Larry’s Blog – When a Plan Comes Together

“If you can shoot like that when we see a big you just might be able to hit the entire deer!” chided my guide, Johnnie Hudman, who also happens a very dear old friend. I tried my best to ignore his comments, but doing so was impossible. “See if you can hit that house-sized boulder over to the left of the hundred-yard target. The way you’re shooting, I’m gonna have to get you really close to a buck!”

I simply shook my head and found a silver-dollar sized rock to the left of the boulder he suggested. At the shot the small rock exploded. “I knew it! The way you’re shooting I’m probably going to have to put a buck at the end of the muzzle for you to hit him!” Somehow I expected no less from my compadre with whom I have shared numerous hunts and campfires, but never as many as I have really wanted.

“OK, back to the target!”

I shifted, got a good solid rest, picked out a bullet hole I had purposefully placed nine-inches high and eight-inches left of dead center. I squeezed my Mossberg Patriot Predator’s trigger, adjusted down to 2 ½-pounds of pull. Through my Trijicon AccuPoint scope I saw the 175-grain ELD-X Hornady Precision Hunter load turn the .284-inch sized hole to a .308 sized hole. “You’re still way off…” said Johnnie Hudman. I then asked Johnnie to “lay his hands” on the barrel to correct all problems…reluctantly he did!

My next shot, quickly followed by another at the 100-yard target took the “X” out of the center of the bullseye. I turned to smile at my old friend. Said he, “If you’d let me do that before you fired the first shot, you sure could have saved several rounds of ammunition!”

Early summer Johnnie had asked me to join him on the Buffalo 4 Ranch for a whitetail hunt, owned by Matt and Amy Skipper.

“As you know, I have managed the wildlife and hunting on several ranches in the past (Johnnie for year managed the famed Nail Ranch, as well as the Stasney’s Cook Ranch and others in northern Texas), the Buffalo 4 is one of the best I have ever had anything to do with. The owners and I would like to invite you to come experience the ranch and while there, take a mature buck, if we can find one and you can hit him! Let’s plan a mid-October hunt. We do have a Managed Land Deer Permit. The bucks should still be somewhat patternable, before the bachelor herds start breaking up.”

Sounded like an excellent gameplan to me.

The Buffalo 4 Ranch lies just north of the old Fort Chadbourne Calvary Fort, on the edge of relatively flat plains and the lower edge of the rugged Texas Edwards Plateau. The sizeable property is high fenced to keep in the exotic species they have introduced, and, to keep out whitetails so those within the apparent confines of the fence get full benefit of the ranch’s extensive habitat manipulation, supplemental plantings and feeding program. I say “apparent confines” because in years past as a professional wildlife biologist I have watched mature bucks regularly and easily clear 8-foot-tall fences. We humans see such fences as a barrier, local whitetail deer do not.

The Buffalo 4 Ranch is involved in various whitetail deer research, including having known-age bucks which can be tracked from year to year to determine how the management program is “working.” This is accomplished by putting ear tags into the deer’s ears when they are fawns. Thus at least for the time being it is not uncommon to see bucks with tags in their ears. As a wildlife biologist who spent many years researching and managing whitetail deer, I totally understand and appreciate why someone would want to use ear tags on deer on a specific property, and I applaud the research the Buffalo 4 Ranch is involved in.

The first couple of days of my hunt, Johnnie and I, along with Matt did a lot of reconnoitering and simply looking. As a wildlife biologist I wanted to learn as much as I could about the ranch’s habitat; plant species, age structure of the local deer herd and any and every thing else I could learn. Too, it gave Johnnie and me time to “mess with each other,” something we have always done. I quickly learned the owners, Matt and Ms. Amy, as Johnnie had told me were not only truly dedicated to producing the finest deer possible, but also learning everything they can about whitetails and the local habitat, and they have personalities very similar to my long-time friend. It quickly became apparent why Johnnie, beyond his knowledge of deer and habitat, was working with them.

Over delicious meals I learned Matt and Ms. Amy are both serious hunters and conservationists. Both are Life Members of DSC and support the organization’s goals and objectives of wildlife conservation, education and advocacy.

During our reconnoitering I saw more typical 12-point and drop-tine bucks than I would have ever imagined. We saw many antlered bucks that were in a single word “HUGE!” To say the least, I was impressed. Johnnie and I spent the early hunts driving from one glassing point to another. We also spent a couple of hunts sitting in the Buffalo 4’s comfortable blinds watching feed areas. We saw numerous bucks, including two, that according to Johnnie, had they given us the opportunity he would have instructed me to shoot. When they the bucks appeared I concentrated on getting footage for A SPORTSMAN’S LIFE, the digital tv show I co-host with Luke Clayton and Jeff Rice, which appears weekly on Lowering the camera and picking up my Swarovski binos, they walked behind a screening of mesquites. What I had seen of them, all were huge! “One if not two of those are strong possibilities!” to which Johnnie added, “But you probably could not hit them anyway…”

That night over a delicious meal, visiting with Matt and Ms. Amy, we discussed going back to the same blind next morning.

We did, but saw only a few does and a yearling buck. We were back at camp at 10, had a quick breakfast and immediately headed out to hunt and scout another area of the ranch.

After checking an area where Johnnie had seen an older, six-years old or older buck, we formulated a plan to return to the area where we had seen the five bucks the evening before, including one Johnnie decided I should take, if we saw him again.

“Those bucks should for the time being stay in that same basic area where we saw them yesterday. Although, I have noticed some of the bachelor herds I have been watching have started splitting up.”

I interrupted Johnnie, “Saw a couple of just opened scrapes, which tells me the bachelor herds are indeed going to start breaking up pretty quickly.”

“How do you feel about making a ground, brush blind and hunting from there?” asked Johnnie, smiling because he knew that was one of my favorite ways of hunting whitetails. “Let’s find a stand of live oaks near where we saw those bucks yesterday in an area where we can cover a lot of ground.” I nodded in agreement knowing the live oak tree trunks would provide some excellent background cover, and the trees modeled shade that would help break up our shape much like some camo clothing.

A few minutes later, Johnnie and I agreed where to set up. We scraped the litter from around several live oaks growing closely together, set up a couple of “low chairs,” then surrounded those with cut cedar branches. Ground blind complete, we backed away to have a look from a deer’s perspective. If we did not make any really serious “moving around,” it was doubtful even an eagle-eyed doe would spot us.

After a hasty mid-afternoon lunch, Johnnie and I headed to our makeshift blind. Secreted there I thought about taking a quick nap, then thought the better of doing so. If I closed my eye I knew my compadre would be poking me.

By the time we were settled in it was 4 o’clock. I positioned my 7mm PRC on shooting sticks, got a bit of footage of our surroundings. I was just about to turn the camera off when Johnnie whispered “Buck, typical 12, young about 100 yards straight in front. I quickly turned on the video camera and started focusing on the deer. Just as I did I spotted more movement headed in our direction. Definitely a buck! Just as I got the camera focused and on the deer said Johnnie, “Second buck! Shoot that second buck!”

I took one look at the buck through my Trijicon AccuPoint, adjusted down to 4x, and did a double-take! The second buck had huge antlers; tall, wide, massive at least a typical 10 with kickers including a 3-inch drop on his right beam. My heart jumped into my throat! I talked to myself to calm down and do simple things, like make certain the camera was turned on, and focused on the buck. A quick glance proved it was. The buck was partially hidden behind a tree trunk and was slightly quartered toward me left to right. He was cautious, allowing the younger buck to reconnoiter before proceeding. I readjusted the camera. As I did I saw the younger buck jerk his head up high, look right, then turned tail to run.

I had less than a couple of seconds to get on target and squeeze the trigger, before the buck I was after followed. Just before he made his move I shot him, hoping the bullet with where I was holding would take out his heart.

At the shot, my buck whirled and ran. I cycled the Mossberg’s bolt and quickly picked him up for a fast departing second shot. Just as I squeezed the buck fell, less that 40 steps from where he stood when I had shot. I kept my scope trained on the downed deer. If he so much as even wiggled I was going to shoot him again.

He did not…

A few moments later Johnnie and I walked to where my buck lay. With each step he and his antlers seemed to grow bigger and bigger, and, he had started out looking absolutely huge! At his side I marveled at his big body and the shape and beauty of his antlers. His antlers were extremely long-tined, a typical 11-point with 10 scorable non-typical points longer than 1 inch. One of those non-typical points was a 3-inch long droptine off of his right main beam. His primary points were l-o-n-g, as were his main beams. I suspected his inside spread would equal or exceed 20-inches and his greatest outside spread might stretch a measuring tape to 27-inches. To say my buck had a HUGE set of antlers would have been an understatement!

Johnnie noticed I was simply staring at my buck, smiling broadly. Said he, “May be the first time in 40 years of knowing you, that you’ve been speechless!”

After some appropriate pictures and required footage for an upcoming episode for A SPORTSMAN’S LIFE, I sat back and simply stared at my buck. I take it you like him!” said a wide-smiling Johnnie Hudman! He was wrong…I loved the buck!

After many pictures we took my buck to the skinning shed. I gutted him, then we set him up in the ranch’s walk-in cooler for more photos in the morrow.

Chores completed Johnnie and I adjourned to camp, where lo and behold my old friend produced a bottle of chilled peach schnapps, a tradition we had started many years ago. With small “pourings”, we toasted my buck, Buffalo 4 Ranch, the ranch’s owners, friends of many years who were somewhere back in Tennessee and Alabama, and our years of friendship!

Early next morning we took more photos, then I caped and skinned the buck, as well as quartered him and hung him in the cooler where his meat would be allowed to age for a couple of days before being cut up.

From before the hunt to after the hunt including all in between our hunting plan had come together! Surely is nice when such things happen!

To learn more about the Buffalo 4 Ranch please visit their Facebook page. A full-fledged website is currently under construction and will soon be available.


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