I have fond memories of going to the deer camp in deep East Texas, Leon County to hunt with my dad and to make memories with his hunting buddies. As a twelve year old kid, many a night I would lay awake in the top bunk of the small two room cabin, listening to the sound of the fire in the woodstove as it died down. The chug-chug-chug of the stovepipe sounding like an old locomotive trying to pull a long hill, and listening to the giant rats as they scuttled around scrounging for food that had been dropped during dinner. I would start to drift off to sleep and dad and his buddies would begin start in with the “Bigfoot” stories, and my mind would start to think about sitting all alone in the stand the next morning. When the alarm went off, I doubt that I had slept a few brief hours.
Hunting the East Texas Piney woods is in itself an entirely different experience, very different from the mostly open range of North Central Texas, where I have called home and hunted for the last 34 years. This year I got to experience the cactus and mesquite covered land that we all know uniquely as South Texas. I’ve read about, and heard stories from many folks of hunting in South Texas, but I had never gotten the opportunity to experience the action first hand. I’ve heard stories of massive deer, huge racks and a type of rut unknown to any other parts of the country that I had only fantasized about seeing. Over the last 8 years I had sort of taken a hiatus from deer hunting, but it had never left my heart. I was able to watch TV shows, read magazines and online articles along with hearing my friends share their personal stories. Early last year I picked up where I left off, partly due to the horrible shooting that had taken place and had placed the gun world into total chaos for some time. I started buying guns and ammo to add to my collection before they were either banned, unavailable or priced completely out of norms. During my many trips to gun shows, hunting shows and visiting my Facebook groups, I decided it was time to get back in the game full time. I started preparing for opening day.
I have hunted the last 35 years with a cousin, who is more like a brother to me, on his property up near Sunset on the northern edge of Wise County. We have taken many deer off of the place in the past, with some being very good quality deer. With better management practices, food plots and feeders, we are looking to increase our herd and quality even more over the next few years. Both he and I passed just this year on some nice deer, hoping that they got by other hunters so that next year, or the year after that, we will get the chance to hang a local trophy over the fireplace mantle.
The land is covered in scrub oaks, cedars and briars with some open hay fields. I’m familiar with this area and the habits of the deer locally. It’s similar to hunting the Piney Woods in the fact that some of the time you can’t see 10 yards into the brush in front of you, and another time you may be challenged to take a 250-300 yard shot across an open field or down a utility right of way.
I changed jobs during the summer and in doing so met some new friends and co-workers. In discussions we had with each other, the topic of guns or hunting would usually come up. As hunting season approached these discussions ever more increased. Some of these people that I met are from the South Texas area and hunt there. Some of them own the land and others lease the hunting rights to it. Each time we talked about hunting the South Texas area, my heart would instantly reach the breaking point. I had, for many years dreamed of hunting the area, and if anything, just getting to watch the Whitetail deer in that habitat. When deer season opened, I started hunting our lease faithfully, and saw many deer in the first few weeks. Some doe, some bucks, but nothing that we called “shooters”. I received an invitation to go to South Texas during the middle of the season and jumped at the opportunity. A date was set and I didn’t sleep for two weeks until it arrived. A long 7 hour drive south on I-35 and 15 miles east of Encinal Texas, I arrived at the Junco ranch. After introductions were made with those I had not yet met, and unpacking, my guide Heath asked if I wanted to go hunt that evening. By the time the last word had left his mouth I was loading a gun and sitting in the Jeep. As we rode out, the terrain was unlike anything I had ever hunted. Scrub mesquites and cactus were everywhere. Except the pathways we drove in. The cactus at times, five feet tall and clusters as big the Jeep. There was a broadcast feeder attached to the tow hitch on the Jeep. I soon discovered how they used it and what was going to be a very new style of observing the Whitetail, and the many other species that came out of the brush to feed on the corn we spread in the sendero.
After we spread corn in the senderos, we climbed into a very nice and roomy stand in the center of the place they call the Crossroad stand. As Heath, my guide was arranging the chairs for me to get the most comfortable shot, I looked out the window and deer were already coming out in the sendero. As you might guess, my heart started pounding and excitement grew to a pitch that I had never experienced thus far in my many years of hunting. We settled in and less than 5 minutes later, a huge 20” wide buck walks out that was 4 ½-5 ½ year old. After Heath closely inspected the deer, he said quietly to me “Wendell, this doesn’t happen very often, but that is a shooter”. Here I was, less than 10 minutes into my hunt and I have the green light to shoot. The huge buck just fed away while I contemplated whether or this was the first deer I wanted to have mounted. Number 1: It was the biggest bodied deer I had ever seen in the wild. Number 2: It was quite possibly the biggest rack I had ever seen in the wild while hunting. Number 3: It had a broken brow tine on the right side that would have lost me some points. Number 4: It had the most unusual stocking feet. Something I noticed before my guide and he also was amazed at. All of this going through my head as my heart was trying to escape my body, while at the same time Heath was whispering to me, “There will be others. I promise”, while at the same time I was looking through my scope on my gun, putting it down and looking through my binoculars, putting them down and taking pictures with my camera and cell phone. All these years I’ve anticipated this very moment, it’s arrived and I’m having to decide quickly if I’m going to wait or shoot. Oh, and at the same time, two other bucks, a multitude of does, Javelinas and Feral hogs all are scrounging around in the senderos behind, in front and beside me to each direction.
I made the decision to wait. We watched numerous deer, both does and bucks till dark. None of the bucks were the one that I wanted to have hanging on the wall. On the way back to camp, we jumped a coyote and I jumped out and got a shot off with the Ruger 6.5 Creedmoor, but missed at a little over a hundred yards. Now, not only was I having trouble controlling my heart, but I also had that doubt in my mind as to whether or not I had missed the coyote, or my scope was off. The next morning I debated taking a camp rifle, but opted to go with the 6.5. I had sighted the gun in a few days before and knew that it was dead on at 100/200/300 yards. I also had confidence that the 6.5 would drop a huge buck in its tracks at those distances, but I had the thought bouncing around in my head if I had the ability. That morning we sat in a different stand and I saw 6 bucks feeding together at a feeder that turned out to be of the most thrilling times of my hunting life. It was majestic watching those bucks, totally oblivious to my heavy breathing, my heart pounding, and the many pictures that I took while watching them. Again, I chose not to shoot the one that I had the “green light” on. That evening I shot at, yes AT, a huge feral hog that I watched come in feeding from over 500 yards away to within 40 yards and pulled the shot right. Now I am concerned about my ability. One of the other guys at camp and I both shot the gun later at 100 yards on their range and the gun was spot on. It was just my nerves and I. In my years of hunting, I had never failed to make the shot. Never, and now, when I need it the most, I had lost my edge. The next morning we went past the stand we had hunted in the first evening and climbed into a stand further down the sendero where Heath had seen a nice buck lately. As the day started breaking, we started seeing deer. About 600 yards down the sendero, he walked out. There was a doe feeding close to the stand in the same sendero about 75 yards away. Heath was telling me to be patient, and that he would get his belly full of corn and come chase the doe. Just as he said, about 45 minutes later, the buck started moving toward us. I put my gun through the window and put the crosshairs on him as he walked toward us; 500 yards, 400 yards, 300 yards and 200 then yards. I was watching him to help calm myself and to also get familiar with seeing this beast that was soon to be mine. With the rangefinder, I had marked a spot at 100 yards where the doe was and knew that was when I would take the shot. As he approached the doe, she raised her head and saw him and lit out like her tail was on fire, and he followed. I waited, and waited, and waited but he never came back out. As luck would have it, a Blue Northerner was headed towards home in Wise County and snow and ice was in the forecast. We all decided to abandon the hunt and return at a later date so I/we could get home before bad weather hit. Ironically it was 77 degrees that morning there and by the time I got to San Antonio it was dropping fast, already in the lower 50’s. I hit ice about 40 miles from the house and it took me an hour and a half to get home.
We had decided that I would try and return around the 1st of January during the middle of the rut, or at the very least, towards the end of it. I was informed to be ready, because I would see things that I was not accustomed to. Like the sheer numbers of bucks, their sizes and their rutting activity to include fighting.
I made the 7 hour drive south on the January 1 and arrived later in the day. One of the guides and I decided it was too late to hunt deer that evening so we went hog hunting. I shot a Javelina at 75 yards in the shoulder, and we saw it hit, but it ran in to the brush and never could find it before dark. The next morning Heath and I headed to the Crossroad stand again. We fed the senderos and immediately started seeing bucks. I was amazed at how many we saw and how beat up they looked. No shooters had gotten in to shooting range when all of a sudden a huge buck fight broke out about 200 yards away. I sat in total awe for 30 minutes watching these two bucks hash it out. They had torn up the ground, shredded cactus and made a lot of noise, all while I took pictures and videoed most of the fight. While they were fighting multiple other bucks tried to get into the mix but would quickly disappear back into the brush. During most of the fight, a buck they named Lolo stood between our stand and the fight and ate corn, finally succumbing to the pressure and running towards the fight. Lolo puffed up at the two fighting, but neither buck stopped and gave Lolo the time of day. Towards the end of the fight, Heaths phone rang and it was another guide that was hunting about a mile away. He asked if we had shot. Heath told him what we had just witnessed. We were then told to drop everything and come to his location, park the Jeep and stalk in the last 100 yards. When we arrived, we could see his position. He had parked looking down a sendero in front of him, but to our right as we stalked toward him. He held up his hand motioning us to stop and then flagged Heath on over. They discussed something and then told me to sneak across the sendero. As I started towards them, they motioned for me to stop again and lay my gun down. WHAT? Leave my gun? OK, so I did and eased my way across the sendero, careful not to look to my right as to not get excited. They eased the door open on the Jeep and slid me the rifle that was in the Jeep. A .270 WSM. They had wanted me to leave my gun so the deer didn’t see it as I crossed the sendero. I was in full camo, so they didn’t think that if I was slow and easy, that I wouldn’t spook the buck, or bucks. When I looked up, there were two huge bucks in the sendero feeding about 100 yards away. I was informed that the one farther away was mine. I laid the gun through the window of the Jeep and took aim. I had to wait for what seemed like an hour, which in reality was only about 3 minutes, for the first deer to move and for my deer to give me a good shot. When he did, I fired and dropped the buck right there. High fives and congratulations were exchanged and I felt a relief unlike any I had known. We waited for 10 minutes to be sure the buck was dead and then made our way towards him. As I walked up on him, I marveled at the rack and the massive size of the deer. The rack measured out green at 136 4/8, ten points and weighed 200 pounds. I was thrilled to have taken my first South Texas buck, and in my eyes the biggest one in the country at that given moment.
If you ever get the chance to go to South Texas and hunt Whitetail deer, don’t pass up the opportunity. It won’t be a hunt that you will ever regret in my opinion, even if you don’t fill your tag. As of this writing, I still haven’t taken anything with the Ruger 6.5 Creedmoor, but I have shot it at the range. It is still right on the money. I admit it, it was Buck Fever.