It is January and for most hunters that means the end of the hunting season. Sure, waterfowl and quail hunters still have a few weeks to get out and go, but for the majority of hunters the end is near.
It all started back in September with the opening of dove season. Before you could blink an eye, deer hunters by the hundreds of thousands were crisscrossing the state for weekend outings in search of a big buck or maybe meat for the freezer.
I have been lucky this year. Since October I have taken at least a half-dozen deer hunts, maybe more. It has been an interesting ride. Yep, my freezer is full of venison and I have helped fill a few others as well.
This season has been interesting not for what I have killed though, but for what I have seen. Maybe it is because I have gone so often or maybe it is because I haven’t been in a hurry to pull the trigger. The result is getting to see some things I have not seen in decades of hunting.
All of my hunts have come on a ranch outside of Kerrville where a few of us have been helping the landowner with his management program. He is working with native Texas deer and has been under a program for several years. Based on the number of 10-, 12- and 14-point bucks we have seen, the program is working.
A number of really good bucks have been spotted. Unfortunately for the hunters, by November many of those were sporting broken tines. That took them off the short list for this season and gave them another year to grow.
However, riding through the pasture one day early in November, my friend Mike Leggett and I saw a brute of a buck chasing a doe. The buck was in the wide open along a ridge overlooking a creek running through the ranch. We were sitting in a truck, but the buck acted like we were never there. Sitting a hundred yards away, we watched him for maybe 20 minutes before the doe finally took off up a header with the buck in tow.
“There are bigger deer on this ranch, but not a better looking one,” Leggett told the landowner of the deer I dubbed Big Boy after looking at pictures I took of him that morning.
The landowner had another mature buck he had been interested in taking but immediately began a quest trying to find the buck again. The deer never showed up on camera at any feed stations, but over the Thanksgiving holidays after the rut had wound down it was spotted at a feed not far from where it was first seen.
The landowner got back on the buck. The 6 1/2-year-old deer scored a gross 170.
Early this season, bucks were dominating the feeders. That made it impossible to find doe and sent me hunting out of impromptu ground blinds and tripods around the ranch. I had not done either in years, and now wish I had. The sights were amazing.
Sitting under a tree one day, I had a 14-pointer walk within 10 yards of me. It was only when we were side-by-side that he noticed something was wrong, but apparently conditions were just right because he did not blow and run away. Instead he stomped the ground a few times and bobbed his head back and forth with a quizzical look on his face.
Eventually he walked away, but it was not long before another buck came down the same trail. It was amazing.
Another afternoon, I sat under a tree in the middle of a wheat field. The wind was blowing from the north about 20 mph, blowing my scent away from any deer that came out.
I knew it would be a late hunt location and sure enough about 30 minutes before sunrise a parade of deer came into the field. Most stayed out of range, but a few fed right up to the outstretched limbs of the old tree. Watching their interaction was fun. It was interesting to see how they picked up on any movement, often seeing deer approaching I would not see until minutes later.
The absolute best, however, was the afternoon I sat in a tripod. As it turned out, it was not a perfect spot for watching deer, but just at last light gobbler after gobbler after gobbler came gliding across the field from the opposite ridge right past me to a roost tree right over my shoulder. I counted 10. There may have been more.
I have seen plenty of turkeys go to roost over the years. This is the first time I have ever been just yards away as they did it.
It was a good day, a good year.