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A 200-Inch Trophy
Even in South Texas, a buck that scores 200 inches doesn't come along every day. Here's the story behind a giant whitetail that met that mark with inches to spare! (August 2007)
Yeah -- right!
Last Dec. 14, the Mississippi deer hunter took an amazing buck from the "Rucio" section of the ranch, a behemoth that rough-scored 227 7/8 inches and ultimately proved to be the largest "free-range" buck -- meaning not from behind a high fence -- taken last year in the entire Lone Star State.
Hunting deer in South Texas wasn't new to Coleman when he booked his 2006 hunt on the McAllen Ranch, in Hidalgo County near Edinburg. But even time spent chasing big bucks on the famed King Ranch couldn't have prepared him for the events that unfolded in mid-December.
" 'Rucio' is the name they use for one side of the ranch, where I began my hunt," said Coleman. "I didn't see as many deer as my buddies did hunting elsewhere the first afternoon, but I decided to continue hunting that area."
Coleman's decision probably wasn't too tough to make. He'd seen plenty of bucks in the 130-to-140 class the first afternoon, and then had a potential "Booner" materialize, almost ghostlike, in the heavy fog of his first morning hunt.
"Dec. 13 was our first day there," Coleman said. Longtime hunting buddy Dr. Scott Jones was along, as was their friend Dustin Waldrip. "We shot our guns to check them, then hunted in the afternoon. We compared notes that night, and we'd all seen several bucks in the 130-to-140 range."
Coleman said that in researching places for the 2006 Texas hunt, he learned that hunters on the McAllen Ranch generally got opportunities to take 160-class bucks, and larger deer were possible. He trusted the information because he knew the ranch wildlife manager, Travis DeWitt.
"Travis' daddy, Amos, had worked on the King Ranch, and we'd hunted there for years," Coleman said. "I actually turkey-hunted on the King Ranch with Travis. When we found him and the McAllen Ranch on the Web, we contacted him and booked this hunt."
Coleman and his friends had an idea of what to expect, because they knew DeWitt, and had hunted the King, so South Texas' big whitetails weren't new to them. But that doesn't mean the hunters weren't surprised by what they found at the sprawling McAllen operation.
"Mr. Jim (McAllen) opened the main McAllen Ranch to hunting about five years ago," said DeWitt. "There are about 23,000 huntable acres on the main ranch. We lodge and house our hunting guests on a different ranch nearby that also has about 7,500 huntable acres."
DeWitt said that, these days, deer density is eight whitetails per 23 acres, or slightly more than 30 deer per 100 acres. Diligent herd management efforts since the main ranch was opened to hunting has helped DeWitt and the McAllen staff get the buck:doe ratio down to about 1.2:1.
"The first two years," he said, "we really knocked (the does) down. We took 200 the first year, and about 160 the second year. This past season, we took right at 100 does. Our annual harvest depends on a lot of factors, but our goal will always be to keep the ratio as close to 1:1 as we can."
According to DeWitt, the ranch participates in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Managed Land Deer program, one element of which is an annual aerial survey of the deer population. "We usually fly the first or second week of February, not long after the rut ends," he said.
That's about the same time DeWitt and his staff ramp up their supplemental feeding program. "We're into it pretty good by the end of February," he said, "because we want to provide as much nutrition as possible to help our deer get their body weights back up after the rut."
The nutrition program focuses on habitat management to provide as much natural browse as possible, DeWitt noted, with free-choice feeding stations that provide protein pellets.
The hunting plan includes no more than 10 to 12 trophy hunts per season, although, DeWitt pointed out, the ranch sells more package hunts that include the chance to take a management buck. "We consider a management buck to be a mature deer that will score in the 140 class," he explained. "We believe that fully mature bucks that are only scoring in the 140s have most likely reached their potential, so we sell hunts for these management bucks. And our hunters know that they are going to get multiple opportunities to harvest a nice management buck."
DeWitt's last comment relates to something important to stress in this story: The McAllen Ranch isn't aggressively marketing its hunts, because their hunt calendar pretty much stays full. "We pretty much only have to figure out which hunters will be here which weeks during the season," he said. "We are thankful that so many of our hunters think enough of the operation and their experience here to book with us pretty much every year."
Coleman didn't need much time during his very first visit to figure out why that's true. "This ranch is primarily a cattle operation," he said. "I learned very quickly that the deer on this ranch act like they don't get much human contact. They were very skittish. These were wild deer we were hunting; they were very skittish. At dinner that first night we talked about how we'd need to make an accurate judgment of a buck quickly -- because we wouldn't get too long to make a good shot."
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