Interest in white-tailed deer hunting remains strong, but for some Texans, finding a place to hunt means traveling a lot further than in previous decades. Subdividing ranches for housing developments is a common occurrence in bedroom communities such as Bandera County near San Antonio. “Hunting is still a very important part of the Bandera County economy, but it has changed,” says Johnny Boyle, owner of Bandera True Value, which sells hunting supplies and equipment.
“It used to be all about that eight-week rush of the white-tailed season. Now there are not as many leases available as there once were, but there is more year-round hunting for hogs, axis deer and other exotics.” (Non-native “exotic” deer such as axis deer are not subject to restricted hunting seasons.) And hunters seeking their own land are heading further west than Bandera, Boyle says.
“Instead of buying 400 acres of Texas land for sale in the Hill Country, they go to Rocksprings [in Edwards County] and buy 1,500 acres,” he says. Even so, hunting remains highly important to rural Texas, says David K. Langford, a member of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee and vice president emeritus of the Texas Wildlife Association, which lobbies on behalf of ranch owners and outdoors enthusiasts.
“Without income from hunting, most of rural Texas would have a lot more asphalt than it already does,” he says. “In those areas in the Texas Hill Country and South Texas without minerals, income from hunting and general recreational income is a major factor in holding ranches together against development. “Landowners who want to keep their ranches intact are looking to diversify their income,” he says. “If you don’t have oil and gas, nature-related income is the next best thing.”
Langford and his wife Myrna live on more than 300 acres that was once part of a Kendall County ranch settled by his great-grandfather Alfred Giles. The Langfords and a neighboring ranch market their lands together as the Block Creek Natural Area, welcoming visitors for wildlife and nature photography excursions.
“If we are going to remain relevant, whether people want to go mountain biking or hunting, we need to welcome them,” he says.