Adventures in Ranching and Hunting
A young Texas rancher combines his love of cattle, land and hunting to maintain Run-N-Gun Adventures and Wendt Ranches in the Gulf Coast region.
By Maggie Malson
Growing up on his family’s coastal ranch, Bay City, rancher Daniel Kubecka loved the outdoors, ranching, hunting and fishing.
“It’s a way to connect back with nature,” says Kubecka of the popularity of the pastime. “It’s not always about the kill and harvest, but just enjoying the sights, sounds and camaraderie between friends and family. It’s in our blood the same way caring for the land is.”
As a third-generation rancher, Kubecka credits his family with helping instill the love of cattle, land and wildlife in him.
In 1954, his granddad Dan Wendt established a Santa Gertrudis herd. The family has continued to grow and develop cattle from that original herd. Kubecka combined his deep desire to continue his family’s ranching tradition with new opportunities to bring in income.
“My main focus was always to come back and have a hand in the ranch,” Kubecka says. “The wildlife interested me as well. I saw where a lot of ranches were offsetting some of their expenses by allowing people to come hunt the land or conducting their own hunts.”
Kubecka attended Texas A&M University, receiving a degree in ranch and wildlife management. While a student, he established Run-N-Gun Adventures LLC, an outfitting business taking clients on guided hunting and fishing trips. He saw the popularity of whitetail deer hunting and used his own hunting experiences to fill an untapped market.
“Our area isn’t as well known for deer hunting, but we have hogs,” he explains. “There’s so much agricultural land around here. There are creeks, sloughs and lots of rain. We have a lot of places that are conducive for wild hogs and not much else, so it allows them to thrive.”
About 30 miles north of the Gulf Coast, Run-N-Gun Adventures started by offering bay fishing and hog hunts.
“Fishing was the easiest part to get started because it is public access,” Kubecka says. “Once you are a licensed captain, you can start running fishing trips.”
After nearly 11 years, Kubecka reflects on starting his outfitting business.
“The greatest challenge back then was that I was just a kid,” he chuckles. “People didn’t know if they wanted to give a 20-year-old money to take them hunting and fishing. I had to hustle a lot to find customers. Clients want to work with someone who has a good reputation and experience.”
Fortunately for Kubecka, he had won a lot of fishing tournaments in the years leading up to launching his business, which helped give him some credibility.
“I went to talk to other guides and outfitters who hosted deer hunting,” he says. “I told them if they had clients who wanted to hunt hogs or go fishing, I could take them. It was another service they could offer.”
Despite his young age, Kubecka had another advantage when it came to guiding hunts, due to his family’s background in ranching.
“My dad is one of 11 boys, with 9 of them in the agriculture field, whether it be farming, ranching and even crop dusting,” he says.
While landowners may not have known Kubecka personally, they knew his family name.
“For some reason, if I did something wrong, they could get a hold of my dad or an uncle and it would be made right,” he explains. “As I built my own relationship with them, it made the first couple conversations with the landowner easier because they knew someone in the family. They had worked with them or were friends already.”
In addition to name recognition, Kubecka says that written agreements and safety plans helped build trust with landowners.
He says most agreements are written, but admits some are just based on a handshake.
“The younger generation of landowners uses more contracts,” he explains. “The older generation of landowners is more like, ‘let’s sit on the tailgate and talk about the specifics, come up with an agreement, and shake on it.’”
When he started, Kubecka used property that his family already owned. As the business grew, he arranged for more land to hunt. Most of the contracts are on the waterfowl side and are 3- to 5-year leases because of the improvements put on the land. Farmers lease their ground either on an annual or per hunt basis.
“It really depends on the landowner,” Kubecka explains. “It’s something we work out when they sign the agreement, and we keep the lines of communication open.”
The hog hunts are more of a service to the landowners because the hogs are destroying crops and property, says Kubecka.
“It’s a way for them to generate extra income,” he adds. “They can usually earn enough to fix what the hogs have ruined or destroyed. Sometimes we’ll have landowners call and ask if we have a hunt coming up because they are having a problem. We’ll help them out personally if we don’t have something scheduled.”
All landowners with agreements with the company are added to the Run-N-Gun Adventures insurance policy.
“The biggest thing landowners want is to have a policy to make sure they are not liable,” he says. “We make sure the policy has their ranch name, owner’s name, and any individuals’ names all written in there so they are completely covered if something were to ever happen.”
Fortunately, they have never had an incident with a person or livestock, and Kubecka wants to keep it that way.
Run-N-Gun Adventures has been running night vision hog hunts for 5 years with 50 plus hunts per year.
“Safety is No. 1,” he says. “It’s the biggest thing we want to ensure, especially as we’re running night vision hog hunts.”
To keep the population at bay, the most effective way to hunt hogs, outside of helicopter hunts, is to hunt them at night because they are naturally nocturnal.
“With helicopters, you have to be in open areas with not many trees and catch them in the open, which isn’t an option for us,” he says. “If you’re going to hunt them in their most natural state for when they are going to be out, that’s going to be at night. You’ll have more opportunity to get them. Plus, you’re under the cover of darkness.”
Run-N-Gun clients are required to take gun safety classes first and shoot at the gun range. From there, they have to become familiar with the night vision equipment and practice at the gun range with it. They go through courses to simulate the situations at night.
“We need to know they are going to be safe,” Kubecka stresses. “When we’re out in the field, it’s not a controlled environment. Once the first shot is fired, the hogs scatter. They aren’t all going to run in single file. When they hear that shot, they just run. We have to make sure clients know what’s going to happen and can react to it.
“The guides are standing right behind them to make sure they don’t just go shooting wherever the hogs are running, but stay in their lane,” he adds. “That’s the biggest deal to make sure they’re safe. The only things you can see at night are what’s in the scope and lit up.”
Nearly half the properties hunted by Kubecka’s clients have cattle on them. In addition to putting eyes on the hogs, the guide’s responsibility is to put eyes on where the cows are in the background.
“A lot of these guys coming to hunt are so excited to see there are hogs that they just want to hunt,” Kubecka explains. “They don’t think about what’s 500 or 600 yards past where those hogs are, or where that bullet can go. Your guide has got to be on top of his or her game to make sure nothing happens.”
The business continues to grow and offers hunts for hogs, waterfowl and alligators, as well as bay fishing and dog training. A brand new lodge will be completed this summer.
“We can do anything you can do in Texas, except deer hunt,” Kubecka says. “About 5 years ago, I realized we were building our client base and having more and more people want to hunt and fish with us. We’ve grown at a slow and controlled pace, so it doesn’t get too big for us too soon. It’s become a lot more than I dreamed of.”
Because his outfitting business has grown, Kubecka employs additional guides to run hunts. His first love is ranching, and he has become more involved again in the day-to-day management of the cattle. In January 2015, Dan, his wife, Lauren, and his parents, Gene and Nancy Kubecka, took over the operation of the ranch. At its peak, the ranch consisted of 1,500 head of cattle. They had 2 working ranches and 1 feedlot, but have downsized through the years. Now the Kubeckas raise 600 cows, marketing registered cattle private treaty. They also have a small herd of about 40 head of commercial cows, but their main focus is on the seedstock cattle.
Crediting his grandfather, Kubecka says they have a lot of repeat buyers year after year.
“That is a real tribute to my granddad and the relationships he built with other breeders as a place to come for replacement heifers,” Kubecka says. “The last 4 or 5 years he was managing the ranch, he had the same 3 to 4 ranchers come in to buy 20 to 100 females and replacement heifers. Many were repeat breeders buying from us.”
Recognized as a breed by the USDA in 1940, Santa Gertrudis cattle were developed to thrive, prosper and gain weight on the native grasses of the South Texas brush country. The King Ranch began crossbreeding its Shorthorn and Hereford cattle with Brahman. The breed consists of 3/8 Brahman and 5/8 Shorthorn.
Besides knowing the most about the Santa Gertrudis breed because he was raised around them, Kubecka appreciates their durability.
“They can handle any climate our region of Texas throws at them,” he says. “They have good mothering ability. They can also adapt to the other regions where we sell. They handle heat well and handle cold to a point.”
Wendt Ranches focuses on producing bulls to meet today’s herd bull standards — natural thickness, sound feet and legs, tidy underlines, good dispositions and good numbers. In the spring they offer the previous year’s bull calves coming off a gain test for sale. In the fall and winter, they sell weaned heifers that serve as replacements.
Kubecka has met people from all over the U.S. and internationally through his outfitting business and he attributes the success to building relationships, crediting his family with laying that foundation.
“You meet people from all walks of life,” he says. “You get to hear someone else’s story, how they got where they are and about who they are.”
Taking care of the cattle, land and wildlife remain important to Kubecka and his family.
“It all works hand in hand — managing the land and the wildlife that uses or depends on it, or in some cases, as with the hogs, destroys it,” he says. “It’s our calling to help manage and keep everything in check so things are in the right balance.” ❚
“Adventures in Ranching and Hunting” is excerpted from the June 2017 issue of The Cattleman magazine.