Academy Sports + Outdoors invited us on a South Texas hunting and fishing extravaganza. It didn't disappoint.
Down here in the Lone Star State, the majority of outdoorsmen operate on a never-ending, never-changing annual cycle.
We spend the whole summer waiting for hunting season, as we manage land, fill feeders and check trail cameras. From October until February, we spend our time hunting, optimizing every opening in our schedule during legal hunting seasons. Then, as spring rolls in, we shift our focus to fishing and turkey hunting and prepare for the cycle to reset.
Because of this storied relationship, we were fortunate enough to receive an invite from Academy to go hunting and fishing down in Uvalde, Texas, where we would test out some of their newest gear.
The plan was to start the trip with an afternoon dove hunt upon arrival, which would hopefully feed us that evening. Then we would go bass fishing the next morning on the International Amistad Reservoir. Then, last but not least, if we were able to get back to the ranch at a decent time, we would each take our shot at harvesting a feral hog.
Unlimited Limits of Dove
One of the first bucket list items outdoorsmen hope to scratch off is capturing that elusive, very first limit of doves. After four and a half years in Texas--perhaps the very best state for dove hunting--I'd come close but never sealed the deal.
In fact, I went on a dove hunt with Academy last year, where I fell just one bird shy of a legal limit of 15 birds.
And, as productive of a hunt as that was, this year was unlike anything I'd ever seen. There was never a long-enough break in the action to warrant taking a load off, because as soon as you'd sit down, five more birds would come flying in, each from completely different directions.
However, while the birds were coming in hot and heavy, so was the South Texas sun. But fortunately for us, this is where Academy's Texas roots pay dividends.
Unlike anything else on the market, Academy's private hunting label, Magellan, caters to the dove hunters of the South who have no choice but to hunt in the heat. Not only do they offer featherweight, ultra-breathable, flexible, moisture-wicking materials in their dove hunting systems, but they also have an exclusive Mossy Oak Brush camo pattern that blends perfectly with dove hunting elements.
We had the privilege of testing out several of Academy's Yildiz over-under shotguns, which included the Lineage, the Legacy HP and the Legacy HPS, all of which came in 12- and 20-gauge offerings.
As someone who regularly hunts upland birds with a 20-gauge over-under, I decided to mix it up with a 12-gauge (plus, a few extra pellets couldn't hurt on these shifty birds).
To give some idea as to how chaotic the hunt felt at times, there was one point where I had to walk back to my chair just to dump out my Game Winner game bag and make sure I hadn't already hit a limit. The hunting was so fast and action-packed, I hadn't even counted my birds--I just ran out of space.
Fortunately I stayed within the law, as I was sitting pretty with 10 birds, which became a complete 15 after maybe another 10 minutes.
Because we were hunting with roughly 20 other people, all of whom hit a limit, we had a lot of dove to cook up. Fortunately though, some top-tier cooking back at Academy pro staffer Mike Stroff's ranch produced both dove jalapeño poppers and fried dove rangoon. Prepared alongside smoked elk tenderloin and a few cold Shiner Bock beers, it's safe to say our dove feast was to die for.
Bass Fishing Bonanza
It's rarely fun waking up hours before the sun's supposed to come up, but it's a little easier when you know you're going fishing somewhere as famous as Amistad.
We had several hours of driving before we would get to our launch near Del Rio, Texas. However, we were still able to get on the water before sunrise, which offered some pretty incredible views.
We divided ourselves into groups of three to board the bass boats waiting for us at the launch. Academy outfitted each of us with gear from their new Magellan Pro line (which includes hunting and camping gear as well), and the supplies essentially stole the show.
Store-brand outdoors equipment typically includes lower-quality, budget-friendly options, but that's not the case with Academy.
Each of their private labels can compete with top-shelf gear, but at a far more affordable price. And, while this Texas secret is out on a national level, Magellan's elevated "Pro" lineup has yet to take over its respective markets just yet.
I fished in the Pro Angler Gaiter Hoodie, the Aransas Pass Hybrid Shorts, and a pair of the Tidewater Boat Shoes, all of which collectively made for one of the most comfortable days of fishing I've ever had.
We stayed out on the water from sunrise until lunchtime, and were able to catch more than 10 bass despite problematic north winds that had been causing anglers problems all week.
After a successful day on the water, we started making our way back to the ranch for our evening hog hunt.
Hog Wild Hunting
Another Texas bucket list item for most is harvesting their first boar, as feral hogs are such a popular animal to hunt down here. I've been lucky enough to take three hogs in my time down here, but none of my previous hog hunts ever looked quite like this one.
Every hog hunt I've ever been on has included a blind, a feeder and a great deal of patience, but only the first two were requirements on this hunt.
Because we were hunting within a high-fence ranch, not only was harvesting hogs a top priority, but we also got to see a lot of appearances from a variety of deer species. They definitely kept my attention while I waited on a pig.
It didn't take long for hogs to come in, though, as once the deer moved out, four hogs slowly moved in.
I tried my best to be patient so I could make sure I was taking the biggest hog out there, but it's tough to be disciplined with that much pork standing right in front of you.
I decided to not be too picky, scope the biggest hog under the feeder and count my blessings.
A quick shot dropped him, but also scared off at least 2o hogs that were hiding behind the brush. While I could kick myself for not being more patient, I was running out of daylight and I still managed to drop a 225-pound hog--hardly something to kick myself for.
When we finally rendezvoused back at camp, I was thrilled to find out I wasn't the only one who had gotten a pig.
Four hogs in one night is about as efficient as you can be, which was a testament to the gear we were using. One of my favorite products of the entire trip was the Game Winner Stealth View HUB Blind. This blind can compete with just about any blind on the market at a fraction of the cost.
Once we cleaned our hogs and washed up, we sat down for one final meal where we would talk about the many high points of the trip. Per usual, long-lasting friendships were born from a shared passion for the outdoors, and ideas for future trips flew around as if none of us had any obligations for the rest of the year.
Academy's hospitality was as wonderful as it always is, but their gear has taken a huge step forward, despite already having such a strong presence in the hunting and fishing market.
These private labels will continue to revolutionize the way we look at budgeting hunting and fishing gear, as well as our expectations for the quality of our gear.