Overall Deer Activity: The rut is at its frenzied peak in north Texas, the Texas Panhandle, and the Oklahoma Panhandle! On November 24, I watched multiple bucks chase does. One chase involved a big 150-inch 10-point hot on the heels of a doe, with a smaller 130-class 8-point bringing up the rear, cutting in and out of rough country in 8-inch-deep powdery snow.
Fighting: Friend and wildlife biologist Jeff Bonner rattled in 10 different bucks while guiding on November 21 in the northern Texas Panhandle. One rifle hunter killed a mature buck at 30 yards that responded to rattling. The following day, one killed another mature buck at the same distance that charged the horns. He said, “For your Rut Report, it’s on!”
In the past week, I’ve seen several bucks with freshly broken antlers. It’s getting to that phase of the season where finding a mature buck with a perfect, unbroken rack might be difficult.
Rub Making: Mostly old sign in my area, although I’ve watched a couple of bucks rake small trees while courting a doe, showing off for her and for any smaller bucks watching.
Scrape Making: None reported.
Chasing: Lots of chasing. In the Oklahoma Panhandle, friend Shawn Hoover reported seeing multiple bucks chasing does in a “cutting horse” fashion during the opening days of that state’s general season. Seeing a wild chase is always exciting, but it does shuffle bucks around, and makes finding a specific animal that regularly showed up at a certain location more difficult. At the same time, it can bring a new buck into your hunting area. It is chaos in some locations right now.
Daytime Movement: Snow as deep as 10 inches slammed the Texas Panhandle the past weekend, along with frigid temperatures. Wind chills were as low as 0 with the strong, 20-30 mph north winds. Especially after the storm settled, deer were very active, not just during the first and last hour, but all day. Cold temperatures are expected right through Thanksgiving day.
Estrous Sign: Does are being chased hard right now, and I’m seeing more single females instead of groups. Every one of them had a buck following her. So if you see a doe this week, look behind her for a courting buck following her scent.
X Factor: Texas’ mule deer season opened on November 23 in the Panhandle. I’ve heard a couple reports of nice bucks taken.
Travis Terry, above, shot that impressive whitetail buck last week in in north-central Texas. A biologist aged the drop-tined monarch at 7 ½ years old. The free-range whitetail’s rack will score in the 160s. It’s a fine buck and a fine photograph.
Good photographs are just as treasured as the antlers on the wall or venison in the freezer. Here are a few tips for getting world-class photos of your November buck:
1. Clean the buck up for pictures. I carry a roll of paper towels and water bottles in my truck to wipe up blood on the mouth or wound on the body. Cover any wounds or blood with foliage or a strategically placed gun or bow.
2. Seldom is the place the buck dropped the best location for good photographs. I prefer to position the deer on some sort of rise so I can get the antlers silhouetted against the sky. Don’t be afraid to load the buck in the truck and move him to a better location for great pictures.
3. Take lots of photos. I take between 50-100 images of each buck I kill. Take both horizontal and vertical images. Even with that many photographs, usually one or two will stand out as the best.
4. The best light for pictures is the first and last hour of the day, when the sunlight is low and slanting across the horizon. Time your photos accordingly when possible. If I kill a buck late in the evening and it will be cold overnight, I position the buck in a bedded position, folding front legs under the body and propping up the head, and take the photos the following morning.
5. Use a fill flash to erase dark shadows from baseball caps. Taxidermist glass eyes can be slipped over the deer’s real eyes like contacts to avoid the glowing eyes from the flash. I keep a set of glass eyes in my backpack.
6. Add color to the picture if possible. In Travis Terry’s photo, the buck was placed next to a colorful tree with yellow leaves. I’ve picked broom weeds and flowers to position around my buck for better photos or set the buck next to a spiny yucca plant.
7. Lean your bow or unloaded gun against the deer, gun barrel pointed away from the hunter. That way you’ll always know what gun or bow accounted for the nice buck. Bright arrow fletching also adds pop to the picture.
8. The photographer should get low, so the camera is angled up at the deer and the hunter. Take tight photos without any unnecessary clutter in the background. If you hunt by yourself, carry a small tripod in your backpack for self-timer photos.
9. Find the buck’s most impressive feature and setup the photo around that one detail. If the buck’s rack has a wide spread, take the photos straight on. If the buck’s right side has lots of points, show off that side.
10. Smile! You just shot a fine buck. It makes for a much better picture if you look genuinely excited for your good luck rather than adopting a tough-guy frown.