Whitetail Hunting photo

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.



If ever there was a place in the whitetail world where the mantra “let em grow” is practiced, it’s in the brush country of South Texas. Given enough age, bucks can grow super-sized antlers. In addition to age and genetics they also need nutrition. (duh!)

Like most of Texas, 2011 was dry in South Texas. From a nutritional stand point, native browse was lacking due to the absence of rainfall. The summer heat, lack of rain, and lack of quality feed added stress to the deer herd. Overall, fawn production was low to non-existent and antler growth was down as well.

The properties most likely to produce big bucks this year, the year of the 100-year drought, are those with limited or no cattle grazing, diverse habitat, limited harvest of mature bucks in previous years, deer numbers in balance with the range (not overpopulated), supplemental feed programs, and good water distribution.

With the rut gaining momentum in South Texas now, water should not be forgotten. As sure as food plots and corn lines in senderos attract does and bucks, so does water.

In December of 2005, I was hunting down south on the spacious Duval County Ranch (DCR) near Freer. It was unseasonably hot that year. Temperatures were 90 degrees plus in the afternoons. My friend (and wildlife biologist) Ty Bartoskewitz and I scouted a dirt pond late in the morning.

The tracks were there in the mud, and Ty had seen bucks visit that tank earlier in the season, but we figured hunting the last two hours before dark was the right plan. As we paced around the pond talking strategy, looking for the right spot to erect our Double Bull blind, several deer kept popping out of the brush, then spooking, as they tried to come in for a drink. The real eye opener was a decent buck we saw hazing a doe about 200 yards away down the sendero. They wanted to come in, but spooked when they saw our truck.

So instead of waiting to hunt it that afternoon, we decided the time was now. We popped the blind up, got a few water bottles from the truck’s cooler, hid the big Chevy behind a screen of cactai and got comfortable for an all-day sit.

The first few deer were does. They came in and drank about 30 yards away. Following them was a small buck. He watered, then chased the does back into the thick brush. No doubt the rut was on! It was nearing midday and the thermometer was already at 90 degrees.

Ty surprised me when he suddenly blurted out, “Big buck on the right! He’s coming at a trot, tongue hanging out.”

The dark-horned buck galloped down to the water’s edge, then went in up to his knees in the water. His chest was heaving, tongue lolling. I waited impatiently for Ty to give me the nod. Ty stared for what seemed like an eternity through his binoculars, evaluating the buck to determine his age. Finally, he said yes. My bow came back immediately.

The arrow whistled through the drinking buck’s chest at 30 yards. He trotted just over the tank dam, then sagged to the ground. What an unbelievable hunt at midday!

The main-framed eight point had a few extras and that classic, dark-stained horn color you often see on bucks from the brush country and Old Mexico. His rack carried about 145-150-inches of bone.

We guessed that mature buck had been chasing does and sought the water due to his over exertion in the rut. The temperature that day peaked at 95 degrees. But even when the thermometer is not as hot as it was that day, hunting water makes sense during the rut.

If you plan to hunt South Texas this month, remember corn lines and food plots are great, but guarding water works too!