By Mike Deming
With the last load of meat in the cooler and those big chocolate colored antlers atop the load, we could finally savor the moments of another successful season. Late November is a bitter sweet time of year for me. All the scouting, planning, setup and execution is done. However, it also means the last of the big game hunts are over – over in most of the Rocky Mountain states anyway.
In the south and the east, most of the best hunting is just starting to heat up. However, looking at all the states and opportunities can be as daunting for the western hunter as an eastern hunter trying to figure out the draw process in the western states. Some states require a draw, but the majority of them allow you to purchase one or many deer tags over the counter. In some cases, you can shoot additional animals, which aren’t available to us western hunters in our states. Best of all, it extends your season well into the following year.
Figuring out where to go and when, is the first task you must consider. I’ve been making the trip to Texas once our seasons have closed for over twenty years now. It is one of the largest states and the majority of its residents live, eat and breathe hunting. There are thousands of different hunting operations, catering to everything from standard whitetail deer and hog hunts, all the way to the most exotic of hunting experiences. A person can actually hunt nearly every animal you can hunt abroad and at a fraction of the cost when all things are considered. We have had the experience of visiting a good number of these operations and DaVine Springs Ranch, in Central Texas, has proven to be one of the very best operations we have ever seen.
This family run operation is headed up by Lane Wolff and is the quintessential home-away-from-home. The first time we pulled into the grand gated entrance of the DaVine Springs Ranch, we were all immediately impressed. The ranch is a sprawling plot of land with all the amenities of home and then some. After passing through the main gate, we passed through a series of internal gates. I felt like we had rolled into South Africa when we got into the main pasture. Just about every type of animal one can experience in that part of the world was visible as we drove the long winding road. When we rolled up to the ranch house, a series of UTV’s were lined up in military style formation out front. The chairs, pool table and lounge area were equally as organized and professional. You only get one chance to make a first impression and Lane and his family had done quite a job. We then opened the door to the lodge, revealing a collection of some of the most impressive whitetail bucks I’ve ever laid eyes on. Some had been shot by the family, but a good majority of them were shed antlers from bucks which were still alive on the ranch. One impressive buck taken by Lane himself was north of the 300” mark and had everything a trophy hunter could ever imagine.
I was being joined on this hunt by my good friend, Mike Barrick. He lives near me in Utah and has told me numerous times about his desire to harvest a big whitetail. After looking at all the photos Lane had been sending me, I knew this hunt was right up Mike’s alley. Branden Kitchens, who has hunted with Lane and his crew for many years, was also at camp for the week. He had seen a huge typical whitetail earlier in the year and was destined to put his time in, hoping for a shot.
The first morning, everyone was raring with enthusiasm. We all sucked down a cup of coffee and headed off to the blinds. Most operations in Texas hunt out of tower blinds. For the western hunter who isn’t familiar with this type of hunting, it is a different experience. It is a box or in some cases a chair on stilts. I’ve had the opportunity to sit in just about every kind of tower blind imaginable – some are homemade boxes and more than a bit scary to climb into, but they all get you up in the air where you can see down into the thick underbrush, where the big whitetails call home. The tower blind we were getting into would be considered more of a high rise condo, than it would a blind. The sturdy steel frame and steps put us up in the air nearly twenty feet high and the oversized blind was ideal for housing myself, Mike Barrick and Lane. Three grown men in a tower blind is usually a bit crowded, especially when you throw a camera and tripod into the mix, but we had more than enough room for our first morning’s sit with this deluxe setup.
We were in the blind nearly an hour before legal shooting light. Lane had picked this particular location to start off our hunt, because this is where the trail camera pics had come from with a particular buck which had caught Mike’s attention the night before. We had gone through all the photos Lane had acquired over the past few months. Our target buck had a great main frame, but also had numerous stickers and kicker points, which Lane felt would push him into that 190” B&C range. Definitely the caliber of buck we would be looking for on this hunt.
As the darkness gave away to gray light, we started to see images in the field we had set up on. It was too dark to make out antlers on any of them, but we at least knew there were deer in the field. The deer were funneling out of the field in droves as the horizon lightened up. Lane was pretty sure the buck we wanted was at the far edge of the field, but going into the trees. By the time we hit legal shooting light, there were only a few bucks left in the field and none were the caliber we were looking to harvest. We sat in the blind until 9am and then decided to head back to camp for breakfast. Since we were hunting in mid-December and the rut had died off, the deer were only moving to feed at first and last light.
During the middle of the day, we would tour the ranch and check out the exotic and domestic species available to hunt. Before the evening hunts, we would partake in some world class, Texas barbeque, put together by Bryan Wolff, who is Lane’s dad. He is truly a barbeque pit master and a trip to DaVine Springs Ranch is worth it for the food alone. Brisket, pork chops, sausage, burgers, steaks and just about anything you can imagine was cooked to perfection by Chef Bryan.
The evening hunt yielded a good number of buck sightings and lots of shot opportunities, but none on our target buck. Lane was confident in staying at our current location for the morning hunt to kill our buck, but was open to switching things up if it didn’t pay off in the next day or so. Who are we to guide the guide, so we were up for whatever Lane suggested.
We were back in our blind, first thing in the morning and with the moon being a little brighter, we could easily see what was in the field. Lane whispered to Mike that our target buck was actually bedded in the field. We just needed him to stay in place until legal shooting light. More deer funneled into the field and a good majority of them were bucks. The approaching low pressure system and the post rut was driving the rut-weary bucks to food and we had a show unlike anything I had ever seen playing out. Over a dozen bucks were in and around the field.
The clock seemed to grind to a halt. We finally hit legal shooting light, but with us filming for an episode of SNTV, we still needed more light and the cloud cover wasn’t helping. Eight minutes later, the big buck got to his feet, as if he had listened to our conversation and knew it was time to depart. I gave Mike the thumbs up that I was okay to film and had the big bruiser center frame. He knew something was up and used every bush possible to conceal his movement. Mike moved to the side window, while we all adjusted position to get the shot on film. Just before he departed the area for good, he gave Mike a quartering away shot, which proved to be a fatal mistake. Mike dropped the big boy in his tracks and secured his trophy of a lifetime. As we walked up to this giant, there was truly no ground shrinkage and the big boy would have definitely made the 190’ threshold had he not broken off a few inches fighting during the rut.
Branden Kitchens and Cole Wolff were in another part of the ranch, seeing large numbers of deer as well. The big typical was late to move and since we were taking care of Mike’s deer, their ride was late to pick them up. It proved to be impeccable timing for this to all come together, as Branden put a Tikka T3 tumble on the 180” whopper as he made his way across an opening at nearly 10am.
When we rolled in to pick them up, Branden was grinning from ear to ear, with his largest whitetail ever. His statement to me was, “DaVine Springs Ranch is the best place I’ve ever hunted” and after seeing what they have to offer, we have to agree. They truly have what it takes to be one of our Platinum Approved Outfitters and should be on your bucket list of places to visit during your lifetime. When all the western hunts have come to a close, you can still have a hunt or two in your future in Texas, with great trophy potential. The great state of Texas allows young hunters the ability to hunt with their parents or an adult without having to be at least 12-years or even older in some states. The Wolff’s can provide a great hunting opportunity for families because of this and you can truly provide your kids with a hunting experience which will have our heritage deeply rooted in their blood for life. We have committed to having one of these hunts in our Sportsman’s News Pro Members Sweepstakes each and every year because we can’t imagine a year without getting to visit the Wolff’s and DaVine Springs Ranch. To book your own adventure, visit www.davinespringsranch.com or give them a call at 254-534-0102.