Llano’s Reputation as ‘Deer Capital of Texas’ is Well-Earned
LLANO — Native Americans and Spanish explorers knew about the Llano Basin for centuries because of its bounty of white-tailed deer.
Later, European settlers relied upon the basin’s wildlife during the early years of what would become Llano County. After World War II, soldiers returning home discovered that perhaps no other place in Texas offered the quality of deer hunting than Llano.
And farmers and ranchers soon realized they could lease their land for hunting to supplement their income.
As hunters returned year after year from across the state — or out of state — the area’s reputation grew.
The Llano Basin has the highest density of white-tailed deer in the nation with one deer for every 2-3 acres.
That reputation and those numbers have created a culture and an economy vital to everyone in the “Deer Capital of Texas.”
Hunting is a $14.4 billion industry in Texas, and the effects of that are seen in the Llano area in restaurants hiring extra staff, businesses carrying more inventory, and ranchers reinvesting profits into their equipment.
Hunters don’t just come once during opening weekend then leave. They often come multiple weekends during the hunting season then return in the offseason to put out feeders and prepare for the next season. And they don’t just come to hunt: They return in the winter for Christmas festivities or when the weather warms up for fishing and water sports.
“While the exact (economic) numbers are not known, it is an estimated 25 to 35 percent increase in sales, depending on the business,” said Briley Mitchell, executive director of the Llano Chamber of Commerce.
Gary Bauman can vouch for the area’s deer hunting history and economic impact because he’s lived through it.
Born in 1951, Bauman traces his family’s ranch back to his great-great-grandfather, who came to America from Prussia in 1850.
From leasing in the 1950s to running a full-scale deer-breeding facility today, Bauman has seen the area explode because of hunting.
“Llano turns into a city instead of a country town the first few weeks of the season,” said Bauman, owner of Valley Spring Whitetail Ranch. “They flock in by the thousands; it’s amazing.”
Oran Hill grew up hunting to eat. For more than 30 years, Hill has built up Oran Hill Outfitters, a hunting guide business. From East Texas to Louisiana and Alabama to California and even Canada, Hill has seen hunters arrive from everywhere.
“I’ve got some people that have been hunting with me for 30 years,” he said.
That longevity is a big selling point in the industry.
“For a majority of them, these ranches have been around four or five generations,” Mitchell said. “Probably 95 percent of (deer leases) are on long-term ranches, and (the owners) know every square inch of it.”
Bauman and Hill both talked about hunting in terms of management. The two care about the health of the deer populations and limit how many animals are harvested each year.
“The ranch I’m on now is better than when I started hunting it because I controlled the predators,” Hill said.
Turkeys are abundant now, and Hill said 200 deer are harvested a year off the 2,000-acre property.
Game fence or not, bow or rifle, hunters can find a number of options in Llano County.
“The best thing we tell people when they call is if they will like us on our Facebook page, ranches will call and say, for example, they’ve got an opening for three guns and a season lease,” Mitchell said.
And those offers usually don’t last past the day, he said.
The Llano Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page is where Mitchell posts those notices. He also keeps a running file of all area hunting ranches, outfitters, and leases with contact information, availability, type, and lodging options on the chamber’s website.
The Hill Country views and the joy of being outdoors are enough to keep people coming back each year. And the guides love it just as much as the hunters.
“I enjoy it because I like to watch the hunters take a buck they’re looking for, or a doe, and watch them experience that and the joy of that,” Bauman said. “Meeting people and fellowship. I enjoy the opportunity of having people have a good time.”
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