Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Oryx Hunt on Ted Turner's New Mexico Ranch Special Event for a Lady

Photo Courtesy of Diane Gilmore

It wasn’t the kind of story you might expect to hear upon walking into a biker bar like Silva’s in downtown Bernalillo, New Mexico on a Saturday afternoon.

The lady behind the horseshoe shaped bar was running about, talking excitedly and offering up samples of the oryx she’d bagged just a day or two earlier.

On Ted Turner’s Armendaris Ranch in southern New Mexico of all places, she said.

Turner is the largest private land owner in the country and has several big ranches here in New Mexico including the Armendaris, the Ladder and Vermejo Park bordering the spectacular Valle Vidal in northern New Mexico.

And hunting or fishing on one of them would normally be way out of reach for most people, I thought.

But for Diane Gilmore, 54, of Albuquerque, a night of bartending at a National Wild Turkey Federation banquet last winter led her to the remote Turner ranch and a way of life she’d missed for many years.

See, Gilmore, a laid-off computer technician who moonlights as a bartender, used to hunt and fish all the time with her husband of ten years, Vern.

Many times they went fishing with Felix Silva Sr., proprietor of the fabled watering hole in downtown Bernalillo where Gilmore tends bar.

Photo Courtesy of Diane Gilmore

But she lost her passion for the hunting and fishing life after her husband was killed by a wrong-way driver on a highway in Texas during a cross-country motorcycle the pair were taking in 1995.

Gilmore labored on through the years without her partner and best friend until one day her girlfriend, Ann Salmon, invited her out to attend a National Wild Turkey Federation banquet.

Salmon’s boyfriend, Mike Jasper, is the organization’s regional field supervisor and he invited Gilmore back to tend bar at a state leadership conference banquet last January.

“Going to the banquets, I got the itch to hunt again,” Gilmore said.

And that’s where she came across the opportunity to hunt for an oryx, an African native that was brought to New Mexico in the 1970s to develop a herd on White Sands Missile Range for hunting purposes.

The big antelope have done well here due in part to the lack of any natural predators to keep their numbers down, thus hunting is one of the only ways to effectively manage them.

Hunters can apply through the state Department of Game and Fish for a reasonably priced, once in a lifetime license to bag one of the big animals on White Sands Missile Range or they can try their luck at drawing an unrestricted, off range license to hunt oryx on public lands surrounding the range.

And then there’s private land hunting permits issued by the Department to landowners for use on their own property.

Typically those permits are available through outfitters who offer guided hunts to the public for premium price.

Which brings us back to Gilmore who while serving drinks at the National Wild Turkey Federation banquet noticed a bucket full of a dozen custom knives up for auction.

Attached to each knife was a raffle ticket for a guided oryx hunt on the Armenderis Ranch, normally a $3,000 proposition.

“I got all excited thinking about the chance to go after one of those majestic animals,” she recalls.

So Gilmore picked out three knives, plunked down $330 and waited for the drawing.

“I screamed like a maniac,” the New Jersey native says of the moment they called her number. ”It was surreal, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest.”

Gilmore had won and arranged to go on her hunt the following fall.

As the date of the hunt got closer, Gilmore grew more nervous.

“You know how it is,” she said.

Gilmore borrowed Jasper’s .300 WSM rifle and went out to the city’s range for a little practice and found her aim was still true.

And then the day of the hunt finally arrived.

Gilmore had stayed at a friend’s house at Elephant Butte the night before and awoke early to make the drive over to Engle and where the gate to the big ranch stood.

Accompanied by Jasper and Salmon, Gilmore met up with her guide, Amado Hernandez, who gave her an orientation, took her to ranch firing range to check her shooting skills and then they went for a drive.

The group searched the sprawling ranch for several hours before they finally spied a herd far off in the distance.

Upon driving around the base of a small hill to get a closer look they suddenly came across a lone oryx observing them from about 215 yards away.Photo courtesy of Turner Enterprises Inc.

Gilmore got down to see if she could get a shot at her but watched in dismay as she began to walk away.

Guide Hernandez gave a shrill whistle and the animal stopped to look back.

Gilmore took her shot and dropped the big antelope on the spot.

“My friends were yelling `she’s down’ and I was all excited,” Gilmore says with emotion. “This was my first hunt in twelve years and I was smiling so much my cheeks hurt.”

Gilmore says the best part of the hunt had to be after the kill because in all her years of hunting with Vern she knew the real work came in harvesting the animal.

“Amado did all the work,” she says. “That was special,”

Hernandez says he guides about 50 or 60 oryx hunts on the 360,000 acre ranch east of Truth or Consequences every year and remembers Gilmore because she was so ecstatic about her hunt.

“She was pretty thrilled,” he says. “And she did a good job too.”

Gilmore says she’s got a freezer full of good, lean organic meat processed by Gordon Mishler of Mishler Meat Cutting in Williamsburg and has a beautiful trophy mount for her wall on its way from Ken Watkins of High Sierra Taxidermy in Truth or Consequences.

But for Gilmore the best part of the hunt was that it rekindled in her that long dormant passion for the sport.

Jasper says that’s exactly what the National Wild Turkey Federation is striving to do, conserve wildlife and preserve the heritage of hunting.

And making exciting trips like this available is one way to do it, Jasper says.

“To let an average, everyday, person have a shot at a trophy hunt like this is priceless,” Jasper says.

Jasper says banquet auctions like the one Gilmore participated in have allowed numerous men and women around the state to go on such hunts while also raising much needed funds for the organizations’ mission.

And it couldn’t be done without the generous contributions and donations of people like Ted Turner whose ranches not only provide the habitat for many game species but the opportunity to hunt for them too, Jasper says.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Governor Giveth and the Governor Can Taketh Away

A habitat improvement project designed to reduce silt and sediment and improve fishing on the popular San Juan River has been put on hold in the wake of Governor Bill Richardson’s decision to freeze all capital outlay projects.

“It’s on hold,” says Marty Frentzel, Chief of Public Information and Outreach for the state Department of Game and Fish.

Up until the Governor’s order came down, the department had been working on issuing a formal request for proposals (RFP) for engineering plans to install habitat improvements in the Braids section of the blue ribbon trout fishery and to divert Rex Smith Wash to keep silt laden runoff from dumping into the river at Texas Hole.

The habitat improvement project had been one of Richardson’s own initiatives that he undertook at the behest of local guides last year for which he sought and obtained $250,000 in funding from the legislature.

But Richardson has since become embroiled in a budget battle with the legislature over an estimated $650 million budget shortfall and he has now ordered all capital outlay projects frozen, including his own.

The move comes on the heels of a recent special session of the legislature during which lawmakers crafted bills for Richardson’s consideration that includes deep cuts to state agency budgets and a reduction in the number of Richardson’s paid, political appointees.

In ordering the capital outlay freeze, Richardson says he took exception to the fact that legislators did not make any effort to trim its inventory of taxpayer funded projects.

“I am taking this bold action since the Legislature chose not to cut even one dime of its pork projects,” Governor Bill Richardson said in his October 26 press release. “These pork projects should be the first to be cut before we take any action that affects people.”

Only those projects that already have third-party agreements will be honored as of Oct. 23, the press release states.

The freeze on capital outlay projects will remain in place through the next legislative session in January when the issue can be revisited, the press release concludes.

The press release notes that the freeze applies to all capital outlay projects, including the governor’s.

The freeze came just weeks after the state Department of Game and Fish announced that they would be seeking new bids for the habitat improvement project on the San Juan (see related story ).

The department had declined to hire one of the two firms, out of about six that had been solicited to submit proposals this past summer.

The department decided it would be best to pursue the more formal process of requesting proposals before proceeding.

“The Department determined that a broader solicitation was warranted in order to ensure the best possible outcome is achieved,” Frentzel said at the time.

The Braids and Rex Smith projects were called for by a working group of San Juan River stakeholders during a meeting earlier this summer.

Funding for the projects came as controversy raged over the perception that fishing conditions on the river had declined due to low flows implemented by federal operators of the dam over the last decade to accommodate endangered fish downstream.

It now remains to be seen whether funding for the habitat improvement projects will be reinstated or if after more than a year of behind-the-scenes political lobbying, intense public debate and other efforts to help the river, have all been for naught.

In the meantime, Governor Richardson is taking public comment before making any decision about the cost saving bills the legislature sent him during the special session.

Richardson has until Nov. 12 to make his decision.

And while he decides, the Albuquerque Journal reports that the state budget has grown more than 50 percent under Richardson’s watch. The state now has 24.5 state workers for every 100 in the private sector, compared with the national average of 16.22. About 400 state workers were added to the state’s payroll last year alone at a cost of $1 million every two pay periods and 468 political appointees have joined Richardson’s administration during his two terms, the Journal reported.

To register your views on the budget situation email the governor at

Or call the Governor's office at 505-476-2210.

You can also write a letter and send it to: Office of the Governor, 490 Old Santa Fe Trail, Room 400, Santa Fe, NM 87501.

To visit the Governors website go to

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