South Texas, to the outdoorsman, is a landscape that is distinctly, well, “South Texas.” The mystique and history about that part of the country and the sporting pursuits therein cannot be found elsewhere. Particularly, the deer hunting is as exceptional as it is unique. We caught up with bowhunter and photographer Craig Francis to find out how he spent time — between his two favorite pursuits — on a recent trip to the Lone Star State.
What attracted you to hunt in South Texas?
The only thing I love more than photographing whitetail deer is hunting mature bucks with my bow. When the opportunity to do both of those things presented itself on a prime tract of South Texas ground, we couldn’t drive there fast enough.
You drove from South Carolina. Who made the drive with you?
My good friend George went with me — and yes, we drove! The both of us are hunters and photographers, and those are gear-heavy pursuits. My truck was packed pretty full for this trip.
How long did it take you to drive?
We were on the road for about 22 hours. I’ve done 30 in a single stretch before. I do not recommend that …
A rather unorthodox but successful quail hunt.
What was on the itinerary once you arrived?
The first day, we decided to settle into the South Texas swing of things with a casual quail hunt; by that, I mean we drove around in a ranch buggy with a Lab and lucked into a few coveys. It was very informal compared to how quail hunts usually go, but it was loads of fun. They have had good rain the last two years, so the quail numbers are up right now.
That sounds like fun!
I think “fun” is really a great word to describe South Texas. There is just so much to do there if you are into the sporting lifestyle — plus, the relaxed rancher vibe makes it easy.
A few arrows to ensure that your gear is still accurate after a long trip is always good practice.
Tell me about the hunting haul. Were you successful?
I was! We hunted for three days looking for a mature deer that had aged beyond his prime. On the final morning of the hunt, I was able to harvest an incredible eight-and-a-half-year-old buck.
Eight and a half!? That seems old for a buck.
Yes, he was very old. That is one of the things that makes South Texas so special. The deer have the opportunity to live much longer there than the average life span in other parts of the country.
And you took him with a bow?
I did. I grew up rifle hunting but got hooked on bowhunting when I was in college. Hunting with a bow is just much more challenging; so many things have to go right to take a deer with a bow. Oftentimes, I go home empty-handed with a bow when I may have been able to take a deer with a rifle. The reward of bowhunting is something that is hard to describe until you have experienced it yourself.
These moments have a certain weight. It is a gratitude and a thankfulness for life that you can feel in your chest.
What is your stance on hunting in general? It can be a polarizing topic.
That is very true. For me, hunting is a tradition. My grandfather taught me how to hunt when I was very young, and I continue hunting because it means a great deal to me. You cannot separate the act of killing from the hunt— it takes a deep respect for the animal that I believe is oftentimes misunderstood. Taking a life is not something done lightly — it can be a very emotional experience for me at times. Nothing is ever wasted. Venison is incredible table fare, and in today’s food-conscious culture, there is no greater level of involvement in securing food than that of hunting wild game. It is as organic a way to eat as there is.
How does South Texas rank among your favorite places to deer hunt?
It would be really hard to say that one place is my favorite. There are so many places I would love to go with my camera and my bow that I have yet to see. I will say, however, that to this point, South Texas is one of the most unique environments I’ve had the blessing to hunt.
Do you plan to go back?
I would go back to South Texas at any and every opportunity. As I mentioned earlier, it really is a sportsman’s paradise. Who could say no to that?
"Chasing the setting sun across eastern Texas."