By Don Kirk
“If you are looking for the deer hunt of a lifetime, Texas is waiting for you.”
One of the most interesting aspects of hunting the whitetail is the almost infinite varieties of terrain, climates, and scenery where these game animals are hunted. Growing up in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, I learned how these clever creatures used the hollows and ridge tops to conceal their movements. I learned how abundant acorn mast made finding whitetail tough, and how when these hardwood morsels were scarce, the whitetail concentrated around the oaks that did make fruit. By the time I was 25 years old, I figured I knew about all there was to know about these animals.
The last twenty years have dispelled just about everything I thought I knew about the whitetail. During that time I have hunted the swamplands and the Black Belt region of the Deep South, the scrubby conifer tangles of Quebec’s Anticosti Island, the prairies of the provinces of Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, as well as the hardwood and crop lands of the Midwest. The biggest thing I learned during a decade of continent wide whitetail hunting was, there was a lot more about these animals and hunting for them than I was aware.
The problem was, the more I learned about the whitetail, the more I knew there was to learn. Five years ago I divided my autumn hunting time almost equally between big game such as caribou, elk, mule deer and antelope; and whitetail. When Brock Ray and I started Whitetail Journal Magazine some years ago, I found it necessary to devote a lot more time to whitetail hunting, mostly at places I was unfamiliar. In fact, one destination, a single ranch in Texas, received three trips starting in October and ending in December.
Like most eastern deer hunters, I had never hunted more than a handful of times for whitetail in the Lone Star State. Over the course I’d been there, either on business or making quick hunting trips. And, like everyone else, I had heard and read about the incredible number of whitetail there as well as the many mind boggling trophy buck often seen in a single day. Still, I knew that in order to fully grasp the uniqueness of Texas, I needed to make at least three trips there; one during the pre-rut, another during the peak of the rut, and lastly, one during the post rut period.
Riding along with my guide through the arid countryside of Texas’ LaSalle County, we talked about what I might expect when hunting at the ranch in November. He said things were really starting to happen with the onset of serious rutting activity by the many mature bucks roaming the ranch. It was my second trip to this privately owned 2,300 acre spread. On my first trip I had taken a doe, a wild hog and a javelina. It was great hunting.
Like most ranches that charge you to hunt there, this one required that any buck taken by a hunter have at least eight points, AND sport a rack that measures at least 18 inches wide. Before going out hunting, every hunter is tested by the ranch owner to ensure he knows what is and is not an 18-inch spread antler.
This one like most Texas ranches, has a conservative trophy management program enables numerous record book class animals to be taken each season. It also enables every hunter to see lots of deer. The first morning I hunted from a stand located in a scrub oak, I saw four dozen deer. In fact, on three occasions that morning I had ten or more does and bucks under me at one time.
The ranch I hunted was located in the heart of one of the most arid corners of the Lone Star State. The soil is mixture course sand, clay and rock. Little grows here that is over 15-feet high, and does not have thorns capable of making the toughest men wince when jabbing one (or, more) into their hides. Few insects survive in this environment that do not seem to live only to extract blood from creatures it shares this desert-like countryside.
This corner of Texas is not especially productive in terms of providing the food needed to maintain large numbers f whitetail. It also does not boast a mineral base sufficient to consistently produce trophy antlers on trophy class bucks. To ensure hunters see plenty of whitetail and have a shot at a wall-hanging buck, supplemental feeding occurs year round. Hunters coming from areas where supplemental feeding during the hunting will find hunting in the vicinity of a mechanical feeding device is a new experience.
Texas hill country is big and flat. Game trails crisscross the sandy terrain, leading in every conceivable direction. Because naturally occurring sources of food are so scarce and scattered, artificial feed areas are needed to concentrate game animals. It is the only way hunters will get an opportunity to see lots of whitetail as well as get a shot at a truly trophy class buck. Guided hunts like I was on cost $1,500 to 43,000 for 4 to 6 days. These usually include trophy and meat care, transportation and meals. Some ranches charge less by providing a bunk house where hunters cook their own meals.
My first day hunting at the ranch was spent in a tripod that sit 7-feet above the ground. I just could not believe the number of deer I saw. The following morning I went after wild hog, taking a nice size animal that was barbecued over mesquite coals the following evening. I missed a nice buck the next morning, but bagged my first javelina that evening. The last night of the hunt I took a bragging size nice point buck as it tried to sneak past my position.
It was my first real taste of south Texas buck hunting and it was a real eye opener. Anyone who thinks that because these whitetail rely so much on mechanical feeders that all you have to do is be here to bag a big buck, are living a pipe dream. Feeders or no feeders, these Lone Star State bucks are as tough to get with arrow range as any bucks found anywhere. Granted, there are few places you can go and see as many whitetail. However, legal bucks seem to march to different drummer.
If you are planning a hunting trip to southern Texas this year, expect to hunt differently than you ever have in the past at other places. Except for a few scrubby oaks that will hold a man, you will either being hunting at ground level or perched atop tripod.
If you have never tried your hand at hunting for Texas whitetail, you are missing one of the most interesting aspects of the sport of deer hunting. God blessed Texas.