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South Texas Super Bucks
Last season was a super one for big deer coming out of the thornbrush of South Texas. Here's a closer look at some of the top bucks and the hunters who took them.
By John Jefferson
The scene was grim across the Brush Country throughout the spring and most of the summer of 2002. Most of the previous season had been dry, too. Forbs and protein-rich sprouts of woody plants were not available to bucks during the first half of the antler-growing period.
According to a report from Joe Herrera, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department district wildlife leader for South Texas, "Antler development obviously suffered during this important period."
It didn't look good.
Then the rains came. At the Texas Wildlife Association convention in late June, a man brought a video to show his friends: a 3-inch rain falling on his ranch the day before. It was the most rain he had received in months, and something he figured he had better record to show his kids some day.
But it kept on raining. Some areas received 20 inches. The Atascosa, Frio and Nueces rivers ran wild, nearly changing the name of the Three Rivers area to One River where they met. In Carrizo Springs, TPWD technical guidance biologist Jimmy Rutledge reported that July temperatures remained unseasonably cool.
Herrera wrote an amended deer forecast: "Rainfall in July has called for a recall of an earlier prediction of a poor one to be a good one for hunters in South Texas." Although, he pointed out, antler frame had been set during the poor conditions in the early part of the year, the rain added inches, and maybe a kicker here or there, to bucks' racks.
Macy Ledbetter, manager of the Daughtrey Wildlife Management Area and contributor to Herrera's report, added that there was a good carryover of mature bucks from the previous season. But lush conditions would mean less activity around feeders, and possibly a lower harvest during the early part of the season. A prophet he was. After roughly 45 inches of rainfall, Choke Canyon Reservoir came up and flooded almost half the Daughtrey Area. The ground stayed wet and the habitat flourished. Visibility and the deer harvest were limited.
The rut was also affected. Rattling success was marginal. Instead of a pronounced rut that turned on dramatically and then turned off almost as precisely, it just eased into existence. Game biologists say it is because animal health was excellent.
All that had an effect on the harvest. Still, 206 typical and 76 non-typical bucks from South Texas made their way into the Texas Big Game Awards records. Only the larger Cross Timbers region produced more typicals - 208 - and no other region came close to the Brush Country's total entry for non-typicals.
Those numbers are off from previous years. Out of the 12 years of the TBGA program's history, that's only the fifth-highest number of non-typical entries, and only the ninth highest number of typicals.
But, man - look at some of the ones that were brought in!
Wascom later thought that the deer looked young - but who could see past the antlers? A call was placed to the ranch's owner, "Little Roy" Hindes, who told him that the deer was only 3 1/2, way too young to hunt.
Wascom was embarrassed. He must have felt like a high school boy asking a father if he could take out his daughter, only to find out that she was a seventh-grader. Roy might have even felt like the girl's father. The Hindes family's reputation for integrity and wise resource management is legend in South Texas.
Several years passed, and Wascom and Hindes crossed trails while Roy and his famous deer-tracking dog Jethro were helping hunters find lost deer on the Junco Ranch. They hit it off and made plans for a hunt on Hindes' ranch in late November.
But Wascom got a call from Hindes in early September. Little Roy asked if Wascom remembered the deer on the magazine. Duh! Hindes went on to say that they had seen it on film from a night surveillance camera, that it was 8 years old, and its rack was its best ever. It was time.
Wascom asked how big it was; Hindes answered, "Big." The Hindeses have been studying deer on their ranch and throughout South Texas for several generations; they know "big." Wascom asked for a definition of "big. When Roy told him 17 or 18 points, including a drop tine, at least a 24-inch outside spread and probably a gross around 200, Jerry Wascom probably felt like Anthony Lucas when the ground started trembling just as his famous gusher ushered in the oil boom in Beaumont 101 years earlier.
Wascom politely waited until Hindes asked him if he would like to hunt the deer. Double duh!
Commitments kept Wascom from coming until Oct. 11. He arrived at the ranch, met Roy's wife, Pam, and was taken over to meet Roy's mother, Fannie Grace. The charming matriarch of Hindes, Texas, spoke of family history, of her late husband, Big Roy, and wished Wascom luck hunting "Stickers."
The hunter and guide parked a half-mile from the stand. They were quietly walking in when Wascom looked to his right and stammered for Hindes to halt. Fifty yards away, the huge-racked buck stood looking at them over the thick blackbrush. They dropped to the ground, but all the rifleman could see was the deer's head. No way! When they stood up, the buck vanished.
Disappointed, they walked on to the ground blind, fearing the buck had left the area. As Wascom sat there pondering the passed opportunity, Hindes whispered, "There he is."
So he was - but again, the buck silently disappeared. As did Wascom's breath. They sat only a few minutes longer before the buck reappeared with some does. The hunter raised his .300 Weatherby and squeezed off a shoulder shot.
The buck bolted toward them and fell 10 yards from the blind. Jerry Wascom said he was so overcome by the moment that he didn't even speculate on the buck's score. There would be time for that later.
The next day, Fannie Grace, Pam and Jethro accompanied the hunters to Cotulla to score it. It became the No. 1 non-typical buck in the state. Roy Hindes called it "the crowning achievement of 29 years of managing this native South Texas deer herd."
But it was spooky. Anything would put it in gear. Since there were no blinds in the area, Ley set up an archery blind and concealed it with brush. Putting up a new blind of any kind, with new smells and a new profile, could send the buck on a daunting detour.
They got to the blind early - real early. They wanted things to settle down after they got there. Falling rain helped silence their steps. As it began to get light, Archer saw that he had very short shots, 50 and 80 yards. At that range, the slightest sound from inside a blind could be fatal - but not to the deer.
They sat as quietly as they could, but that was difficult with trophy mosquitoes buzzing around their faces. It was going to be a challenge.
At first shooting light, a 10-pointer appeared at 60 yards. Archer was getting set on the buck when another deer appeared inside 20 yards. As he scoped the 10, a third shape moved in the brush behind it. When it came into focus, Archer realized it epitomized why you hunt King Ranch.
He clicked the safety off his Ruger .270. At that, the deer closest to the blind lit a shuck for somewhere else. The other two bucks threw up their heads and looked directly at the blind, poised to run.
Successful hunters maintain their methods during this maddening moment; the others often have to make up a story to describe their excuses. Archer was one of the successful ones.
But he didn't know it for a while. As the recoil subsided, he saw the two bucks running off at full tilt. Ley assured him it had been a good shot, but added that they needed to wait about 10 minutes.
An eternity later, Archer, like a kid on a trip, asked if it was time. Ley told him it had been two minutes. Eight minutes later, they climbed out of the blind.
Although rain was falling, they had no trouble finding where the deer had spun away. But there was no blood. They tracked 50 yards into the brush, but still no blood. The 10-pointer busted out in front of them. No sign of the big guy. At 100 yards, they stopped and scanned a semi-open area. Twenty yards away, they saw antlers lying in wet grass.
The buck had 21 scorable points! Butch Thompson, of King Ranch wildlife department, scored it at 203 5/8 gross.
Before they headed out into the pasture, they flipped a coin to see who would get the first shot if they saw a good buck. Werlin won.
A good buck had been seen the day before, and they drove through the area with their eyes peeled. Nothing.
Come lunchtime, they drove back through the same area. This time - at noon on a clear, windy, 80-degree day - they saw some deer moving back in the brush. Werlin's son David and John Larkin got off the truck and started walking. Werlin saw some does, but nothing else. David spotted the buck and alerted his dad.
"It was moving away from me at about 75 yards," he told me. "I don't like off-hand shots at the neck, but I wasn't going to let him get away." He fired his Ruger 7mm Mag. once, hitting the buck in the back of the neck. The deer fell where it stood. "D.R.T." - "Dead Right There."
With an extremely symmetrical 6x6 rack, the G-3s and G-4s helped run up the score. It ranked second in the state among typicals.
Frank Wojtek had seen them, too. Frustrated by seeing nothing but average bucks on his lease, he saved his pennies and bought part of the old Chittim Ranch in Maverick County. Now he could manage his ranch and grow the big deer he had always dreamed about - right?
It's not that easy. He closed on the ranch with about a month of hunting left in the 1997 season. His excitement hit the dirt when all he saw were immature bucks. After the season, he began management operations.
Improvement came slowly. The deer got older, but not much better. Then his brother-in-law took a 7 1/2-year-old deer that grossed 180 5/8 in 2001. Things were looking up.
The rains I mentioned at the start of this piece helped. Late Sunday afternoon of the second weekend, Frank finally saw a nice buck. In the dimness, he couldn't be sure just how good it was. He drove all the way home thinking about it. He took a few days off work and went back.
By Friday he'd seen the deer again and had videotaped it - but he'd backed off the trigger, still not sure. His brother-in-law pointed out that the rains had thrown body size out of proportion to antlers. They decided to score the deer on the ground.
But deciding to shoot a deer and actually doing it are sometimes as far apart as Eagle Pass and Eagle Lake. It was hot that Sunday afternoon, and nothing much was moving. The sun was going down as Frank watched three young bucks and some does. Then a new deer appeared - the one he had been hunting. But in that light, he still couldn't judge antler quality. The buck trotted away from him, and then stopped. It was either the moment of truth or another long ride home. Wojtek hugged the trigger of his 7 Mag.
The deer fell about 70 yards away. At the end of his short hike, Frank Wojtek saw what patient management had produced.
One of the handsomest heads in the Big Game Awards this year, the extremely symmetrical rack had only 4 inches of deductions from the gross score. An inch of that came from differences in G-2s and an inch and a half on an 11th point!
Bill Glendening felt the excitement as he pulled into the Shiner Ranch, located in the same area another monster - the Dilley Monster - was shot in 1966. But Glendening didn't know about the latest monster ... yet. In camp, ranch guide Christian Hildebrand told him about having just seen a deer on the 16,000-acre low-fenced portion of the ranch. No one had ever seen it before. That was where Glendening would be hunting.
That afternoon, they sat in a blind and listened to wasps buzzing in the South Texas heat. They didn't see the buck. In fact, they didn't see much. That scene was repeated the next day, but the weather report said a cold front was coming the following week.
Bill returned on Thursday and learned that no one had seen the buck since its first sighting. The cold front had stalled. Hot wind again blew from the wrong direction. The next day was a copy of the previous ones. Bill and Christian considered changing blinds, but stuck with the same one. As they climbed into it, the air felt different. It was out of the northeast, a welcomed change.
But it didn't seem to help. The afternoon elapsed without the buck. But then, about 5:30 - when hunters realize that the hunt is in its last and finest hour - Christian and Bill noticed a large deer standing at the brush line 300 yards away. "That's our buck," Christian said softly but emphatically.
Figuring it would either graze the oats or make a run at some does, Bill got ready. Instead, the deer kept ambling toward the hunters. Bill could see the 12 points, the drop, the 26-inch outside spread, the age in the body and face. He fingered the trigger; the .30/378 did the rest. The buck made it to the edge of the brush before Bill Glendening applied the deer de grace.
The 8-year-old deer grossed 176 5/8 and netted 168 0/8 for Texas Big Game Awards. Horace Gore rescored it at 185 6/8 for Boone and Crockett.
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