Late January 2019

Late January 2019

I don’t know where the time has gone, but the month of January is coming to an end and our Texas bowhunt is now history. Jake and I flew out of Minneapolis early on the morning of January 18th and landed in south Texas around noon. After grabbing our gear from baggage claim, we were met by the two guys we’d be hunting with, Greg Below and Joe Umphries. Greg is a longtime friend and fellow Wisconsinite, while Joe is the national sales and marketing manager for Big Tine deer supplement.

Greg Below with a south Texas management buck he arrowed on a past hunt.

As we learned during the short drive to the ranch where we’d be staying, Greg actually has been bowhunting this property off and on for nearly 10 years. During that time he has gained a very thorough knowledge of where the best hunting spots are located and which ones would offer the best opportunities to take a good buck with archery equipment.

After stashing our gear in a bunk house, we climbed into a four seater UTV with the ranch manager and headed out for a quick tour of the ranch we’d be hunting. It quickly became apparent that there’d be no treestand hunting on the ranch…because there literally are no trees! The habitat is a perfect example of south Texas brush country. Thick growths of thorny brush such as mesquite, acacia and prickly pear made up huge expanses of nearly impenetrable cover.

The thorny south Texas brush is virtually impenetrable to people. However, the local wildlife thrives in this environment.

But while the thorny brush proved to be a barrier for us, many forms of wildlife actually do quite well in it. As we learned, the ranch hosts a very healthy population of bobcats, coyotes, wild hogs, javelina and, most importantly, whitetail deer. And trust me when I saw that this particular area produces some GIANT whitetails. I’m talking bucks that score over the Boone & Crockett minimum of 170″ and larger. In fact, just prior to our arrival there was a 212 7/8″ monster taken from the ranch.

This 212 7/8″ Texas whitetail was taken a couple weeks prior to our arrival.

Now while Joe and I would have loved to put our tags on 200″ bucks, we had been invited to the ranch for a management buck hunt. But as Greg quickly pointed out, in this area the term “management buck” can have a rather broad meaning. It could be a five or six year-old 8 or 9 point that scores in the 140’s or 150’s. Or it could be a 6 1/2 year-old 10 point that scores in the 160’s. Fortunately for us, the ranch manager had plenty of scouting camera photos and a wealth of firsthand knowledge regarding the management bucks we could expect to see near the ground blinds where we’d be hunting.

The ranch manager took this photo of a couple “management bucks” earlier in the season.

Interestingly, as we were taking our initial tour of the ranch we actually spotted a pretty good buck standing on a sendero about 75 yards away. After closely studying the buck through his binoculars, the ranch manager decided that it was a management deer. He then handed a rifle to Joe and told him to shoot the buck. As you might expect, Joe had absolutely no problem fulfilling the request. And a few minutes later we were standing over the buck, which turned out to be a 4 1/2 year-old 10 point.

This 4 1/2 year-old 10 point is a perfect example of a “management deer” on the ranch we were hunting.

Now some might wonder why the ranch manager would want a deer like this taken out of the herd. But as he explained it to us, the buck showed no promise of ever growing into a true trophy. According to him, on this ranch a 4 1/2 year-old 10 point should score close to 150″. I doubt this one would have scored 125″. The rack possessed poor mass overall, short main beams and short G4 points. So his decision to take this deer out was obviously a good call.

A few hours after the encounter with the management buck found Jake and I set up in a ground blind located just a few yards from the edge of a long sendero. Once we were settled the ranch manager used a feed spreader mounted on the back of his UTV to “corn” a stretch of the sendero in front of our blind. Apparently, every form of wildlife in that area has learned exactly what the sound of the spreader means. Because within five minutes we started seeing birds, rabbits, javelinas and deer moving through the surrounding brush.

This is just part of the herd of javelinas that milled around our ground blind for nearly two hours.

With so much happening around us the next two hours literally flew by. Then just as the sun was sinking below the western horizon we spotted a giant buck. The big whitetail sported a nearly perfect 10 point rack, which boasted great tine length, good mass and an inside spread easily exceeding 20-inches. Better yet, the ranch manager had described the buck to us earlier and told us he was a “shooter”. According to him the 10-point was at least 6 1/2 years-old and most likely was as big as he’d ever be. So he wanted him taken out of the herd.

But as things often go with very mature whitetails, this big Texas buck seemed inclined to remain just outside bow range. And then he eventually walked off the sendero and disappeared in the surrounding thick brush. About the time we thought the 10 point was gone for good, he suddenly popped back into view just 20 yards away. Unfortunately, he was in a spot where Jake could see him clearly but I couldn’t see him at all. And when he did decide to move he went past the blind at a brisk walk, which quickly took him out of range. That was the last we saw of him that evening.

Though this big 10 point was within bow range for a long time, he never really offered a decent shot.

One aspect of hunting south Texas I’ve found very enjoyable is that there’s really no “down time”. In the hours between our morning and evening hunts for whitetails we cruised the senderos in search of javelina, hogs and coyotes. It didn’t take us very long to figure out that the ranch is a target rich environment. While the hogs and coyotes proved to be a bit skittish, javelina were numerous and also very stalk friendly. By the time our hunt ended Joe and I had both arrowed our legal limit of the bristly, smelly rodents. And we had a blast doing it!

 

Joe Umphries and I spent the midday hours doing the spot & stalk thing for javelinas. We never had a shortage of targets!
This skinny coyote made the mistake of sticking around just a little too long. Joe made the most of the opportunity.

With the wind direction dead wrong on day two to hunt the big 10 point, Jake and I spent  a couple hours in the morning  and the last few hours of the day in an elevated box blind located atop a hill on a long sendero. With wind gusts exceeding 30 mph, we really didn’t expect to see much–and we were right. We did see a couple young 10 pointers during our morning hunt and a few antlerless deer in the evening. And that was it for day two.

A switch in wind direction on day two forced us to hunt a different location. These two young 10 pointers kept us entertained for a while.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day three dawned clear and cold, with a pre-dawn temperature of 38 degrees. (Which is considered cold in south Texas.) Jake and I were back in the ground blind where we’d had the encounter with the big 10-point. As it turned out, he was a no show. However, we did have a couple close calls with a big 8-point that was cruising the area around our blind. At one point we had him within 15 yards. But he stood directly head on, and only for a few seconds. Then he trotted off again in that head down, nose to the ground pace familiar to rutting bucks.

With perfect wind conditions in the forecast for that evening, we headed right back to the same ground blind.  Unbelievably, we were just 20 minutes into our hunt when we spotted the big 10 point headed our way on the sendero that passed in front of us. But just like he did during our first encounter, he initially seemed inclined to stay out of bow range. And when the big deer did wander within bow range he was always behind some brush.

This cat and moist game continued for well over an hour. During that time the 10 point actually walked off into the thick brush and disappeared on several occasions. But then he’d suddenly pop out of the brush and walk back onto the sendero. The third time he did this finally brought him to an open spot 30 yards from our blind. As I was in the process of drawing my bow the big whitetail suddenly swapped ends and began moving away. Figuring the distance was now closer to 35 yards, I voice grunted him to a stop, settled my 30 yard sight pin just little high on his vitals and released an arrow–which missed!

I’m not going to lie. This one of the most demoralizing misses I’ve ever experienced. After having a few days to digest and analyze the encounter I’ve come to the conclusion that there are several reasons why this miss was especially painful. Most notably is the fact that the 10 point was an exceptional animal. And not only because of the size of his antlers. There’s also the fact that he’s a 6 1/2 year-old deer. I don’t know about you, but I’ve personally not had many opportunities to harvest a 6 1/2 year-old whitetail. Like I said, this miss was demoralizing. But it also instilled an intense desire to make a future trip to Texas. It’s payback time!

More later…