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 nontypical trophy. States covered: TX, OK, NM.
After a month of effort, I finally connected on the big Texas Panhandle 10-point I’ve been after. He was one of the most visible big bucks I’ve ever hunted. He was on my trail camera virtually every day for the past month. But just because a buck’s picture is on your camera doesn’t mean he’s going to be easy!
In the past four weeks, I’ve hunted that tripod stand in a secluded river bottom six times, always in the evenings. I don’t like to hunt it in the mornings because I always bump deer in the dark. Five of the six times I saw the buck. But he either winded me or saw something he did not like, and walked the other way.
On October 28, the wind was ideal. It was southwest at 10-15 mph. The high temperature that day was 64. At 6:35 p.m., two does and two fawns stepped out of a cedar-choked ravine 100 yards away. They stared my direction for three minutes, then turned and walked the other way. I thought to myself, “Here we go again.”
At 6:50, a young 11-point stepped out on the same trail as the does from earlier. He stood and stared. Then, not 20 yards from my stand, a young 9-point walked by. When the 11-point saw that, he headed my way. And right behind the young 11-pointer was the big, mature 10-point I’d been after for a month.
When he was 20 yards away, at 7:03, I sucked the 62 pound Hoyt bow to full draw. I must have waited at least a minute for him to turn broadside. When he did, the arrow hit, and he went straight down. I put an insurance arrow through the ribs and it was over.
He’s a great buck. Tooth wear looks like 6 1⁄2-years-old. His long-tined rack gross-scored 147 P&Y. My friend Jim came after dark with his four wheeler to help me get the buck out of the canyon. It was almost 11 p.m. by the time I had him cooled in the barn. The temperature was in the upper 30s that night.
So what’s to be learned from my October success? In my experience, the rut is very exciting. Bucks crashing through brush, tongue hanging out, chasing does like grunting, over-heated dogs. It can be wild stuff. And plenty of guys kill bucks in the rut, but not always a specific buck they have targeted. In my experience, it’s a difficult time to kill a specific buck with archery tackle. You never know where a buck will show up. Here today, then chasing a hot doe miles away through the city park the next!
On the other hand, early season bucks, like the 10-point I just shot, are predictable. They are thinking about food, not so much girls. In Texas, that usually means hunting near agriculture, food plots or even corn feeders. That’s why I invest so much effort to hunting in October. It’s also before the gun season opens. I try to get my buck before the added pressure on neighboring properties from rifle hunters. Pre-rut bucks can also be very responsive to calling, like rattling or grunt calls, that last week in October and first week in November.
So when you are planning your day’s off from work next year for deer season, don’t just ask the boss for days off during the rut. If you have a big buck on a pattern, hunt him early, while he’s predictable. It’s worked for me year after year and it can work for you, too.
As memorable as that hunt was, it wasn’t the best hunt I heard about last week. My friend, Rusty Sims, took his 7-year-old son, Logan, deer hunting on October 30. Even though the month of October is archery-only season in Texas, the state opens October 30-31 for youth hunters to use a rifle.
Logan was toting a scoped .223. Sitting in a ground blind in the northern Texas Panhandle, the father and son waited. Logan’s chance came late in the evening. A fine 9-pointer walked through the trees and stopped at 30 yards. Logan made the shot and the buck piled up 40 yards later.
What a first deer! Rusty and I joked about how our firsts were simple does.
Lesson here? Take the time to introduce someone in your family to this great tradition. Deer hunting should not be about inflated “big buck” egos or just “what he scored.” There’s more to it than that. I’m already looking forward to a week I’ll spend in late November at the family ranch hunting deer with my three teen-age nephews, Buck, Will and John. We’ll try for a buck, one doe and a wild turkey to add to the store-bought bird for Thanksgiving dinner. That’s what fall traditions are all about!