Whitetail Hunting photo

If you’re a Texan like me, September 1 can mean only one thing: dove season. Sitting on a stool by a windmill is as much a part of Texas culture as cowboys and longhorns, salsa and chips, and high school football. Dove Day is the kick off to all good things to come.

Under a hot sun, I guarded the windmill run-off pond. The afternoon heat pounded my neck while birds bombed in from the north, coming off a milo field. They zeroed-in on the spinning wings of my decoy, and barrels burned hot until my leather stringer was heavy with dead mourning doves. There was time left in the day, so with the birds cleaned and on ice, I retreated to a high mesa, good optics in hand. It was time to focus on deer.

Sometimes I think modern deer hunters have become so dependent on trail cameras that they forget to use their own eyes to scout. That’s a mistake because even the best trail camera can only scan a very small section of real estate. Gaining elevation and using a tripod-mounted spotting scope lets you find deer the cameras might miss. Just knowing a fine buck is in a general area, and seeing him with my own eye balls, is enough to keep me motivated all season.

From that high canyon rim, my 10X Leupold’s probed the river bottom below. Due to above-average moisture, the vegetation along the creek was jungle thick. Spotting deer won’t be easy, at least until we get a freeze and the leaves drop. I planted my bottom on a patch of grass, braced my elbows on my knees and started the slow grid-like search of the whitetail habitat below. The sun dipped to the horizon when I finally spotted movement.

Two does, their backs almost orange in the slanting light, were walking parallel to the creek. They moved slowly, plucking leaves off the brush as they meandered down the waterway. Further down the creek, maybe 400 yards, more movement came into focus. It was a small 8-point buck. His velvet-covered rack looked as soft as cotton.

Daylight was mostly gone when another silhouette caught my eye near the small buck. It was a bigger-bodied deer, but its head stayed down hiding any sign of a rack. Finally, with barely a blink of daylight in the sky, he raised his head. It was a buck, but how big or how many points I can’t say. It was just too dark.

So I’m left wondering if it was a big buck or just my brain trying to make the vague shape of antlers into something bigger than reality.

I’ll repeat this ritual many times in the coming weeks. Glassing and watching deer from afar is the best way I know to see what size bucks are there, how they move in the evenings, and better predict which stand to hunt come October. Eventually, the deer will move with enough light for me to confirm what I think I see. Given all the rain this year, I know there are some big ones down on the creek.