ES­CAPES

I love hunt­ing the big bucks of South Texas, and I’m not ashamed to ad­mit it

Field and Stream - - CONTENTS - By Will Brant­ley

Gi­ant bucks, wild hogs, tur­keys, and more—South Texas just about has it all. By Will Brant­ley

AYBE I SHOULD FEEL M guilty, en­joy­ing the ease of South Texas as much as I do. No, it’s not the place for climb­ing moun­tains and suf­fer­ing blis­ters and eat­ing freeze-dried food in the snow. It’s where you set­tle onto a swivel­ing of­fice chair in a box blind with a good ri­fle and ex­tra ammo, be­cause you’re go­ing to see lots of crit­ters that you’ll be en­cour­aged to shoot. Also, it’ll be 70 de­grees in De­cem­ber.

Yes­ter­day morn­ing, hunt­ing near La Pryor, I killed one of my best white­tails ever—an an­cient, heavy 9-pointer with choco­late antlers. This evening, I’m wait­ing in a blind with my buddy Jeff Puck­ett and our host, Charles Coker. Vi­brant song­birds flit through the mesquite and cac­tus, while a covey of Gam­bel’s quail feeds right along­side the blind. Soon a doe with twins steps into view, and within a half-hour, there’s a flock of tur­keys be­hind us, a half dozen more deer in front of us, and 200 yards beyond the deer, a sounder of wild hogs work­ing to­ward us.

Puck­ett and I be­gin dis­cussing which of the pigs are likely to be the best eat­ing, and Coker points out a pair of 50-pound shoats. On a count of three, we drop the pigs in the sendero.

THREE COR­NERS

Iowa, Kansas, Illi­nois… A hand­ful of Mid­west­ern states stir dreams of bucket-list trips for se­ri­ous deer hunters. Yet years be­fore Mid­west­ern­ers were mak­ing “hit lists,” Tex­ans were man­ag­ing for big bucks.

Texas has long been a top-10 white­tail state in the Boone and Crock­ett record books. The South Texas coun­ties of Dim­mit, Webb, Mav­er­ick, and LaSalle make up four of the top six coun­ties na­tion­wide for record-book typ­i­cals (all four coun­ties are within the top 30 for non­typ­i­cals too). Along with neigh­bor­ing Zavala County, these com­prise the Texas Golden Tri­an­gle, the most pro­duc­tive re­gion for big bucks in the Lone Star State—and much of the coun­try.

Coker’s place, TC Out­fit­ters (tc­south tex­as­hunts.com), is in Zavala, and in a week of hunt­ing there, I saw half a dozen bucks that would make even a se­ri­ous deer hunter swoon—but they were off lim­its due to their young age. Statewide, nearly 60 per­cent of the bucks taken in Texas are ma­ture (31⁄2 years or older), but bucks in the Tri­an­gle get es­pe­cially old. The deer I killed, Coker says, was 91⁄2 years old. Though there are some high-fenced out­fits in the area, most of the ranches here are free-range (Tex­ans call it “low fence”). The bucks get old and big be­cause the ranches are large and care­fully man­aged. Many em­ploy their own wildlife bi­ol­o­gists.

THE LONE STAR WAY

The South Texas brush is dense and thorny and hos­tile. It isn’t coun­try that you can slip into, find a pinch point, and hang a stand in (to say noth­ing of the scarcity of trees big enough for that). Most of the hunt­ing hap­pens around cleared lanes in the brush—called senderos—and feed­ers. If hunt­ing over bait re­ally both­ers you, best take a trip else­where.

There’s also an am­ple sup­ply of bonus crit­ters—and that’s half the fun of hunt­ing in South Texas. Wild hogs and javeli­nas are abun­dant and fair game on many ranches. On most hunts, you’ll be en­cour­aged to shoot a cou­ple of does too.

Texas is 95 per­cent pri­vately owned, and the hunt­ing here is big busi­ness; this isn’t a place where you can ex­pect to knock on doors and gain hunt­ing ac­cess. But if you’re sav­ing for a once-in-al­ife­time white­tail hunt—and like to shoot—I rec­om­mend a trip to this part of the coun­try over just about any­where else.

On the last evening, Coker tells us he knows of a place where we can get in a quick stalk on some javeli­nas be­fore dark. I grab my ri­fle and jump in the truck. We’re onto a group of them in no time, and Coker en­cour­ages me to sneak in close and hit them with a loud preda­tor call. “Be ready to shoot!” he says. “I’ve had them come charg­ing in.”

Off I go, won­der­ing why any­one would feel guilty for hunt­ing a place that’s as much fun as this one.

Top Heavy The au­thor’s South Texas buck is one of his big­gest white­tails ever.

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