, but could not seal the deal. Later that evening our guide Mitchell spotted a herd of them down in a ravine. The sun was going down and I waved my opportunity because I wanted to make a clean ethical shot. We headed back to the lodge, had our supper (which by the way was fine dining) and secured for the evening. All I could think about was seeing a big ‘ole Stumberg Ram in my scope and slowly squeezing the trigger.
The next morning there was a touch of fog over the ranch that obscured observation out to about a few hundred yards, however; I was certain that would give us a competitive advantage to advance on the Stumberg ram herds. So we loaded up, pushed out and it wasn’t twenty minutes into the hunt when our vehicle had came around a curve and there my trophy ram stood; alone on a hill side quartered to us, poised, this majestic animal stood. I was able to get out of the vehicle and assume a good sitting position without the Ram moving a muscle. My guide Mitchell observed through a set of binoculars and said “He’s a shooter.” That was my green light to pull the trigger. As I looked at this cunning, magnificent wild animal through my scope, and how the backdrop of fog hovered around the Ram, it gave him and everything in the background a somber appearance. The Ram, despite all our moving about, stood there as if he had accepted his fate to be harvested. I thought to myself “My God “, this is one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever laid my eyes on and I am getting ready to kill him. The thought went through my mind; was I about to make a mistake. I felt the highest levels of respect and honor for this graceful animal, but deep down I knew I was there for a purpose, and that what I was experiencing was what’s called the paradox of compassion and hunting.
I knew that harvesting this animal and consuming its meat for my own livelihood far outweighed his beauty and grace. I composed myself and slowly squeezed the trigger, the shot rang out 175 yards hitting the Ram, but he sprang away. I knew that I had wounded him, and did not secure the deal. I was beside myself with grief as the clean ethical shot I had hoped the night before did not happen. We tracked the Ram over a thousand yards by aid of tracking dog, and at the end of a pine thicket, I saw my Ram on his last stand, at his finest, charging the tracking dog in an effort to survive. The dog worried the wounded Ram into a corner until I could deliver a fatal follow up shot that dropped him in his tracks. It took everything I had to hold back my tears from my guide, Mitchell, as I was both happy and sad at the same time. I kneeled down beside my trophy Stumberg Ram and thanked him. I thanked him for the challenge and his sacrifice, but was very disappointed in myself that I failed to deliver an immediate incapacitation shot.
An hour later we returned with our quarry, and I was instructed by Susan to go outside and ring the ranch bells as it signified a successful hunt to the other hunters, while at the same time honoring the animal that had been harvested. For my picture with this fine specimen a single tuft of vegetation was placed in the Rams mouth, emblematic to a last and final meal. One of the ranch owners, Mr. Eric Stumberg, and ranch manager Gary Ploch, aged my Ram at being over 8 years old. This told me that my animal was afforded a life of dignity to freely range and reproduce in the wild unlike store bought meat commodities that are pumped full of steroids, confined in a cage, or see the light of day. It was a very humbling experience being there with other fine warriors and all the stakeholders that made this hunt possible.
One of my biggest leaning points I took away from this hunt was that all hands involved in this event were just as passionate about the care and consideration of the animals as I was. They demonstrated that they were true conservationists and made every effort to honor to the animals harvested; they proved this in the aforementioned ceremonies conducted. In a few short days, I became very close to Susan and David. They made me feel like I had known them my whole life and can sense that I remind them of someone of their very own past. Since then, we stay in touch and marvel over one another’s hunting excursions. A week ago, I finally received my Stumberg Ram trophy from Rhodes Taxidermy in Kerrville, Texas. They did a phenomenal job on my mount. My first impression after I hung it on the wall was how ancient hunters from the past must have marveled over their kills they brought to their caves. They prove this though the art on the cave walls. I can reenact this primitive drama by holding my
Stumberg Ram to the same levels of reverence our hunting forerunners did. Its challenge and sacrifice for me will never be forgotten.
I want to personally thank Susan and David Kalich, the Houston Safari Club, Mr. Eric Stumberg, Gary Ploch and Mitchell of the Patio Ranch, and Mr. Rusty Hicks from Combat Marine Outdoors for every ounce of sweat, time, and the dollars poured into this event for me and the other warriors who participated. I can honestly say that out of all the accolades of achievement I have garnered over my twenty year experience in the military, to include being awarded a Bronze Star and Navy Commendation Medals for Valor, this experience was hands down one of the best things that ever happened to me. I will never be able to thank you all enough.
Please keep up the good work; you folks are true patriots. Your single act of kindness, through having me participate on this hunt made my personal sacrifices for this great nation worthwhile.