_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.
The chase phase of the whitetail rut is slowing down in the northern half of the region, but the hunting is still good. Thanks to cold weather, bucks are still on their feet. The tough part, according to everybody I’ve talked to, is finding a mature buck whose rack is not busted up!
Meanwhile, the rut is picking up momentum further south. Sources in the Hill Country say “It’s on like Donkey Kong!” South Texas is not far behind. Best days of rut hunting down south are now through early January.
I took a break from whitetails this week to focus on one specific old mule deer buck. It’s a buck I’ve tracked for several seasons. A super-sized fork horn I nicknamed Beamer, since his rack was mostly beams and few points. In the last week, with the mule deer rut starting to intensify, I saw him a couple of times. Could I get him with my stickbow if I was patient?
I shot a wide 11-point mulie buck with a bow back in early October, but thanks to a Texas MLD permit (managed land deer tag), the state gives ranches that work on habitat management an extended season and buck and doe quota to meet management objectives. That meant if I saw the right buck, I could use one of the extra tags to harvest that buck to reach management goals. I would not use the tag for just any buck, it had to be an old-timer.
I tracked Beamer through trail camera pictures and a few daylight sightings over several seasons. He lived in a one mile square area of broken canyon country and CRP grass. He was the boss, backing younger bucks with bigger racks down with just a sideways glance. His rack was never going to be a classic 4×4 trophy mule deer rack, so genetically speaking, he made the hit list for a perfect management buck. His antlers had a big frame every year, but he was basically a big fork horn with a couple of kickers.
For three seasons, I tried to put him in front of my nephews for a shot over the Thanksgiving holidays, but he was always sneaky. It never went to plan.
On the evening of December third, sitting in a ground blind near a fence crossing, the old buck I called Beamer followed ten does through the gap at the fence. It was cold, 28 degrees with a wind chill of 16, and I’d been in the blind for three hours. I was shaking badly from the cold and wondered if my numb fingers could handle the shot at close range with my recurve.
At 11 yards, the old buck turned broadside. I eased the bowstring of my 50 pound Hoyt Buffalo recurve to the corner of my mouth, hesitated for three seconds, then turned the calf hair tab loose. The 498 grain carbon arrow led by a scary-sharp, three-bladed NAP Razorcap broadhead, hit hard in the crease behind his right shoulder. Half the length of the arrow disappeared. He bolted 150 yards across the CRP field, then sagged to the ground. It was over in seconds. The time was 5:12 P.M.
Upon inspection during field-dressing chores, I noticed there was a perfect triangle-shaped hole through the center of both lungs. I’m proud of that shot.
Beamer’s tall rack won’t score much. It was never about score. His teeth were worn to indicate he was 7 ½-years-old. To take such a sneaky, old buck at close range with traditional tackle was the highlight of my deer season. As rewarding as it was to wrap a tag around his thick beam and stroke his white muzzle, I know I’ll miss seeing him in the years to come.
Texas’ general mule deer season in the Panhandle counties ended on December fourth. The general season in the Trans-Pecos runs through December 11th. Ranches on the MLD program for mule deer can hunt until January first.