The 2001 deer season was rapidly slipping away and drawing to a close in many parts of the state. Although I had been fortunate to go on my share of duck hunts, dove hunts, and goose hunts, I had yet to bring any fresh deer meat home from a hunt.
While on a dove hunt in Hamilton Country earlier in the year with fellow writer and hunting buddy Mike Innis, our conversation led to our anticipation of the deer season.
Why dont you come down and hunt on my ranch late in the deer season? Ive got a lot of surplus does I need to take off the ranch before this season is over, Mike explained.
Innis had brought in a wildlife biologist to do a deer count on his ranch. The biologist discovered that the deer herd was over the carrying capacity of the range. The herd was top-heavy with the number of does-to-bucks for maintaining a balanced deer herd.
It didnt take me long to give him an answer. Mikes ranch is about a 20-minute drive out of Mason where he lives and is located in the edge of McCullough County. Theres something special about the appeal of the Texas Hill Country that always makes people want to return and soak up its rugged beauty.
In the 13 counties that make up the Hill Country, also called the Edwards Plateau region, the economy is very dependent on the hunting business. Hunters flock to the Edwards Plateau area every hunting season from all areas across the state and out of Texas. They spend money on motels, gas, food, and hunting supplies, not to mention the fees for deer leases and day hunts.
And they come for a good reason: The area that makes up the Hill country is the home of more whitetail deer than any other place on planet Earth. In fact, of the more than 4 million deer in the State of Texas, about a third of them reside in the Edwards Plateau. This is more deer than can be found in some entire states. State agencies that govern our wildlife have set liberal limits for deer in these counties to help keep the population under control.
Another appeal to hunters coming to the Hill Country is the number of exotic ranches that have been growing in popularity in recent years. Exotics are game animals that are not native to the United States and are imported from countries in Asia and Africa. Exotics can be stocked and raised on area ranches and can be hunted year round. Because they are not native to our state, these animals are not regulated by Texas game laws. This gives hunters an opportunity to hunt wild species of antelope, trophy rams, and non-native species of deer. A Texas hunter might be able to take a trophy black buck antelope without having to travel to its native India to do it. Many exotic game animals are in short supply in their native countries, but they are thriving and multiplying on exotic ranches in Texas.
After rearranging our schedule a couple of times, Mike and I finally agreed on a date for my trip to Mason. Mason is a quiet town of about 2,000 and is the county seat of Mason County. Its the type of place where people still leave their doors unlocked and motels leave the keys in the room if the managers arent there. Mason has a make yourself at home type of attitude.
We arrived about mid-afternoon at the Ft. Mason Inn. After a call to Mike, I agreed to meet him for an afternoon tour of the ranch. Just after we passed through the gates of the Three Dry Creeks Ranch, four deer that had been bedded down near the road got up, stared at us, and then scampered off through the brush.
We drove through the ranch with Mike pointing out stands, ponds, side roads, and points of interest. On the back section of the ranch, we surprised a flock of a dozen or so mallards that made a noisy flush off one of the large ponds. Touring the ranch only fueled my excitement for the two-day hunt.
Back in town that evening, we dined at the Willow Creek Cafe on the main square across from the courthouse. Traveling around the state for the last several years, I have spent a considerable amount of time and money searching for the best chicken fried steak. On a scale of 1 to 10, the steak at the Willow Creek scored about 11.
For the next two days, the weather and the elements did not cooperate. There was a bright moon lit sky and a high wind from a fresh norther. The deer were not comfortable moving during the day. On the last morning of the hunt, the first light of dawn was greeted with a cold, crisp, and calm morning.
Just after dawn, three big doe and one smaller yearling strolled into a clearing by my tower stand. The largest of the four met her fate with a squeeze of the .30.06. Mission accomplished!
I left Mason that evening feeling good about taking part in the management of our wildlife resources.
Bringing home and consuming the game from the hunt is a natural instinct and a natural extension of the hunt.