Ray: Some Bucks Rutting, Others Recovering

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. 28--Overall Activity Status: Activity: In Central and North Texas, multiple reports from friends of good bucks seen near corn feeders. Some of them with busted up antlers, scars on their shoulders and necks and limps from fights in the rut. I'm reminded of a hefty 150-class 11-point I saw earlier this month in Central Texas with a gouged-out eye. The rut, and the recovery after the rut, is a stressful time for bucks. Not much rutting activity in these two regions according to my sources, but the deer are looking for the free eats, so hunt near food.

In South Texas the hunting is good. One friend reports seeing a dozen different bucks at one corn feeder on a cold morning. Bucks were running in and out around the corn, mostly interested in does.

In just in the last few days, a familiar face has resurfaced on one of my trail cameras. It's a wide, 150-plus class 10-point whitetail. He was on my camera quite often back in September before the bow season opened, but always in the dark. (Look back at the very first post for these rut reports and you'll see his picture.) I never laid eyes on him in the course of hunting season and he was never on my trail camera in November or the first half of December. Probably out covering the territory looking for girls. He's sneaky.

Well, now he's coming in to that same location with thirty minutes of good shooting light left in the evenings. That's him in the accompanying photo next to a couple of mule deer does. He lives in crossover country where you see both deer species. I'm sure he's at least 150 inches and maybe closer to 160. I've already used my buck tag for that county, so it looks like he'll be my first pick for the 2011 season.

He's proof that the late season, long after the rut, can be a great time to hunt big bucks over feed. He's obviously trying to recover some of the calories he burned up in November and early December by visiting my bait site in daylight. Wish I still had that tag in my wallet. He's the best buck I've seen all year!
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Chasing:** The only chase reports I've heard recently were from South Texas. One buddy told me he watched a big, black-horned 10-point dog a doe back and forth across a sendero and through thick brush for 30 minutes, but could never get a shot because they were moving so fast. Cool to see the chase, but frustrating to try to get a clear shot at a still target. Christmas through the New Year is traditionally a favorite time for hunting big bucks in the cactus jungles down near the border.
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X-Factor:** I found something interesting on December 26...a fresh shed! The shed antler was laying next to a trough where I feed corn and alfalfa hay. The fresh, brownie shed is from a young, 3 ½-year-old typical 8-point whitetail with huge brow tines. I've seen him many times this year. His brow tines are about 7 inches long. And he's got three small kickers below the brow tine. He's got the potential to be something special if he gets a couple more years to fully mature. He was on my trail camera on December 24 with the one side of antler still on his head, he'd already dropped his left side, then he dropped the right side on Christmas day and I found it the next day.

This is the earliest I've ever found a shed. It was in the Texas Panhandle. I think I've seen another "doe" that was actually a buck without antlers. So it brings up a serious concern: If you are hunting these last few days of the season, be extra sure the "doe" you are about to shoot is not a hatless buck!

Body size compared to other deer is one way to tell the difference. Through good binoculars you can see the raised pedicles on the head. And look for dark tarsal glands on the hind legs and the dead giveaway, the "goods" between the back legs confirm it's a boy! If your not sure if it's a doe or a shed buck, don't shoot.