The morning of Thanksgiving 2013 I found myself headed to one of my favorite early season hunting spots situated in an area of the ranch overrun with prickly pear to the extent it will rival any in south Texas. Brush and cactus are so think around this particular area that I often find myself shaking my head trying to understand how deer can maneuver through it. Although the wind was not in my favor, I just had to check this spot out to see what bucks may be frequenting this corner of the pasture. As daylight was breaking, I could tell there were nearly a dozen bucks in and around the feed area. I had NOT scattered any additional corn. As daylight began to increase to the point I could begin recognizing what headgear some of these bucks had, I recognized a new deer coming into view among to join the many others already present. At first glance, I realized this buck was pretty special, I just couldn’t tell how special. I use trail cameras on the ranch, but to a very limited degree. Call me old fashioned, but I typically only use them in August and September to help me insure certain bucks have made it through the spring and summer and are available for harvest for hunting clients. This helps keep me from overbooking hunts.
The primary function of the video camera is to track growth, or the lack thereof in some cases. I want to begin identifying characteristics of new potential trophy prospects as well as new management deer. Some in my family consider me overly conservative, and I am pretty lenient in giving deer another year to see if they improve enough to keep on the feeding program. Having lived and worked in south Texas all of my life, I understand the challenges young bucks face in simply trying to survive their first few years. I believe most biologists, whether TPWD of private, will tell you that most deer simply need to be left to walk to mature enough to exhibit their optimum potential. I’ve conditioned myself over the last fifteen or son years of observing deer to grab either my binoculars or video camera before I ever consider grabbing my rifle. As typical, I find myself in early February having only fired four shots all season and three of the four were at coyotes at long distances.
During hunting season, I seldom use the trail cameras. My thought process is simple - “if I can’t find and pattern a mature often nocturnal buck on my own without the aid of the trail camera, then what have I really accomplished”. It just doesn’t seem fair to use trail cameras to pattern deer.
Additionally, I like to be surprised every once in a while. I had NOT previously seen this particular buck that was now coming into view on this gorgeous Thanksgiving morning except for a brief 5 second period the previous January as he exited a field adjacent to where I was now sitting. Nor had I gotten any trail cam pictures of him during September. I did have 2 or 3 poor quality trail cam pictures from the previous Fall of 2012 that I could reference, but they did not do this buck justice. I was reasonably confident that this particular buck in the Fall of 2012 was very mature if not old based on his legs and depth of his body. He had several broken points and actually only had 4 main frame points on his left side as best as we could tell by the poor angled pictures. We named the buck PB. Based on that, I had given the green light to all family members to harvest PB in the Fall of 2012 if they saw him and felt confident he was indeed old. Both my son Brandon and Father Carroll spotted PB briefly in 2012 at somewhat lengthy distances, but neither long enough to really consider a shot or for that matter evaluate him. After all, they also were really just getting to know this new Little Arrowhead Ranch we had just purchased in the summer of 2012. No one was in a hurry to harvest a buck especially when he was missing some of his points. You see, we have a rule amongst family members that only two top end trophy bucks can be harvested each year regardless of how many reside on the ranch. Those two brief sightings of PB were the only two during the 2012 season.
In March 2013, I found what I felt with confidence was PB’s weak left side shed based on those few September 2012 trail cam pictures. The shed was not impressive but it was above average in mass. PB’s weak side in 2012 only exhibited 4 main frame points with a couple of kickers that for the most part were broken off. Quite truthfully, I hadn’t really thought much about PB since then. Now back to Thanksgiving morning. As more daylight approached, the big buck approached the other eleven or so bucks in and around the feeder but never decided to go in and compete for the corn. He approached the feed pen and other bucks but immediately made a u turn and began to retrace his path back toward the area he had approached from. He stopped behind a small mesquite tree as I grabbed my video camera. With daylight still somewhat lacking, I began to film as he cleared the mesquite tree. I had not bothered to count points or even attempt to size him up. I simply wanted to accumulate video for my collection. I could tell pretty quickly though that this buck was well above average and quite possibly one of the biggest native whitetail bucks I had ever personally laid eyes in the pasture. As I begin to evaluate which buck this may have been from the previous season, it dawned on me that this was PB and what an impressive buck he had grown into. He was wide, had good beam length, tine length, character with his forks and brows and most importantly he looked very old. He walked with a gait and his front legs appeared like none on any other buck I had observed in my 45 years of hunting. After capturing several minutes of video, I put the camera down and grabbed my binoculars so I could study PB in more detail. As best as I could tell this early in the morning, PB possessed a minimum of 14 points. His right beam had points stacked in consistently along the main beam. In addition to the typical main frame points, he had an extra lengthy point growing forward inside his right beam. PB stopped for a short while to eat on some prickly pear that had been discarded from the shredder about 45 days prior. He was moving slowly but steadily and pretty quickly disappeared again off the shredded right of way into the dense mesquite and pear.
Clearing the lump in my throat and collecting my emotions after experiencing that feeling one gets when you’ve observed something you know no one else likely has, my thoughts turned to my son Brandon whom I had dropped off that morning at one of his favorite hunting spots some ½ mile back. Brandon had commented the previous evening that he was going to check out a gorgeous wide and heavy main frame buck we call El Toro and perhaps even ground check him. You have to understand that Brandon and my father Carroll had been ribbing each other for a couple of months about whom might first get the opportunity to harvest El Toro. It was after all Brandon’s turn to harvest a big mature buck this particular year, and he had set his sights high often stating he didn’t so much as harvest a management buck in 2012. Brandon’s favorite hunting is dove and varmint. He will often be found cranking on that mouth call, and more often than not he brings in a prospect. Brandon has hunted a lot over the years, but he not ever harvested a buck over the 138” mark but had set his goals high. He had commented several times that he wasn’t interested in shooting a buck unless it was 180” or greater. He had indeed been patient but I could tell that patience was wearing thin as December was fast approaching.
Dad of course being the principal owner of the ranch can harvest any buck he wants, but he is very experienced and not to mention very particular about what he chooses to pull the trigger on unless it is a varmint of some type. With that thought in mind about Brandon at least considering harvesting El Toro that morning and with a high probability of him seeing, I hurriedly grabbed my phone and sent him a text message stating “please don’t harvest el Toro if you want to shoot a bigger prettier buck”. He responded back with an “ok” and we left it at that. When I picked Brandon up, he asked what big buck I saw. I initially responded back that I hadn’t seen any big buck and that I simply wanted him to spend more time afield looking for other bucks we likely had not yet seen. After about 20 minutes, I fessed up and shared the good news about PB and his big rack. I told Brandon that would only harvest PB if I caught him crossing a right of way well away from that area I had seen him without the aid of any feeder or corn placed on the ground. More importantly, I told him he could hunt that same location I had spotted PB since I had a hunter coming in the following day that needed to be guided. But I told him he couldn’t hunt there until the wind got right. Before my hunter arrived at Friday lunch, I spent the next two hunts at locations 500 yards away hoping by some chance PB may cross a right of way. One hunt I spent sitting on the ground looking into the sun but with the wind in my favor, but all to no avail.
On Saturday morning November 30, Brandon with his dog Buster following crawled up the tall ladder into the tall tower blind I had seen PB at two days prior. As I left that morning with my hunter to another part of the pasture, Brandon and Buster were still in bed as I left camp. As I quite often do in my bossy old age, I had even scolded Brandon a couple of times informing him to quit taking that damn dog to the deer blind because some of these bucks were just too smart to come in when the wind wasn’t right. Add the scent of Buster, and I figured there was no way a cagey old buck would come anywhere close to him. As fate would have it though PB made his grand entrance apparently within feet of the same trail he had approached taken two mornings earlier. Brandon made his shot count and him and Buster celebrated the harvest of this magnificent brute. Although he has not previously shot any high scoring deer, Brandon certainly is experienced enough to understand just how impressive PB was. He also understands it may be five to ten years before he lays eyes on a buck that will top PB in score. I must say that it was another first for me when Brandon stated Buster and his dog celebrated that eventful morning. As it turned out PB had 19 points with a 22 ½ inside spread and scored an even 190” gross. He indeed is bigger than any buck I have harvested, and I thank God for the opportunity to have personally seen and video PB. He was truly a majestic south Texas whitetail that we all dream of growing and seeing someday. Just admiring his feeble seemingly bowled legged knees and swollen ankle joints as he walked was enough to impress upon me that PB had to be a minimum of 8.5 years old. His bottom jaw reflected it as well. This was an experience I will soon not forget, and I’m sure Brandon won’t either.