On the afternoon of December 10, I sat a familiar blind just off a river corridor. The temperature was in the 40s, warmer than it had been in a week, but the brisk 20 mph wind sent tears down my face.
The first visitor was a large black hog that ambled down the creek until he was 60 yards away, downwind. He stopped like he'd hit a brick wall, snout twitching in the air. Then he growled like a bear and swapped ends. I wished for a scoped rifle instead of my bow.
It was 4:30 when the deer arrived. Four different bucks, all of them eventually approaching within 20 yards. There were two small 8-points; one of them had every tine broken. The other 8-point buck's rack was completely intact, but small. The third buck was a young 10-point with antlers as white as a blank piece of paper, both of his G-4s were snapped off. The fourth buck was an older 10-point that would have been 125-130 inches, but half his beam was busted on one side and the brow tine was missing on the other. None of them were the two big shooters I've been after now for two months. And when I'd decided a mature doe would be a nice addition to my freezer, no girls showed up. Four long-bearded gobblers strolled by at 5 p.m., but I like to save my turkey tags for the spring. So the hunt ended without me loosing an arrow, yet there was plenty to look at. I don't have to shoot to have a great evening (the photo above is one example. Sunsets like this one keep me going back when the deer kick my butt).
By this stage of the season, many of us start to reflect on the couldas and wouldas from earlier in the season. There was the big 8-point, probably in the 130s, that I could have shot in early November. He was mature, but I was waiting for a bigger 10-point I'd seen in the same area. A week later that same 8-point strolled by me again, but he had broken his left beam in half. I know taxidermists can fix broken racks, but it's just not the same to me. I let him walk and hope we meet again next year.
In hindsight, it's easy to flip through the notes in my journal and see all the opportunities I passed up. Those same notes provide a clear picture of when the rut and buck activity was at its peak. In my stretch of woods at the top of Texas, buck sightings went up around November 6-10. The chasing started shortly after that and peaked around November 20-26. Activity took a nosedive after that, despite bitterly cold temperatures that you would think would make the deer move and be more visible. It was no real surprise that November 6-26 was best for seeing mature bucks on their feet in my neighborhood. But I still like October for killing a specific old buck because he is patternable and his rack is still intact before the real fighting begins come November.
There are still several weeks left in Texas' deer season. I might yet catch up with one of those older bucks I've been chasing, but if I don't, that's okay. It's been a good year. Every season is a learning experience and I'm already thinking ahead to changes to make for next year.