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.
So what’s going on so far in the trophy-rich brush country of South Texas? Typically, the peak of the rut in the prime counties south of San Antonio takes place in December and even early January. So peak rut days are a long ways off.
The drought hit hard there this year, too. And so far temperatures have been hot. Like most places across the state, daylight movement of older bucks has been minimal. Good bucks are posing for pictures on trail cameras around protein and corn feeders, but gone by shooting light. That seems to be a common theme across the region from hunters I’ve talked to: Good bucks are there, but moving after dark. And considering last week was the peak of the full moon, that’s to be expected, especially with hot temperatures.
One exception was my friend Kevin Reed’s early season hunt. Hunting on a well-managed ranch in South Texas, Kevin connected on a huge buck. That Maverick County ranch participates in the state’s Managed Land Deer tags program (MLD) which allows them to start rifle hunting on October 1st to meet harvest objectives. When bucks are visible in early October, it’s a good time to try to get a big one with a rifle, before he possibly breaks his antlers later in the season. That’s a common problem on the ranch Kevin hunted, where buck to doe ratios are tight and sparring and fighting often leads to busted racks.
Kevin reported the morning activity was slow, and the daytime temperature heated up into the 80s. But by sunset, the senderos were filling up with deer. Evening hunts were better than mornings.
Kevin was hunting for one specific buck–a giant they’d seen the previous year, but was dubbed too young to shoot. This year, he was on the hit list. And his image was on trail camera pictures around a protein feeder, but never in the daylight. Kevin was the first one to hunt that area this season.
Kevin took his post in an elevated blind overlooking several senderos. First, a doe stepped out into the sendero late in the afternoon. Behind her was the big 14-pointer. But just as Kevin was lining up the crosshairs, the doe got his wind and she ran into the thick mesquites and cactus, taking the giant buck with her.
It was 30 minutes later, although it felt like two hours according to Kevin, when the monster materialized from the brush on a different sendero. This time it was the giant buck, a young buck and several does together. Kevin lined up the crosshairs on his Leupold scope for the 110 yard shot. His custom 7 mm mag rifle put the bullet through the buck’s chest. The old buck went 30 yards and tipped over.
The buck is a stud by anyone’s standards. Tine length, mass, kickers, he’s got it all. Even some dried, black velvet on part of the rack. Back at ranch headquarters, they aged the buck at 6 ½-years-old. His impressive rack scored 187-inches gross B&C. What a giant! And proof that even in a drought, ranches that supplement their deer herd, limit the harvest of older bucks and build plenty of water sources on the property can still grow big bucks in less-than-ideal conditions.