Ray: On the Trail of a Trophy

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.

My season just took an unexpected turn. I am now a man obsessed, even more than usual. Here's why.

Yesterday, November 6, I went to my "turkey and hog" tripod setup in the river bottom in the Texas Panhandle. If you've read my earlier posts, you know that spot has produced only turkeys in the daylight, a few pics of hogs in shooting light, and numerous hogs after dark. Deer sightings have been slim to none for the past 30 days. But it's November and things can change at any time!

I made the mile and a half hike early in the afternoon, focused on doing some hog control, but also toting rattling horns, since it is the time of year when that sort of thing works.

I checked the trail camera. Lots of turkeys, lots of pigs and a couple pictures of deer (Literally, about 20 out of 1500 photos). Right on schedule, here come 20 turkeys. As they milled around my stand, I started tickling the shed antlers together, slowly increasing volume for maybe 30 seconds. Less than one minute into my sequence I spotted movement 200 yards away on the creek. It was a buck!

The buck made a slow but steady walk towards my stand. I hung the antlers up, reached for my bow and got ready. He kept coming until he was broadside at 27 yards. He was a 2 ½-year-old 10-point with short tines and not-much mass, about 120-inches. A super up-and-comer to leave for the future.

An hour passed without seeing anything new. The wind died to nothing and the sun dropped behind the horizon.

With 20 minutes of light left, I spied a small buck north of me 100 yards away. It was a 100-inch 8-point. A young buck. He cranked his head to the north and out stepped another, this one a 110-inch 9-point. The 9-point intimidated the younger buck. The youngster dashed away towards the creek and the 9-point came on a string until he was 20 yards from my stand.

He'd been there only a minute or two when he cranked his head to look to the east. "Here come the pigs," I thought to myself.

I heard the footsteps first, behind me, then I saw the buck's legs moving under mesquite bushes. It was no pig. Less than 15 yards from the base of my tripod stand, he cleared the brush. All I saw were HORNS!

Out stepped the biggest, cleanest typical 10-point I've ever seen in my life! From my slightly elevated perch, I was almost looking straight down on top of him. I saw long tines, sweeping beams, good mass throughout and a chunky body big enough to support a saddle.

Keep in mind the wind had died to zilch. I had my Hoyt ready with an arrow nocked, but the buck stopped behind a cedar bush, less than 20 steps away. I dared not breath, waiting for him to step into my shooting lane. Two or three minutes ticked by with the small buck in plain view at 25 yards, but the giant had not stepped out from behind the bush.

And then, like a fuse fizzling down on a stick of dynamite, the light and variable breeze finally betrayed me. The small buck tossed his head up and snorted, then trotted to the north. The giant buck was right behind him, tail up on full alert. They both stopped at a laser-ranged 60 yards and turned broadside. Too far for an arrow, so I stared through my 10X binoculars. The monster stared back for 20 seconds, then trotted down the creek behind the smaller buck.

I got an eye full and feel confident saying he was at least a 170-class stud. Maybe more. No doubt he was the biggest, cleanest typical free-ranging whitetail I've ever seen inside bow range.

There's a good chance it's the buck that dropped a monster shed in that same river bottom last spring. I'll be hunting there again tomorrow. And the day after that. And the next one.