History of the Muy Grande
Speak of deer contests and the Muy Grande Deer Contest always comes to mind. The very first deer contest began in 1965 in the small South Texas town of Freer located in Duval County. Founder, Leonel R. Garza, was the manager of the Center Circle Gas Station at the time.
Leonel was number 3 of 13 children to be born to Lazaro and Olivia Garza of Benavides, Texas. They were migrant workers who worked hard to support their large family by picking cotton in Texas and spearmint, double mint, sugar, beets, tomatoes, and cherry trees in Chicago, Missouri, Michigan and Ohio. Leonel’s daddy was also a windmill contractor who often took Leonel to the many South Texas ranches to work on his windmills and learn the agricultural side to the beautiful South Texas brush & white tail deer’s habitat. In high school, Leonel was a track super star who made it to the State Track Meet his Jr. and Sr. year in the mile run. He was so fast that his coach nicknamed him “Chachan” which means roach in Spanish.
Leonel married Elda Garcia of Benavides, Texas in 1961 and had 5 daughters in the years to follow. They are Leticia, Nori, Noelia, Elsa, and Imelda. All 5 daughters have contributed many hours & dedication to the family business through out the years.
Leonel’s work ethic and strong personal relations paid off for him at the Center Circle Gas Station in the 1960’s. This was obviously during a time without cell phones and the modern technology we’ve grown so accustomed to today. Due to this, it wasn’t odd to receive an unexpected visit by Leonel with an emergency message at your hunting lease or just extend a helping hand. Such was the case when a hunter was stranded out in a pasture. Leonel received word that a hunter needed help and soon Leonel unhooked a semi-tractor and was on his way to the lease. After helping the hunter, he was offered a reward. Leonel declined and replied back, “Just tell your buddies that I’m the hunter’s friend.” Little did Leonel know that the hunter was actually Fred Strong, an Outdoors’ Sports Writer from Victoria, Texas. A couple of weeks later, an article had been printed in the newspaper about the “Hunter’s Friend” in Freer, Texas and business had backed up around the corner of the Center Circle Gas Station literally overnight.
As business began to boom, new ideas & ambitions began to stir in Leonel’s head. The concept of the deer contest was finally born. A deer contest was unheard of in 1965, but Leonel wasn’t one to resist new visions. He started it all with one category, “The Widest Spread.” Homero Garza of Freer, TX. won that first year. The deer contest was a great success until the winner requested his prize! Leonel had a problem, he did not have a one. Leonel’s only option was to give away his own wristwatch that he had won for selling Goodyear tires. Homero Garza was happy, and Leonel’s contest continued.
Newspaper reporters continued to publicize news about “The Hunter’s Friend” and his deer contest. All was well until one reporter noted that it wasn’t a deer contest, it was a “filling-up gas station contest!” Leonel got offended and realized it was time to give his contest a name. After some thought, he created the legendary name “Muy Grande.” He said that South Texas Deer were as wide as the Rio Grande and as big as the state of Texas; therefore, they were MUY GRANDE! Today, the name Muy Grande is known world wide and the contest is the Grand-Daddy to hundreds of deer contests to be born after. Eventually, Leonel became known as “Muy” to his friends and the hunting world.
In 1976, Muy obtained his Real Estate License and today still sells South Texas Ranches. His passion continues to lie in talking about and traveling to the beautiful ranches that his Daddy used to drive him to when fixing windmills. To video tape and capture the beauty of the land and whitetail deer is his primary treasure. Of course, another treasure is still his deer contest. Today, Muy’s deer contest has almost 1,900 registered life-time members and almost 1,000 registered entries each year and those numbers continue to climb. There is no doubt that Muy has created a legacy. It is estimated that Muy has measured approximately 18,000 heads of deer in his lifetime. Actors, politicians, sports athletes, musicians, and evangelists have all passed through the doors of the Muy Grande still located in Freer, Texas. Only a few celebrities include Nolan Ryan, Josh Beckett, Earl Campbell, the late Slim Pickens, Bob Lilly, James Robinson, Ramon Ayala, Roberto & Bobby Pulido, Johnny Canales, Janie Fricke, Carl Malone, Ty & Coy Detmer and George Strait. A wall in the Muy Grande store pays tribute to the countless celebrity faces who have visited throughout the past 4 ½ decades.
In the 1980’s, Muy published a book called “The Legend of the Muy Grande.” Later, he produced 3 whitetail deer hunting videos called “The Legend of the Muy Grande,” Part I, II and III. He has served on community organizations such as the Freer Lion’s Club, Chamber of Commerce, Freer Sportsman’s Club, and Freer ISD School Board of Trustees. He currently sits on the Duval County Underground Water District Board. In 1973, Leonel “Muy” Garza was named Freer’s Citizen of the Year. In 1995, the city of Freer signed a proclamation recognizing the Muy Grande Deer Contest on its 35th Anniversary. Twice, Leonel “Muy” Garza has been recognized by the Texas House of Representatives by State Rep. Richard Raymond and State Rep. Ryan Guillen for the business, recognition and financial prosperity the Muy Grande Deer Contest has brought to the State of Texas through deer hunting. Muy has been recognized on the Senate Floor at the state capital as well by State Senator, Judith Zaffirini.
In 2005, Muy’s daughter, Imelda Garza Sharber, joined forces with Muy just in time for the Muy Grande’s 40th Anniversary. A website was created and new visions began to surface. After much prayer, Kenneth, Imelda’s husband, left his full time job in 2007 and began to work exclusively with the Muy Grande. In late 2008, the Muy Grande opened its doors to a brand new building. The new store has a full time restaurant, feed store, gasoline, groceries, sporting goods, and souvenirs.
In 1999, Muy put down “the bottle” and picked up a video camera with a quest to capture the lives of whitetail deer in South Texas. Muy continues to sell real estate at the new location through Duval Real Estate and still tells many years worth of hunting stories to customers and hunters. Muy has seen many trials and tribulations but many successes as well. The contest now has approximately 70 categories and donates scholarships to students in Freer and Duval County. The Muy Grande gives special tribute as well to youth hunters, sports writers, land owners, and ranch guides annually at the Muy Grande Award’s Ceremony. The Muy Grande realizes that it takes many people to contribute a great deal of time and dedication to a successful hunt. With a clear mind and the love and support of family, the Muy Grande will continue as a pioneer of deer contests and legacy to the hunting world.
“With God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:25-27