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.
Dec. 14–Overall Activity Status:** I just returned from a week of hunting in west-central Texas with hosts Steve and Michelle Anderson at Vatoville. I was a guest with industry friends at Mossy Oak and Under Armour. This report will focus on that region.

I was there from Dec. 6-10. Conditions were ideal: dark of the moon, cold mornings, and mild afternoons. Historically, that’s a prime week for rut activity in that region. On average, I saw about 10-20 deer each time I sat in a blind. We also saw a few good bucks late in the mornings and even at midday. But I’d say the first two hours in the mornings and the last hour in the evenings were best.


Rub Making:** I saw several impressive rubs on trees as big around as my thigh in the Hill Country. Impressive, considering the mature bucks on that ranch rarely weigh more than 150 pounds.

Fighting: Rattling was very effective. At one setup, late in the morning when the wind was blowing 15 miles per hour, my guide John Mayer smashed his shed antlers together and I kid-you-not, in less than 30 seconds a wide 8-point almost ran us over! The buck skidded to a halt 9 yards from my back. He was too young, but it was exciting. Three other bucks, smaller than him, responded at that same setup over the next ten minutes. Timing was perfect for rattling. Dec. 8 and 9 were our two best days for calling in multiple bucks to the horns.

Scrapes: Can’t say that I laid eyes on a single scrape while we walked and rattled. And never noticed one near the blinds either.

Chasing: I saw numerous bucks of every age class chasing does. Even more bucks with their noses to the ground, scent trailing but not necessarily chasing anything. Others strutting, walking stiff-legged and sniffing does. I recall one old, floppy-eared 7 ½-year-old 10-point that walked by a feeder pen late in the afternoon. He walked all the way around the pen and sniffed a dozen does, then wandered off into the oak trees, apparently not finding anything that smelled ripe. Another chase was spectacular. I’d just shot my buck, a stud 6 ½-year-old 9-point, and John and I were driving back to camp. A big, mature 130-plus 8-point was dogging a doe not 80 yards off a ranch road. He was oblivious to us. We drove down the road, took care of some chores for a half hour, then drove back down the same road. On the second pass, that same buck was guarding that doe 30 yards from the road.

X-Factor: Water is a sometimes over-looked but important element to consider during the rut, especially in arid regions. The western portion of the Texas Hill Country is parched right now. On the Vatoville Ranch where I hunted, wildlife manager Billy Bob Galbreath reported they had not recorded a decent rain since August. Caliche ranch roads produced clouds of white talcum powder dust storms when trucks passed by. Deer would obviously concentrate around water sources under such dry conditions, but run-down, stressed-out, rutting bucks expending lots of energy would also need an extra drink.

On the morning of December 8, guide John Mayer and I spied a dark-horned, heavy 8-point just across the fence from our blind. The buck was guarding a hot doe near a cattle water trough. We tried to close the gap, but the pair slipped back into the thick cedars and oaks. John said he’d seen that same buck near that water tank before. So we setup a portable pop-up blind, brushed it in with cedars and oak limbs near the water trough, and settled in for a long wait.

First to the water that afternoon were two does. Following close behind them was our buck at 3:40 p.m. At 38 yards, my Gold Tip carbon arrow blasted through both lungs. We found him 75 yards later. The 62-pound Hoyt bow and 2-bladed German Kinetics broadhead hit the mark and left an excellent blood trail. It wasn’t until we walked up to him that we noticed the sticker point off the back of his right brow tine, making him a 9-point. He’s about 130 inches, although he looks even better in the photo.

In my experience, bucks and does can hit water at any time of day in the rut. If you have the discipline, sit all day. If you don’t, sit midday from 10-2 and then the last two hours in the afternoon.