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   September 29, 2004
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Texas Sportsman Magazine
Texas' Top Bow Bucks of 2003
Texas archers enjoyed another rousing season of deer hunting in 2003. Here are the stories behind some of their trophies of a lifetime.

By Lynn Burkhead

It was a year for the books - the bowhunting record books, that is. Last deer season, Lone Star State bowhunters found big bucks roaming the state from one end to the other.

Following are the stories of eight successful archers who beat the stick-and-string odds, tagging some of the state's best whitetails from the 2003-04 deer season.

Duval County, 181 2/8 inches
Lufkin archer Gip Friesen is no stranger to bowhunting big bucks, having tagged several dozen deer since he began using bow and arrow in 1964. But despite that track record, Friesen admits that the deer he harvested at the end of the 2003-04 season shook him up a bit.

"It was a very emotional experience for me," he said. As it would have been for any bowhunter who spent the better part of two years videotaping, dreaming about, and actually hunting a massive typical buck with a total of 12 points and a gross score of 191 4/8.

Friesen set his sights last fall on the Duval County whitetail that had finally reached the prime age of 6 1/2 years. On the third morning of the early archery season, it looked as if the Lufkin hunter would get his long-awaited chance when the giant whitetail slipped in and started eating corn. But with no wind, the big buck wasn't exactly enjoying his trip out into the open. Friesen elected not to risk a shot at the jumpy whitetail he had dubbed "Mr. P."

And that would be the last chance the East Texas bowhunter would get at the big deer until the waning days of the season. That chance arrived in January, as the whitetail finally closed to within 32 yards of the Double Bull ground blind that a nerve-wracked Friesen was occupying.

"There were deer everywhere, including a doe behind me and several in front of me," he said. "Plus, he was right behind a big mesquite limb. I kept telling myself to be calm and take some deep breaths."

Friesen's relaxation technique - and his subsequent shot when the deer finally cleared the obstructing limb - obviously worked. Later that morning, the bowhunter found himself posing for pictures with a buck that he had dreamed of for more than two long years.

"I've hunted all of my life and it is the thrill of a lifetime," Friesen said. "But I don't want the credit. I want the deer to have the credit and the man who owns the ranch to get the credit. If I didn't hunt on a ranch where they let deer get old enough to get that big, I'd have never killed this deer."

Webb County, 151 5/8 inches
Jim Hogg County, 150 7/8 inches
Who says lightning doesn't strike twice?

For Laredo bowhunter Norman Speer, the whitetail version struck twice last deer season with the tagging of two 150-class whitetails - in a span of less than 72 hours!

Norman Speer bagged two great bucks last season, this 12-pointer being his first. The Webb County whitetail scored 151 5/8. Photo courtesy of Norman Speer

Speer's first big South Texas buck came on Dec. 13 on his Webb County lease. On that day, the archer found the wind direction just right to hunt one particular blind.

"That day, the wind was iffy for some of the other blinds," he recalled. "But the 'Heart Attack' blind was the blind with the best wind. Hogs would often come in, so I didn't expect to see a big buck in there, although I had killed a good buck there a few years ago."

Later that afternoon, a hog did indeed show up - a hog of a whitetail, that is! When the big buck paused at 18 yards, the shot from Speer's Mathews bow was textbook, putting the 151 5/8-inch deer down on the ground in less than 50 yards.

"When I walked up on him, he was everything I thought he might have been, plus a lot more," Speer said.

Two days later, Speer found himself on stand again, this time on a Jim Hogg County ranch owned by a friend. With the South Texas rut still on, it didn't take long for another big buck to ease into the archer's shooting range.

"I looked at him and he kind of fooled me - I didn't think his rack was very heavy," Speer said, "but he had some good tines. I kind of just watched him for a while, thinking that I might not shoot him."

But as Speer got a better look at the whitetail, he finally decided it wouldn't be wise to pass up such a golden opportunity. A good shot at 17 yards put the deer down quickly in the South Texas brush. Speer found himself walking up on a 150 7/8-inch whitetail.

With a dozen Pope & Young record-book whitetails to his credit, Speer is no stranger to shooting big bucks with his bow. Even so, the veteran archer was understandably excited at how his 2003-04 deer season had turned out.

"Usually, it's a really good feeling to shoot a nice Pope & Young buck in one year," Speer said. "But to get two in one year, including two that were that large - it was a really nice feeling."

Grayson County, 164 0/8 inches
Rarely does an autumn pass in Texas without Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge producing at least one record-book buck - and last year was no exception. Grayson County resident Rick Cantu lived the Hagerman big-buck dream on Nov. 15, when a main-frame 10-point buck made a fateful decision at a literal fork in the road.

After relocating to a new stand location on the warm autumn afternoon, Cantu struggled to cool off before beginning a calling sequence. After a half-hour, he began using a Primos doe-bleat can call and a grunt call. It didn't take long for the deer-hunting action to heat up!

"I heard something coming and there he was," Cantu said. "I could see his rack coming through the brush there."

When the cautious deer stopped, Cantu held his breath. "I had shooting lanes on both sides of my tree stand," the archer explained. "When he came to the 'Y' in the trail, I had a shot to the left, but there was a better chance that he would catch me drawing. The other trail to the right - that was easier to draw on him. I remember thinking that if he took the right trail, he was going to die. He put one foot on the left trail, and then he just turned and went down the right trail."

When Cantu triggered his release, his Mathews Q2XL bow sent an arrow downrange. Unfortunately, the deer took another step forward, causing a hit slightly farther back than had been hoped for.

But after clipping one of the deer's arteries with his broadhead, Cantu had little trouble following the blood trail. In a few moments, and less than 60 yards from his stand, Cantu walked up on the big deer. The mainframe 10-point with several kicker points was given a Texas Big Game Awards Program non-typical gross score of 165 3/8 inches and a net score of 164 0/8 inches.

Maverick County, 149 2/8 inches
When John Hyble's brother-in-law asked him to consider a bowhunting trip to South Texas last autumn, the Austin bowhunter wasn't sure he was interested.

"They showed me some pictures and I said, 'Yeah, I'm game,'" Hyble said.

But after a fruitless first day on a stand in which he never saw a deer, Hyble had reason to wonder about his decision. After the second morning also passed uneventfully, the bowhunter decided it was time to change stand locations - and that's when his luck finally began to change. After a cat-and-mouse encounter with a couple of bucks, including a whopper 10-pointer, Hyble saw firsthand why hunters live to chase whitetails in South Texas.

"The bigger one stayed back about 20 to 30 yards," he recalled. "The other one, a 115-class 10-point, showed up in front of me about 20 minutes later. When he finally walked off, I was able to turn and focus on the bigger buck. When he got about 29 yards out, I took the shot when he wasn't looking."

After finding his arrow but only a sparse blood trail, Hyble decided to back off and go back to camp for help. Later that evening, Hyble and his hunting group walked up on a true-blue trophy whitetail.

"When my brother-in-law saw the deer, he just shook my hand and said 'That's what we come to South Texas for,'" Hyble said.

Dimmit County, 143 4/8 inches
One of the basic rules concerning the bowhunting of big bucks is that the hunter must be patient. For Schulenberg bowhunter Mark Anders, that rule was tested and then some as he waited to hunt a prime stand location on his lease.

"I had waited and waited and waited to hunt this stand, but the wind was never right for me," Anders said.

On Oct. 26, however, the weatherman finally cooperated, giving Anders a chance to climb into his ground blind. But the bowhunter's patience was tested once again as cattle repeatedly moved in and around his hunting spot, causing incoming whitetails to scatter like the wind.

Finally, a mature 6 1/2-year-old buck eased into view of the bowhunter's blind. Once again, however, patience was necessary. "He stood looking at me for about five minutes," Anders said.

When the deer finally presented a shot, Anders' aim with his Bowtech bow was good. An hour later, the bowhunter's patience was rewarded by the cool feel of the big antlers that he gripped in his hands.

"He was the first buck that I ever shot that laid on the ground and grew," Anders said with a laugh. "There was no ground shrinkage."

Wichita County, 131 6/8 inches
When most bowhunters load up the pickup and head down the road to chase a trophy whitetail, they typically drive in the direction of the Rio Grande River.

Not Iowa Park bowhunter Jeff Nolen. He points his pickup north a few miles and heads toward the Red River and the 6,800-acre mixture of plains, bottomland and crop fields that he hunts on.

Last year, on Oct. 1, Nolen left work and decided to make a mad dash northward to try to squeeze in a few minutes of bowhunting over a food plot on his North Texas lease. "I was kind of pushing it to get there and get a hunt in before dark," he acknowledged.

The 13-year bowhunting veteran made it in time, and, securing his Mathews bow, climbd into his homemade tree stand. It wouldn't take long before Nolen's decision to go hunting proved to be a good one.

As that October evening's last minutes of shooting light sped toward dark, Nolen happened to look behind him. To his surprise, he saw a big buck just 5 yards behind his tree and approaching the food plot.

"I waited just a moment and was able to calm my nerves by just sitting there and watching him," he said. "He finally stepped into that food plot and gave me a broadside shot."

The shot was good; the buck went only 20 yards before going down in full view of Nolen's tree stand. After a short wait, the archer climbed down and walked over to the 16-pointer. The whitetail grossed 161 5/8 inches and, after deductions, netted 131 6/8 inches.

"That's when you get extremely excited and your time in the field pays off," Nolen said.

Kleberg County, 164 7/8 inches
When it comes to bowhunting hotspots for big bucks, the King Ranch is scarcely an unknown quantity to Cedar Hill archer Gary Rope.

"It's a legend," Rope said. "I've been hunting down there for about four years. I don't know of a better low-fenced place to kill a big deer with a bow than the King Ranch."

Last year, Rope proved the accuracy of his statement when he hunted for a Muy Grande whitetail with fifth-generation King Ranch guide Oscar Cortez. A horde of mosquitoes almost changed his mind, though - almost!

"We had a hard time staying in the stand, but I told Oscar I could take anything for a couple of hours in order to kill a big buck," Rope recalled, laughing.

On the first full evening of his hunt, Rope ignored the hum of the pesky insects long enough to come to full draw on a beautiful 6 1/2-year-old buck that he and his guide had been watching slip in and out of the area for more than a half-hour. When the big buck paused a second too long in front of Rope's Double Bull blind, the archer cut the shot.

An hour later, Rope and his guide discovered that the deer had only traveled 25 yards into the brush before going down for the count. With a gross score of 168 0/8, a net score of 164 7/8, and an inside spread of 22 5/8 inches, Rope's 10-point buck confirmed his convictions: When it comes to deer hunting, the King Ranch is as good as it gets.

"The King Ranch is managed unbelievably well by Butch Thompson and all of those guys down there," Rope said. "I think it is the best place in the nation to hunt whitetails."

Shackleford County, 156 0/8 inches
When he climbed into his tripod stand on the afternoon of Oct. 18 last fall, Larry Roach - like thousands of other archers - was dreaming of big bucks.

Before that autumn afternoon had run its course, the Richardson bowhunter found out that such hunting dreams do come true, especially on 3,500 acres of prime Rolling Plains whitetail ground.

After seeing nothing but small bucks and a decent 10-pointer earlier that evening, Roach was tempted to climb down and head to camp. Fortunately, he looked up and saw the body of a big deer standing in the brush about 120 yards away. At that, all thoughts of abandoning his hunt disappeared!

"About five minutes later, I looked up and all I could see were antlers," Roach said. "He was about 75 yards out and closing. All of the other bucks just sort of backed off as he came in and started eating."

When the deer gave him a quartering shot at about 20 yards, Roach tripped his release, causing his Jennings bow to send an arrow and broadhead combination downrange.

Unsure of how good the shot was, Roach went back to his four-wheeler to wait. He eventually decided to come back the following morning to begin tracking the whitetail with help from his brother.

After a restless night, Rope and his brother set out at first light. The search wasn't long; the pair walked up on the buck 60 yards away from the bowhunter's stand.

"That's the biggest buck I've ever taken with my bow or my rifle," Roach said. "I was excited. To have taken him with a rifle? That would have been great. But with a bow it's even better. With a bow, it makes it that much sweeter, I guess."

I'm sure thousands of other bowhunters across Texas would agree!

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