Family traditions are important, and one I try to keep going is an annual deer hunt with my Dad. This year we hunted with an outfit in Llano, Texas called Winkel Ranch.

I have to say the lady in charge of the Winkel Ranch operation has a well-oiled machine moving hunters through her office. Unfortunately, that was the best part of the experience.

I can’t make any claims to being Billy Dixon or Jim Bridger. I do know about scent control, noise discipline, and how to be still for hours. All of these things have allowed me success on hunts in other places like Moseley hunting Camp just down the road in Castell, TX.

Check-in at the Winkel Ranch Office was at 11:00AM on Friday (12/1/17). Dad and I were the only 2-man team around that day, so we got the smallest section of the 4,000+ acres Winkel leases. That becomes important later in the story.

The rules were laid out as:

1 Buck each – Spike or 8+ Points only (Wow! That narrows down the opportunities.)

1 Doe for the two of us. (Meh, no big deal. I hunt meat, and don’t care about trophies.)

2 Feral hogs each (Now we’re talkin’! But most places don’t limit your hog take. Hmmmm.)

1 Turkey each (OK. I can live with that.)

All of the coyotes we could eat – Llano County was offering a $70 bounty on coyotes, so we had a chance to earn back some of our expenses, or we thought we did.

Now the catch: No night hunting, and no lights.

For those who don’t know, feral hogs and coyotes are mostly nocturnal…Bummer.

Well, you pays your money and takes your beatings.

The Place

The section we were assigned to was rough and I do mean rough.

The “road” has probably not been graded in 5 years making 4-wheel drive mandatory.

The only water was an algae covered pond. No moving water on the section.

Only 1 feeder on 200 acres, but it was throwing corn.

The stands/blinds were a real puzzle. Normal practice is to set them up to cover an attractant (food, salt lick, water) or one of the game trails between one of the attractant locations. Of the 4 stations on the section NONE of them were anywhere close to one of the aforementioned attractants or trails. None, zero, zip, nada. When we checked out after our weekend, we were told the stands had been in the same spots for “a long time”.

Obviously, this plot is just a way to bleed off a hunter’s hard-earned cash.

The Hunt

Hunting from the blinds on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning allowed us to listen to turkey hens clucking in the brush. Nothing else was moving, so we abandoned the blinds and sat on the water hole.

Saturday afternoon was not looking promising either until a lone coyote came along. Once Mr. Coyote was safely in the bag, we tried a distressed rabbit call to see if any other coyotes wanted to stop by, but we had no takers.

Sunday morning we still hunted most of that property and found some scat that was at least a week old (dark black pellets), some chewed prickly pear fruit (dried out), and nothing bigger than a cotton tail rabbit, so back to the water hole. We finished out the hunt with just the 1 coyote.

The most telling thing over the course of the entire weekend was the lack of gunfire from adjacent parcels. When we were chcking in, we were told a party of 10 hunters was going to be on the adjacent section of Winkel land, but it was pretty obvious they did not see any deer either.

As we were checking out on Sunday, one of the Winkel hands came around to do the bounty paperwork on the coyote, and he told us that nobody had taken anything out of our section or the adjacent section in two weeks.

Thoughts on Conservation

I’m not beating up the Winkel Ranch people because I had a bad hunt. I’m holding them up as an example of what I consider poor business management. Back in July, I had a similar experience hunting hogs near Bridgeport, TX. Two nights in the blind and not one hog as far as the night vision could see.

Llano TX makes a ton of its money from Whitetail deer hunting every year, and I have to wonder if they have been too aggressive in their marketing efforts to the detriment of the deer population. Over-leasing the ranches is going to kill the local economy because hunters will take their money elsewhere.

I encourage hunters to be more selective in their choices of hunt packages by demanding to know how many animals have been harvested on a given plot before they put their money down. If the claims are not back up by photo evidence, then call another outfitter. Personally, I think I’m going to switch to hunting exotics and feral hogs, and take my money along with me. The best part of exotics and pigs is they are non-game species, so no off-seasons giving me more hunts per year.

If the land owners start losing revenue, then improvements will be made, but as long as hunters keep passing over the cash and taking whatever we get, we won’t be getting much.

Local Wild Life

Since we could not hunt after dark, we go the chance to enjoy some of Llano’s local restaurants.

By far the best food we have had in several trips to Llano was Rosita’s Mexican Restaurant  (101 E. Grayson St. llano Tx 78643). They recently expanded from a hole in the wall to a very nicely decorated and airy venue. The restaurant is family owned and operated, and they serve generous helpings of quality Tex-Mex at fair prices. If you go through Llano, Rosita’s is worth your time.

We tried the Hungry Hunter for the first time. It had all of the “country” and none of the “goodness”. Consider yourself warned.

Llano Feed & Supply is where we buy our corn and alfalfa pellets for bait. They are a bit off the beaten path (3 blocks south of Highway 29), but they are good folks to deal with. Make sure to say hello to Thomas, and tell him you read about him on the Internet. He’ll appreciate that.

Reasons for Everything

Dad and I had a great time together. We talked. told stories, and debated the world crises. Mostly we enjoyed each other’s company, and that’s what these trips are really about.