Your Hunt for the Right Lease

Whether hunting for meat or trophy antlers, there’s a lease for you.

The success of a deer hunt once was measured exclusively and necessarily by the presence or absence afterward of fresh venison. Now, on some ranches, meat is the second most important thing on hunters’ minds.

In some deer camps these days are traditionalists who still hunt for meat, those lean, tasty parts of a deer between its neck and knees. Others, most of whom also appreciate the taste, set their primary sights on antlers. For them, venison is runner-up to bone.

Trophy-specific deer hunting, now available in most states, appeals to hunters who lack the time, inclination, resources, or some combination of the three, to pursue and bag big bucks on their own. It’s not easy to grow big bucks in the wild. I’ve hunted on as many ranches managed for meat as for antlers. Both systems work and send hunters home with what they sought, but there’s a smoldering disconnect between the vastly different camps.

Tending a lease or personal property with the singular goal of sustaining a healthy herd for burgers and backstraps takes minimal effort. Provided there is ample water and forage, and so long as the number of animals is managed always to fall within the property’s carrying capacity, deer there should do well. Hunters will get their meat.

Growing trophy-class antlers requires intensive and expensive effort. Natural forage in the best years might add a few inches of antler to bucks’ heads, but the production of “high and wide” racks requires year round attention and tons of supplemental food.

Adding to the difficulty of trophy production and management is an upwardly sliding  interpretation of what exactly constitutes a “trophy” buck. Not that long ago, a Texas whitetail that scored 150 Boone and Crocket points (inches of antler measured by complicated formula) was a trophy in everyone’s book. Now that same buck often falls into a third or even fourth level of pricing. Which raises another point: price.

The biggest bucks fetch big bucks, occasionally five-figure amounts for deer that routinely now—thanks to years of genetic juggling—carry 200-plus inches of antler.

I’m a longtime hunter who appreciates both the meat and the racks of white-tailed deer. It’s the actual hunting I most enjoy, though, seeing as many sunrises and sunsets as time allows. Leaving a ranch empty-handed is not bothersome in the least so long as the scenery and company were good. To each—as the cliché goes and so long as we remain united as long as we remain united as hunters—his own.

Finding a Good-Fit Lease

Antlers, antlers everywhere. A Google search for “trophy deer hunting Texas” pulled 459,000 results. It’s not easy to find the right place to chase antlers.

Start with personal queries among friends or folks at local hunting stores. They’ll have suggestions based on firsthand experience rather than eye-grabbing photographs.

Narrow to three places, then call each of them. Get a feel for the daily routines on those ranches and for the personalities of their hands. Explain your expectations and any specific likes or dislikes you may have. If you’re not entirely comfortable with what you hear on the phone, you may not be comfortable on the ranch.

Enjoy every minute spent on the place you choose. The sights, the sounds, the smells. They’ll stay with you always and come rushing back every time you look at those antlers on the wall.

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