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   January 26, 2004
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Texas Sportsman Magazine
South Texas' Top Bucks of 2001
South Texas deer hunters struck antlered gold last fall and winter. Here's a look at some of the biggest bucks to come out of the brush that season.

Those who know Bob Zaiglin know he knows deer. Even a lot of people who've never met him know that.

Originally from Pennsylvania, another good deer state, Bob came south to study at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M-Kingsville; - and never went back - except to visit. He now calls the South Texas brush his home.


And home it is. He did research work on the H.B. Zachry Ranch with Al Brothers and ended up becoming manager of one of the largest ranches in South Texas.

He's taken some good whitetails, including a Boone and Crockett buck in 1993. When Bob pulls the trigger on a deer, it's either one that needs to be culled or it's a good one. This past season, it was the latter.

Some hunters think the big, high-fenced ranches in South Texas are a whitetail crapshoot. That may be true of a few of the smaller places, but that's not where Zaiglin hangs out. The ranch he manages stretches across Dimmit, Webb and La Salle counties. A portion of it is high fenced, but even if it all were under high wire, it's large enough to have its own zip code. It's almost an eco-system in itself. You could get lost on it without even trying.

Bob Zaiglin set up next to a tall mesquite on a tank dam last Dec. 30. When this symmetrical 6x6 came to water, Bob filled his tag! Photo courtesy of Bob Zaiglin

I know; I have.

The ranch is a rare in that it does not rely on corn or supplemental feed as an attractant. In fact, "feeding" just isn't done at all. They plant some food plots, but don't bait. And nature has grown some behemoth bucks on the property.

Zaiglin studies the deer on the ranch as the scientist he is. But on a place that large, some big ones go unnoticed. Some deer live their entire lives out there without ever seeing or being seen by an American.

The rut comes to South Texas in mid-December. With the dense brush and plenty to eat, it takes a little romance to get a big, mature buck to come out in the open. One strategy employed by successful South Texas hunters is to hunt the does, and let the bucks come to them.

December 30 was a clear, crisp day. The rut was on, but was possibly beginning to wind down. Zaiglin set up beside a tall mesquite tree on a long tank dam. Several does came to water and stayed to feed along the edge. A large 10-pointer emerged from the brush and made a pass at the does. Zaiglin estimated its rack to score in the mid-150s.

Another 10-pointer invaded the zone, and the staring match began. As the hunter watched, a third deer came toward him through heavy cover. Through a 32-power spotting scope, Zaiglin saw 12 fine points and a near-flawless rack. He had never seen the buck before.

Zaiglin certainly did not want to miss. Not on this buck. He carefully crawled behind the mesquite and took a rest on a large limb. When the buck moved into a clearing, it only took one, well-placed shot to the shoulder from Bob's 7 mm. That deer breathed its last as Zaiglin released his own shooter's breath.

But Bob Zaiglin wasn't the only hunter in the brush who was lucky enough to shoot a great buck last season. Here's a look at some of those successful hunts.

170 2/8 NET B&C; TYPICAL
Some uneducated folks call hunters trigger-happy, bloodthirsty, unfeeling killers. Just a bunch of slobs! And some even get nasty about it. I wish they could meet Steve Holloway and the guys he hunts with.

Holloway was sitting in his late father's blind when he first saw this deer in September last year. He and his father represent the tradition of passing the hunting heritage on to the next generation. It is a tradition of honor and respect to those who understand it. It honors the spirit of the hunt, the game that is pursued, and the peculiar bond between hunters. It's especially strong when they are blood kin.

Steve Holloway's father, Shadow, was hunting from this blind the day Steve killed his first Boone and Crockett buck in 1997. That opening morning, Steve was sitting nearby in a tripod facing the opposite direction. "He's hunted with me often," Steve said, "and was always trying to help me find a trophy buck."

No doubt father took as much pride in the success as did son on that day.

This past September, when Steve first saw the buck, he thought the big 7x7 was a tad young. He came back later and was able to get it on video, which simply fortified his belief. They try to shoot only mature bucks on that lease, and Steve thought this one was 5 1/2 years old. It had been a dry spring, and Steve felt the buck would be a real trophy if it lived another year and maybe had a better antler-growing season. Anyone deciding to pass on a 14-point buck with long, symmetrical tines doesn't sound like a trigger-happy slob where I come from.

On opening morning, the 14-pointer stepped into Steve's sights, and his restraint stood fast as he let the deer walk. But somehow the buck acted older than 5 1/2.

A little later in the season, another hunter, Greg Edwards, saw the deer, and also let it live, not so much out of aging it as too young as out of respect for Steve's having spent so much time studying the deer. Edwards, in fact, believed the deer was older and told Steve so. That also was hardly a trigger-happy act. Instead, the term "gentlemanly" comes to mind.

The next day, with the same deer in his scope, Steve was thinking "Please let this deer be as old as I think it is," as he was starting the trigger squeeze. A few minutes later, the teeth provided the answer: The buck was 7 1/2 years old.

Steve's father, who passed away near the end of the 2000 season, would have been proud for his son. "I can't help but believe he had something to do with it," Steve reflected.

171 3/8 NET B&C; TYPICAL
David Cook also hunts on a ranch where hunters are age-conscious about the deer they take. They know that without age, a deer will not reach its full potential.

One day Cook found some tracks - the kind of tracks that make a hunter want to see the animal that made them. He set up a tripod concealed in a mesquite tree with a good field of fire to both the east and west.

That afternoon, he watched as several small bucks and does moved in and out of the sendero, blotting up the corn he had spread. An hour or so before dark, a much bigger deer came out at about 250 yards. It could have been the big-footed guy, and the antlers were impressive, but the buck just didn't look old enough. It had an old face and a large chest, but no pot belly or swayed back. Cook estimated the deer's age at 4 1/2. Shooting that age deer will get you in trouble on their lease.

He went back the next evening and took pictures. Using a 400mm lens, Cook got some fairly good ones. That night he headed to town to find a one-hour processor. When he and the other hunters examined the pictures, most agreed that the buck was 4 1/2. They scored it between 163 and 169.

But one of the hunters thought differently.

A close look at a couple of pictures showed some ribs sticking out. Cook went to the ranch foreman as the final arbiter. "Old deer . . . shoot him," was his appraisal.

Armed with that opinion and a .300 Weatherby, Cook returned to the same stand for the third straight afternoon. In good light, the buck came out, again at nearly 250 yards. He took a good, solid rest, took a couple of warm-up squeezes, flipped the safety off and settled in for a good shot. At that very moment, the buck jumped and left the scene. Five javelinas jubilantly took its place in command of the sendero and its corn.

The wait was on. Would the buck come back? Or was it gone forever? Cook was sick. Have you ever been there yourself? I have. It's agony. An hour passed, and the good shooting light went with it.

With only about 10 minutes of shooting light left, the buck finally reappeared, this time closer but agitated. It chased the does and smaller bucks off the sendero and wouldn't stay still. Nor would it show a broadside shot. When it finally turned sideways in the sendero for a second, Cook squeezed one off.

The buck jumped high and disappeared into the brush. Cook waited 15 minutes and went to look for his deer before it got too dark to see. Following large gouges in the soft sand made by the deer's hoofs digging in was easy. Cook found the deer lying on its side. As he approached, admiring the fine rack, he was shocked when the buck jumped up and bolted away. Downhearted, he at least kept his head and didn't push the buck any more that night.

And a long night it was. But the next morning, he and the ranch foreman found the buck 40 yards from where he had last seen it. It was past its prime and had been going down hill. It was ripe for harvest at 7 1/2.

Related Resources
  • Biggest Buck in Texas?
  • Texas' 2003 Deer Outlook
  • South Texas Super Bucks
    176 2/8 NET B&C; TYPICAL
    This story - and it's a good one - appeared in the September issue of Texas Sportsman, so we won't repeat the entire saga here. There have been some recent developments, though, so an update is in order.

    To refresh your memory, Guy Perkins works for Median Electric, and goes on a lot of large ranches. He sees a lot of good deer, and knows a good one when he sees it. He and his wife were out at a friend's 400-acre farm in late August last year, and he saw some bucks running across a bean field. One of them had 12 or 14 points, and the largest rack Perkins thought he had ever seen. That later proved to be true.

    The friend told Perkins he could hunt there if he wanted to. But the place was all open country. It wasn't low-fenced; it was no-fenced. The only real cover on the place was a strip of brush along a dry creekbed, which deer used going to water and to raid the bean field - mostly at night.

    Perkins built a box blind in what little brush there was, and looked forward to opening day. But then his world collapsed. A friend told him he had seen buzzards and stopped to investigate. Right near where Perkins had built his blind lay the picked-over remains of the largest deer the friend had ever seen in that part of the country. It just had to be the same deer Perkins was hunting.

    Although the friend offered to show him the horns, and although Perkins believed him, he still went to the blind opening day. And the day after, and the day after that, and for many more days to come. To make a long story short, he hunted every day until Dec. 31. He never once saw the huge deer again.

    At least not until New Year's Eve. Although admittedly tired of hunting, he sat in his same little box. Then, in the season's ninth inning, as the fat lady gargled with salt water, the buck appeared. He dropped it in its tracks.

    I ended the previous article by saying that Guy Perkins' deer rode most of the post-season in first place in the Big Game Awards, before being edged by another deer right before the entry deadline. But I said the top five deer in each category would be re-scored at the South Texas Big Game Awards Banquet.

    When the tape was stretched, Perkins' deer recaptured first place - not just in South Texas, but in all of Texas!

    It was a very non-typical year for typicals in South Texas. The top two were less than an inch apart. The next seven were only separated by an inch and a half. All told, eight entries crossed the magic 170 Boone and Crockett bar.

    195 2/8 NET B&C; NON-TYPICAL
    Guinn Crousen has hunted on the San Pedro Ranch for a number of years, and has taken some good deer off of it. In fact, he nearly made these pages a few years ago. The ranch foreman called him and told him he had seen a very good buck. It was a busy time for Crousen, though, and he had to pass. A 16-year-old from San Antonio named Quatro Smith shot the deer that weekend. You may have read about him and that buck in a previous issue of this magazine.

    This time a guide named Dennis Beard, with whom Crousen had hunted before, called and said that he had spotted another good deer, and that Crousen ought to come hunting. Crousen went hunting.

    When he got to the ranch, Beard offered to show him some video footage he had taken of the deer.

    "I didn't want to see any video," Crousen said later. "I just came to go hunting. I wasn't hunting any particular buck; I know a good deer when I see one, and I just wanted to go hunting."

    Crousen knew the rules, too. He has hunted enough to know what to shoot and - what's more important - what not to shoot. "If you bring in a young deer, you probably won't hunt there again," he explained. "They are real sticky about age. They want you to shoot 5 1/2- or 6 1/2-year-old deer."

    If this sounds repetitious, you've read correctly. The ranches that produce the best deer are not necessarily the ones that import genes from other areas or hand feed their bucks out of a high-protein feed sack. Sure, that is one way of doing it, and this is by no means meant to be a condemnation of anyone who does it. But age and natural browse have been recurring themes in this article, and not by design. They have occurred as naturally as the deer on the San Pedro.

    "They don't do any supplemental feeding, just corn to draw the does out," Crousen emphasized. "This buck grew big on cactus, thorns and stickers. It's a true Texas whitetail. All they do is cull and let the best ones get some age on 'em"

    Crousen hunted for three days in mid-December at the beginning of the rut. He shot the deer on Dec. 12, a cool, misty day. "It was standing broadside at 299 yards, facing left to right," Crousen said. "If I had pulled the shot, I would have gut-shot it. It kicked out a flank and ran off through the pear. Cactus went everywhere!"

    It didn't go far. And was easy to follow. "It had been raining; a blind man could have followed those tracks," Crousen admitted. When they found it, the main artery and vein of the heart had been severed.

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    February 2004

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