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Giant Bucks Of The Pines & Post Oak
Despite predictions of poor antler growth for bucks in the region, East Texas turned out some mighty impressive bucks last fall -- as these hunts demonstrate. (September 2007)
The early forecast made by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist Gary Calkins for the 2006-07 deer season painted a picture that was anything but pretty.
Owing primarily to persistent drought conditions across much of the region throughout summer and on into fall, Calkins, working out of Jasper, initially predicted a mediocre season at best for most of the Pineywoods. Lack of rain caused many preferred forage species to wilt prematurely or fail to sprout at all. Many experts believed that poor range conditions would translate to skinny bodies and pencil-thin antlers for our deer.
Surprisingly, that wasn't the case at all. In fact, 2006-07 turned out to be banner year for many hunters -- some of whom brought down the biggest bucks of their lives.
"It definitely made a liar out of me," admitted Calkins. "The deer we saw in our icehouse surveys were in way better shape than we had anticipated. Antler development was good, and body weights were very good. The whole deal stumped us."
The banner season carried over to the Post Oak Savannah too, which didn't really come as a surprise to District 5 wildlife biologist David Sierra, in Tyler, whose pre-season forecast hinted at a good year for mature bucks, primarily as a result of the sparse food supply that the drought caused. The biologist predicted that a lack of natural forage would be a boon for hunters, because it would force deer to check in at corn feeders and other supplemental food sources.
"That is exactly what happened," Sierra said. "The deer had to work for a living, and it paid off nicely for the hunters. We saw a lot of 3 1/2-year-old bucks, quite a few 4 1/2-year-olds and even a sprinkle of 5 1/2-year-old bucks in the harvest."
One of the state herd's elder statesmen showed up in the cross hairs of Michael Armstrong's Ruger .30/06 on the morning of Nov. 9. The 49-year-old Tyler hunter and his wife Cindy were sharing a ladder stand in the heart of a tiny 44-acre lease in Cherokee County when an enormous buck showed up at the edge of a food plot, about 50 yards away.
According to Armstrong, the buck appeared about 10 minutes after a pair of does, one obviously in estrus, had passed through the hunting area. "She was urinating all over the place, so it was pretty easy to tell what was going on," he said. "I told my wife we couldn't ask for a better setup."
Cindy Armstrong spotted the buck first. "She nudged me," her husband recalled, "and whispered, 'Big buck.' When I looked, all I could see were dark, chocolate-colored antlers. He was just standing there, looking around, stomping the ground occasionally." The deer was disposed of with one shot.
Armstrong didn't realize the true size of the animal's rack until he started counting points: 19 in all. Coupled with great mass and beam length, the rack gross-scores 193 7/8 and nets 189 5/8, making it the No. 2 non-typical taken in Region 6 last year. No. 1, Eric Meekins' whopper 22-pointer from San Jacinto County, grosses 202 2/8 and nets 189 6/8.
The story behind the Meekins buck is classic East Texas, its plot involving a pine sapling thicket, a doe in heat and bruiser of a buck.
The 30-year-old hunter was inside his box blind on the morning of Nov. 18 when he saw a doe cross the logging road in front of his stand about 20 yards away. "I looked to the left out the window of my stand to see if there was anything trailing her, and I saw a young 8-pointer standing there about 40 yards away," he said. "I watched him a few seconds and he started acting kind of nervous. Then he turned and took off. That's when this bruiser showed up. It was barreling through the woods tearing up everything in his path."
Approaching the road on the same path that the doe had followed, the big boy was moving at a slow trot. It managed to dart across the road before the hunter was able to shoot. "I knew I had to do something, so I made a bleat call with my mouth," said Meekins. "The buck came to a dead stop. That's when I shot. It wasn't a long shot, either -- 20 yards would be stretching it."
Two great hunts that produced two great bucks -- but they weren't the only ones. Here are the details behind some other top-ranked East Texas bucks entered in the Texas Big Game Awards program last year.
McLEMORE SCORES BIG -- TWICE!
McLemore shot the No. 3 and No. 10 TBGA non-typicals from Region 6 last year, and he got them about a month apart. The biggest of the bucks came calling in late October, just a few days into the early Managed Lands Deer Permit season.
According to McLemore, the 13-pointer passed through as it worked a scrape line on the interior of the high-fence portion of the club. "I had gotten several pictures of this buck over the last few years with my game camera, but just about all of them were at night," he said. "I had hunted the scrape line during bow season, but I never saw him. He passed through at about 10 a.m."
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