by Terry Wieland
In his novel, The Searchers, Texas native Alan Le May describes what today would be called a “severe winter weather event,” but which in the 1870s was a “blue norther.” Seemingly out of nowhere, a hundred miles south of Fort Sill on the plains of Texas, a three-day blizzard struck, sweeping down from the north like an avenging angel. Animals died, people died, seemingly the entire country died, amid the onslaught of wind and snow.
The winter weather that struck across much of Texas in February left cars in ditches, 18-wheelers overturned, whole cities without electricity, water mains frozen, long lines at gas pumps (where there was any gas to be had) and variety-store shelves stripped of such essentials of life as Tostitos and cheddar popcorn.
I was at the FTW Ranch, in the hill country, on St. Valentine’s Day, when the lights went out, the phone went dead, the ceiling fans stopped turning, and the heater in my room ceased to operate. Everything outside was already encased in ice from three days of sleet and freezing rain. Fortunately — although it didn’t seem so at the time — there were only two clients in residence because the other three who were expected had their flights cancelled due to weather.
That left ten of us to try to get something done while coping with the domino-effect sequence of events: First the electricity went, four hours later the WiFi, which was connected to something different (I never figured out what) but anyway, it was gone by noon. We still had cold water, at least while the tanks remained full and the lines unfrozen, but that was just a matter of time.
Fortunately, the stove in the kitchen runs on gas, and there was one (small) generator that could be connected to various appliances, one at a time. Mostly, we used it for charging batteries, but periodically we hooked it up to the television, got a satelite link, and watched the weather doomsters outdo each other in synonyms for armageddon. Otherwise, it was candles, flashlights, one small gas fireplace in the big room, and coats indoors and out. My recorded low was six (6) degrees F.
Aside from our own survival, there were other concerns. Making sure all the animals had food was one of them. Contacting the outside world was another. The latter could be accomplished by driving three or four miles along icy hunting tracks, climbing to the highest point on the ranch — cell service in that part of the hill country is spotty at best — and groping for a signal. The trek to the mountaintop became a twice-a-day ritual: Creating a hotspot, hooking up, sending two- and three-word messages.
In a situation like that, things we normally ignore become important, others we take for granted become critical. The other client managed to get in all his shooting instruction, in spite of ice, snow, and bitter winds. Since he was training for an elk hunt in Montana, he learned a lot of lessons he did not expect, but which may well prove useful.
For my part, I figured out how to create a makeshift sleeping bag with my collection of Eddie Bauer goose down jackets, and slept toasty warm in spite of waking up to find that the dripping tap I’d left on to keep the water flowing had frozen, and I now had a tiny ice stalactite in my bathroom sink.
The survival gear I always carry in my car between October and April, no matter where I am, came in handy: Eddie Bauer Kara Koram parka, muskrat ushanka, sheepskin gloves. Note to self: Pack one of the Bauer sleeping bags from now on.
Got it. Will do.
Terry Wieland has been Shooting Editor of Gray’s since 1993 and is the author of a dozen books on hunting, shooting, and history. His latest is Great Hunting Rifles — Victorian to the Present, published by Skyhorse in 1997. Last year, Skyhorse reprinted his acclaimed 1999 book on Robert Ruark, A View From A Tall Hill.