TEXAS WHITETAILS by Larry Weishuhn

CAMPING IN THE TEXAS WILD
April 25, 2018
TEXAS GUNS by Steve LaMascus
April 25, 2018

A Tame Buck, for Name’s Sake

I AM NOT PARTICULARLY IN FAVOR of giving whitetail bucks names other than possibly “the front gate buck,” “the creek bottom buck” or “the cemetery buck”.

After all, there always seems to be a big buck that lives right next to the road near the front gate to the property hunted. No one ever seems to hunt him because he lives right next to the road where there might be traffic noises.

“The creek bottom buck” is one that has always existed wherever there are small creeks to river-sized streams. He occasionally gets hunted.

On many properties I have hunted over the years there have been cemeteries. Certain, usually older mature bucks with huge antlers tend to be attracted to cemeteries and like “the front gate buck” they are seldom hunted because most hunters I have known do not want to hunt in or around a cemetery.

Several years ago I hunted a “the cemetery buck” not far from the Texas town of Buffalo Gap. The graveyard was populated by those who had been killed at a time when Comanches swooped down off of the Llano Estacado each fall.

This during the early days of Quanah Parker. The grave stones were severely weathered, but you could still make out some names and dates carved into sandstone markers, along with “Kilt by Comanch” on a couple of them.

I first saw “the cemetery buck” when I was looking for arrowheads. It was a cool October day, and I was looking at the ground rather than for deer. I got the feeling something was watching, perhaps the spirit of a Comanche brave intent upon raising my red hair to decorate his buffalo lance.

I looked up slowly and started scanning the cedars and oaks about me. There he stood, statue-still looking at me, less than 20 steps away. He had 10 long points, about a 20-inch outside spread, dark brown-stained with polished ivory tips. The mass was well beyond the circumference of his eyes.

We stared at each other, neither moving a muscle or batting an eyelid. His seemed more an inquisitive stare, as in “what the heck is this guy doing invading my turf, no other two-legged critter ever comes here…”

After about thirty seconds, he raised and lowered his head as if to nod, then turned slowly and walked away. I watched him disappear into the cedars.

Later that afternoon back at our TPWD Wildlife and Fisheries office I told Chuck Dalchau about the buck. Chuck worked for Fisheries, and I worked for Wildlife. We often hunted together for whitetails and predators.

A couple of nights later I called the local game wardens Curtis Jones and Dale Evans. I told them we would be “shining a light” in the vicinity of where I had seen the buck. Curtis asked to join us after I told him about the deer I had seen near the old cemetery.

There was a nearly-grown-over two-track road into the cemetery, which I doubt anyone had visited in recent times. We shined a spotlight as we approached the graves, and there right in the middle of the cemetery was the buck I had seen a couple of days before.

He was bedded between two of the standing headstones. As we approached closer, he simply stared our way and then laid his head on the ground where in the nearly knee high grass only the tips of his antlers showed. We waited nearly five minutes to see whether he would raise his head.

He did not.

We backed out of the area and headed to the ranch’s headquarters to have late night coffee with the owner, David Manahans. David is a friend and occasional hunting partner. We talked about “the cemetery buck”.

David said he was aware of the buck. He had seen him a couple of times when gathering cattle on horseback.

“The scoundrel lives on and around the old cemetery,” David said. “I’ve never seen him more than about four hundred yards from there. I’ve watched him grow up. He’s a five-year old this year. Larry, you and Chuck are welcome to hunt him all you want, but I doubt you’ll ever see him during daylight hours. When I’ve ridden up on him in the past he won’t run, unless I have a rifle with me. Then as soon as he sees me he disappears into the cedars and oaks before I can shoot.

Chuck and I spent that whitetail season and the next, hunting “the cemetery buck.” We never laid eyes on him during daylight hours. We did see him a couple of times in the dark after the season closed, while calling foxes in that area.

As mentioned, I do not like naming whitetail bucks, but I have to tell you about a buck called “Ricky.” Maybe what I learned about him will give you some insight on “the cemetery buck” or possibly one that you may have hunted, or are hunting this fall.

Ricky was picked up as a fawn by a local game warden and taken to the ranch manager’s wife on one of or the ranches I was managing intensively at the time for whitetail deer. He was essentially raised in their house and developed a great taste for Purina dog chow, bananas and Dorito chips.

His first year Ricky had an eight-point rack with about a 12-inch spread. He was seen just about every day, including by the various hunters we had on the property. He showed no concern about hunting. A couple of times he had does shot next to him standing only a couple of feet away.

The second year, the tame buck had a 10-point rack with about an 18-inch outside spread. The hunters knew him because most of them fed him bananas and Dorito chips when he visited them at their camp. Ricky roamed the 3,000 acre high-fenced property and was seen pretty well every day by the hunters.

The third year Rick developed a basic 10-point rack with three kicker points. He acted exactly like one would expect a tame deer to do. He walked up to hunters expecting to be fed bananas and Doritos chips. The hunters, as did I, saw him roaming throughout the property, occasionally chasing does, just about every day we hunted the property.

He continued coming up to hunters for his chips and bananas, which they seemed to always have with them. He returned to the ranch manager’s house daily. On the back porch, he ate Purina dog chow pellets; and the manager’s wife made certain he got his daily ration of bananas and chips.

As we headed into his fourth antler year the manager’s wife came to me and said, “I DO NOT want anyone to shoot Ricky. I fear this year he’ll develop a rack that may prove to be too tempting. I know we’ve got some new hunters coming in that have not been here to watch Ricky grow up.”

I feared she might be right. I too, did not want anyone shooting Ricky on purpose or by mistake. I suspected by the time his antlers were fully developed that year, he would have a rack that would gross more than 170 B&C points—huge for a native Texas Hill Country deer.

Over the years, I had often seen bucks totally change, from being visible daily until they turned four years old. Then at four, they’d seemingly disappear. Matter of fact, I had occasionally been accused of lying to hunters about the number of mature bucks on the property. (This was before trail cameras.)

Once Texas bucks turn four, everything about them changes. They become extremely wary and almost totally nocturnal. I suspected Ricky might do the same.

However, I was not going to take a chance. Beyond really liking the tame buck, I wanted to see what his antlers would turn into as a five- to eight-year-old buck in the presence of excellent daily nutrition.

I devised a plan approved by the ranch owner, manager and his wife, the game department and the primaries that hunted the property. Shortly after Ricky shed his antlers headed into his fourth antler-growing season, I caught him and ear-tagged him with big orange pendulum-type ear tags in both ears. I shaved his sides and applied a freeze brand, which would turn hair white when he put on his next coat of hair. I wanted him obvious to all, so there would be no excuse for someone shooting Ricky.

The tame buck did not disappoint me in antlers. He again developed a basic 10-point frame, but this year had an additional eight, long kicker points. No doubt, his rack exceeded 170 Boone and Crockett points.

Up until September Ricky was a typical tame buck. Then he changed dramatically. Possibly, he saw a reflection of himself drinking water from the stream and saw his big antlers.

Everything about him changed, other than his love of Purina dog food, bananas and Dorito chips. By the first of October Ricky was no longer seen during daylight hours. The bowhunters never saw him during archery season. Gun season arrived.

No one saw Ricky.

I started hunting him simply to see whether I could find him. I hunted areas others did not, crawling into thickets and hunting during mid-day— a time when I have taken some of my biggest whitetails. I could not find Ricky between first and last light. Had I not known what was going on at night, I may have thought Ricky had died or simply did not exist.

Interestingly, when the tame buck disappeared during daylight hours the first of October, he still showed up at the ranch manager’s house every night, but not until a solid hour after dark.

He would eat Purina dog chow, Doritos and bananas left for him on the back porch. He would lie down in the front yard under a nightlight and chase does during the rut.

An hour before the first hint of the approaching morning, he would disappear and not be seen again until an hour after solid dark. He kept up this routine until the end of January. Then he would again be seen throughout the day, even to the point of coming to eat bananas and chips out of people’s hands.

Ricky followed the same routine each year; acting like a “dufus,” being a typical tame animal until the first of October. Then he became totally nocturnal and was not seen during daylight hours again until the end of January.

The property was intensively managed for native quality whitetail deer with many does and bucks shot annually. There were hunters on the property pretty much every day. On only few days it was not hunted by the owners or their guests. On those days I was usually on the property, often looking for the tame deer.

All this happened before the advent of trail cameras. Wish we had had them back then for the purpose of trying to find out what Ricky did during daylight hours. I also wish I could have gotten a radio telemetry project set up around this deer to track his movement.

Where Ricky went during daylight hours, and what he did during October through January, I will never know.

You draw your own conclusions.

 

Email Larry Weishuhn at [email protected]

 

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