And the Turkey Hunt Continues…

Y’all may recall my post last year when we went on our first turkey hunt ever, down on the ranch my family has in South Texas. We’ve never had turkeys on our place in the past, but in the last few years they’ve arrived and multiplied. I credit the brush, which has gotten so much thicker in the last 10 years, and the fact our corn feeders have been kept full on a regular basis. It’s kind of fun to have these birds around because the are really goofy. They are gangly and loud, and make a lot of funny clucks and squawks, and we see them nearly every time we’re out on a ride so it’s like a guaranteed wildlife spotting.

Last year, on our inaugural turkey hunt, we had them come within about 30 yards of us. It was exciting and my friend Kristin bagged a bird!

That night we ate turkey piccata (recipe here) and it was delish!

Brandon and I had been hoping this past season one of us would get one. We had a special guest with us this time–baby Kyle in the womb. #babysfirsthunt

Last year, we all hunted together. This year we split up, girls in one direction, and boys in another. But even though we split up, the birds managed to skirt around us each time. We figured they sent out a scouting hen to determine our location and she gave us up.

As haphazard as turkeys are–loud, the opposite of stealthy, and seemingly oblivious to predators–they are good at remaining hidden from you if they want to.

But we kept at it. Finally, on our last morning hunting, Kristin and I heard a “BOOM!” come from the direction of the boys. Pretty soon our phones were buzzing, “Turkey down!”

Adam was successful and got a beautiful bird.

Go Adam!

This makes for only two turkeys ever harvested at our ranch…no wonder the birds love living here.

Brandon and I were a little bummed we didn’t get one ourselves, but now we are even more determined. This story is not over yet!

Fortunately, our spirits were lifted when we remembered we had cinnamon rolls back at the house waiting for us.

At least we eat well on our hunts! (Also consumed on this hunt: a deep fried turkey. Yum.)

I hope I have a success story to report to y’all next year. Stay tuned!

Our Latest Surprise on the Ranch

Almost every time I go down to the ranch, there is a surprise waiting for me. Sometimes the surprises are good–like baby owls nesting in a tree–but sometimes the surprises are, well, less than welcome. Like that one time my mom opened the kitchen cabinet to find a 3 foot rat snake. But this time, the surprise greeting us when we walked in the door will forever stand out.

If you follow me on Instagram you may know where this story is going.

At the start of dove season this year, we were down at the ranch when one afternoon I heard Brandon call, “Um, there’s a hole in the ceiling back here and I can see the sky.”

If there is the slightest crack in your house in the country, it means one thing: critters are getting in. By the time you find the hole or crack, you’re too late!

No telling what a) created the hole b) was currently taking up residence in the roof. I called our contractor and a little over a week later, he went down to fix it. When we walked into the house, he said he had something to show us. There on the floor under the hole in the ceiling were three raccoon babies that had fallen through the hole. They were alive and well, and very tiny and cute!

My mom decided it would be best to move them to a tree outside, so we did.

It then occurred to us, where was the momma raccoon? 

If she was in the ceiling, we couldn’t patch up the hole with her inside and trap her in there, but we had no clue how to get her out. I phoned a friend who has expertise in this whole “country living” and issues that arise, and he advised us to patch up the outside of the house but leave the hole on the inside of the house open for a few days and see if she came down into the house. I was like, Excuse me, WHAT?! See if she comes in the house?

But having no better option, that is what we did. We shut the doors to that part of the house so she could not come in to where we were resting our heads at night.

In the middle of the night, I woke up to feed Kyle, my newborn little boy who was 5 weeks old at the time. While I was up, I heard a big clang. I didn’t think much of it, assuming it was the ice maker or something in the air conditioner. A few hours later, up again feeding Kyle (#momlife) I heard another clang. I was convinced it was just the air conditioner and I probably was in denial that it could be a live animal in the house.

The next morning my mom went in there to see if the momma raccoon had come down. Within seconds I heard my mom say quietly, “Uh oh. She’s in here. In the bedroom.”

On one hand, I was thinking, OH MY LORD WE HAVE A LIVE RACCOON IN THE HOUSE, and on the other hand, I was relieved we found her. You know you live in the country when you’re GLAD to locate an animal in your house.

So my mom and I went and grabbed a broom and a mop to use as defense weapons. I was prepared to swat that raccoon out of the way if it got near me or my baby!

Using some boards and furniture, we set up a channel from the bedroom to the back door for her to run out. We tiptoed and whispered the whole time so not to startle her. When we were ready, I gently pushed the mop under the bed to edge her out in the direction of the door. She moved to under the nightstand. I got up on the bed and slipped the mop down behind the nightstand. Out she came!

We were now screaming! The momma raccoon looked up at me with a petrified expression. From the other room you could hear Kyle wailing and Trooper barking. That poor momma high tailed it out of the room, down the channel we had built, out the back door, and over the hill as fast as her little feet could carry her.

It took us a while to calm everyone down but we were really glad to know that we would no longer have a raccoon living in our house.

That is, until those babies remember this lovely little house they spent their childhood in, and go looking for a crack in our roof to have THEIR babies in.

So that was our traumatic animal adventure of the month–and I say “month” because there will probably be another one next month. But I’ll be a lot braver next time now that I’ve faced down a raccoon!

Our Stay at Big Cedar Lodge, America’s Premier Wilderness Resort

Y’all, I have found a new slice of paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and families! Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri.

Billed as “America’s Premier Wilderness Resort”, BCL is on Southern Living’s South’s Best list for 2019. Brandon and I went there for a wedding this last May and there is outdoor recreation available for all ages and interests.

While there’s plenty to do for outdoor lovers, the accommodations are comfortable enough that the entire family can enjoy it.

  • 10 Hours from Austin, TX
  • 45 minutes from the nearest airport

Big Cedar Lodge was built by owner of Bass Pro Shops, so there are fish everywhere—either painted, welded, or engraved into nearly every flat surface on the property, from the parking lot stripes to the wood clothing rods in the closets.

The drive from the front gate to the main lodge is breathtaking and gets you in the outdoor spirit. It winds through the woods and has big views of Missouri’s lush green hills and the nearby lake. Most people I talk to are surprised to hear about how beautiful Missouri can be, but its very lush and especially charming in the Ozarks. I definitely would put a trip here on your outdoor “bucket list.”

Table Rock Lake

The resort sits on a hill above Table Rock Lake, where there is a marina, small beach, and a pretty walking trail on the edge of the lake.

On the morning of the wedding we booked a lake tour in a little wooden motor boat called the Goin’ Jessi, which was once owned by Waylon Jennings.

You can book it here: Table Rock Lake Marina or by calling the resort.

I was 5 months pregnant at the time, and it was sweltering, (there was no shade on the boat) but it was fun nonetheless. It was very affordable and it didn’t require much time, which was a huge plus given all there is to see and do at the resort!

What Not to Miss

The highest point of the property, “Top of the Rock” is a must-see and has a museum, restaurant, chapel, wine tasting room, and reception area and is absolutely stunning–a place you will not want to miss!

At sunset, they play bagpipes out on the lawn and it is magical. For my friend’s wedding, they fired off a canon as we all came out of the chapel.

Top of the Rock also has a huge Native American artifact collection to see if you’re into history.

Cabins

We stayed with some friends in one of the cutest log cabins I’ve ever seen! It looked like something out of a Ralph Lauren ad.

I can only imagine how charming it is at Christmas time, which supposedly is a great time to visit the resort. It had a fridge and a kitchen and would be perfect for a family to stay in.

(In addition to cabins, there are also rooms you can rent in the main buildings.)

Dogwood Canyon Nature Preserve

This is a separate property just a few minutes away from the resort, with a ton of wildlife to see (like elk and bison!) and plenty to do. I would set aside an entire day for this. The highlights would be the wildlife tram tour and the horseback rides. Other offerings:

  • Hiking
  • Trout Fishing (this is supposed to be excellent and EASY!)
  • Fly fishing academy
  • Biking

www.dogwoodcanyon.org/

Walking Trail

We enjoyed getting our morning coffee and strolling along the paved walking trail that connects the cabins and the main lodge. Its not too long and would be doable with a stroller.

Historic bridge on the property
View from the walking trail

Gift shop

The gift shop is pretty good, especially if you are looking for some cute outdoorsy themed things.

Fun Mountain

While the rest of the resort is all about doing things outside, Fun Mountain is the perfect place to go with kids on a hot or rainy day because it’s inside and air conditioned! There are bumper cars, a low ropes course, arcade games, laser tag, a golf simulator, and the most unique bowling alley I’ve ever been to.

Shooting Academy

Everything including the guns are provided!

Other Things to Do

It’s impossible to cover it all in one post! But there is golf, a cave to tour, bowfishing, yoga and other fitness classes, swimming, and archery. Don’t worry–you will not get bored!

How Long to Stay

There is SO much to do–I would allow at least 3 full days not including arrival/departure.

What to Bring

This is a very casual resort and you will be fine in your comfy clothes! I would be sure to bring low top hiking shoes or tennis shoes because you will do a lot of walking.

How to Get There

  • Drive — roughly 10 hours from Austin (we did it in 1 day)
  • Fly — you can fly into either Springfield or Branson. Branson is the closest and Springfield is about 45 minutes away.

We need one of these places in Texas but until that happens I will have to return to Missouri. I can’t wait to take my little boy and do all of these things when he is old enough!

A Word for the Beginning Dove Huntress

woman shooting over and under dove hunting

I hope this article gets you in the spirit for dove hunting, with the season right around the corner. For those of you new to the sport, I wanted to share a few tidbits of advice before you head afield!

This is part of my Girl’s’ Guide to Dove Hunting series.

Though I’ve hunted many other game animals, I always come back to my first love: dove hunting. Dove have long been my favorite animals to pursue and I bet you will enjoy it as well.

Advantages of Dove Hunting (over Deer or Turkey Hunting)

Dove Hunting has a lot going for it, hence my love for it!

  • There are more chances to shoot. (ie. you can bag 15 dove in one day, whereas you can only bag a couple deer.)
  • Hitting moving targets (dove) is a lot more fun and challenging than hitting a deer that is standing still.
  • You don’t have to worry about being silent.
  • It’s a social activity–you can do it with other people and make it an evening out.
  • You don’t have to wake up early. (Can I get an amen?)
  • Cleaning a dove is pretty easy.
  • Weather during dove season is much more pleasant than deer season.
  • You don’t have to cover yourself in camo — though natural, neutral colors like brown and olive are recommended.

Disadvantages of Dove Hunting

  • The meat isn’t as plentiful as with deer or turkey. Dove are small little suckers!
  • Dove can be hard to hit. They fly at a steady pace but you have to be good at judging distance.
  • Some evenings you won’t see many dove flying. Weather, your location, and availability of water are a few factors–and who knows, the cosmos and feng shui might also play a role (some nights I have wondered…) But in those cases just try to focus on the pleasant evening.

Dove Hunting Styles

I like to say there are two types of dove hunters: those who like to sit peacefully in one spot, soak in the scenery, and chat with their hunting partners (ME), and those who like to walk around in pursuit of the birds, not stopping until the sun goes down or they get their bag limit. (MY HUSBAND.)

How to Be a Good Hunting Buddy

The best people to hunt with are those who don’t give up, who stay optimistic even when no birds are flying, and who chip in on the cleaning.

Having a good shot around doesn’t hurt, either, but don’t worry about that on your first trip out.

Don’t be Afraid to Shoot at a Lot!

Key word: at. Shoot at.

“Big shots are little shots who keep shooting.” – Christopher Morley

This is one of my favorite quotes, but it especially is perfect for dove hunting. You will need to take a lot of shots when you are first starting out so you can figure out what birds are in range, which angles you are better at, and so you can get comfortable with your gun. You might just miss a few–or a lot–and that is okay. But if one thing is true, you will NOT get any better by being timid and only taking a few shots. Use an entire box of shotgun shells before taking a rest.

Of course, always stay within your bag limit.

Hunting with the Guys

There are a few things you need to know about dove hunting with guys. Disclaimer — a) this has just been my experience and b) not every guy is like this. Thank you to my husband for not being like this!

They love to brag about how many birds they bagged. Don’t let that intimidate you.

They shoot a lot, so if you want to keep up with them you need to keep shooting.

Nearly every hunter has a set way they like to do things when hunting. “THIS is how you aim your gun,” or “THIS is how you clean a bird” etc. I suggest listening to their advice, because it may be great, but also keep in mind it’s not always the voice of God and you should trust your own training and knowledge too.

 

One Final Word on Being a New Dove Hunter!

You don’t have to grow up in a hunting family or be the world’s most avid dove hunter in order to appreciate a good hunt and be a part of the fun evening. Anyone, young or old, male or female, new hunter or seasoned veteran, can pick up the sport easily and appreciate the beauty of a soaring dove and the hope of good meal.

Happy hunting, ladies!

Here are some other dove hunting posts you might like:

A Personal Fave: Roasted Sweet Potato and Venison Pilaf

This was an experiment last fall in my kitchen…take a simple pilaf recipe, add venison, and then think, “Hmmm, sweet potato and cinnamon sound good…” and voila! My crazy whim actually turned out really well and my friend Cara came over that night to witness it. She had two helpings, which I think is a good review!

I’m sorry, I don’t have a picture of the meal so instead I will just share a pic of Brandon and I really excited to eat wild game! (One of us is more excited than the other.)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cubed peeled sweet potato
  • ½ lb ground venison
  • Pam cooking spray
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1/3 cup diced celery2 tsp minced garlic
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1cup brown rice
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh sage
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp cinnamon

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400. Arrange the sweet potato on a pan and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes until tender. Brown venison in a pan and set aside on a plate. Add olive oil to pan and sauté the onion, celery, and garlic until onions start to brown, about three minutes. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer approximately 45 minutes or until the rice is cooked and broth is mostly absorbed. Add the sweet potatoes and venison, and stir to combine. Serve with a green vegetable. Enjoy!!

Exotic Japanese Sika Venison Soba Noodles

I don’t know about y’all but sometimes when you eat wild game all the time (two deer can last Brandon and I an entire year), you get tired of the same old recipes. Hence why I love this one, courtesy of my best turkey hunting partner Kristin Parma, a non-hunting Oregonian turned Texas huntress, who writes the blog Anxious Hunter.

Can be done with any type of venison, does not have to be Sika deer.

Ingredients

  • Ground Sika or ground venison of choice
  • 10-14 oz Japanese Soba noodles
  • 5 oz fresh Brussel sprouts, cleaned and halved
  • Handful of bean sprouts
  • 8 oz mushrooms of choice, sliced
  • 1 Roma tomato, diced thick
  • Sea Salt & pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil
  • Minced green onion & cilantro for garnish

Sauce ingredients

  • ½ cup of soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon of sesame oil
  • 2 Tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup of Japanese mirin
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • Chili paste to spice preference

Instructions

Boil water and cook soba noodles per package instructions. Drain & set aside. Combine sauce ingredients and set aside. If you prefer a lot of sauce, double the ingredients. Add oil to cast-iron round Dutch oven on medium high heat along with the Brussel sprouts. Toast the sprouts. Add mushrooms. Season with sea salt & pepper. Add more oil if needed to brown or a splash of sesame oil for extra flavor. Meanwhile, in a shallow cast iron skillet, brown the ground Sika. Once meat is brown, add half the sauce mix to the meat. Continue to brown until sauce is mostly absorbed. When everything is just about done add the soba noodles and the ground meat to the Brussel sprout and mushroom mixture. Add the rest of your sauce mixture along with a handful of bean sprouts & the tomato. Toss to combine. Dish into shallow serving bowls and top with minced green onion and cilantro.

8 Tips for Absentee Landowners

This article originally appeared in my column in Texas Wildlife magazine, a monthly publication for Texas Wildlife Association members. 

Being an absentee landowner presents its challenges. As I have shared with you all before, my family has a farm in South Texas, about three hours away from my home in Austin. To get to our farm, I have to pass through two major cities, and because I leave after work, I am driving during rush hour and arriving after dark. (On the plus side, this gives me plenty of time to pray the water will turn on when I arrive.)

After I get there, I have a lot to catch up on—checking on the status of projects, meeting with lessees, meeting with workers, and then of course, making sure no varmints or snakes have made their way into the house.

Like many modern-day landowners, I have to figure out how to be a good land owner from afar. How do I keep my family’s property safe from trespassers, pay workers on time, make sure our pastures aren’t overgrazed, oversee hunters, implement projects to improve habitat, and manage repairs without being there every day? And then, when do I squeeze in time to actually enjoy the place?

Here are some tips I’ve learned from other absentee landowners.

1. Get a lessee you trust and build a good relationship.

Having someone you trust on your property regularly is helpful in many ways. They will keep an eye on the place, notice if something is off or needs fixing, and will have the local connections and expertise to help you accomplish whatever needs to be done. Send them a Christmas present, call or text them regularly to check in, and establish mutual trust. A grazing tenant and a hunting lessee will be a great help in making sure your ponds and feeders are full.

2. Collaborate with your neighbors.

Always let them know if you are doing something that might affect their property (like spraying a fence line, for example). Bring them wild game or produce from your property, keep the lines of communication open, and in turn you will build mutual respect. If it works for you, you all could even share workers or equipment. Neighbors are great resources out in the country.

3. Take advantage of technology.

There are so many great remote security systems out there nowadays that connect to apps on your phone and enable you to monitor activity on your property from anywhere in the world. Several companies are represented at the TWA Convention each year. I also utilize apps like Paypal for paying workers. Of course, you can’t go wrong with an old fashioned game camera either, strategically placed.

4. Get to know your Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Game Warden.

If you see anything unusual that might indicate trespassing and/or poaching, let them know.

5. Ensure “No Trespassing” signs are visibly posted around your property.

I also recommend showing up unannounced. Having regular activity on a property is a great way to keep it more secure.

6. Get to know your NRCS agent.

He or she can be invaluable in keeping you apprised of deadlines for programs and can help you fill out forms and conduct business over the internet.

7. Get a capable contractor.

We found a reliable contractor who does a great job and arrives on time, and though he may be a little more expensive than the average worker because he has to drive from San Antonio, the peace of mind of having someone reliable on-call is worth it to us.

8. Don’t take on too many projects at one time.

Over the year and a half it took to renovate our ranch house, I had to learn that because I was not present every day, some projects just took longer to accomplish—and that is okay.

As much as I dream about getting to run off to the ranch every time I want, I have family, community, and work commitments in the city so do the best I can. I hope all of you have success navigating the challenges being an absentee landowner presents, and still find time to hunt, fish, and enjoy the reason you own the property, whatever that may be.

Do you have any other tips I missed? Feel free to leave a comment!

Hat tip to my friend Greg Simons for contributing to this article.

Tips for Getting Better Sleep When Camping

Many women tell me that one of the biggest reasons they don’t like camping is the poor night’s sleep they get. Women like the comforts of home and don’t want to give those up for the great outdoors. But, I’m here to say that it is possible to be more comfortable at night and make your sleeping situation feel much more like what you have at home if you just make a few adjustments.

My Tips

Bring an air mattress or a cot.

One that can be plugged into your car to inflate. Or, bring a large cot. If you have kids, my sis-in-law recommends getting an extra-large cot, because kids almost never stay on their own cot the whole night. She loves the Teton Sports Outfitter XXL Camping Cot (<–Amazon). Cots don’t get holes like air mattresses do, which kids will undoubtedly break with their jumping.

Consider getting a mattress pad.

Cut it to fit your cot or air mattress. Suggestion: Rolyan Egg Crate Mattress Topper. (<– Amazon link.)

Bring extra blankets.

A large down blanket is our favorite to camp with! Even if you have a sleeping bag, a blanket is always essential when it’s cold.

Bring sheets, IF you have a thick mattress pad.

Sheets are more comfortable, however: if it is cold, the sheets won’t hold in your body heat and the air mattress will wick away every shred of warmth, leaving you shivering. The solution is to put down a thick mattress pad and make sure you have lots of blankets on top. But if you’re camping in warm weather, you’re golden!

Make sure there is good air circulation on warm nights.

Leave part some of your windows unzipped so air can get in, or bring a battery powered fan.

Do not leave any food out.

What does this have to do with sleeping? Well, critters will come along and make racket trying to snatch whatever food you have left out, and it will wake you up. Make sure everything is locked up tight in a plastic bin or your car. Or if you’re camping in bear country, put it in a bear proof locker or bin. (Those campsites will notify you if bear lockers are provided.) Not a problem for most parts of Texas.

On that note…

Try not to stress about the noises in the middle of the night.

I have a lot of friends who say that the sounds of the forest keep them up at night, and freak them out. Unless you’re camping in bear country, then you don’t have anything to be afraid of. At most, there are only a few raccoons here and there and they won’t harm you.

Make sure your tent and rain fly are staked down really well.

One thing that has given me many a sleepless night has been a flapping rain fly that the wind keeps whipping about. It can really drive you nuts. Stake it all down tightly, and you reduce the chance of this happening.

Check your sleeping bag and tent before you get in.

Make sure no spiders or other tickly critters made their way into your tent. I’ve never had this happen, but it will give you peace of mind. Then make sure your tent’s zippers are all closed tightly when you’re ready to go to bed. You won’t have to worry about a big spider (or whatever bug related fears you may have) attacking you in your sleep.

Do not put your head close to the tent wall.

Condensation can accumulate on the wall and you might get a tiny bit wet. It won’t be too bad–only a few drops–but still, it can disrupt a good night’s sleep. Condensation doesn’t mean your tent is leaking, it just means the laws of physics still apply.

Pick even ground for your tent and remove any rocks underneath.

Get a lot of physical activity during the day.

Remind yourself when climbing up a steep hill–the more I do, the more tired I will be and the easier it will be to sleep!

Take my advice for middle-of-the-night restroom runs.

Don’t go camping during rainy or extremely cold weather.

A drizzle here and there is okay, but a lot of rain can ruin your trip and prevent you from sleeping.

Bring ear plugs.

“For when a family of 6 pulls up right next to your campsite at 8:30 pm right after you got your baby to sleep and she’s up for the next 2 hours because they want to blast the radio,” my sis-in-law adds. (Why do people do that?!)

Extra Tips for Backpacking Trip Nights

Backpacking through the wilderness to your camp site (as opposed to driving up to it) means you can’t take an air mattress or cot, but it does mean you are so tired you won’t care what’s on the ground as long as you get to lay down!

Pack a Thermarest.

If you want to sleep well when camping, never go anywhere without your Thermarest. It’s a thin inflatable mattress that is ultra-light. (Amazon link to the one I have here.)

  • Don’t buy a 3/4 length one. Backpacking stores might try to sell you this because it is weighs less than a full size thermarest. However warning, you will feel like your feet are hanging off the bed all night long and I found it very uncomfortable.
  • Get one with a soft fabric-like surface. Some are made with a slick rayon-like surface and I DON’T recommend these. They will make a “swish! swish!” noise every time you move a muscle and it is so obnoxious. It’s worth going to the backpacking store and looking at them in person.

Invest in an inflatable pillow.

Therm-a-rest Inflating Camping Pillow. (<– Amazon link.)

Many backpackers prefer to just roll up a jacket and use that as their pillow, but I personally like having a legit pillow to rest my head on. It won’t come unrolled in the middle of the night like a jacket does and it feels fresher and cleaner than the jacket I’ve been wearing all day.

 

Get a backpacking tent that has room near your head.

Backpacking tents are smaller than regular car camping tents because you have to carry them down a trail. Some backpacking tents have the peak in the middle, like over your waist when you’re laying down, but you want one that has the highest point of the ceiling over your head. This will allow you to sit up in bed, change easier, and prevent your head from hitting the tent wall in the middle of the night.

Hope this helps! If you have any tips feel free to share them in the comments.

PS. Don’t forget to bring a bed for your dog! 🙂

6 Qualities to Look for in a Ranch Property

Have you ever thought about owning a ranch? Maybe a weekend property, or perhaps your dreams are a little bigger and you want a big cattle ranch. On this blog I’ve shared a little bit about my own lessons learned managing our ranch, as well as those from other Texas women landowners. Today I have boiled down our advice and experiences into a simple list of what you should look for in a ranch property.

Any ranch owners reading this, feel free to weigh in.

1. Interesting topography.

Sometimes flat land that is entirely forest or entirely meadow can get old, so I would look for varied terrain, like a pretty hilltop with a scenic view, a creek bottom or dry river bed, rocky canyons, a blend of forest and open meadow, or something else that makes it interesting. Keep in mind you will be staring at this same piece of property for the rest of your life, if you do things right, so pick a place that won’t make you bored! Also, more hills = more hiking and exercise opportunities!

2. Water sources.

You need water sources for wildlife and for livestock, which are pretty central to life in the country. Not just any water supply—you need a steady one, that doesn’t get drastically affected by drought. Does the property have a functioning well? Or a perennial stream? Ideally you also want an existing pond or water catchment so you don’t have to build that on your own. Water is key—it’s where you will see wildlife in the evenings, where you will pull up a chair and watch the sunset, and it’s what will help you and all the creatures on your ranch make it through dry years.

3. Capacity to make $.

Ranches are a constant fixer-upper project. Even if you have an ample supply of cash before you buy a property, you’ll end up wishing for a property that can be self-sustaining (even T. Boone Pickens is selling his ranch, just for some perspective.) Ask yourself if there could be commercial hunting or fishing, wildlife photography tours, guest cottages or other accommodations for a B&B, livestock grazing, or farming.

A self-sustaining property won’t be a burden to your children if they inherit it, and it will give you options even if you don’t utilize the potential income streams right at first.

4. Good local infrastructure.

One of the things that can really make your life difficult on a property is if you can’t easily get manual labor or can’t get parts, tools, and gas easily. Look for a property near a town with a grocery store, welder, gas station, and hardware/parts store. Even better if they have a deer processor or a tractor supply! You can form connections with local manual labor sources over time, but if you happen to have local connections in an area, that is ideal. I rely heavily on the various resources in the town near our ranch, for everything from fixing the four-wheeler to supplying deer corn.

5. Good neighbors.

Obviously this will take time to discover and forge, but you want a place that has good people around it. You’ll end up sharing things, helping each other do projects and keeping an eye on things. The proverbial “cup of sugar” is really more like a lifetime sugar supply in the country, and you need those strong relationships.

6. Proximity to home.

Maybe you want a complete and total escape in a far reaching wilderness, but I highly recommend getting a place within a 1.5 to 2-hour drive (max) of your home. There will come a day when you need to drop what you’re doing and head out to the ranch, and you will count your lucky stars it is nearby. Furthermore, you will ENJOY it more—and that’s the reason you bought it. When you spend a huge chunk of your free time just getting there, it cuts into the amount of time you have while you are there and you end up feeling like all you do is work when you arrive. You want to be able to head out on a Friday night after school or work and get there at a reasonable hour.

Other important qualities I might consider: presence of roads, fences, barns, and hunting setups depending on what you are planning.

Every ranch property is a lot of work and has its good days and bad days, but if you choose well, it is all worth it. The more work you put in, the prouder of it you will be.

Ps. Shout out to two of my blog readers who are farm and ranch real estate agents! These ladies can hook you up with a good property:

A Girl’s Guide to Using the Restroom in the Woods

Usually I avoid talking about using the restroom on this blog, but I think it’s time we address the topic of going to the bathroom outside. I hear way too many women say that the reason they won’t go camping is because they don’t like the idea of peeing in the woods. It makes them uncomfortable.

I get it, it’s not comfortable to hold a squat, going to the bathroom in the middle of the night isn’t enjoyable, and most of us aren’t used to not having a proper porcelain throne. But going to the bathroom outside should not be a reason to miss out on fun and scenic camping trips, okay? Especially if you follow some basic tips I’ll cover here.

In this post I’ll cover:

  • 3 most common bathroom options when camping
  • Tips for making your bathroom experience pleasant
  • Tips for midnight runs to the restroom

First,

The three most common bathroom options you’ll find when camping

The wild

It’s just you and beautiful nature. Think of it this way—you didn’t have to stand in line and there are no unsettling sights to shock you when you open a stall door.

All you have to worry about is not squatting over poison ivy. (See my poison ivy ID here.)

  • The key to comfort here is to hold onto a small tree with both hands, and plant your feet apart on either side.  Stick your hiney out behind you.  This is much more comfortable than squatting.
  • Avoid any tall grasses which might tickly your hiney. Whenever a blade of grass frisks me, it always gives me a shock! Stomp around on the grasses to make a flat, tickle-free zone.
  • Look around you to be sure you aren’t squatting near a thorny plant or a snake.

What to bring:

  • Toilet paper
  • Ziploc bag or grocery sack for storage (it’s probably not best to leave paper out in the woods, unless you’re in a really remote area).
  • Hand sanitizer

Campsite restrooms

Sometimes these can be really nice, actually. The bathroom at Pedernales Falls State Park and Bastrop State Park are good examples. There is really nothing to fear with these, except some scratchy toilet paper.

I like to bring my own hand towel and hand soap when I go just because the ones they provide aren’t very nice.

Optional: you could bring your own toilet seat covers if it gives you peace of mind.

Compost toilets

These are my least favorite. They are like giant port-o-potties that never get emptied. (Everything goes into a pit in the ground.) Because they don’t need running water or plumbing, you are more likely to see these in remote parts of parks or in areas that aren’t as developed. (Like Colorado Bend State Park.)

If this situation is unavoidable, I bring my own toilet seat covers and toilet paper. Call me high maintenance but these little things make me more comfortable!

Tips for making your bathroom experience pleasant

  • Before deciding what park to camp at, look at the website and find out what kind of restrooms are available. If your only option is compost toilet, and that makes you uncomfortable, choose a different park. Most of Texas’ popular parks have normal restrooms.
  • Bring your own disposable toilet seat covers.
  • Bring your own toilet paper. Always keep a little bit of TP in your day pack whenever you’re out hiking.
  • Bring a Ziploc or grocery sack to carry it back to a trashcan in. You can discreetly hide this in your daypack until you find a trashcan, and then toss this in the nearest bin.
  • Bring hand sanitizer or soap. If you don’t have access to a sink, you’ll want hand sani or some wet-ones wipes. (I prefer wet ones.) When you’re at a public restroom at a campsite, they don’t always provide soap.
  • Bring your own hand towel. When I’m camping at a park with restrooms, I also like to bring my own hand towel because it’s a nice little luxury from home, and it’s way better than the air dryers or brown thin paper towels provided. This obviously does not apply to backpacking—in which case, you won’t want to carry this.

Tips for midnight runs to the restroom

  • An hour before bed, stop drinking. Get your required daily dose of water, just do it with ample time before bed so you are less likely to need to pee in the middle of the night.
  • Use the buddy system. Make a deal with your tent buddy that you will accompany each other to the restroom if you have to go in the middle of the night.  Trust me, this makes the whole experience much more pleasant. Furthermore, it’s safer.
  • Dress in something for bed that you won’t mind walking to the restroom in later.
  • If you wear glasses, set those out somewhere that you can easily locate in the middle of the night.
  • If it’s cold, set out your warm pants, fleece, hat, and moccasins/tennies next to your sleeping bag so you can just easily put them on when you wake up and have to run to the potty.
  • Keep a flashlight handy.

I hope these tips help you feel a little more comfortable with this angle of camping. Take it from my many years of camping, it’s really not that bad and you will get used to it!