Photos Courtesy of Austin Trophy Whitetails
This article is featured in the Summer 2021 issue of LAND magazine. Click here to find out more.
At Austin Trophy Whitetails, hunters bag magnificent, record-setting game and make Texas-sized memories.
From the time we pick our guests up at the airport on Friday and drop them off on Sunday, we wrap them in a one-of-a-kind Texas hunting experience that is built on old-fashioned Texas hospitality,” said Marshall Varner, founder and owner of Austin Trophy Whitetails. “When they leave us, we want them to have a trophy they’re proud of, stories they can’t wait to tell—and a desire to come back.”
Location, Location, Location
When Varner, who trotted the globe for 40 years pursuing big game, founded Austin Trophy Whitetails seven years ago, he drew on his experiences to create the ultimate hunting ranch. His first consideration was location.
“Nothing is worse than traveling hard, landing at an airport and then having to drive ‘forever’ to reach some remote outpost,” Varner said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Africa, New Zealand or Texas, hunters are coming to hunt not to drive.”
The original location of Austin Trophy Whitetails, a 300-acre ranch near Buda offering estate hunting, is about 30 minutes from the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. While keeping its natural haven of craggy ridges, shin oaks and live oaks, the ranch is only a quick drive into downtown Austin with a myriad of activities for the hunters’ family and friends.
“Ease and convenience is part of our hospitality—and our appeal,” Varner said.
Success Begets Success
An abundance of high-quality, trophy-caliber game was next on Varner’s list of must-haves.
“Our wildlife management program combines carefully selected genetics and a consistent, protein- and energy-rich nutrition program that allows each animal to express its highest potential,” Varner said.
Focusing on whitetails, axis deer and blackbuck antelope, Austin Trophy Whitetails is making its mark in Safari Club International’s record book under the estate hunting categories.
“In the past five years, thanks to our genetics and nutrition, our hunters have enjoyed a 75 percent success rate of placing animals in the SCI’s Top 20 in their respective categories,” Varner said.
While traditional gun hunting is a tried-and-true option, many hunters’ success has come with primitive weapons. In fact, because of the ranch’s track record, Austin Trophy Whitetails has secured sponsorships from most of the major crossbow and air gun manufacturers.
And success begets success. Austin Trophy Whitetails’ domination of the crossbow and air gun category caught the attention of the Umarex USA, the nation’s leading manufacturer of high-powered air guns. Beginning in 2021, Austin Trophy Whitetails, in partnership with Umarex, can outfit its hunters with air guns.
“We’re striving to make air gun hunting history,” Varner said.
Hunters can pursue their quarry from strategically placed blinds or by the time-honored method of spot-and-stalk.
“Regardless of your hunting preferences, our team can set you up for success,” Varner said. “When you hunt with us, your only concern is making your well-placed shot.”
Hunting is a passion undergirded by camaraderie—and fun in the outdoors.
“When guests are with us, I want them to escape from their reality and have such a good time that they don’t want to leave,” Varner said. “To that end, we hunt and hunt and hunt and fish and fish and eat and drink adult beverages and laugh—and become friends.”
All of the fun is fueled by exceptional food. Steak, quail, Texas cuisine and the like are regularly featured on the menu.
“Guests, rightly so, expect good food and comfortable accommodations,” Varner said. “Our team delivers because we want every aspect of the weekend to be worth bragging about.”
With a 6,000-square-foot lodge that sleeps up to 24 as well as a private condo, Austin Trophy Whitetails pushes comfort into the realm of luxurious, rustic elegance. Impeccably decorated with an eye to the outdoors, the accommodations feature warm wood, native stone, high-end furnishings and fixtures that showcase artistic taxidermy representing species from around the world from Varner’s personal hunting expeditions. Unique décor, such as bar stools crafted from full-size western saddles, remind guests they are in the heart of the Lone Star State.
After a day in the field, guests can challenge one another to a game of pool or sit on the porch and take in the views. A large pond, located within easy walking distance of the lodge, doubles as a well-stocked fishing hole and a natural swimming pool. Hiking is just one more way to while away the hours in nature’s playground.
While guests are encouraged to put their phones down and breathe in the peace of the outdoors, the accommodations are wired for the internet, so the world is never out of reach. And for guests with a passion for cooking, a full, commercial kitchen makes entertaining easy.
“At the end of the day, we treat our guests the way we want to be treated,” said Varner, noting that more than 80 percent of guests book to hunt the ranch again. “They come here as guests, but leave as friends, who can’t wait to come back. . . .”
On the Horizon
With the recent acquisition of Austin Trophy Whitetails at Plum Creek, Marshall Varner and his team will be able to offer even more Texas-style hunts.