Overall Activity Status: I just returned from three days of hunting in north Texas near Abilene. The weather was cold, with a dusting of snow on the mesquites and cactus. Bucks seemed more active in the mornings than the afternoons. My friends and I saw anywhere from two to ten bucks each while sitting near corn feeders. The best buck seen was a 155-inch 10-point, but just as my friend was about to shoot, a coyote howled nearby and the buck ran in the brush.
Fighting: I saw two small bucks fight for a minute or so, but not a knock-down drag-out eye-puncher, more of a playful twisting of antlers.
Rub Making: Only old sign is evident at this point. Most rubs seen near corn feeders and water tanks on mesquite trees.
Scrape Making: None to report.
Chasing: In north Texas, I have not heard a report of a buck on a real frenzied chase in weeks. In south Texas, the rut is off and on (see X factor below). I’ve heard and seen a couple of bucks chasing does off feeders in north Texas, but these were not breeding chases, more of “get away from my food” chases. Bucks are now focused on regaining lost calories from the exertion of the rut.
Daytime Movement: The first hour of daylight on these cold mornings seems to be the best time of day to see a buck. So don’t sleep in! Afternoons were productive on my recent hunt from 3:30 until dark, but significantly more deer and bucks were seen in the mornings.
Estrous Sign: None to report.
X Factor: Robert Sanders, manager and wildlife biologist on the Temple Ranch in South Texas, sent me this comment on what he’s seeing now in Duval County:
“As I write this, rut action has slowed for a short time in south Texas. Older mature bucks have finally calmed down a bit coming off a month of running hard, while younger bucks continue to check almost every doe they see. I foresee another noticeable secondary rut within a week or so. All bucks have lost 80 percent of their stored body fat at this time. It is quite a bit more difficult to age bucks on the hoof right now. Even the largest mature bucks look like they are two years or more younger than they really are due to weight loss. Lots of broken antlers as well as noticeable battle scars are the norm for this time of year. During this time period of the rut, bucks will once again start coming to rattling horns.”
While on that hunt near Abilene mentioned earlier, I got to see the excitement of a young hunter taking a fine deer. While hunting with his dad, Brandon Rutledge, Wells Rutledge (shown above with his father and his trophy)shot the second buck of his young life . On January 5 at 5:30 p.m., 7-year-old Wells steadied his 6mm rifle while seated in his dad’s lap in a tower blind. The tall-tined buck was 115 yards away. Wells shot hit the buck in the heart. The deer jumped straight in the air, then went down a short distance away. When I joined them to help drag the buck to the truck, you could not wipe the smile off young Wells’ face. This quiet boy was suddenly transformed into an excited chatterbox. His self-confidence went up like a shot of adrenaline. Gross score, the age of the deer, and that other nonsense we adults get too concerned about didn’t matter—it was great to see what deer hunting should be about. A kid taking a buck puts things into perspective. I seriously doubt Wells’ reaction would have been any different had it been a spike or a 200-inch Booner.