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Focusing on managing Texas wildlife habitat and natural resources for native and exotic wild game species, for this and future generation of hunters and outdoor enthusiasts.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Making The Most Out of Exotic Hunting In Texas

What happens if I hit an animal but don't get a kill shot?

One of the benefits of hunting from blinds is that you, as the hunter, have time to set up and make sure you have an accurate shot. This is much different than having to stalk or track the game and working around the bushes, deadfall and geographic issues that you have to on the ground. Most hunters hunting from blinds have a good success rate for getting a shot off, perhaps even a second shot, in the even that the first isn't fully successful. If you are hunting in a group other members of the group can also provide that second shot when necessary.
In the event that an animal is wounded or doesn't go down, the professional guide can then work to track the animal and bring it in. In most cases since the game is confined to the space within the ranch, tracking is much more successful than if the animal literally has the entire county to run. However, there are situations where an animal cannot be found, but this is again very rare. The professional guides have years of hunting and tracking experience plus they know every detail of the hunting area of the ranch. They make every effort to track down the animal, especially if there is even a slight trail. Guides want to find the animal and put it down as much as the hunter wants it to be found.

How do game ranches manage their herds?

Escondido Ranch, like other managed game ranches, has to keep a healthy breeding herd in order to continue to operate. The ranch manager or game managers job is therefore twofold, first and foremost to care for the health of the herd and secondly to determine the number of animals that can be harvested per year. Since with both exotics and native species it is important to have more females than males for breeding purposes, the doe or female herd is carefully maintained each year. Not only are existing breeding female numbers maintained but replacement juvenile females must also be kept in the appropriate numbers for future years. Bucks and bulls are typically culled after their first year, ensuring that the grazing area is not overused over the winter months. In addition culling of the smaller bucks and males and the older females helps to keep the herd in top physical condition. Genetic improvements to the herd are also made by infusing new males and females into the herd as necessary.

Are all animals on the ranch hunted from blinds?

Most exotics are hunted from blinds as are the whitetail deer. However, several animals and birds on the ranch are also hunted from the ground using traditional tracking and hunting methods. Elk are typically hunted this way, as are the Rio Grande Turkeys and even the feral hogs in many hunting situations. However, hunting from blinds is a good option and one that ensures that the hunter is in place when the game arrives, while still providing the challenge of getting off a shot and bagging that trophy animal.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Texas Exotics Hunting Offers A Number Of Unique Hunting Opportunities

What species can I hunt at Escondido Ranch?

Escondido Ranch offers both native and non-native species. A high fence surrounds the over two square miles of property to keep the animals in the ranch in place and the wild herds excluded from the ranch property. Not only does this prevent the exotics from getting out and disappearing into the surrounding property but it also restricts the number of animals on the ranch from wild deer and feral hog populations, ensuring that there is always sufficient food for the ranch's herd.

The native species found on the ranch include whitetail deer, and Rio Grande Turkey. While the hogs were originally an exotic, they now are found throughout Texas. Unlike the native species there is no season on feral hogs so they can be hunted year round. Elk, both bulls and cows, are also available and highly challenging to hunt. Exotics found on the ranch include Black Buck Antelope, Fallow, Axis and Sika Deer as well as Aoudad Sheep. Hunters can elect to hunt one or more different species based on herd numbers, season of the year with regards to herd management and seasonal regulations with the native species.

I want to take my child hunting with me, can I do that?

Hunters are welcome to bring children hunting with them provided the children have the proper Texas state hunting license and are kept with the parent at all times on the hunt. Many hunters enjoy teaching their sons and daughters the skills needed to be a good hunter, including the correct and safe use of guns, bows and hunting equipment. Family members, including children, can also stay at the ranch lodge or cabins and spend time fishing, hiking and exploring the area around Escondido Ranch.

The Ranch also hosts youth hunts and charity hunts to remove cull bucks and does to manage the whitetail numbers and promote the health of the entire herd and animals on the ranch. These hunts are held pending numbers and checking in with ranch staff is the best way to learn about these specific hunts.

I have never hunted exotics before, what is the one thing I need to know?

Hunting exotics on Escondido Ranch doesn't require any specific skills or advanced knowledge. Being an accurate shot with either a bow or a gun is critical, but the professional guides are there to help you before, during and after the hunt and answer any questions you may have. Generally most hunters find the hardest part about guided hunts is trying to determine if they should take the first animal they see or hold off and wait for something bigger to come along. Most guides recommend taking a good look at the herd before deciding if you want that one particular animal, especially if you are there for several days. Of course if it is a trophy buck you don't want to wait and hope to see him again, you will definitely want to take the shot when you have him in your sights.

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Monday, November 15, 2010


Arrow Addiction: A Friendly Brotherly Bow Hunt - Not!

Well, it started off with a phone call from my good friend Tony (aka Godfather) who asked me if I was interested in participating in a whitetail deer bow season opener challenge. Tony told me that he was organizing an archery contest at the Escondido Ranch. The contest consisted of hunting whitetail does and hogs along with a 3-D target shooting competition. My curiosity was peaked when Tony uttered the words “challenge and hunting whitetail deer” in the same sentence. Tony also asked me if my brother Mike (aka BeerHug) would be interested in joining us at the ranch. It was an intriguing proposal to have a friendly competition between two brothers and that’s when the invitation really appealed to me. Since my brother is shooting a Hoyt bow and I own a Mathews (A REAL BOW), it would also be a competition between the two most recognized archery names on the market. Also, since Brent (aka Sparky), Gary (aka The Russian) and Brad (aka Bullseye) were also in the mix, both my brother and I jumped at the chance.

Driving to Escondido Ranch, a couple weeks later, we could not have asked for a better day. Great weather and little traffic made the four hour drive from Houston go by quickly. I enjoy driving to Escondido Ranch as much as I enjoy being there. Driving through the rugged hill country of South Central Texas and seeing so many Deer X-ing signs is very motivating for a hunter. Traveling on I-10, we never pass an opportunity to stop at The Beaver (commonly known as the Buc-ee's truck stop). There, you can find just about anything to satisfy your taste buds. Buc-ee's is my preferred stop for jerky and beaver nuggets. A little further, we made another stop in the town of Kerrville and purchased some freshly baked bread from a great, local bakery.

We arrived at the ranch in the early afternoon and unpacked at the Guest House; we lovingly refer to as the Barn, because of all the “animals” that frequent there. This weekend would be no exception. The guest house consists of four very tastefully decorated bedrooms, a TV room, an office, a stand-alone kitchen and facilities in every room. In addition there is a large covered area which can be accessed by a car, or a bus for that matter.

While Bullseye, Godfather and SteadyLady were already present, it did not take long for the remaining competitors to arrive. Sparky and The Russian pulled in a luxury sedan! A far cry from a hunting vehicle one would expect to see at the ranch. But when they exited the vehicle with their faces painted camo, we knew the game was ON!

During the first evening hunt, I set in a tree blind and watched everything from, axis deer to elk to fallow deer and sika, but no feral hogs. Then I got a text from my brother. Hogs were at his feeder. I wished the best to my brother, but he was using a Hoyt bow and the odds were stacked against him. A few moments later another message from bro read “pig stuck”. At that point, I was worried I may have to eat my words. So, after a few more minutes of watching exotic animals, I decided to go help my brother look for his feral hog. But when I arrived at BeerHug’s stand and watched the video, I could quickly tell that the arrow sailed right over the hog. Although, the same thing happened to me not too long ago, I did not waste an opportunity to point out that this is what happens when you use a Hoyt. We recovered his arrow and went back to the barn.

The following morning, I decided to hunt the Windmill blind which always has lots of animal movement. As the daylight broke, I saw great looking whitetail bucks moving around. Later a trophy size black buck antelope with its harem of blackbuck does came by. However, I was not lucky enough to have any whitetail does come in close enough for a shot, so I decided to call it in around 9:00am.

On Saturday morning we gathered for a start of the 3-D archery competition. I knew I could not let my brother beat me since I would never hear the end of it. We started off shooting at 20 yards, 30 yards and then moved to 40 and 50 yards. It was a tight competition through the end and it was going down to the 50 yard shoot-out to tell who was going to be the winner. As I came up to shoot, the cross wind started to howl! In-spite of my adjustments, the arrows were just a little off the bulls-eye. But my brother was more fortunate. When BeerHug’s turn finally arrived, the wind slacked off, and amazingly, he was able to hit the target with remarkable accuracy. It was a sour-sweet competition for me. As the results were tabulated, my brother placed at the top. I asked the judge for a recount, but the results stood. I am proud of my bro, but it was apparent to everyone that the wind played a significant role in my brother’s win. How else could a Hoyt beat a Mathews?!

Sunday morning rolled around and I made my way to my favorite hunting spot called Valentes. As soon as I got into a tree blind, I was spotted by a sika deer which proceeded to bark at me and would not shut up. I could not shoot it, but the thought did occur to me. I even thought about throwing my water bottle at it. Finally, the sika deer left and a whitetail doe came up from my left and proceeded towards the feeder about 35 yards away. As whitetail doe began to munch on the corn, so I began to pull back on the bow string. Once at full-draw, I stood up and let the arrow fly directly into the back quarter of the whitetail doe. Apparently, the deer heard the string snap and jolted forward. Thankfully, the rage broadhead did its job! The whitetail doe dropped to the ground about 40 yards from where I let the arrow fly. It was my first animal killed with my Mathews bow and I was very pleased. I recovered the whitetail doe and made my way back. Upon my arrival to the Barn, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that due to a deduction for a lost arrow, I tied with Sparky for the second place.

The entire Arrow Addiction contest was awesome and I have not had that much fun in a long time. I want to thank Kurt, Betty, Tony, Heather, and all who helped out with that weekend of fun.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010


Lexus, Laughs, Back Strap and Porcupines…

Whitetail Deer Bow Hunting Season Opener, October 2010

On most hunting trips the main transportation in Texas is a 4 wheel drive truck or SUV. On this particular trip to Escondido Ranch, Gary (aka The Russian) asked if I could drive and I suggested we take my car, a luxury sedan, instead of the Suburban. I told Gary we would get there much faster and would spend a third of what is usually spent on gas and we could drive there and back on the same tank of gas and once at the ranch there would be plenty of hunting vehicles to use. Gary’s first response to the suggestion was a pause, and then he suggested it would be better if he drove in his SUV! Well I convinced him to take the car and after the trip he decided it would be the new official vehicle for all future trips to Escondido Ranch. The best part about it was pulling up to the barn in a luxury sedan and everyone hanging out waiting for us to arrive and when we stepped out we were in full camo face paint ready for the evening hunt.

Feral hogs and porcupines were on the menu, as deer season was opening the next morning.

Upon arrival we unloaded our gear and sighted in our bows for the evening hunt. We all gathered around and drew numbers out of a hat to see what the order would be on blind selection. The blind I chose for the evening hunt was Central Canyon blind a great place for feral hogs and the elusive porcupine. I had all species of game, Aoudad, Axis, Sika, Elk but no Feral hogs. As the sun slowly disappeared and darkness began to set in I caught a glimpse of an animal that was very slow moving, a giant porcupine! As I picked up my bow to get a shot, I realized it was just too dark to get a shot. Plan B was in the works, I climbed down the tree and when I hit the ground I was spotted by the porcupine and he began to run!!! This one was like Carl Lewis, the fasted in the world. I chased him up the hill and he stopped, I drew back and flung the first of MANY arrows for the weekend. I felt like it was a direct hit but wasn’t sure. He climbed the tree like a monkey and was gone into the night. One lost arrow and a hilarious story, I headed back to camp empty handed. We had a few good laughs over a delicious dinner which consisted of Axis back strap, salad, green beans and excellent toasted bread! We were all really excited about the opening of whitetail deer season the next morning.

Saturday morning is here, my alarm went off at 5 o’clock sharp and we were ready to hunt. I chose to hunt at Valentes blind, down on the river flat near the front gate of the ranch. We were able to bring 3 arrows to the stand for each of our hunts; we may need to re-think that approach in the future! As the darkness began to fade the feeder went off and three whitetail doe’s appeared like ghosts. I drew back and release the first arrow; it sailed over the back of the whitetail doe. She ran 50 yards and reproached the feeder. I set my next arrow and as she came within range, released arrow number 2. It hit the ground just under the whitetail doe, not sure what to think at this point. I was pretty disappointed to say the least but the whitetail doe must have thought she was invincible or had an invisible force field. She came right back to the feeder and wanted to test me again. I released the 3rd arrow and another clean missed over her back. I this point all three arrows I brought to the stand were all in the field. Well it was 7 am and I was out of arrows. I could either sit there with no ammo or I could retrieve my arrows and chance seeing anything the rest of the hunt. I decided to leave my bow in the stand and retrieve the arrows. The whitetail doe I have shot at three times is sitting just beyond the feeder while I was retrieving the arrows. As I picked up the second and last arrow I could find the whitetail doe started to charge at me, wasn’t sure what to do at this point as I have never been in this situation, I ran back to the stand. As I climbed in the stand the whitetail doe was at 30 yards, I loaded another arrow and proceeded to shoot both of the arrows at the whitetail doe. Each shot missed by a long shot as the broad heads must have been bent up from hitting the rocky terrain on the previous shots. This whitetail doe was either really smart or just really lucky. After the fifth shot she finally fled into the brush! Not sure that record or experience will ever be matched. Well, down from the stand again to find a few arrows to possibly have a chance at another invincible deer. I did not get chased back to the stand this time but on my way up the ladder, I spotted another whitetail doe. She probably felt pretty safe eating under this particular feeder. I cleaned up my arrows, bent the broad heads back into what working shape and patiently waited for another shot. I knew I could not go back to camp without a whitetail doe, feral hog or porcupine at this point. The trash talking would be to extreme, and I might not be able to overcome it.

The whitetail doe came in from the right side and was unaware I was in the tree. I released the arrow and perfect hit. The whitetail doe turned and jumped and the arrow was logged in the side. She ran into the field and stood there like a statute. I could not believe my eyes, after about 20 minutes she was still standing. I decided as an ethical hunter I would go after the animal. I climbed down from the stand and began my stalk. I eased within 20 yards of the whitetail doe and released the final arrow in my quiver. She ran 20 yards and was down for the count. Seven arrows later…

We met back at the cleaning station to discuss the morning with all the other hunters. They could not believe I was able to attempt to shoot seven times. I was the only one with an animal! Brad and I decided we should go back to Central Canyon to track the “Speedy” porcupine. As I eased into the brush to look for blood on the tree, we spotted what was left of the arrow and not far from there Brad located the retired “Speedy” porcupine. Now I was technically 2 for 2 in my mind. Good laughs back at camp with that one!

Our afternoon was filled with good times at the archery competition down by the river. We shot from elevated stations at 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards. I managed to hit the whitetail buck target at 50 yards in the neck all four times, not in the kill zone but in the neck with the practice arrow and three competition arrows! As you could imagine the jokes back in fourth we pretty amazing.

The afternoon hunt had arrived and I selected to hunt at Burnout blind on the back part of the ranch. Only the brave make the trek to this park of the ranch. This is where the big and wild animals roam. Animals were everywhere; I saw a trophy Fallow about 200 yards away and told myself if the fallow were to come within bow range I would be a paying customer for this trip. I had a few whitetail bucks at the feeder along with a young Sika buck. I saw several whitetail doe’s, just none in bow range. As the sun began to set, a whitetail doe appeared under the feeder at about 25 yards. I released an arrow and shot just over the “back strap” (from the spirit of the wild, Ted Nugent) of the whitetail doe. She fled the scene and the evening hunt was over. We all headed back to the main house for a delicious meal of fresh Red Snapper, salad, potatoes and a few good cocktails.

The final morning I again picked the Burnout blind based on the previous evening hunt. I quickly noticed upon arrive the wind was not in my favor. It is amazing to see the senses of wild animals as they would appear along the brush lines and never work into the feeder, only to disappear into the woods. The hunt was over around 9 a.m. and the final weekend tally was set to begin at the barn. I ended the weekend with 1 porcupine nickname “Speedy”, Betty is mounting for the main house, 1 whitetail doe. I finished tied for second place. Not a bad start to my bow hunting career! I think the memories of this trip are untouchable and look forward to the Annual Escondido Ranch Arrow Addiction weekend.

Thanks to the Wiseman Family for another great adventure and Tony “Godfather” Lyon for lots of laughs and hard work!

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Arrow Addiction: Who Let the Does Out!?

Texas Bow Hunting Season Opener Part II

The following morning was the whitetail bow opener and the whitetail does were now on the menu. Even though, I saw multiple animals that particular morning, none were within shooting distance. However, a point worthy of mentioning is that Sparky out did himself, again! Although, I’ll leave the story telling to the Man, on the opening morning of the whitetail bow season, with only three arrows in his quiver, Sparky shot at a whitetail at least 7 times. Finally shooting the same doe three times, twice with the same arrow! Yes folks, it is a true story, and NO, the animals at Escodido are not tied down to a tree. Sparky is just that good!

After a friendly, mid-day 3D target shot, won by BeerHug and second paced by Godfather, we planned out who is going to hunt where for that evening. I was fortunate enough to get to hunt my first pick. Named after The BOSS herself, Betty, this area is often frequented by fallow, aoudad, hogs and more importantly, whitetail does.

So for my evening hunt, I dawned on my ghillie suite, which doubled as a Cousin It Halloween outfit, sprayed down with a scent eliminator, and accompanied by Sparky and BeerHug, sped-off to my drop-off point.

A couple of blurring miles later, Sparky brought the truck to a screeching halt on the far side of the feeder. While I was getting situated in the 12 foot tripod stand, he was kind enough to lay down a strip of corn on the near side, about 30 yards away from my position. Then, he and BeerHug hopped back into the truck and drove off leaving behind a cloud of dust. Yep, it’s been a dry fall so far at Escondido Ranch.

Nonetheless, it was a pleasant fall afternoon with the temperature in the mid-70s. The wind was light, but variable and for the time being it was blowing parallel to the feeder and my stand. The tripod was comfortably nestled between three cedar trees and I had about 120 degrees of viewing area. It was still a couple of hours before sunset and I did not anticipate any activity until right before dark. So, I took the time to range some identifiable objects around the feeder. Then I placed an arrow into the bow and waited.

Except for birds’ chirping and an occasional hog grunt from somewhere in the canyon below, it was all quiet. Sitting motionlessly atop of a tripod for nearly two hours is a test of anyone’s patience. The ground blind sitting across from me 100 yards away started to look like a 5 star hotel. Time passed at turtle’s pace, and the turtle was dying.

I was doing mental arithmetic to try to stay alert, when, finally, I was lurched back to reality by noise coming from behind a tree in front and to my left. I knew something was cautiously moving closer and based on the sounds I guessed it was more than one animal. Through the sparse foliage I caught a glimpse of a brown hide, then a distinct white tail, and finally an antlerless head of a whitetail doe. My heart’s pounding resonated in my ears so loudly that I thought the deer would hear it as well.

Before the deer stepped out into the open, I realized that my precarious, mostly exposed position only 12 feet off the ground would make it difficult for me to hide any movements once the deer cleared the tree. Anticipating that the deer would move right towards the generously laid out strip of corn 30 yards away and just as the lead doe appeared on the edge of the tree line, I decided to take a chance and went to a full-draw.

The doe peaked from behind the brush and with another doe in toe and three more coming from the other side of the road, made its way not to the near side of the feeder and to the corn, but to the opposite side of the feeder and stopped right near where the truck dropped me off. The does on the other side of the road also slowed down as the lead doe showed signs of uneasiness.

Meanwhile, I was straining to hold the bow at a full draw. Knowing that drawing-down would most certainly scare off the deer, I had no choice, but to take aim. More than that, the whitetail doe was standing at a spot which I did not range. Perhaps, in my spare time, I should have worked on geometry instead of arithmetic. So, I guesstimated the distance at 35 yards, placed the space between the second and third pin behind the shoulder and released the arrow…

This is the part where I would be telling you about how thrilled I was to harvest my first animal with a bow… NOT!

The arrow slid right underneath the doe, hit a rock, made a loud clanking sound, split into three pieces and skidded to the other side of the dirt road some 40 yards away.

The does scattered in a blink of an eye and retreated to higher ground, far beyond the reach of my bow.

I missed!!! Wow! I was flabbergasted. All those hours of practice! All the preparation! All the crap I will have to take from the guys!!!

I set in the tripod to let the adrenaline and the emotions settle. I was replaying the scene in my mind, image by image.

What could I have done differently to ensure a desired outcome? Should I have waited to draw until the whitetails settled down over the corn? But then, with several pairs of eyes staring in my direction, I would have run the risk of being spotted. Should I have ranged the distance before I came to a full-draw? Yes, but would have the nervous doe bolted as soon as she saw any movement. Did I make a poor shot? Maybe, but I was very comfortable shooting within 40 yards, at least at targets. Did I simply estimate the distance incorrectly..?

I set there for 15-20 more minutes second guessing my decisions. I was hoping that a hog or a doe would appear to save the day, but it was getting too dark and I simply could not sit still any longer. I climbed from the tripod and walked to where the doe was standing. There was no blood or hair, just a broken knock. From the spot, I ranged the tripod. The distance flashed at 41.5 yards, six and a half yards further than my estimate. Was that mistake in distance enough to explain the miss? Perhaps…

In retrospective, I simply made a rookie mistake. If I had to do it all over again, I would have just waited. I would have waited for the whitetail deer to come into the feeder area. I would have waited for them to start feeding. I would have waited for the distraction caused by feeding noise and competition for food to cover some of my movements. Sure, I would have run a chance of the animals fleeing before I had a chance to do anything. However, I would have had the opportunity to pick the time of the shot instead of being pressured into one by a premature draw.

It was dark by the time BeerHug and Sparky picked me up. Neither one of them harvested an animal, but Sparky had another opportunity at a doe, but choose to be merciful and vaulted the arrow over its back.

The story of the day was Bullseye. He was not only successful at harvesting two whitetail does in one outing, but also managed to tape one of the shots. That gave Bullseye an overall lead which held out to make him the winner of the Escondido Ranch Arrow Addiction First Annual Bow Hunting Weekend.

The irony was that Sparky took second place with one doe and one porcupine (recovered the following morning). The moral of that story is that if you shoot enough arrows, sooner or later you are bound to hit something. So for next year I propose that any bow hunter is allowed only three shots at an outing. That should even out the field for the rest of us.

I did not get an animal that weekend. But, this was only the start of the 2010 whitetail season and there is still plenty of time to realize my goal of taking my first animal with a bow.

We had a very fun time with a good group of guys and great hosts! Thank you to everyone who made this possible and we’ll look forward to doing it again!

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Arrow Addiction: The Truth Be Told...

Texas Bow Hunting Season Opener 2010 Part I

The truth be told, I was as reluctant to purchase a bow as I am to go to a dental office. After all, I am perfectly happy shooting animals with a rifle. But it was made abundantly clear to me that if I wanted to participate in the Arrow Addiction tournament at Escondido Ranch the opening weekend of 2010 bow, whitetail deer season, I had no choice. So after a bit of pouting by me and lots of cow prodding by Tony (a.k.a. Godfather), I finally settled on an earlier model of Matthews bow. But before I could even start target practicing, I had to get fitted, sighted and accessorized. It was like planning a wedding, only in camo.

Well the day finally arrived! No, not the bow opener, the day I could finally start practicing shooting the bow. So, after a series of verbal instructions from Godfather, sight pin adjustments and a couple of rounds of “find the missing arrow”, I was finally getting the hang of it and, to my surprise, I liked it! Thankfully, the opening weekend of the bow hunting season was still a few weeks away, so I had plenty of time to practice…and practice I did.

Friday, October 1st, 2010 finally rolled around and all of us gathered at Escondido Ranch to initiate the first, annual Arrow Addiction tournament. In addition to Godfather, the following were also present at the scene:

• Brothers Mike and Steven (a.k.a. BeerHug and BeerMug)

• Brent (a.k.a. TriggerHappy or Sparky)

• Brad (a.k.a. BullsEye)

• Gary (a.k.a. GhillieMonster or The Russian)

• Our host Kurt (a.k.a. SteadyDaddy)

• Our camerawoman Heather (a.k.a. SteadyLady)

• Last, but by no means least, our gracious hostess Betty (a.k.a. The BOSS)

All of us come from varied backgrounds, but all of us have one passion in common…hunting. So, needless to say, with testosterone in abundance, there were plenty of bolstering and favorable predictions on who is going to win the tournament. The rules of the tournament, as determined by Godfather, the tournament’s organizer, were fairly simple…X number of points for a whitetail doe, Y number of points for a hog, bonus points if the hunt was captured on film, etc. I am pretty sure that during the rules’ presentation, everyone probably just heard “doe”, “hog”, “shoot”, “win” and the rest was just a blur.

Since the first evening hunt was the day prior to the opener, our objective was to scout and if an opportunity presented itself shoot only hogs. So after a few, quick test shots at the targets, we all scattered to our designated blinds.

My blind that evening is actually called Tree Blind. A few hundred yards walk from the Guest House, this particular blind is located in a triangular shaped area bordered by woods on two sides and a dirt road on the third. This area, located near the river, is favored by black buck antelope, Elk cows, axis does and is frequented by hogs.

Crunching my way along a path covered with dried-out fall leafage, I jumped several axis does and a lonely whitetail doe all of which were grazing near the far tree line. Good thing the bow season was 12 hours away and I was not yet that upset at the whitetails.

So after playing Spiderman on my way up the tree, I finally settled into a single man blind resembling the remnants of a movie set from Kevin Costner’s Waterworld. Perched on top of a y-shaped, nearly horizontal oak branch 12 feet or so off the ground and covered up by brush and leafage, I was just as well hidden from the animals as they were from me. So, I did a quick trim to open up my shooting lanes.

I did not take long for a young whitetail doe to emerge from the brush and cautiously move towards the feeder. With the wind favorable to my location, I could only watch helplessly as the doe made its way to within 30 yards of my perch. But before it could settle over a strip of scattered corn, it was run off by a turkey raiding party. With a total of eight birds encroaching from two sides, the young whitetail doe backed off and the victorious hens moved in. After satisfying their hunger, the turkeys vacated the area and I set in dead calm with only the sounds of falling acorns and distant calls from dominant axis bucks breaking the silence. The next sounds I heard were those of rustling leaves coming from behind me. I could hear several animals approaching from behind, but I had no way of seeing them. Finally, one whitetail doe appeared on my right flank, but as I swung around to get a better look, I shook the tree and a few acorns fell thunderously to the ground. The warning yelps and foot stomping from behind me sent the deer running back into the brush. Busted!!! Sigh…live and learn, this is not rifle hunting from a distant tower blind.

The remainder of the evening proceeded quietly as the sun disappeared behind the nearby hills and dusk settled-in. I was ready to call it in, when all of a suddenly, several black shapes appeared from nowhere and right below me…HOGS! I exclaimed silently. But, I had no shot through the surrounding brush and by now I could barely see my sight pins. I sat there in absolute silence waiting for the hogs to swing around to the right and pass in front of me. Instead, what looked like a large boar, a sow and a troop of piglets turned to the left and trotted into the prevailing darkness.

I got out of the blind and shuffled my feet back to the Guest House where the troops were gathering after an evening’s hunt. Although nearly everyone reported seeing multiple animals including whitetails, only one other had an opportunity at a hog. But it was Sparky who chased a porcupine up a tree and scored -200 points for losing an arrow and not retrieving the animal!

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Thursday, November 4, 2010


To Bow or not to Bow – Hunting for a Texas Axis Buck!

When I was young boy I spent most of my fall and winter weekends in the corn fields of Iowa. Accompanied by my Brittany spaniel, I can recall walking for miles hoping to kick up a covey of quail or pheasant and get even a single bird. It was during these years I learned a respect for nature and felt the first inclining for the relentless pursuit of wild game. You may assume that growing up in the Midwest also meant hunting for big whitetails. Alas, I never took an interest in deer hunting until some 20 years later.

Now a proud Texan, you can say that my family life essentially revolves around chasing big exotic trophy and whitetail bucks nearly every weekend at Escondido Ranch. My wife's family has been guiding exotic trophy hunts there for over 20 years. Needless to say, I love this lifestyle and look forward to everyday at the ranch. I can honestly say that we do what we love and we love what we do!

When I heard that we had a father and his 13 year old son coming from Houston to hunt Axis bucks at Escondido, I knew it was going to be an exciting weekend. Many 13 year olds don’t have an opportunity to shoot or even see a trophy class Axis buck.

So, when I did meet our young hunter, I jokingly told him that I was going to live vicariously through him, since most of my time at the ranch is spent guiding hunters rather than hunting myself. However, I do truly find guiding to be as enjoyable and rewarding as hunting. I simply love the challenge of using my skills and knowledge to put a hunter on a big exotic buck…and I was going to do everything in my power to put my young hunter on an Axis deer of a lifetime. I was looking forward to this hunt especially since I personally love to hunt Axis bucks.

Throughout the weekend, we had some close encounters with some really nice Axis bucks, but nothing would top Saturday Night's Buck Fever!

You could not have asked for a more beautiful evening in South Central Texas. Cloudless sky, cool breeze; you just knew there was going to be lots of activity tonight. As we drove along the river we watched several Axis does pause for a drink and quickly jolt for cover as we rummbled towards them in a jeep. When we crested the hill on the main road we spotted a number of animals running through the open fields, scattering from the noise of the approaching vehicle.

That evening the young man had convinced us to let him trade in his rifle for a bow. Although, he acknowledged that due to its limited range, bow hunting would lower his chances to harvest a trophy, he was willing to take his chances. I am an avid bow hunter myself, so I was really stoked at the opportunity to take a big axis buck with a bow.

That evening, we made our way to an area known as Burnout. Perched atop a two-man bow blind, 20 feet above some heavy brush, we were charged with anticipation when…, out of nowhere, a huge 35 inch main beam Axis buck just appeared right below us. This was the kind of animal that simply takes your breath away. I’ve seen some big deer, but this was a monster Axis. It had width, length and mass. An Axis trophy deer of a lifetime for any level hunter!

You can say we were caught a bit off guard and it took me a couple of seconds to find the record button on my camera. But when you get an opportunity at an animal of this magnitude at this range and with a bow in-hand, you absolutely want to capture it on video.

This buck was literally 18 yards away from us. But, we had a very, very narrow shooting window through the surrounding foliage. It was going to be a tough shot. The young man stood firmly and pulled back on the string bringing the bow to a full draw. As he was taking aim, we heard alarm calls from some nearby whitetails. The axis buck sprung to alertness and moved towards the edge of the brush and away from our shooting lane. The young hunter let down his bow with a sigh… It took several moments for the adrenaline rush to settle down and for us to be able to regroup. I tried to reassure the young hunter that we will have another pass at the axis, but even I was not sure. Alas, I was proven to be right as the axis buck reappeared soon after but further away from our position and with no clear line of sight. When we saw the axis buck for the third and final time, shooting him with a bow was an option.

At this stage second guessing yourself on whether we should have brought a rifle instead of a bow, is fruitless. Sometimes it works out like that. That’s why it called hunting and not shooting. We did get some good video footage that night, but no bragging rights. Throughout the weekend, we saw multiple native and exotic animals along with a number of trophy class deer, but as importantly, we had as much fun as two hunters could have without harvesting an animal.

Epilogue: I am sorry to say that the young man is now an addict. An axis addict that is! It is a good kind of an addiction which can be temporarily cured with a harvest of a large axis buck. But then…you need another fix. The young hunter has already convinced his father to return for another hunting escape at Escondido Ranch later this year. And we will look forward to seeing them then!

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Feel the Exhilaration with Texas Bull Elk Hunt!


The night before ended on a VERY uplifting note. The Texas Rangers celebrated their first World Series appearance in franchise history! I had the opportunity to celebrate this victorious moment in a company of ten other Ranger fans. The fans were actually a group of attorneys from Dallas, Texas who joined us for a weekend of hunting exotics and whitetails at Escondido Ranch.

I woke up the following morning still high from the previous night's victory. At the morning's round-up, the hunter I was guiding expressed an interest in a trophy Axis buck. With that said I had a spot in mind and we headed to our location.

We got into our blind about 6:30 am and waited for the sun to crest over the hillside. But, when 8:00 am rolled around, we had managed to see only a few whitetail does. We were growing anxious. Glassing over the area, I noticed some activity at a distant tree line. I turned to the hunter and drew his attention towards a tree on the horizon. With his binoculars zeroed in on the spot, he could clearly make out a giant bull elk roughing up a large cedar tree. Even though our original objective was to find a big trophy Axis buck, 5-6 feet of antlers on a 700 pound bull elk can quickly change a trophy hunter's mind. In a classical scenario of "keeping your options open," we were now hunting the bull elk!

The decision was made then to vacate the blind and try to intercept the bull elk before he moved down into a nearby canyon. The big elk had about a 250 yard head start on us and we had to move fast. Moving quietly, but with certain deliberation we covered the distance as quickly as possible without alerting the animal to our presence. Hiding behind vegetation and hugging the tree line we approached an open area sloping towards the canyon. As we paused near some cover, we started glassing for the elk. After a couple of passes, we spotted the top of antlers hovering above the swaying tall grass. In order to get a better vantage point, we moved briskly towards a clump of live oak trees. I asked the hunter to get as much concealment as possible. Meanwhile, throughout our chase, I had the dubious job of keeping the camera rolling while keeping the bull elk in frame, and now, I was trying to make-out like a bush.

The mature bull knew something was not kosher. But the strong, favorable wind and the shielding from trees kept him from pin-pointing our location. At first it seemed that the bull elk may actually turn and walk away from us. Given the area we were hunting, that would have made it extremely difficult for us to cut him and then try to get a shot. Fortunately, the elk probably grew weary of trying to identify the "funny vegetation" and decided to change his viewing angle. His decision would ultimately prove to be fatal. The giant animal, swaying his head from side-to-side, gradually closed the distance separating us.

In a matter of minutes, the bull elk was within mere 70 yards from our location. As the bull elk moved closer, the hunter was forced to adjust his shooting angle until the bull finally gave him a clear broadside shot. When the big bull elk finally paused, a slim tapered 30-06 rifle bullet made its way through the heart and lungs of this 700 pound monster.

What followed was an intense blur of gun smoke and emotional release. With the camera rolling the hunter and I were impatiently awaiting our triumph. In a few seconds it was all over. The giant elk dropped to its side and the ground shook beneath its massive body. "Exhilaration" was the best word I would use to describe the hunter's emotional state. Indeed it was! I have enjoyed many hunts on Escondido Ranch, but this one will be hard to beat. Come experience a hunt like this for yourself and feed the wild side in you.

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