The dust hung in the sky like a fog, the result of a gusty northwest wind that brought Panhandle top soil eastward to the
Last year's hunt was one of the most remarkable three-day outings ever. A week earlier on the calendar, the ground was covered with a dusting of snow and the temperature hovered in the 30s.
At every stop we rattled up bucks. Not one or two, but multiple bucks would come racing in. At the same time we saw precious few does.
Range conditions were completely different a year ago. The region, like much of the state, was still mired in an extended drought that had scorched the landscape. There was no water, no acorns and cool weather forbs were nonexistent.
Soon after the countryside started to get rain and the range perked up some. Then came summer and drought-like conditions prevailed again.
But the ranch is completely different than a year ago. There are acorns. The rancher has run water lines throughout the ranch to create watering spots. Doe are much more visible, and bucks are very reluctant to come to rattling horns.
The good news is that after a mild fall, a freeze a week ago finally caused the mesquites to drop their leaves, opening up visibility. The downside is that deer are still eating acorns and winter grass that has survived under trees, and that most movement is still limited during the daylight hours. Also, the rut peaked several weeks ago.
After unloading our gear and Leggett sprinkling the ground with corn from a tailgate feeder, we settled down for the afternoon. But as he walked back to the blind he noticed a doe and its fawn working a mesquite flat below us. We watched the two graze their way out of sight, but we kept a close watch behind them in case a buck had picked up their scent.
It was 45 minutes later when a buck ambled down the ridge to our north. Well out of range, he walked to the same flats the doe had traveled and immediately changed course to the direction they had gone.
Soon, both the does and the buck were headed back at least in our vicinity. A feeder in front of the stand had gone off 30 minutes earlier when the doe turned 150 yards away and started toward us. Not overly interested in the free corn they were taking their time coming up the ridge. The buck was hanging back even more, but unwilling to leave the only females in the valley.
Eventually the doe worked their way closer and closer to the old drilling pad turned feed station, but instead of coming on top they stayed on the edge.
Leggett and I had already determined the buck fit the criteria of a cull deer. It was old, probably 4 1/2 and despite some tine length it only had seven points, little mass and no main beam length.
“Have you got a shot?” Leggett asked.
Not really. I could only see the top of its head above the broom weed with the deer still over the ledge. He trotted a few steps forward and up. I got a better view of his body, but he was at an odd angle. I stood and twisted my body to get the crosshairs on his shoulder. Leggett grunted and the buck stopped for the last time.
This, we decided, was a life lesson to men that stray off in chase of a female. It is going to get you hurt every time.
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