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There is probably no quail hunt in America quite like the one Major Tom Armstrong stages for friends and guests on his 50,000-acre ranch just 65 miles from the Mexican border. Each year some of the nation's most prominent sportsmen and sportswomen come for the occasion, to enjoy basking in the matchless Armstrong hospitality and hunting in the Armstrong manner. Here hunters take to pasture, not in buggies and surreys, on horseback or afoot, but in a caravan of specially built, superspringed safari cars that are equipped with everything from bourbon and tamales to needles and thread, with saddlebags, chuck boxes, fitted-in leather gun satchels, hors d'oeuvres and car-side can openers. In fact, this caravan moving out across the vast Comal pasture early in the morning looks like a big-time African safari out after big game. But here the accent is Mexican, the guides are colorful vaqueros and the quarry is quail.
Up front in the lead car sits Dog Trainer V. E. (Hump) Humphreys. Behind him in a built-in box are five dogs. Driving the next car is hunt-wise Jos� Hern�ndez, vaquero and Man Friday of the Armstrong Ranch. A third is driven by grizzled and weather-seamed Agust�n Cavazos.
Hunting this day with the major and Mrs. Armstrong are Dick Kleberg Jr., vice-president of the King Ranch, his wife Mary Lewis and 12-year-old Leslie Clement, Mrs. Armstrong's granddaughter. Though these are local guests, prominent sportsmen from all over the nation, and some from abroad, come to the Armstrong Ranch to hunt. A few years ago Lord and Lady Halifax hunted quail here, as did Lord and Lady Harcourt. Governor Allan Shivers of Texas is a regular hunter on the ranch and Eugene Holman, chairman of the board of Standard Oil of New Jersey, and his wife Edith make annual "pilgrimages." Other hunting guests have been Nelson, Winthrop and Laurance Rockefeller.
The man who is host to all these variegated personalities looks and acts more like a British squire on some colonial outpost of the last century than a present-day product of Texas. He sports a carefully groomed mustache and favors multicolored vests. His eyes twinkle, his deep voice booms in ready laughter. He has a seemingly bottomless reservoir of hunting stories, not only of Texas but of the whole world, as well as reminiscences of his days as a major of artillery in World War I. But it is the major's hat that stamps him south Texas from the top of his head to the tip of his boots. To insure lots of finds and good shooting the Armstrongs wear crimped-up Texas-style Stetsons, which have been gaily banded with wild turkey feathers from birds shot on their ranch.
As the caravan moves across the fields the wildlife of the southern prairies comes alive. Wild turkeys give out with an alarmed gobble and fade away into the dark and enchanted recesses of wind-bent live-oak mottes. Startled deer stand etched against the landscape, camouflaged by color and stillness. A pack of javelinas scurries into the sharp-spined grass. A lone coyote silently slinks off through the prairie grass, and cherry-red Santa Gertrudis cattle lift their heads in a curiosity salute, then go back to their browsing.
Well out in the field, and miles from ranch headquarters, Hump opens the dog box and puts down his first dog—a lemon-and-white pointer named Wayside Bill. It takes quite a hunting-car race across flats and sand dunes to keep Wayside Bill in sight. Hump, whistling and hollering, directs the dog from his vehicle. The other cars follow in his wake. And abruptly, way out by a little cactus patch, Wayside Bill makes the first find of the day. He holds the tail-high point as still as a statue until the cars come up and the hunters climb out. Mrs. Armstrong and the major walk up the birds. The covey is scattered. Two birds fly up on the left. The major gets a double. Two birds up and two down.
As Bill starts out again Hump yells, "Close in heah!" and there they are. Bill pins them down with a body-curved point. This time it's one to the left and one to the right. One for Mrs. Armstrong and one for the major.
GOOD SHOT IS "HONORED"
"That's enough out of this covey," says Mrs. Armstrong. Hunters get into their hunting cars and are off across the country again. Hump has put down the major's white and polka dot pointer Okmulgee's Dress Parade. That's too much name for hunting convenience, so they call him Nig. The cars slip and slide and swirl and bounce as they pursue him. Some of them are now a mile or so apart. Jos� and Agust�n are looking under mesquite trees and cactus patches for "nooning" coveys.
After a teeth-rattling ride there's Jos� about a mile to the right, blowing the cow horn, standing up in the seat with hat raised on high. He has "pointed" a big covey moving around in the prairie grass near a mesquite tree. And here comes Hump's car, his whistle blowing and Nig way out in front. Just as Nig comes up to the mesquite tree he freezes, classically. Hunters come up. The covey is flushed, but nobody fires. On the Armstrong Ranch it isn't considered sporting to shoot an entire covey on the rise.