Originally published in Shotgun Life
If any state in the union owns up to family sagas, it’s Texas. And that’s where we met the Kerchevilles while shooting pheasant, chukar, quail and Hungarian Partridge at their Joshua Creek Ranch.
By sheer force of will and two generations of commitment to the land and its clientele, the Kercheville family has wrought their ranch into one of the crown jewels of Texas hunting. The architecture, cuisine and furnishings elevate the spirit of Texas Hill Country into a hunter’s gift.
What you discover is that Joshua Creek is not just a family business. The Kerchevilles feel blessed to share their labor of love with other hunters. Joe, Ann and their son Joseph live and breathe Texas hospitality on a grand scale. No detail is too small, no request is too large, in the pursuit of 100 percent client satisfaction.
“I think the level of repeat business speaks to that, because of our attention to detail and commitment to excellence,” said Ann. “We receive cards, letters and emails telling us what a wonderful time our guests have here and we share those with our employees. And I tell our employees that our guests don’t owe us this.”
The attention to detail is really quite impressive. I stayed in the Covey Haus, and looking up at the vaulted ceiling I noticed that the rail on the track lights and the registers for the air conditioning had been painted a matching wood finish. Dinner arrives at the table as though it has been styled for a photo shoot. You’d return from dinner and a blaze would be waiting for you in the fire pit outside the Covey Haus – ready for your cigar and single malt from the built-in bar where the ice cabinet was always full.
Georgia Pellegrini and I had arrived at Joshua Creek Ranch on assignment to check out the synthesis of food, hunting and lodging as executed at the highest level of achievement in our industry: the designation as a Beretta Trident Lodge.
What we didn’t expect, though, was the backstory of the Kercheville family – how Joe and Ann carved Joshua Creek Ranch from raw, Texas Hill Country acreage dotted with long-standing buildings.
When you meet Joe and Ann, they seem like the most unlikely couple of entrepreneurs to roll up their sleeves and tackle a project like Joshua Creek Ranch. Joe has a fondness for expensive British automobiles and Italian shotguns. Ann is the picture of grace and elegance with long willowy dresses, tailored jackets and striking cowboy boots.
But once you understand the Kerchevilles, you can appreciate their vision – especially from the two hilltop cottages at Joshua Creek Ranch. Georgia stayed in the Porch Haus. While the German spelling of the domiciles honors the region’s pioneers, the interiors are pure Texas opulence as expressed in wood, stone, leather and requisite hunting trophies. Start your morning in either residence and you’re greeted by a sprawling view. Turn on the music, brew a pot of coffee and you whet your appetite watching game birds streak across the river valley below from the wide back porches. And you never give a thought to how the place had been nurtured and loved like a master tending a bonsai tree.
You could argue that the vision for Joshua Creek actually germinated in Scotland.
“The inspiration for us was the driven pheasant shooting in Scotland, but the fact is in Southwestern Texas people want quail hunting and we saw immediately that we could offer it all,” explained Ann.
Joe and Ann had purchased the original 360 acre parcel in 1986. But after bird-hunting expeditions to Scotland in 1988 and 1989, Joe realized that Texas could provide American sportsmen with comparable shooting on this side of the Atlantic. And today, you would be hard-pressed to disagree with him following a weekend of walk-up shooting at Joshua Creek Ranch.
The original 360-acre parcel was intended for Longhorn cattle. Joe and Ann brought in a bulldozer crew to fell the rampant cedar trees. As the land became exposed to the sun and the vistas gradually unfolded, Joe and Ann realized that the property was adorned with stunning live oaks, grasses, wood pastures bluffs and ridges.
Over the ensuing years they planted grasses for bird-hunting habitat and acquired adjacent property to round out the current 1,200-acre ranch. Joe consulted with biologists to discover what would be best for the birds – because it gets hot and dry during the summer. Switchgrass, kleingrass, bluestem grass, Wilman lovegrass –grasses that proved hearty and drought tolerant to provide enduring cover for the birds.
By 1990, Joe and Ann decided to open the property to hunting – fulfilling their inspiration from bird shooting in Scotland.
While you may not confuse Texas Hill Country with Scotland, Joshua Creek Ranch compresses myriad landscapes into different hunting experiences.
The condensed mix of vegetation, topography, rivers and streams actually contribute to the perception that Joshua Creek Ranch is far larger than it measures. For hunters, the payoff is a spread that’s convenient for quail, pheasant, chukar, and Hungarian Partridge in both traditional walk-up, Continental Shoots, and driven shoots where the birds appear from the bluffs and ridges. The property is also home to whitetail deer and the big-rack Axis, as well as Rio Grande turkey.
“None of the hunting areas are more than 10 minutes from the lodge, but when you get there you feel far away from the lodge,” explained Joseph, the eldest son who is preparing to assume day-to-day management of Joshua Creek Ranch. “You can travel from one side of the ranch to the other. It doesn’t feel like 1,200 acres, it feels like 10,000 acres. You can take a short 15 minute drive and feel like you’ve covered a lot of acreage.”
“We’ve got incredible diversity in the habitat,” Ann added. “You go to some other places and hunt 5,000 acres and it’s all the same kind of terrain – brush country, tundra, or whatever.”
That horizon-to-horizon sensation still enthralls Joseph, even though he first set foot on the property as a tender one year old. After her successful career in corporate finance, Ann found herself as the mother of both Joseph and his younger brother, Joshua, standing at the crossroads of a new, personal challenge. Bottom line? If you’re raising two young boys why not also raise a ranch?
“The full-time commitment, the day-to-day operating responsibilities of Joshua Creek Ranch, have been mine from the beginning,” Ann said. “Joe has been my mentor, counselor, banker…he’s really the quality control barometer. As far as the cover, the dogs, the birds, the quality of our food service, hunting guides, he’s watching all that very carefully and constantly advising us.”
Her first undertaking was the flagship Cypress Lodge. It originally stood as an old ranch house, built in 1950 from the native limestone rock that was quarried on the ranch. Ann started renovating it in 1986 and today it serves as the main dining room and dramatic great room, along with two large guests rooms, with the pro shop and office just across the patio in what was once a guests house. The outdoor patio and barbeque served us well on the glorious days we ate lunch outside.
She then embarked on an architectural makeover of the existing buildings. A stunning example of a period stable was converted into guest rooms now called the Long Haus.
In a series of five-year plans, building projects continued through 2007 with the construction of Covey Haus where I stayed. Covey Haus, along with the Porch Haus and other lodgings on the property, initially housed the family as they spent an increasing amount of time there developing the ranch. Finally, the Kercheville’s build their own permanent residence on the ranch in 2008.
“The culture of Joshua Creek, of our sons, it all grew up here,” Ann said. “They learned early on that we are a service company. The TV had to be tuned to what the guests enjoyed, not what two little boys would enjoy. They grew up with a mentality of guests first.”
In 2007, after Joseph graduated with a degree in finance from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, he tried to resist the siren call of Joshua Creek Ranch. He started working in his father’s investment business, Kercheville & Company in San Antonio.
“I worked there for about a year, and I realized my heart wasn’t in it,” Joseph said. “And so I switched career paths to operating Joshua Creek Ranch.”
Joseph started full time at Joshua Creek Ranch in 2009 with an eye toward assuming full management. He’s totally immersed in the operations, hunts and marketing of the business.
“I’m excited for the future for Joshua Creek,” he said, and about the Beretta Trident affiliation. I’m excited where I can take this.”
A strong indication of the Kercheville family commitment to the future of Joshua Creek Ranch is the fact that in 2003 they set into motion a plan to systematically put conservation easements on the property, preventing its development in perpetuity. “We feel really good about the idea that this ranch will always look like it does today,” said Joe, “especially with all the development we see going on around us in this beautiful Texas Hill Country.”
For Georgia and me, Joseph put together an itinerary of walk-up hunting, deer hunting and sporting clays. Ann, meanwhile, organized a video with Georgia to promote a new Joshua Creek cook book.
Georgia took advantage of the rental guns, opting for a 28-gauge Beretta. Like the other Beretta Trident venues, the safes are stocked with Beretta shotguns in 12, 20 and 28 gauge just in case it’s not convenient for you to bring your own. I had packed my 12-gauge Beretta Silverhawk manufactured in 1960. The shotgun is in mint condition, an absolute gem, and extremely accurate. I always relish the idea of walk-up shooting with it.
Georgia and I started with a morning shoot over English setters. Birds are introduced into the habitat continuously during the hunting season, and as you can imagine those that elude the hunters begin to revert. They gain their orientation and pick up speed on the ground.
The birds flushed early and fast, providing long quartering shots over tall grasses. The dogs pointed and we crept up on the quarry, and then those spunky little English cockers would flush the birds from the cover – low, quick and evasive.
Joshua Creek Ranch takes tremendous pride in their field dogs. All of them – retrievers, flushers and pointers – are professionally trained and handled by veterans of upland bird hunts. Hunters are also encouraged to use their own dogs. Joshua Creek Ranch can board them and offers an innovative training program that ultimately includes the possibility of their guides working your dogs in the Joshua Creek Ranch hunting program.
The dogs worked hard and skillfully for us, to the extent that we worked up a powerful appetite come lunch time. We gathered on the patio for gourmet burgers under a sun that felt much warmer than reported on the thermometer.
Our afternoon hunt turned to flushing dogs in rows of cut corn. With Georgia on one side, and me on the other, few birds managed to escape. Here, the shots were easier: higher and closer. Afterwards, Georgia hunted Axis deer with Joseph. She saw a few bucks, but no shots became available. I opted to head back to the lodge for a frosty Corona, and found myself laughing it up with several of the guides as we leaned against their big Texas pick-up trucks parked under a few shade trees.
Afterwards, we enjoyed cocktails and a hearty dinner in the Cypress Lodge.
The following morning, Georgia went to film the cooking video while I shot a round of sporting clays with Joseph. Joshua Creek Ranch designed the sporting clays course to simulate bird hunting rather than throw presentations that you would rarely see in the wild. That prevailing philosophy is embodied in the stations made of found wood from the surrounding trees.
The 12 stations are fully automated. The guests receive an access card to operate the traps. Many high targets were thrown: a mix of quartering and crossing outgoers and incomers. Several stations that offered spectacular views threw targets into valleys and gullies. The menu called for all reports, but it would be easy to ratchet up the difficulty by throwing true pairs, of which nearly every station could be broken by an above-average shooter. Ideally, you’d want to go for a round of sporting clays before bird hunting, but the course was so scenic it would even make for a picturesque after-dinner stroll.
And the Kercheville family would have it no other way.