Ray: Preparing for Next 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.

Dec. 30: There is nothing else that can dull the pain of a deer season almost over. Yes, I'll hunt coyotes this winter. And I love talking to turkeys in the spring, but I'm a deer hunter first and last. Fall is my season. If you are anything like me, you know it's an eternity from the close of one season to the opening of the next. Try not to cry in your venison chili.

But before the season ends, there's still lots to do. I've mentioned it here before, but one of the best rituals I've learned over the years is the importance of post-season scouting. What does that mean? For me, it's monitoring feed areas with trail cameras to take inventory of the bucks that survived the season. Once I establish a list of survivors, I write down a short biography on each of the best bucks in my hunting journal. The places where I saw them most often, morning or evening specific, times of year, approximate age and every detail about their antlers. All of these notes give me a hit list to look for the next season. It's a place to start come opening day.

Once the season is officially over, I'll walk through the bedding areas and sanctuaries I dared not touch while I was hunting. I'll make notes on trails, scrapes and rubs. I'll wear binoculars in case I jump a buck so I can get a better look. And once all the horns drop, I'll march those same thickets and river bottoms looking for sheds. All of this makes me a better prepared hunter come opening day next year.

I've got several bucks I'm already excited about for 2011. There's the big typical 10-point whitetail that just resurfaced on my trail cameras. (His picture is on my last rut report.) I think he's 5 ½ or 6 ½-years-old now. He could realistically be pushing 170-inches next season as long as he survives Ma Nature's wrath this winter.

Several quality mule deer have me totally stoked for the 2011 season. One is a heavy-horned, symmetrical 4x4 with good brow tines that just showed up at one of my feed stations. I've never seen him before. Might never see him again, but I'll be looking! If he grows even a little bit by next season, he'll be a gagger. That's him in the accompanying trail camera photo. And even if I never lay eyes on him, I've got four other very good bucks that will do just fine.

If you need proof of what an incredible season it was across the Lone Star State, go to the website www.loscazadores.com. Los Cazadores, based in South Texas, is one of the state's most popular big buck competitions. Their website has LOTS of photos of 200-inch bucks taken in 2010. Incredible. Another excellent source for big bucks taken in Texas is the TWA's program, Texas Big Game Awards. Their website is texasbiggameawards.com.

Thanks for following my report this season. You can check out photos and read more ramblings about big bucks and hunting adventures at my website, brandonrayoutdoors.com.

See ya next season!