Texas Fold 'Em:
Minutes from the Mexico border, I teamed up with Monte Cruz Hunts and guide Mason Roberts for a management hunt to tag not one but two free-range whitetail bucks. Rain clouded the hunt, but it also allowed me to slip in silently adjacent to a dry lakebed and survey the December rutting activity. That evening I described a mature 5x5 I’d witnessed in the fray and Roberts gave me the green light to cull the buck if he repeated his previous evening’s schedule.
Drizzle was again dripping on the surrounding foliage, and shooting light was all but gone when the blocky buck trotted across the lakebed. I tried to get the shot off immediately, but his dating schedule was bustling as he chased in and out of brush. Finally, he slowed to a trot and I barked like a coyote. At 150 yards, the bullet slammed into his shoulder, but with amazing resilience the buck hobbled another 60 yards before I was able to admire the 5-year-old buck up close and personal.
Despite a great ending to that hunt, I had one more opportunity and for the next two days Roberts and I used rattling, spot-and-stalk, and stand options to target another management buck. On the last morning, I spied a suspect slipping through the mesquite 200 yards away. After a few tense moments, the 4x4 buck stopped to sniff the wind and I immediately pressed the trigger. Another shoulder shot rendered the buck dead on its feet as it struggled to gain a few yards of escape.
Roberts joined me an hour later as I finished up field-dressing chores and he provided me with some great news. The 4x4 was likely an 8-year-old geezer, my oldest buck to date and a perfect ending to the season and my Dimension test.
I have always wanted to shoot a monster whitetail buck with my bow, and I got my chance last October at Monte Cruz ranch in Uvalde, Texas. I took my first whitetail buck three years ago with ranch manager Bret Ferguson. I used a rifle to do it. Since then, I’ve started archery hunting and booked another trip with Bret to pursue a big monster buck with my bow.
Our hunt started with warm temperatures as we sat in some well-hidden, brushed-in pop-up blinds. The first evening we saw several good young bucks, but nothing that excited us. I’ve hunted with Bret a few times and have learned to watch his expressions when a deer walks out. By doing that, I can tell when a good buck gets his attention.
The next morning’s hunt went much the same; we saw same great young bucks and a few mature bucks, but nothing we were after. Bret suggested we hunt that evening in the oat field. This was the first time in three years that oats had grown because much needed rain had fallen. Before entering the blind, Bret said we should see numerous whitetails, with a few shooters in the oat field. Like clockwork, deer started to filter onto field, and it seemed each buck looked bigger than the next. I could tell Bret expected something big to come onto that field.
After sitting in the blind for about an hour, he tapped my shoulder and motioned to a buck standing on the left edge of the brush line. As soon as I saw this whitetail, my heart started pumping! This was a buck of a lifetime for me, if only he would work his way into bow range.
Watching that buck make his way out onto the field was breathtaking. The other bucks seemed to know who was in charge in this field. Another mid 160-class buck had laid his ears back, and for a second, we thought we would see a knock down, drag-out fight. The smaller buck seemed to wise up in a hurry, turned his head, and walked away.
He came within range, but never offered a clear broadside shot. When he stood broadside, there was always another buck or doe in front of him. It seemed they were protecting him from the release of my arrow. Bret took video and kept me calm at the same time.
Minutes seemed like hours, but the buck finally turned for a clear broadside shot. I let the arrow fly. I made contact, but Bret thought the hit was a little too far back and low. My heart sank, but he reassured me, “Just relax, and we’ll give it plenty of time.” We played the shot back over and over on his camcorder and he was right, the shot was low and back. Having that camcorder with us allowed us to pinpoint that exact impact of the arrow.
After 45 minutes, we searched at the location of the hit. Bret played back his camcorder to be sure about where the buck was standing, and then we found my arrow. It had traces of blood and hair on it, but not as much blood as we had thought. We followed a small red trail but darkness came, so we decided to find my trophy in the morning. Letting the buck lay overnight was the smart thing to do.
As the old saying goes, “Don’t guide the guide.” We marked the last spot of blood and pulled back out of the field and headed to the lodge. There were very few words spoken at the dinner table that night knowing that big buck was out there somewhere in the brush.
Morning couldn’t arrive fast enough. We headed out to retrieve my buck, but after about two hours of searching, we decided to call in a dog. When the dog handler arrived at the ranch he started to the edge off a huge patch of buffel grass where the blood trail stopped.
The dogs began their work, and in time they found my buck. My trophy had been dead for a while. If we had pressured him, there was no telling where he would have ended up.
I knew I had a buck in the high 170s. When I gripped his antlers, my emotions took over. What an amazing animal! To me, it does not get any better than this.
We took the whitetail to the Los Cazadores contest in Pearsall, Texas, to be officially scored. Bret, too, had thought he would be in the high 170s. The monster typical 10-point grossed out just under 183. The ride back to ranch was full of smiles and jokes. Bret’s guides were calling him to get the official score of the buck. A typical 10-point grossing over 180 is pretty impressive. I’ve harvested my biggest whitetail, Bret helped me do so with a bow, and I even earned a Los Cazadores jacket for the archery High Fence Division.
I have hunted with Bret Ferguson and Monte Cruz Ranch out of Uvalde, Texas a few times in the past and we have always had great hunts. I was excited to learn that Bret had leased some country in Maverick County for the upcoming season. I like to hunt big free-range ranches and when he told me about his new pasture, I could not wait until my hunt.Bret does a great job of always keeping his hunters informed on the changes and the work being done on the ranches between hunting seasons. His monthly reports make me feel as though I’m there with him and his guys working on the ranch. To me, this helps pass the time between hunts, and again, makes me feel a part of the ranch.
On December 15, Robbie Roberston and I met Bret at our hotel in San Antonio. This would be Robbie’s first trip to South Texas. The drive from San Antonio to Uvalde was short as we talked about the season they were having at the ranch and what we should expect on our hunt. We spoke about the bucks that had been taken to date, and knowing we were hunting right in the middle of the rut, we were fired up!
Once we reached Uvalde we made a stop at Oasis Outback to get our hunting licenses and a few odds and ends we had forgotten to pack. After leaving the store, we headed straight to the ranch to unpack and get ready for the evening hunt. We participated in a quick orientation to go over our itinerary and then we were off to site-in our rifles. Following one shot to make sure the guns were on, we proceeded to one of his new pastures in Maverick County.
Bret explained that things could happen fast as the bucks were really chasing the does hard and new bucks (not seen on their helicopter surveys or caught on their trail cameras) were showing up on every hunt. Hunting the rut in South Texas is hard to beat because you never know what you will see coming out of the brush. Our plan of attack on this first afternoon hunt was to corn some long senderos and then glass them to see what was chasing, and how big. As we drove by a three-way on a power line, Bret noticed a big mature buck along with a few other bucks running does. Neither one of us wanted to shoot the buck from the truck or even attempt it, so he came up with a plan.
Bret dropped me off just past the area where we spotted the big buck and told me to wait there. He corned a road just South of where the deer were spotted because he believed the does would move to that road and the buck would follow the does. He then sped by me to park the truck far away from the area and hustled back with his shooting sticks to wait things out.
We were concealed by a clump of brush, and sure enough, the deer started easing out on the road. As the does moved into the road to feed, along came a dark antlered, wide 10-pointer. My favorite words I like hearing are, “ Yes, he’s old enough; if you like him, take him.” That was not the case with this adolescent. Though I hate to hear “No, he is too young,” what a buck this will be for the 2010 season.
As we continued to watch the deer, we noticed a doe coming out to feed. Once she gave that look back over her shoulder, Bret told me to get ready. Sure enough, the buck we spotted was right behind that doe. Standing on the edge of the brush with shooting sticks and looking at a big mature buck is about as exciting as it gets.
Bret was right behind me, talking to me and telling me to relax. The buck would not go anywhere as long as the doe was there. The buck chased off the other smaller males, but always came back out to watch the doe. Finally a clear, broadside shot presented itself. I asked Bret if I hit him and he said “Yes. The buck was breaking down as he left the sendero.” I made impact at 145 yards. We high fived each other and waited a full 30 minutes before we went and looked for my buck.
The tracking job was easy. The buck only made it about 20 yards in the thick brush. As we walked up to my trophy, Bret said he thought the buck was a 150 class buck and mentioned he had a hunter pass on this buck earlier in the year. “He passed on him?” I responded.
From Bret’s reports, I knew this area was in a very bad drought. Being a free -range ranch, the antlers would not be as big as they would be in a wet year. Though my buck grossed out just under 150 B&C, it’s not the score of this buck, but how the hunt unfolded that I cherish. Taking a mature buck off of shooting sticks and having a plan that came together on the first evening hunt is what I remember most.