Ray: Antelope in the Middle of Deer Season

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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I love deer hunting. And it's easy to get caught up in the whitetail rut-related madness and forget all the other fine opportunities of fall. Right now it's antelope season in Texas. The season lasts from October 1-9.

Texas' antelope are found in two primary regions, the Trans-Pecos of West Texas and the counties of north Texas in the Panhandle. Texas' antelope hunting is controlled by landowner permits issued by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. Landowners that receive these permits can choose not to use them, use them for themselves or family and friends, or they can sell the right to hunt, by way of the permit. Prices for these permits vary, but an average price is $750-$2,000.

This year, I secured a permit on land in the Panhandle north of the town of Amarillo. I paid $1,000 for one permit. It was the only permit issued for the ranch. That ranch was comprised of rolling hills, open grasslands, sage, yucca and the occasional mesquite. A winding creek complete with tall cottonwoods bisected a section of the ranch. Good whitetail country, too!

The evening before opening day, my friend Rusty Sims scouted with me. It was my second time to scout the property. Until that afternoon, we'd only seen a handful of average 13-inch bucks.

At sunset, barely inside the front gate, the slanting afternoon light illuminated "goats" 200 yards to the east. Standing in the sage and yuccas were two bucks and two does. On closer inspection through a Swarovski spotting scope, I could tell one of the bucks was one we'd never seen before. His horns had a beautiful heart-shape with extra heavy mass above the prong. I guessed each horn close to 16-inches around the curl. Rusty and I backed out of the pasture at dark, me wearing an uncontrollable grin. We had a good one "roosted" for opening day!

At daylight, we were waiting. With the waking sun, I spied our target. Now there were three bucks and six does, not 200 yards from where we'd seen the big one the night before.

I went alone, slinging my arms into a full daypack, a .270 scope in one hand and Bog-Pod shooting sticks in the other. I got the wind in my face, circled around a yucca-covered hill, then crawled to the top. Below me, the herd fed unaware.

At 200 yards, I scanned the mob, looking for the heart-shaped buck. He was the most aggressive of the three bucks, but his horns did not look as impressive as they had the night before. But this had to be our buck. None of the others had the mass like him. And I knew he was the best one on the ranch from all of our scouting work.

At 225 yards, my HS Precision rifle topped with a Leopold scope held steady across the tripod-legged sticks. A 130-grain Hornady Superformance bullet took him on the shoulder. He dropped and never twitched. The others stood and stared, then burned rubber over the hill when I walked toward the downed buck.

When I lifted his head from the sage I was both ecstatic and deflated at the same time. From the previous sighting the night before, just 12 hours earlier, he'd broken 2 ½-inches off BOTH of his horns! He's still a fine buck, and you can't eat the horns, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I was a little disappointed.

I'm already dreaming of next year's Texas antelope hunt, one of my favorite fall traditions. Maybe next year's buck will keep his horn tips through opening day.