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Whitetail Honey Hole

No tag to draw. 100 percent success rate. Free-range deer. What’s not to love?

I grew up hunting the Western United States back in the days when pretty much all licenses and tags were available over the counter, at reasonable cost. That was prior to the days of the internet, social media, smartphone hunting apps and tag-application services. Back before the DIY backpack, off-the-road craze had taken hold. I was backpacking off the roads in wilderness-like utopias where deer, elk and bears were plentiful and success rates high. It was grand, and I should have never taken it for granted.

Fast forward to today. All things internet have made locating backcountry “secret spots” about as easy as finding the needle in a haystack. But perhaps the most frustrating thing about hunting the West has been my inability to consistently draw tags. Do you have that problem?

Hunter demand has exceeded the number of animals available to hunters in most places, necessitating a tag draw system that makes picking a tag in a high-demand area something that can literally take decades. In those areas that offer OTC tags, hunter pressure is fierce, and the chances of locating an animal that’s lived long enough to grow large horns or antlers are low. So, I am always on the lookout for relatively inexpensive options that allow me to hunt annually.

Enter Texas. Because whitetails are abundant and most all hunting is done on private land, there is no tag draw. The downside is you have to pay to play, but the nonresident hunting license required to hunt deer is only $315 — a bargain compared to many other states — and available OTC.

In November 2021, I found a small, family-run outfitter in West Texas that is first-rate in every respect. The hunts are for low-fence, free-range white-tails and mule deer. There is a near 100 percent success rate on bucks ranging between 120-140 SCI points, which is typical for the region, though I did see several bucks that would push a gross 150-plus on my hunt, after I had punched my tag, of course. Both outfitter Craig Archer and his brother David are very serious hunters and shooters, and they pride themselves on setting up the hunts as if they were the clients not the guides.

Hargrove Hunts is located near Rotan, Texas. They have been in business 12 years, hunt 30,000 acres, take a maximum of six hunters at any one time and have 22 feeders and shooting houses, as well as food plots. They rotate where their hunters focus their efforts every week so that no one area of the ranch is overhunted. Trail cameras on each feeder tell you what’s happening at any given moment, and Craig and David check them constantly. The shooting houses are easily the most comfortable I’ve ever sat in. David, a master cabinet builder by trade, custom makes each. They are large enough for two to sit together comfortably. In addition to the shooting houses, you can also hunt from a high-rack truck, and that’s the vantage point where I saw so many large bucks after I filled my tag.

Unless you request a guide, these are semi-guided hunts. You are dropped at a shooting house morning and evening and hunt on your own. The goal is to kill mature bucks, though there is no penalty for taking any buck you want, nor is there any upcharge for killing large bucks, as is the case on many Texas ranches.

“Our goal is to create a family atmosphere where even new hunters or kids will feel comfortable and have fun,” Craig said. “We want to create successful shot opportunities, and our track record — in 2017, 2018 and 2020, we ran 100 percent, while in 2019 only one hunter did not take a buck, but he had multiple shot opportunities and passed several older bucks looking for a monster.”

The average antler score in 120-130 SCI, with 140-plus bucks taken regularly, according to Craig. So far, their top whitetail was 185.

Hunts run four days and cost $3,000. Lodging is included but not food. The house where you stay has a full kitchen for you to use. If you want, meals can be provided. Archer charges you the cost of the food plus $100 a day for the cook. Mule deer hunts run $3,500. On both hunts, wild hogs and coyotes — and they are prevalent — can be taken at no extra cost. There is also a small population of free-ranging aoudad on the ranch, and hunts can be arranged for them as well. In addition, Archer has a very nice population of wild bobwhite quail and wild turkeys, both of which can be hunted in season.

I was part of a group of five hunters on site to field test Trijicon Huron riflescopes (trijicon.com), and all five of us took very nice bucks, all aged at five-and-a-half years or older. Mine was a heavy-antlered, six-and-a-half-year-old typical 8-point that scored right at 140, taken the afternoon of day two at 110 yards with an old Remington Model 30 bolt gun built prior to 1930 and chambered in .30-06. We also shot a pile of wild hogs, saw tons of deer, and left the ranch making plans for a return trip.

Tag draw? Like you, I still apply for lots of hunts all over the West. Texas is another world, where you can whitetail hunt every year OTC on managed private lands. When you find a nugget like the Archer brothers, it’s hard not to make this hunt a regular priority.–Bob Robb

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