It was the last few days of the 2022/2023 whitetail deer season.
Thankfully Texas’ Managed Land Deer Permit (MLDP) allows hunting deer until the last day of February on properties based on their approved management program. I was tremendously thankful Corey Mason, the Executive Director/CEO of DSC, had mentioned the lease he and his father Jim and a small handful of friends had an opening. I jumped at the chance to become a member of the 8,000-acre lease situated out west of San Angelo, Texas. Essentially half of the ranch is relatively flat, reminiscent of the South Texas Brush Country. The other northern half, is rocky cedar-covered hills and oak tree and brush covered valleys. Combined the terrain and vegetation are ideal whitetail deer habitat. The same hunters have been on the ranch for about 18 years added to the intrigue of my becoming a part of the group.
2022’s winter had been unseasonably cold and dry. Spring and summer had been dry, little or no rain, resulting in “reduced” antler development. Surprisingly does on the property had produced many fawns, and in spite of the dry and poor range conditions they did an excellent job of raising fawns. Most ranches throughout the area were fortunate if they had a 10% fawn crop (100 does raising 10 fawns to the 6-month-old age). Our lease based on game surveys conducted during August and September revealed the property had an unbelievably high fawn survival rate, topping 70%. That high fawn survival rate will insure in four years there will be a lot of four-year-old bucks! I could not have been more well pleased. All too often hunters forget to look at fawn survival. Very few fawns any one year, and that cohort will be thin for the next numerous years!
I hunted the lease hard during the rattling time just prior to Thanksgiving. I rattled in and passed on numerous young bucks. Even the older bucks I rattled in were “merely” eight-points.
Earlier that summer I spent quite a bit of time on the range, shooting my .270 Win Mossberg Patriot, using Hornady’s Precision Hunter 145-grain ELD-X, as well as my Taurus Raging Hunter .44 Mag shooting Hornady 240-grain XTP Custom ammo. With the latter I felt comfortable taking shots out to 100 yards, and, with the .270 Win out to 400-yards. I really like shooting long range steel or paper targets at long distance, but when it comes to hunting, I like getting as absolutely close as possible.
Before the 2022 rattling season was over, I rattled in over 30 bucks, including an 8-year-old eight-point I shot at the distance of ten paces.
Part of our management program requires each lease holder shoot their allotted number of does. My allotment was 9 does. This gave me the opportunity to use my .44 Mag and .454 Casull Taurus Raging Hunter revolvers, as well as my Rossi R22 .45 Colt lever action rifle. If pressure came into play, it was in making certain I shot my allocated does. I am proud to say with two weeks of our MLDP season remaining I took my eighth and ninth doe. One of those fell to my .454 Casull Raging Hunter shooting Hornady’s Custom 240-grain XTP and the other to a .30-06 Mossberg Patriot shooting Hornady’s 180-grain CX Precision Hunter.
I am fortunate my immediate and extended family, which includes married grandsons, who love to hunt but do not have as much time to do so as I do, all love venison. No matter how many deer I take each year, every little bit of possible venison is utilized. I also have neighbors that are on required low-cholesterol diets. Venison is THE perfect meat for such diets!
“Pressure” was released once I had taken all my allotted does. Now I could at my leisure continue hunting bucks once again. My allotment allowed me to take five bucks. I had during the rattling season taken a nice, eight-year old eight-point. During that same time, I had passed many younger bucks. Bucks that I thought would in an “average rainfall year” would produce much bigger racks. As the season was coming to a close I spotted a buck with a saggy belly, jowls and knobby knees. His brow tines were essentially lacking, thus was a 3×3. I shot him after a long stalk. Unfortunately, I hit him a bit far back. I watched him run up a steep slope. Not a good sign. My son-in-law, Lance Tigrett, had watched the stalk and walked to join me where the buck had stood when I shot. We soon picked up a faint blood trail. We followed the buck, drop by drop, up slopes down in to deep valleys then back to the top of a long ridge. Sometimes we merely followed tracks we thought might be him. Then thankfully after 30 or so steps, were rewarded by another drop of blood.
The buck headed through the densest brush on top of the long and narrow ridge. He jigged and jagged across the top, then headed toward the edge. Lance and I followed.
At the ridge’s edge, the buck headed back downhill. I stopped and glassed the cedar and brush covered slope and valley below. I hoped we could spot him either walking or bedded. Personal pressure of finding and putting down the buck had built to a substantial level.
After several minutes of glassing, “I think I might see him!” said an excited Lance. “Look…12 o’clock straight in front of us, just where it appears the slope turns pretty flat. There’s a dead mesquite, with a big fork. Looks more like a huge stump than a dead tree. Look ten degrees to the right of it and maybe fifty steps beyond. I can see a deer’s back. Through the screening of cedar, it looks like the antlers of the buck you shot.” I spotted the deer, thanks to his directions.
“Surely looks like him!” Said I walking to our left, “Gonna move over and see if I can get a better look.”
Moments later, “I’m pretty sure it’s him. Horns look the same, and I think I can see what looks like blood on his side.“ The buck was laying down where I could see most of his side. “Lance, if you don’t mind stay up here where you can keep an eye on him. I’m going to drop down and try to get close enough for a shot. He’s watching into the wind, looking away from us!”
I scrambled down the slope and headed toward the bedded buck, using the dead mesquite with the big fork as a marker.
Ten minutes later I thought I should be within t30 or so yards of the bedded buck. Ever so cautiously and slowly I moved forward a few more steps. Then, I could see his antlers, head, neck and part of his back. I believed I could put a bullet into his neck and finally put my buck down. Getting a solid rest against a cedar, the crosshairs settled on the buck’s neck. I pulled the trigger. All that said, I am not a fan of shooting a deer in the neck. There is simply too much room for error. But I was close as I was, and if the deer did not die in his bed and he jumped and ran I would have time and space for a quick follow-up shot.
Thankfully at the shot the buck was dead. Even so, I quickly bolted in a fresh round and kept my rifle trained on him for another 30-seconds. When there was not movement I walked up to his side. He like my first buck on the lease was 8-years old.
I hate wounding an animal, and if it happens I will make every possible effort to follow and put it down as quickly as possible. Persistence, not giving up on the blood trail and sometimes merely the occasional drop and tracks, had paid off.
I spent as much time as possible the last two weeks of the MLDP season looking at and passing bucks. By then they had again gathered into bachelor herds. My last day on the lease I spotted several bucks I could not wait to see during the 2023 fall hunting season.
Now that we are into the 2023 hunting season, hunting our lease I have seen much better antlers than last season. I already have passed several 10-point bucks.
I rattled in 23 bucks the two days I got to hunt during the approaching rut. I also saw two bucks at great distances I hope to find later in the hunting season, knowing that hunting food sources during January and February should pay handsome dividends. Time will tell. Yes, there will be a bit of self-imposed pressure, but through persistence I have a feeling my patience will pay off.
Time will tell! Stay tuned!
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