The deer corn popped out of the truck-mounted feeder looking like small fireworks as the headlamp reflected on the moving corn, creating the illusion of tiny tracer fire piercing the pre-dawn darkness over the empty field. By light, the field would host deer, javelina and maybe a hog.
The truck turned back onto the sendero and mud smacked in the wheel wells. The persistent drizzle caused the endless arrays of prickly pear to glisten. The only creatures moving out of the brush at this moment were little rabbits. That would change.
The truck moved on, shunting from one sendero to another, pausing at a gate, crossing a power line right of way and pressing down another road. Upon arrival, the truck was parked out of sight from the crossing. Up in the blind, the hunter and guide got situated to wait. Go ahead and chamber a round now.
First, three does. A few javelina. The big cream-colored, black polka-dotted wild boar returned from the day before. A 10-point buck showed up. Young bucks followed.
The people waited for a candidate for a guide’s choice. This category is a notch down from a management buck, which is a tier down from a trophy buck. In Texas, landowners, such as ranches, can apply to participate in a state-run wildlife management program. These hunts are handled differently than regular hunts in which hunters use the tags on their hunting licenses to document what they harvest. The management hunts are documented separately under the managed lands deer program.
At this particular South Texas ranch, which has cattle as well as oil and gas, the deer hunts are split into categories and priced accordingly (see guide’s choice, management and trophy above). Ultimately, the objective is to maintain a healthy population of deer with a range of ages and the right proportion among gender. At this ranch, they do not want to harvest bucks under the age of five-and-a-half to give the population a chance to flourish. The first time I hunted this place, the guide’s choice I took turned out to be an eight-and-a-half-year-old buck. The wildlife biologist noted that beyond that, it’s hard to tell because the teeth get too worn down to gauge anymore. He added that it was me, the hunter, or the coyotes that was going to get him and better me than the coyotes.
The day before harvesting this particular buck, we spotted him while scouting a third hunt location. He took off into the brush, but the guide got a good look at him and deemed he qualified as a guide’s choice. This morning, after a couple of hours of hunting, this particular buck came into the field. He took note of a 10-point we’d seen the afternoon before and moved in to attempt to nudge it away. As he walked out, I prepared to shoot.
For a moment, I might have had the shot and got ready, but he leapt into the pen surrounding a feeder, leaving a hog-wire fence between me and himself. (A bullet could hit the wire and miss the deer). He noshed for a good long while and popped back out. I prepared to shoot and then the big white hog disturbed him. Back into the brush he slipped.
We waited with the hope he’d come back out. Eventually, he did, apparently to address the 10-point buck again. He walked out and toward me in the blind, head on. He moved swiftly and certainly. He turned as he progressed after the other buck. He was closing in and I was going to lose my angle. I had to adjust on the fly. Bear in mind, that when we practice at the range, the target is stationary. Hunting is not like that.
The moment came. I had a clean shot in my scope. I took the shot and, mortally injured, he turned for a moment into the road and then into the brush, his antlers visible and after a few seconds, he was down. We waited 20 minutes to go in to get him. I paused with him, said thanks for the chance, the success and the meat.
At check in, he was scored at 126 B&C (Boone and Crockett scale). It was determined, again, by examining how worn down his teeth were, that he was about six-and-a-half years old. The guide removed lymph nodes and packed them in a plastic bag to ship to Texas Parks and Wildlife for them to check for Chronic Wasting Disease. CWD has been detected on a limited basis, fortunately, in other parts of the state, but it’s important to collect data.
These deer live wild on a beautiful ranch with low fences and look very healthy. We are very much looking forward to eating the venison. The ground meat can be used in a variety of recipes – basically anything you’d use ground beef with and can enjoy without all the fat from beef. Venison is lean and delicious. Personally, I love making meatballs with venison (with extra egg whites to bind them).
The backstrap is amazing grilled with a rub of olive oil, salt and pepper. Or, you can cook it in an iron skillet with butter and herbs. There’s nothing quite like toasting your partner with a glass of Pinot Noir and biting into venison you hunted. You know where it came from and, therefore, why it tastes so, so good. If you have the opportunity to hunt, take it.
The Sage Leopard, firstname.lastname@example.org