Under the Texas Managed Lands Deer Program, landowners who perform extra habitat improvements, conduct annual surveys, keep records, and manage land are rewarded with an extended hunting season beyond the state's regular dates. A Texas Parks & Wildlife biologist works with the ranch to set harvest objectives, then a set number of buck and doe tags are issued. These tags do not count towards the bag limit on your state issued hunting license, and it allows a single hunter to shoot multiple bucks or does if needed to reach ranch harvest objectives. Programs are available for both white-tailed deer and mule deer. Thanks to the MLDP program, I had two mule deer buck tags this year.
December 2 did not seem like the ideal day to shoot a big buck. The high temperature was a warm 68 degrees. But I had a southwest at 5-10 mph, which I needed for a favorite blind, and if I've learned anything over the years it's that you never know what you'll see unless you are out there!
It was my third time to sit that blind this season. I was in it by 3:30 p.m. and almost immediately I started to see deer--does at first, and then a couple of small bucks. They were headed to a nearby windmill for a drink. The bucks were just starting to act a little goofy—not full-blown rut-nuts, but following does, staring at them, curling their lips to smell them and not tolerating each other's presence much. In a week or two, I think it will be chase-crazy time for Panhandle mule deer.
By sunset I'd seen almost 20 deer—the most I've seen in a single sit this season. I was waiting for one specific old buck: A big-bodied, droopy-eared 10-point with heavy beams, tall tines, and a tight spread. (Old bucks often have droopy ears due to a breakdown of cartilage.) He's been on the trail camera off and on, mostly in the dark, since early September. I'd seen him once before from the blind and had taken his picture with a big lens.
The western horizon was a colorful orange and pink when I saw a doe and another bigger deer coming out of a ravine 200 yards away. Through the 10X binoculars I could see the trailing deer was the old, droopy-eared buck! He took his time, posturing to a couple of smaller bucks on the way in. It was 5:54 p.m., leaving ten minutes of legal shooting light, when he finally came by the blind, turning broadside at 16 yards. The 64-pound Hoyt came back smooth, the bright green pin hovered for a moment on mouse-grey hide, and then the skinny Victory arrow was gone. The 4-blade Solid broadhead slipped between the ribs on entry and smashed through the shoulder blade on the offside. The old buck made a mad dash for 60 yards, and then toppled in a cloud of dust.
What an awesome buck. Tooth wear indicates he was 7 ½-years-old. His dark rack has polished tines as white as ivory. Tiny green bits of mesquite bark were still embedded in his heavy bases. His G2s are 14 inches tall and I rough-scored him in the dark in the 150s P&Y. I gutted him, propped him up overnight, and then used a tripod and self-timer to take some good photos at sunrise the following morning.
Texas is best known for her whitetails, but in the canyon lands of the Panhandle and the Trans-Pecos regions, well-managed ranches grow quality mule deer. Programs like the MLDP help landowners reach their goals. It's yet another reason why Texas has the world's best deer hunting.