The Big Bend Guzzler War

A true story of a modern day range war.
Copyright 2002, By Donald Mahan
Used here with permission.

Chapter 3

Guzzlers to the rescue

Well now partner, I can't hardly believe we got all the way to chapter 3 without telling you anything about guzzlers, but this is a complex story and storytelling is a downright hard thing to do especially, if you want to tell the truth like I do, and not just a pack of lies. I am a recently retired engineer who used to build paper mills. We all know that used car salesmen, lawyers, real estate salesmen and politicians lie every other breath, but have you ever heard of an engineer who lied? Also I am a rather peaceful sort and all this warfare on Terlingua ranch has caused Toby and me to be upset to no end. 

One day as Toby and I pondered about life in general, we wondered if Terlingua Ranch would really be worth saving. After all, there is very little wildlife here, certainly not enough game to warrant the use of such a highly trained desert dog like Toby, no water, it is a long way out here, constant warfare, the ranch facing terrible financial problems as all the hunters depart and it would require considerable effort to save this worthless hellhole. Well now, I do have two grandsons, and a granddaughter who I would like to bring out here and let them enjoy what I have learned to love. My son really enjoys coming to Terlingua ranch and he shot his first rabbit here. He developed a love for hunting at this ranch. I have a 20-year-old picture of him, with his grandfather when he shot his very first rabbit on Terlingua ranch. The pride is showing in his face. On my last trip to the ranch, we brought my 87-year-old father (the Judge), with us so that he could see another sunrise, see another sunset and write a little poetry. Toby and I decided to at least, try to save something. My brother Ron, also agreed to help and he recently purchased a computer, just so he could help with the roundup of other people willing to help save the ranch. He has a slight distance problem, as he lives in Alabama and it is 1400 miles one way from his front doorstep to our hunt camp. He already makes two round trips per year to visit our hunting paradise. I told you it would take considerable effort, and this shore ain't no one-man job. 

My first experience with a guzzler came about quite by accident. One day while Ron and I were looking for rabbits and quail on a remote state hunt park in the Chalk Mountains, I noticed a galvanized water tank sitting in a field with what looked like a collapsed barn. Toby and I went over to investigate. Might even find a fat rabbit or quail in such prime habitat. There to our surprise, was a flat roof about three feet above ground, fitted with a gutter to collect water, piping to a 3,000 gallon galvanized water tank and then plastic tubing to a float valve and watering trough. It was a guzzler. I had only read about them, but had never ever seen one. The thing wasn't working as javelinas had eaten part of the plastic tubing in probably, a vain effort to get the last drop of water out of this device. 

Toby was not impressed. Another trip and he didn't get to pick up a single rabbit or quail. Toby, a very eager hunter, but not a real menace to any local residents, would get up very early in the morning, jump in the back of a pickup truck, begin barking to tell the world it was time to get up and let's go find a rabbit or bird. I have even made a little bargain with Toby regarding the rabbits. He gets the jack rabbits and I get the cotton tail rabbits. Toby is convinced that he is getting the best part of the deal because jacks are a much bigger rabbit. 

Returning to our hunt camp, I decided that I must have a guzzler of my very own and being an engineer I could build one, a hell sight better than the one I had seen in the field. Engineering is a tough business and if you don't come up with good designs, you don't stay in business too long. The guzzler would solve a lot of problems at our hunt camp: 

* We wouldn't have to haul truckload after truckload of water to our hunt camp. This leaves more time for the important things of life. Like hunting, drinking, eating, playing cards, sleeping, or just figuring out life. 

* We would have plenty of water to take proper baths. (Told you that hunters smelled). 

* We could attract all kinds of game to our property. To date we have seen wildlife beyond our wildest dreams. 

The very next trip to the ranch, my brother Ron and I returned with materials and tools to build a guzzler. You need to carefully plan your raw material and tool requirements for this little construction project. If you forget something, you are looking at a 160 mile round trip back to Alpine. We used the roof of our hunt camp to collect water with a gutter and then put the gutter downspout pipe into a 1550-gallon plastic storage tank. The tank sits on a poured concrete foundation and is tied down with steel cables. The tank we used is designed to not let one single drop of water evaporate from it. Water is as precious as gold in the desert. Some years it doesn't rain at all in the Chihuahuan desert. Then we ran an under ground plastic pipe to a watering trough. The javelina and deer were not going to eat my guzzler piping. We used steel pipe fitting to go above ground to a float valve sitting on the top lip of a 10 gallon galvanized tub. Hard for a javelina to eat steel. We covered the float valve with a board and large rocks to protect it. Javelina, don't eat rocks either, but they will eat wood, so use very large boulders. Then we primed our storage tank with exactly 536 gallons of water to test the system out. It worked perfectly. The system has never gone dry in seven years of use and we have never had to do any maintenance on the system except to keep the clear plastic tank painted every three years to prevent slime growth in our tank. Also when we leave our hunt camp we always put a pint of bleach or left over booze (normally none is left over) in the tank to kill any bacteria. Recently we added another 360 square foot roof (for a large covered patio) to our hunt camp for more shade and installed another guzzler. As you get older, shade for your rocking chair is an absolute necessity in the Chihuahuan desert. I can't think of any improvement to your property that would be a better investment. If you want to see a real life guzzler, follow the Mahan signs to our hunt cabin and have a look at the real thing. Please do not disturb the wildlife. One non-hunter didn't think I should build a guzzler and steal my neighbors game. I told him that there wasn't any game on the neighbor's property to steal since they didn't have any water. 

"One word of caution! Have you ever seen the Chihuahuan desert termites? If you provide a permanent water supply they will visit your guzzler. They require water to make mud to protect them from the fierce desert sun. They even tried to eat the dead juniper tree we planted near our guzzler. Locating a guzzler too close to a cabin could be hazardous to your cabin"." My brother Ron contributed this important information. 

The current ranch is almost devoid of permanent water except at Cedar Springs, a few guzzlers, and watering troughs at local residences. You were told, how the original ranchers' permanent water systems were destroyed. After thirty years, all original lakes now have holes in them or they will not retain water. Almost all of the original ranch water systems are not usable today. Even the big Lake Ament and the Cedar Spring Lake have gone dry. I could almost cry when I see all the dry lakes and I know what that means. 

"Studies indicate that the average home range of desert mule deer is fairly small (approximately 1.5 mile radius). Sources of permanent water should be no greater than 2.5 to 3 miles apart, throughout any range unit in order to utilize deer habitat to its capacity." From "Water for West Texas Wildlife" by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Authors Timothy L. Bone, Ruben Cantu and Sam Brownlee. 

The State of Texas Black Gap W.M.A on the east side of Big Bend National Park has approximately 107,000 acres and 35 guzzlers (Information from Black Gap W.M.A. web site and Mike Pittman, Ranch Manager). Our Terlingua Ranch has 200,000 acres or 312.5 square miles of land and we should have at least 65 guzzlers if we do as good as the Black Gap W.M.A. If we locate a guzzler every 2.5 miles then we would need approximately 78 guzzlers. Black Gap W.M.A. currently has one (1) deer every 200 acres. If we could do as good on Terlingua ranch, we would have 1000 deer on the ranch. Well, we never will do as good as the Texas Parks & Wildlife people, but we can make it a lot better place to hunt on. Toby agreed. 

Since my brother Ron and I, built water guzzlers next to our hunt camp we have seen buck mule deer, javelina, quail, rabbits, coyotes, and doves on or adjacent to our property. These wild animals are not dumb, they realized that we are true hunters and we will shoot them. They also realized that they have found something very rare in the desert, a permanent water supply that they can use 365 days per year. Hopefully, Ron, Toby and I can convince some non-hunters that building a guzzler in the desert is the right thing to do even if they don't hunt. 

We recently saw 11 mule deer in the front yard of a prominent local resident that waters and feeds mule deer. Toby thinks deer are giant rabbits and wants to chase them. We want to spread the good news about guzzlers to other hunters and non-hunters who love the outdoors. Just imagine what 100 guzzlers could do to increase wildlife populations on the Terlingua Ranch. We would hear a giant sucking sound as deer migrate from Big Bend National Park and from the Big Bend Ranch State Park and from several private ranches to a well-watered Terlingua ranch. We could have more wildlife per acre than Big Bend because we would have the water. I have already told you that, in the Chihuahuan desert, water is the gold standard. We would then need to hire numerous permanent security guards or put locks on all our gates to keep poachers and road hunters out of the ranch. That my friends would be a far better problem than having warfare between our existing property owners. 

Outlaws, being natural born cowards, long ago figured out, that it was much safer to poach out in the boondocks, than to poach close to houses who always have angry homeowners with big guns who could shoot back. Of course they also figured out that most deer and game existed close to water and most of the water on the ranch was close to houses. Building guzzlers out in the boondocks or all over the ranch will have the beneficial effect of having less poaching next to houses and may even save some lives. Like I said, outlaws are natural born cowards and they do not like to be seen or shot at when they are doing their evil despicable deeds. You would have thought that the smart board members, who live on the ranch, would have figured this out long ago, and put some water elsewhere on the ranch, just to keep the outlaws away from their homes. Like I said, some dogs and people just have to learn the hard way. 

Ranchers could not raise cows without providing water for them. We cannot have wildlife on our beautiful desert ranch without providing water for all the wildlife. Every hunter and non-hunter alike should understand this. All property owners are responsible for wildlife on their private land. What are you doing for the wildlife on your land?

How can we get 100 guzzlers built on Terlingua ranch? The Board of Directors has said they are broke and must raise maintenance fees. Most local residents already have water troughs for wild life on their property, many are like me in the golden years (older than dirt), and many don't have the money to go out in the desert and build additional guzzlers. It's time for legal hunters and true sportsmen to step up to the plate and do the right thing. If sportsmen build the 100 guzzlers for the ranch and revive this parched hellhole, I bet money that the locals would gladly and carefully guard all property owners' wildlife. 

The property owners must trust one another, if they want this ranch to be around another 10 years and not go bankrupt. There are a lot of incentives for both sides to give a little and try to get along together. Why I would bet that nonresidents would even agree to pay higher maintenance fees if we could restore hunting parks and get good hunting back on the ranch. Good hunting was the primary reason this ranch was established 30 years ago and we can restore hunting to an acceptable level if we bring back permanent water supplies to the ranch. But we must do something, not just hope the problem will go away. Residents face a very large problem, if nonresidents (94% of property owners) keep abandoning the ranch. How do you replace 94% of the money? Nonresidents pull out, because they own land of little value, especially since hunting is so poor. Some nonresidents are even giving their land away and recently Ron and I were offered free land. Land values have not increased in thirty years. 

Toby, Ron, and I have chosen a hunt club, as the means to accomplish the building of 100 guzzlers because hunters love to see wildlife. Also the hunters generally spend a lot of money and the price of a guzzler is downright cheap compared to the price of good hunting land, big 4-wheel drive trucks, four wheeler motorcycles, trained hunting dogs, expensive hunting rifles/scopes, and travel expenses from distant locations. Hunters only hunt a week or two, but the desert animals have to endure the brutal desert climate 365 days per year. Existing without water is impossible! Every hunter I have met on the dusty Terlingua ranch roads has expressed support for a new hunt club, which promotes water conservation. 

The very first organizational meeting of the hunt club was held on November 25, 2001. About 45 property owners attended and 15 people joined our club. Today we have 21 members who have pledged to have or build permanent water supplies on their property. 

At the meeting, three (3) goals for the Many Tinajas Hunt Club were listed: 

1. Improve hunting on the ranch 
2. Provide water for all the ranch wildlife 
3. Promote good will between all property owners 

I hope the Board of Directors will also adopt a similar goal of trying to "promote good will between all property owners". 

"The guiding principle for this club is that every member will have or build a permanent water supply on his land". 

At the meeting, it was recommended that the Many Tinajas Hunt Club have an annual barbecue during hunt season and invite all property owners. We share many, many common problems and need to break bread and get to know each other better. Many of the non-resident property owners expressed concerns about illegal poaching occurring, on their land. They don't like poaching either and have to endure tons and tons of poaching. 

Information was given out explaining: 

* Why water conservation is needed?
* Basic Guzzler Design
* Guzzler cost estimate
* Hunt club comments
* Hunt club membership application form 

Anyone who owns property on Terlingua Ranch and is current on maintenance and taxes can join the hunt club. Also you must abide with all State and Federal hunting rules. Our primary requirement is that you have, or build a permanent water supply on your land. You do not have to hunt. You could be a bird watcher, nature photographer, animal lover, etc. You do not have to share your land, but you can if you want to. It is your private property and with a permanent water supply on it, desert animals/wildlife will visit you frequently. 

We have been trying to get an article about the Many Tinajas Hunt Club published in the ranch newsletter, but since it is opposed by the ranch manager and board of directors, we have been unsuccessful in getting this important information to Terlingua property owners. This is very important because the newsletter reaches all our property owners all over Texas and the USA. This could jump start our hunt club, water conservation, and help the desert wildlife. Also I have no doubt that property values will increase as hunting improves. Also better hunting will bring more people to our motel and restaurant. 

Big dreams and big projects have the power to stir men's souls to action. 

Well Toby, Ron and I have told you about a modern day range war going on in our own backyard. We have proposed a solution to end this conflict and we will dedicate ourselves to make this ranch a better place. Will you join us in making Terlingua ranch something we can be proud of? If you don't like our plan then, please tell us your plan or what you don't like about this plan. Like I told you, the grease is in the skillet. 

I believe that guzzlers could be the salvation of this ranch. Now Mahan has done gone and got the Chihuahan Desert dead brain disease. Well if you have read this far, you will probably make it to the end. People get real curious to know if the writer really knows something, they don't know. 

The End

Currently no end to the war is seen.