If you farm or ranch in East Texas, you almost certainly have feral hogs on your property. And if you’re like many landowners, you find them to be a menace — a menace to crops, domestic animals, fences and other property.
East Texas ranchers Walter "Harold" Baty Sr. and his sons, Walt Jr. and Will, see another side to feral hogs, however. For them, the prolific creatures represent a business opportunity.
Last year, the Batys purchased 844 acres of rolling, wooded land surrounded by 8,000 acres of Sabine National Forest near the Louisiana state line, financing it with Heritage Land Bank. Their goal was to expand their commercial hunting operation and generate income to supplement their cattle and poultry operations.
A Whole Lotta Hogs
But the family soon discovered the property was home to a large hog population as well as to deer and turkey.
"When we got this place, it was phenomenal how many pigs there were. So we thought that maybe we could make a go out of that — hog hunting," Walt says.
"But we knew it’d be a full-time job, and no one had time to do it," he adds.
No one, that is, until Walt quit his job as a poultry producer in May of 2007.
Since then, he has devoted himself full time to developing the new family business — the 3B Hunting Ranch.
One of Walt’s first jobs was to fence a 45-acre area for hog-hunting. "If someone shoots a pig with a bow, that pig may run several yards or a mile. But in a fenced area, we will find it," Walt explains. Boars as heavy as 300 pounds have been harvested on the ranch.
As for white-tailed deer, Walt is working with a state biologist to manage and improve herd quality. Earlier this year, he planted numerous food plots with cowpeas, corn and pinto beans. "What I plant is also good for quail and turkey," he adds.
"The potential for wildlife is great here. It’s everywhere!" notes Will.
Meanwhile, Will and Harold still operate 20 chicken houses for Tyson Foods Inc. Together, the three men continue to run 1,000 mother cows as part of their 3B Cattle Ranch and offer hunting leases on the main ranch, as they have done for years.
“In the beginning, I kept buying places. I’d get one paid for, and then use it for collateral to buy another place. Without help from the Land Bank, we couldn’t have done what we’ve done.”
— Harold Baty
The Batys bought the ranch in 1996, with financing from Heritage Land Bank, their lender since the early 1980s.
"I’d always wanted to own land of my own," says Harold, who serves on the Land Bank’s board of directors. "In the beginning, I kept buying places. I’d get one paid for, and then use it for collateral to buy another place. Without help from the Land Bank, we couldn’t have done what we’ve done."
"We all help each other out," Will says. "Since Dad’s been on the board, I take care of his chickens. Everyone pulls together to do what needs to be done. Last weekend, our little girl had a softball tournament in Lufkin, and Dad took care of everything."
Hunting, Bird-Watching and More
To date, the Batys have hosted family members and hunters at their lodge, which complements the hunting and recreation business. But they envision a multitude of other uses, too, such as a gathering place for family reunions, birthday parties, corporate retreats and youth groups.
"People can also use this as a vacation rental," Will says. "We’re only 6 miles away from the eastern boat ramp at Toledo Bend Reservoir. Our ranch foreman will take guests out who want to experience a cattle roundup in the spring or fall, and we have horses for people who want to horseback ride."
During the day, wildlife watchers can spot mockingbirds, scissor-tailed flycatchers, hummingbirds, red-headed woodpeckers and other birds. On clear nights, dark skies over the ranch sparkle with stars. Coyotes sometimes howl over a loud chorus of frogs in nearby ponds.
Hunting, though, stands as the 3B’s star attraction. Year-round, hunters can harvest feral pigs, both free range and fenced within a large area. Guests may schedule quail hunts, complete with trained dogs and a guide, spend time target shooting, or use an area designated for sighting in rifles.
In season, they can hunt wild turkey and ducks, not to mention go fishing, too. "This place is covered with farm ponds," Walt says. "One day, I got a pole and caught the largest bass I’ve ever caught!"
If someone wants to hunt from horseback, the Batys will make arrangements. Predator hunting? ATV riding? "Whatever folks want to do, give us a call," Walt says, "and we’ll give it a try!"
For more information, go to www.3bhuntingranch.com or phone (936) 488-0195.
– Sheryl Smith-Rodgers
Family Retreat Doubles as a Guest Lodge
Photos by Sheryl Smith-Rodgers
For this East Texas clan, their new gathering spot is a 2,200-square-foot lodge that they built last year on family ranchland, bordering the Sabine National Forest near Shelbyville.
With its stainless steel appliances, regulation-size pool table and satellite television, the lodge is definitely an upgrade for three generations of Batys, who have enjoyed father-son camping ventures over the years. Harold often camped near home with sons Walt and Will when they were young. Many years later, Will built a tin shed on the family ranch and attached it to an old bus, as a place where he could camp and share the outdoors with his own children.
The new "camping spot" is more than a family retreat, however. It was designed to serve double-duty as a guest lodge for the Batys’ hunting and recreation business.
Will’s wife, Jill, designed the lodge, with input from Mary Jo, Walt’s wife, Kellie, and the men in the family. Construction began last summer and was finished in December, in time for Christmas family gatherings and the 2008 hunting season.
Much of the material used to build the comfortable getaway came from a rundown farm house on the Batys’ property. Huge foundation beams from the 1920s home became exposed ceiling beams in the lodge. Salvaged wood lines the interior walls, and old wood flooring, covered with a high-gloss finish, now serves as the beautiful island top in the kitchen.
The lodge is complete with covered porches and an attached pavilion. Leather sofas and a stone fireplace enhance the lodge’s rustic yet elegant decor. Two bedrooms sleep nine people.
"When we started, we didn’t intend it to be quite as nice as this," laughs Jill, recalling their primitive old camp house, which today is mostly inhabited by spiders and wasps.
Now that the lodge is finished, though, neither guests nor family members are complaining.
Walt Baty’s Hog-Hunting Tips
Feral hogs are a challenging and sometimes dangerous game that can be harvested year-round. They can damage everything from crops to levees; they often prey on lambs, goats, calves and fawns; and they may carry diseases such as tuberculosis.
Here are Walt Baty’s tips for harvesting the prolific and intelligent feral hog:
- Use bait stations. Get a 30-gallon barrel and drill three to four holes the size of a finger. Fill it with corn and tie it to a tree with a rope. The pigs will butt it and roll it around, trying to get the corn out. This occupies them while you get in position.
- Set up feeding stations. Establish feeding times at feeding stations with bait barrels or automatic feeders. The hunter should be positioned about 50 to 75 yards away downwind. Use more than one station so you can move from one to another.
- Take a clean shot. You need to put a hog down quickly and silently, so it is best to aim for the head, instead of shooting behind the shield.
- Hunt safely. Always make sure you have a safe shooting zone. You’re responsible for the bullet, wherever it ends up.
At the 3B Hunting Ranch, take your pick of a variety of outdoor activities:
- Hunt feral pigs, white-tailed deer, turkey and quail
- Go on a horseback ride
- Round up cattle with a cowboy
- Bow hunt
- Bird watch
- Host a family reunion
- Bass fish at nearby Toledo Bend Reservoir
- Practice target shooting
- Hold a birthday bash