The Brush Country of South Texas is synonymous with whitetail deer.
There’s a good reason for that. This vast, rolling landscape of mesquite trees, prickly pear cacti and agricultural fields is home to some of the biggest-racked bucks on the planet. Management bucks (management bucks!) in these parts sport headgear in the 130-140-inch range, 160-inch deer are commonplace and 200-inch monsters are, if not plentiful, certainly well within the realm of possibility for hunters willing to devote sufficient time and money.
Hanging one of those giant Texas trophies on the wall is certainly something I’d like to do someday. But there’s probably no better way to get acquainted with the Brush Country than a spring turkey hunt.
For starters, a hunt for Texas’ plentiful Rio Grande gobblers won’t break the bank. Brush Country trophy buck hunts start around $2,000 and top $10,000 for Boone and Crockett quality animals. But a quality turkey hunt — which includes two gobblers and very often side fare such as feral hogs and javelinas — can be had for a relatively paltry $1,500 or so.
Second — and I can’t emphasize this enough — a Brush Country turkey hunt is truly a fun-filled, laid-back affair that allows you to move at your own pace and soak in all the sights, sounds, smells and flavors South Texas has to offer. During my April 2009 hunt with outfitter Klint Graf of Brush Country Whitetails, I tagged my first Rio Grande gobbler, experienced some exciting but unsuccessful hog action, photographed a plethora of deer (including a true albino) and other wildlife, listened to the moonlight serenade of howling coyotes and enjoyed plenty of first-rate Tex-Mex fare and Southern hospitality.
Contrast that with a typical whitetail hunt that includes long, anxious blind sits, mandatory oversight from a guide who decides what you can shoot and the intense pressure that comes from facing the shot of a lifetime, and I think you’ll understand why turkey hunting is the ideal way to get your first taste of the expansive, game-rich Brush Country.
Brush Country Whitetails manages nine ranches covering roughly 20,000 acres in the Derby area, about 75 miles south of San Antonio. Graf has been in the outfitting business since 1997 and, in addition to deer and turkeys, offers hunts for hogs, doves and exotics such as red stags and fallow deer.
“Like any kind of business, I think you grow into it over time and find out what works,” Graf said. “I try to hunt good ranches and take care of clients. A lot of them come back year after year.”
Although most of the ground Graf manages is classic South Texas brush, some of the best turkey hunting can be found along the Frio River, where live oaks and other vegetation more similar to what I’m used to back home in Pennsylvania can be found. As is common in Texas, most of my three-day hunt was spent sitting in ground blinds near feeders. This is especially helpful when attempting to get within bow range of birds that often seem invisible in the thick brush, even when you can hear them moving only a couple dozen yards away.
This was my first experience hunting turkeys over bait, and my visions of shooting longbeards like fish in a barrel proved far from reality. It seems animals everywhere are skittish around feeders, and it doesn’t take more than a panicked squirrel or green jay to send a flock of hens, herd of deer or sounder of hogs sprinting into the brush.
I quickly learned patience is the name of the game, and I passed the time in the sunbaked blinds by sweating profusely and reading Saxton Pope’s classic Hunting With the Bow and Arrow. Every 30 minutes or so, I made a few soft yelps with my box call and resumed my vigil. It took a full day of sitting and watching a parade of hens and deer before the first wary tom — a beautiful boss bird with 10-inch beard — dared enter the clearing around my blind. By that time, I was so amped up from anticipation and the iridescent glow of the gobbler’s feathers that I blew a golden, 25-yard opportunity by bouncing an arrow off the dusty earth at his feet and lodging it in a nearby fence. I’m still kicking myself!
That evening, after moving to a different blind location, I finally had a group of gobblers come in to feed and skewered my first Rio with a perfect, 15-yard shot in the wing butt. Man, that felt great, and I set up my camera and tripod for trophy photos as dusk fell and coyotes howled their delight at the approaching darkness.
I had my chance for the double on the final day. After another long, hot afternoon in the blind, a group of five or six longbeards cautiously made its way into the clearing just as shooting light faded. Unfortunately, my hit was a bit low, and — as turkeys are infamously known to do — the bird ran into the brush and disappeared. After a fruitless search that evening and again the following morning, I had no choice but to consider my second tag filled and the
Still, it was an awesome first visit to the legendary Brush Country. And as I packed my bags to leave, I vowed it would only be a matter of time before I came back.
To book your own Rio Grande turkey hunt with Brush Country Whitetails, or for more information, call Klint Graf at 210-213-5306 or visit www.brushcountrywhitetails.com