The 2024 Feral Texas Outdoors Varmint Hunt

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A unique and exciting hunting subculture has grown in popularity in recent years. In predator hunting, the predator becomes the prey, and the hunter becomes the hunted.

Eager predator hunters hide under the veil of night and patiently eliminate these nocturnal vermin with their high-powered rifles. The hunters seek out coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, and Foxes, which have long proved a nuisance to farmers.

Rising interest in this sport can likely be attributed to the rise of predator hunting contests. In these contests, teams of hunters compete amongst each other to eliminate predators. The winners are typically determined by bringing in the heaviest or highest quantity of predators. The winners are awarded cash prizes and bragging rights among their fellow predator hunters.
Every year in the Central Texas town of Holland, hunters excitedly await the opportunity to compete in the “Feral Texas Outdoor Varmint Hunt.”

Feral Texas Outdoors is a retail store in the Hill Country town of Holland that specializes in providing predator hunters with everything they need to participate in the sport.

Feral Texas Outdoors has hosted this event in January for the past three years to allow hunters to compete. Justin Rumley, an employee of the company and predator-hunting enthusiast, is the chief organizer for this annual contest. Justin also runs the podcast Hunting After Dark with store owner Jason Price.

Justin got his first taste of predator hunting in high school when he began to hunt Coyotes with his friends. He describes being hooked on predator hunting ever since experiencing the adrenaline rush of catching his first Coyote.

Shortly after his introduction to the sport, Justin began hosting tournaments. He recalled the steady growth of a few teams competing in his competition to what would be dozens of teams.

“The first year I did it, it was like five teams. And it was all buddies. And we ended up winning. I think it was 300 bucks or something. It wasn’t anything crazy. And then we’re like, ‘Well, let’s push this on social media.’ Then the next thing you know, you got 10 or 15 teams, and then it just slowly kept growing. And you kind of just build your contact list and all, and that’s how we kind of got to where we are now.”

As I spoke with Justin, the competitiveness and the seriousness with which contestants take the sport of predator hunting became increasingly apparent. The seriousness of this sport is evident in the tools of the trade. The tactical gear and weapons predator hunters utilize seem only to rival that of elite military units like Delta Force or Seal Team 6. Since these predators are nocturnal, it is largely conducive to hunting at night; because of this, many hunters rely on state-of-the-art thermal scopes to spot and eliminate these animals.

“As the years have gone on, modern technology has advanced, and a lot of people are turning to thermal and night vision optics, you know, just because it makes it a lot easier. You don’t have to worry about lights or anything spooking the animals as they’re coming in; you can pretty much hunt in the pitch darkness because you’re using thermal or night vision. Basically, you just put it up to your eye, and you can scan around and look, and you know, you can see everything around you.”

On top of the thermal scopes these hunters utilize, which can cost upwards of $18,000, competitive predator hunters will likely be equipped with silencers. Silencers are necessary because many predators gather in groups, and they are needed so as not to alarm and scare off the rest of the group upon firing a weapon. Acquiring a silencer is a complex process in itself. To legally obtain a silencer, one must be willing to wait 90 days to one year to be approved by the government upon paying for an ATF tax stamp.

Among the seriousness placed on expensive gear, strict adherence to the rules and regulations of the contest is also expected. A winning team member must submit to a polygraph following the “Feral Texas Outdoor Varmint Hunt.” Justin put this in place to minimize the risk of cheating. Failure to pass the said polygraph will result in immediate disqualification. According to Justin, the polygraph brings peace of mind to the contestants.

“It’s more of a, you know, a comfort factor. I know a lot of guys that won’t enter a tournament if there’s no polygraph. So it’s definitely a benefit to have that polygraph test,” said Justin.

Justin also described a hierarchy within these events. A small handful consistently end up on top among the many teams that compete.

“Your top five is usually going to be the same five teams; it just depends on what order they’re going to be in; you’re usually going to see the same five teams as I said; it just depends what kind of night they had,” said Justin.

Throughout his career, Justin has observed the secrecy that some of these teams employ. Functioning as a cabal of hunters and exchanging trade secrets among its members, “those guys are all… they won’t admit this to you, but they’re all pretty close with each other. They talk often, you know, basically, pick each other’s brains and give different strategies and stuff. But then you go to ask them, “Hey, man, you talk to this guy,[they say] nah man, I’m not talking to him.”

This year’s contest sign-up began on Saturday, January 7th, at noon. Contestants registered online in groups of no more than four. Upon registration, contestants were given 24 hours to hunt all over Texas. Once the 24 hours were up, teams were expected to arrive for weigh-in by judges at 12:00 sharp the following day. Here, the winners would be determined and awarded cash prizes based on the heaviest stringer of each animal, consisting of 1 coyote, raccoon, fox, and bobcat. The team with the heaviest combined weight will win a cash prize.

I arrived as the event was being set up around 9:30 AM. It was a windy winter morning in the tucked-away hill country town of Holland. Hunters competing in the event began to slowly stagger in to weigh the vermin they eliminated. Most of the contestants had hunted through the entire night prior and had yet to sleep since the start of the competition.

Most had driven far and wide from all over Texas to be present to weigh in. I began speaking to hunters to get a grasp on the night they had.

A team consisting of Jonathon White, Trace Grigg, and Jason Vega, all three hailing from Robertson County, began to recount their 24-hour hunt. Jonathan explained that their night of hunting “was pretty good. It went through some slow times, but it picked up right before daylight.” Jason’s team prefers to use spotlights over thermals to assist in shooting the predators. When asked about their favorite part of the sport, Jason Vega responded, seeing “them eyes glowing, coming in.” He refers to the thrill the hunters experience upon locating their targets.

Around 11:30 AM, more and more hunters began arriving. A convoy of pickup trucks, hauling their kills, started to form down the empty street. After weighing in, hunters promptly got out of their trucks and began congregating to chat cheerfully about their night of hunting. At this point, there was a pretty good-sized crowd, and the officials continued to weigh the vast array of dead bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, and foxes.

As noon quickly approached, the last few teams began to weigh in. The turnout was eventful for the hosts of this contest. In the end, 41 teams with 1 to 4 members per group arrived to weigh in, and the winners were announced.
Finally, the winning team was announced.

First place was awarded to the “Brush Country Boys” from Gatesville, Texas. The “Brush Country Boys” brought in an impressive stringer with a combined weight of 93.98 pounds. In total, they brought in 10 coyotes, three bobcats, two foxes, and four raccoons, for a total of 19 animals.

They were awarded $9400 in cash prizes and coveted belt buckles.

For one night of hunting, this is a very impressive feat. Bringing in 10 coyotes alone is no easy task. According to wildlife biologist Ken Podborny, when speaking on coyotes, “Oh, man. I mean, they’re resilient. They’re tough. They’re, they’re intelligent. Yeah, you mess up; you’ve trained one.”

Ken has four decades of experience as a federal wildlife biologist dealing with predators across three states. He now owns a business in North Texas specializing in removing predators from properties.

He has much experience calling and killing coyotes, similar to the contestants in this event. Ken spoke on the adaptability and the elusiveness of these predators. “I’ll tell you one thing about calling: I use calling as a technique. I’ve been successful in my life, calling up and getting rid of coyotes using calling. And I can tell you that there are coyotes out. They’ve heard so many calls. They just turned and ran the other direction when they heard a call blown,” Ken explained.

Ken Further added, “It can be an actual recording. I don’t care what it is. There’s some really high-tech stuff out there that makes very great sounds. But enough guys do it all year long. And stuff. There’s a lot of coyotes in this world. And then there’s all the coyotes that get away. You call him three of you, kill one or two, maybe, and one gets away. He’s trained now.” This further adds to the impressive victory by the Brush Kountry Boys.

I promptly interviewed the winners of the 2024 Feral Texas Outdoor Varmint hunt after their mandatory polygraph.
Derek Dietrich, Shay Snyder, Zane Washburn, and Seth Snyder of the Brush Kountry Boys won the year prior, making them the back-to-back champions of this contest. “There ain’t a team more dedicated and competitive as we are,” said Derek. Seth added,

“We hunt every weekend from now until the end of March.”

When asked if they are looking forward to next year, the Brush Country Boys replied, “We’re looking forward to next weekend.”

Explaining they have another event to hunt in the upcoming weekend.

Their dedication and enthusiasm regarding the sport of predator hunting were clear. The group energetically recalled the night of hunting they had, despite not sleeping for more than 24 hours.

“Can’t ever give up,” Shay explained.

“That’s the biggest thing, and that thing is what puts us on top of a lot of teams is just never… never giving up.”

Predator hunting stands out as a captivating sport, featuring the enthusiasm of participants, the use of cutting-edge gadgets, and the heightened intensity of the activity.

Predator hunting provides freedom and flexibility unmatched by other forms of hunting. Participating in this pastime encompasses various intriguing elements, offering a more dynamic approach to conventional hunting.

Ethan Housewright

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