SMITHWICK — Wayne Henderson practiced an enormous amount of discipline as the second-year hunter passed on several white-tailed bucks that other hunters only dream of seeing.
“We saw an 11-point, 12-point and even a 15-point before this one popped up,” Henderson said. “There were quite a few incredible bucks out there, but Todd (Gibson) told me there was a really big one still out there.”
Henderson, the owner of Peete Mesquite barbecue restaurant in Marble Falls, only started hunting last year. And for his first hunt, he flew off to Africa, where a friend of 25 years treated him to the event. Four shots led to four trophies.
So how does a hunter follow up such a trip? Henderson decided to look a little closer to home.
“I figured, now, I needed a big whitetail,” he said. Henderson headed to Hidden Falls Ranch, located about 12 miles east of Marble Falls. The ranch, owned by Bo and Bonnie Franki, boasts some of the biggest white-tailed bucks in the Highland Lakes. And it’s not by accident.
“We bought the place in 1990,” Bo Franki said. “The last eight years, we’ve really been working hard to build it up as a top-quality whitetail hunting place.”
This included bringing in some South Texas bucks because of their genetic lines. Gibson manages the operation. He follows scientific management principles that include habitat management and developing solid white-tailed deer genetics. It’s not something that happens overnight.
“We went five years where we didn’t hunt at all to let the deer mature and get the genetic lines established,” Gibson said. “Four years ago was the first time we started hunting it again, and we only took a couple deer. This year, we’ll only take about 12 deer. We’re very selective about the number of deer and quality of deer.”
It comes down to managing the deer in such a way that Hidden Falls Ranch develops a reputation as the top white-tailed deer hunting location in Central Texas and beyond.
“We have people who come in from all over the country to hunt here,” Franki said. “We put them up in a wonderful lodge. They get a guided hunt with one of the guides that Todd trains.”
When the Frankis first purchased the ranch, it was only about 350 acres. But over the years, as nearby properties came up for sale, they added on until the ranch encompassed about 1,000 acres.
But it takes more than acreage to create a world-class hunting experience. That’s where Gibson comes in.
“Todd runs it,” Franki said. “He’s really done some great things. And now, we’re seeing the results of that.”
On Nov. 30, Henderson experienced the fruits of all that work when he was still hunting along an area of the ranch. After hunting Africa, Henderson didn’t like sitting in a stand, so he and Gibson opted for a slow stalking of the area.
It was late in the day, about 5 p.m., when a buck that dwarfed the previous ones popped up.
“Todd said he’s seen (the buck) only a couple of times the past several years, but only from the backside,” Henderson said.
This time, the buck presented a good target at about 80 yards for Henderson. He shouldered the Savage .30-06 and squeezed the trigger. The buck dropped.
When the two men stood next to the buck, it was then Henderson realized the full size of the animal.
“It’s was just incredible,” Henderson said.
The 17-point buck scored 209 and three-eighth points on the Boone and Crockett scale. Gibson estimated it weighed about 215 pounds alive, and this was after the rut, when bucks tend to drop significant weight as they chase does.
Despite the size of the buck, Franki knows there are bigger ones still out there.
As for Henderson’s buck, he’s calling it Big Peete, after his restaurant. And folks will be able to get a look at Big Peete after Henderson has it mounted. He plans on hanging the trophy in his restaurant at 2407 U.S. 281 in Marble Falls.
“We’ve been picked as the best barbecue in Burnet County for 14 years. Now, we’ll have the biggest buck in the county to go along with that,” he said.
Along with trophy hunts, Hidden Falls Ranch offers management hunts, youth hunts and meat hunts as well as turkey and dove hunts. It’s open for both firearm and archery hunting. Go to www.hfwhitetails.com or call (830) 798-8980 for more information.