Ray: A Buck for the Book

Rut Reporter Brandon Ray is an expert on the region. Ray was born in Dallas and shot his first deer … Continued

Rut Reporter Brandon Ray is an expert on the region. Ray was born in Dallas and shot his first deer with a bow in Central Texas at the age of 15. The full-time freelance writer manages his family’s Texas Panhandle ranch, is a licensed New Mexico guide, and last year took a 184 gross P&Y non-typical trophy. States covered: TX, OK, NM.

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Nov. 17: Who hasn’t dreamed of taking a Booner buck? The 170 0/8 net minimum for a typical whitetail to make Boone & Crockett is one of hunting’s highest achievements. Many hunt a lifetime and never even see a B&C typical, let alone wrap their tag around that perfect rack.

On November 13, my friend of 25 years, Lee Hortenstine, met up with his dream buck. Lee and I have hunted together since we wee teen-agers in high school together. Today, at 40, we are both as obsessed with deer as ever.

Lee was hunting a lease he’s shared with a dozen other hunters for 21 years in North Texas. It’s a large piece of mesquite-covered rolling hills that’s home to turkeys, quail, hogs and deer. Every year, Lee waits till November, then he takes time off from work and spends lots of time with his butt in a deer stand. And most years he shoots a fine buck. But his 2010 buck is by far his best-ever.

The morning of November 13 was cold and foggy. Lee drove to a section of the ranch that is mostly open with patches of brush. In the past, he’s seen some good bucks in the open country courting does in November. His plan was to sit on a hilltop and glass, try to find a good buck, then close the distance.

Because it was so foggy and visibility was zilch, Lee sat in his truck till almost 8 AM, waiting for the fog to lift. Then, not 60 yards behind his truck, he saw a doe. She saw the truck, but wasn’t overly spooked. Because it was November, a single doe is rarely alone, so Lee scanned the surrounding brush through the soupy fog for more deer. He could see the outline of another deer in a patch of brush just beyond the doe, but could not tell what it was.

Minutes ticked by and the doe got nervous. Then, the second deer stepped clear of the brush. Lee saw only one side of the buck’s rack, but saw enough to know it was one of the tallest racks he’d ever seen.

Lee got a steady rest, lined up the buck’s shoulder in the crosshairs, then touched it off. The shot was only 105 yards. The buck dropped immediately from Lee’s custom .300 Ultra Mag. When Lee got to the downed deer, he was shocked at the tine length, but still guessed conservatively that the buck’s rack was in the 160’s. Lee went for help from one of the other lease members to load the big-bodied buck in the bed of the truck.

Back at camp, the buck’s worn teeth gave an estimated age of 6 1⁄2-years-old, maybe older. Several hunters gathered around and a conservative tale of the tape came up with the following numbers: the symmetrical 10-point rack gross-scores 177 2/8 and nets 172 4/8. There are no abnormal points, just a perfect 10-point frame. The deer’s longest tine is the G-2 that measures 14-inches. After the 60 days are up, Lee plans to have the big Texas buck officially scored for B&C.

Congratulations, partner. It only took 20-something years!

Lesson Learned?

If you hunt a well-managed ranch with good genetics, and pass up young bucks in hopes of letting them reach their full potential, eventually it will pay off. Maybe not with a Booner buck, but a mature buck. Eventually all the management and letting the up-and-comers walk will pay dividends. It takes time, and discipline, to let those bucks reach 5, 6 and 7 1⁄2-years-of-age, but that’s when their antlers are at their best. That’s what it takes to grow a giant.

Hunt prime hunt dates in the pre-rut and peak rut like Lee did for 20-plus years. There’s no substitute for “doing time” in a blind during prime dates in November. And when the buck of your dreams steps out, get a solid rest and slowly squeeze the trigger. Just like you practiced a hundred times at the range in the summer. You do practice, right? That’s a formula for success.

Last thing; Lee’s north Texas deer lease is flown every September or October with a helicopter to conduct surveys and set harvest recommendations. That big buck was never seen from a helicopter. And in fact, despite trail cameras at many locations on the ranch, the buck’s picture was never on a camera. Proof that even when you think you know every deer on your hunting grounds, there’s always something out there you don’t see. And sometimes it’s a Boone & Crockett buck!