Death in the white sage — hunting Spanish fighting bulls in South Texas

Written by Jim Miller, Tex Mex Outdoors.

I know many of you have read Death in the Long Grass by Peter Hathaway Capstick, about the deadly game of stalking Cape buffalo with a big bore rifle in Africa!  Well let me tell you, right here in Texas we have a deadly, dangerous big game animal, the Spanish fighting bulls.

About a year ago, a good friend of mine Dennis Erskine of Dennis Erskine Safaris called and informed me that he had a herd of pure strain Mexican/Spanish fighting bulls. First, I told Dennis that I was not interested, but I would check with some of my closest friends and see what they thought? Everyone that I talked to said, “Do it.”

First, I thought I had better do a historical study on the Spanish fighting bulls “Toro Bravo.” I was truly amazed, and they primarily bred on free-ranging extensive environment in Southern Spain, Portugal and Latin American countries, where bull fighting is well organized. Fighting bulls are selected primarily for the combination of aggression, energy, strength and stamina. Fighting bulls are characterized by their aggressive behavior, especially when solitary or unable to flee. Color may vary from black, brown, red, blue roan and in multi colors of white, black, blue, red or gray. These bulls are well-muscled — a complex of muscles over the shoulder and neck area, which gives the bull its distinctive profile and strength with its horns.

Dennis owns a ranch between Brackettville and Del Rio, has a large herd of pure-strain Spanish bulls, which trace their lineage back 300 or 400 years. I called Dennis and advised I was ready to try and hunt these dangerous animals. Dennis and I agreed on a time frame that was good for both of us and it was decided for me and my cameraman to go to San Mateo Ranch to hunt these bulls.

I had informed Dennis I would not be wearing a tutu, nor would I be waving a red cape in front of these bulls.

“Ah, come on Jim, you would look great running around in a pair of those real tight pants, with your cowboy hat turned sideways and waving a big Red flag,” Dennis said.

The trip, excuse the expression, “almost went south” with that comment.

Upon arrival at the San Mateo Ranch, I wanted to see what I could do with my bow setup — a Mathews Helim, 29 at 70 pounds with a 400-grain arrow developing 79-foot-pounds of energy would do.

I did want to try a frontal skull shot. Dennis had a dry skull lying around from a bull that had died and I wanted to test what would happen. I set up a skull and backed off to 25 yards and shot the skull with my setup, and the broadhead never did penetrate the skull!  Just way too thick and a bad angle no matter how you changed the location of the skull, I knew I was going to have to take a standing shot either straight on where the apex of the neck and body come together or broadside. That night over mesquite-grilled steaks and a good cold drink, a lot of discussions were had about hunting the Spanish fighting bulls.

We started our hunt, and it was very windy that morning. We did not see many bulls close; those we did see were very nervous and wary. That afternoon we got into a Ranger ATV just driving the senderos to try spot and stalk any Bull we could find. This area is semi-arid desert, with a ton of white sagebrush that grows to be 6-feet tall with a lot of cactus, yucca, mesquite, live oak, retama and native grass with creek bottoms, plus manmade water tanks — Perfect country for these mean, aggressive, hateful monsters!

We had spotted a really huge black bull and a rgay bull hanging together feeding mid afternoon. We got our gear together, decided to make a stalk, had the wind in our favor, plus we had good cover for stalking these two bulls. As we neared for a shot, one of the bulls spotted our approach and these bulls took off in the direction of the creek bottom — the stalk was over.

The afternoon was going quickly — we had seen several different bulls but for one reason or another we just was not successful. As the sun started to set, we spotted a really awesome red bull in a field of white sage. I really wanted to try to take this bull and, as we started planning our approach, we had to get the wind in our favor while using the setting sun to our advantage. As the sun was going down we had to move on the bull several times to make sure the swirling wind did not give us up. Finally, we were able to get on the red bull and move in close for that coveted 20-yard shot. The monster red bull, in fact looked like the red bull on the famous energy drink, however, I had a natural energy pump going now. The bull was feeding right into our laps at 30 yards. I had started drawing my bow, when my cameraman decided to move for an over-the-shoulder shot. These Spanish bulls have great eyesight and do see movement, and picking up my cameraman’s movement, the bull froze. Then the big stare down occurred! For 15 minutes I held my bow up in my hands ready to draw, my cameraman standing with camera on his shoulder.

Dennis was standing with a 10-pound. German-made Heym .500 Nitro Express, at port arms! Sweat poured out of every pour in my body, for I knew we were just the blink of an eye from a full-blown charge!  During this, all kinds of scenarios went thru my mind. I knew this could go really bad quickly with 1400-pounds of hate and aggression staring at us, but the bull was not sure what were where. Finally with the sun setting the wind swirled, and the red bull became a red streak tearing thru the white sage. I did say to my cameraman, that in the future if I stop, you stop — no excuses or exceptions. The cameraman looked me in the eye and stated, “Don’t you worry, never again will I do that.” This was a tough day for hunting.


Day two we were out well after full daylight. I wondered why? These bulls have an attitude and were mad at the world, better to be safe than sorry.  We wanted to be sure to see these bulls before we started any stalks with the evening before still fresh in our minds. We had several different stalks but no shots — again just before dark we found four bulls feeding along the edge of a creek bottom. After much conversation, checking of the wind and glassing to make sure we would not surprise any other bulls, we started our stalk. this looked like it was going to be a repeat of the day before, only the fickle finger of fate kicked up the wind out of the wrong direction and we now had bulls running in all directions. So went another day without an arrow being shot!

Our third morning, we’re out again after full daylight, and I was glad. We spotted the red bull again and decided to make another stalk on that bull, as he was in an area where there was a huge patch of white sage between us and the bull, plus the wind was right.  We loaded up and started moving through the head-high sage into the wind when we walked right out into an opening that was about 60 yards wide and 80 yards across from us. Suddenly, there stood 1200-pounds of pure hate! This bull had already made up his mind that we were way too close to him.

Before you could spit, the charge was coming fast and furious! I drew my bow for an attempted head on shot but the bull kept his vitals from me as he was locked on Dennis and it was a straight-on charge!

I yelled “Dennis shoot him, shoot him, SHOOT HIM!” At 15 yards, Dennis had hoped the bull would turn off, but he did not! As if in slow motion, the bull was coming fast and furious! Dennis mounted his .500 Nitro Express and I still to this day did not hear the shot! When the dust settled the black raging bull lay 3 feet from Dennis and me!

Dennis, turned and asked, “Why didn’t you shoot?”

My only reply was, “I had no killing shot with my bow.”


Dennis advised that the Bull had been a real pain in the butt as he had attacked one of his trucks, had tried to knock one of his tractors off of a sendero and had chased one of his vaquero’s all over the ranch one afternoon. We went for a tractor with a front-end loader and called the meat locker.

That afternoon, I had informed Dennis I thought we should go to a waterhole and try to ambush one of these bulls, as I had several photos on my Spypoint cameras of the bulls coming into water. Though not very happy with that thought, Dennis agreed. We were actually on a Ranger ATV headed to one of the tanks to put a Rhino Ground blind in position for a shot when my cameraman shouted that he had spotted a really big bull feeding. Of course we stopped and eased back to check. Sure enough, there stood a huge blue, black and white bull feeding about 100 yards away — Perfect set up for stalking with lots of cactus, yucca, retama and wind rows of old dead mesquite.

I told my cameraman, come on we had arrows to shoot! We covered about 80 yards, hunkered down behind one of the wind rows within 50 yards of the multi-colored bull. Hombre, did we get the surprise of our life when Dennis stated, “Boys, don’t move too much and look to our left.”

There stood double trouble!  Two bulls were watching us and the lone bull.


Immediately, I told my cameraman we’re going to take that bull in front of us. We moved to within 40 yards with plenty of cover and my cameraman stated, “I’m on him.”

I did not even have time to range the bull; I just knew it was 40 yards. I drew my bow back and launched a deadly arrow. When the arrow hit the bull it sounded like a Louisville slugger hitting a door — the smack was so loud, I knew I had a dead bull immediately! I watched Dennis running toward the dead bull and then come up very short of the dead bull; he was in slow motion bringing up his rifle into action!  Fortunately the two bulls had thoughts of charging us but at the last minute turned off — it was over.

I had one of the most difficult animals in the world on the ground with my bow and arrow and on film. This Spanish fighting bull was one heck of a trophy, beautifully colored blue, black and white; I’m talking about 1400-pounds of hate that is very smart, aggressive, with lots of strength and stamina!

Buena Caceria and Good Hunting.


About the author

Lili Sams

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Hey y'all! I'm a sweet tea lovin' girl from the Lone Star State. I am recent graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, currently living and working in the Big Apple. When I'm not in the big city you can find me riding a 4 wheeler and hunting with my papa.

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