Are There Free Range Bucks As Big As Those On Game Managed Ranches?
THERE’S PLENTY TO LOVE about a Texas deer season, but perhaps my favorite part of all is when all the great stories start to unfold.
Naturally, every deer-hunting tale leads down a different path, and some play out way better than others. In my book, the best ones are those that come together when a casual hunter heads to a tiny patch of woods on a crisp fall morning. He’s not really expecting to see much, then winds up killing a hell of a good buck.
Another favorite is about a hardcore hunter who invests dozens of hours chasing a crafty ol’ buck over the course of two to three years, then finally manages to close the deal as daylight wanes during the final minutes of another deer season.
A corn feeder may or may not be involved in my favorite style of deer hunting story, and there could be talk of a game camera or two. But there will rarely be a mention of a high fence.
Make no mistake. I don’t have anything against high fences, what they stand for, or the folks who choose to hunt behind them. A tall fence can be like a cherry on top for an already good management plan, provided those in charge stay on top of things.
A high fence gives land managers full control of what goes on within the perimeter of the property. This allows an existing deer herd and the habitat to be manipulated over time to achieve more desirable results.
The fence prevents any worry of outside influence from other deer or neighboring hunters. With a high fence the herd can be altered even more by spending the money to bring in new genetics, if you’re into that sort of thing.
With more than 1 million acres of private land currently under high fence statewide, much of it in South Texas, it is safe to say the concept is here to stay. If you’re among the minority with pockets deep enough to get a key to one
of the golden gates, more power to you.
I’m a much bigger fan of following the game as it is played out the old fashioned way.
On open range no impassible barriers prevent deer and other critters from coming and going as they please. So, the element of surprise remains as deeply rooted in the hunting experience as it was 50 years ago when I shot my buck at my uncle’s farm in Hico.
I’ve shared the stories of dozens of successful deer hunters over the years. Not surprisingly, most of my favorites are built around low fence properties that have kicked out some extraordinary bucks for average hunters.
One of my favorites dates back to 2002, when Paul Howard of Huntington killed a remarkable 10 pointer despite getting caught with his britches down—literally.
Howard was hunting on a little 50-acre spread in Cherokee County. He was walking along a hardwood creek bottom when Mother Nature called. Unfortunately, he didn’t find much privacy when he leaned his rifle against a tree and stopped to relieve himself.
A doe trotted by and spooked when she saw him. Seconds later, the hunter saw a buck with large antlers topping out over the ridge on the same path as the doe.
Howard coped with the odd predicament better than many hunters would have. He scrambled for his rifle and disposed of the buck with a perfect neck shot. The deer netted 169 5/8 B&C inches and ranked as the No. 1 Region 6 typical reported to the Texas Big Game Awards program that year.
Another good story goes back to opening morning of 2013, when Trent Kendrick of Weatherford bagged an enormous 13 pointer scoring 167 1/8 while hunting on the Davy Crockett National Forest in Trinity County.
That’s a whopper on anybody’s lease. It’s an exceptional buck for public land that just goes to show hunters what is out there if they’ll get out and hunt. There are more than 1 million acres of public hunting land around Texas.
The area where Kendrick hunts requires a $48 Annual Public Hunting Permit for access, and he has hunted there for years. He has spent enough time learning the land to help him avoid one the pitfalls many public hunters run into—big crowds. If he finds one area occupied by other hunters, he always has a back-up spot to go to.
“I just drive around until I don’t see any other vehicles,” he said. “Once I head out to hunt I’ll walk until I stop seeing cans, candy wrappers and other signs of other hunters before I even think about setting up.”
The list of top-notch open range bucks in my story archives goes on and on. Among them are Conroe archer A.J. Downs’s massive 28 pointer taken in 2012 in San Jacinto County, Mark Lee’s 29-point giant shot in 2013 in Houston County, and McKenzie Tiemann’s 24-point bruiser shot during last year’s October Youth Only weekend in Washington County.
Scoring 256 7/8, the Downs buck ranks as Texas’s biggest open range archery buck of all-time, the No. 2 TBGA open range, non-typical of all-time and the No. 8 non-typical of all-time in North America by Pope and Young Club records. Lee’s buck nets 259 3/8 in the B&C registry and ranks as the top free-ranging non-typical reported in Texas since the inception of TBGA.
The Tiemann buck nets 209 1/8 and ranks as the second largest free-ranging, non-typical ever-reported in Washington County. It is arguably the biggest buck ever killed by a youth hunter in Texas.
What makes the youngster’s buck even more remarkable is she was only nine when she shot it while hunting on the 120-acre family farm with her dad, Wade.
The point of all this is you don’t necessarily need the key to one of those golden gates to tag a good buck in Texas. Thousands of whitetail bucks across the state are shot every year. My guess is a bunch of the better ones go unreported to records committees for fear of attracting unwanted attention.
So, where is the best place to kill a bragging-size Texas whitetail on open range in Texas? That is a tall-tined question with an answer that is sure to vary depending on whom you talk to.
Perhaps one of the most reliable gauges is the TBGA database. The San Antonio-based hunter recognition program has been around since the early 1990s. The program maintains white-tailed deer records for eight geographic regions in typical and non-typical categories.
TBGA program coordinator Kara Starr ran the numbers and pinned down the counties with most qualifying “scored entries” by region. Keep in mind, minimum net scores vary from 125 to 140 on typicals and 140 to 155 for non-typicals, depending on the region:
• Region 1 (Trans Pecos): Terrell County, 86 entries
• Region 2 (Panhandle): Cottle County, 89 entries
• Region 3 (Cross Timbers): Sterling County, 151 entries
• Region 4 (Edwards Plateau): San Saba County, 83 entries
• Region 5 (Post Oak): Anderson County, 141 entries
• Region 6 (Pineywoods): Trinity County, 252 entries
• Region 7 (Coastal Prairies): Colorado County, 135 entries
• Region 8 (South Texas): Kleberg County, 366 entries
Boone and Crockett record book entry requirements are much steeper, 170 net for typicals and 195 net for non-typicals. I used the organization’s “Trophy Search” program to learn which Texas counties account for the most B&C entries dating back to 1830. B&C accepts only low fence animals to it whitetail registry.
The top five counties for typical record book entries though 2017:
• Webb County, 67
• Maverick County, 63
• Dimmit County, 56
• La Salle County, 51
• Kleberg County, 22
Top five counties for non-typical record book entries though 2017:
• Maverick County, 22
• Webb County, 20
• La Salle County, 19
• Dimmitt County, 17
• Kleberg County, 16
Of course, numbers such as those don’t mean much when it comes to killing a “good buck” in Texas. Deer hunting is a sport where beauty is found in the eye of the beholder.
A respectable buck is apt to show up just about anywhere around here. Often times when you least expect it.
Texas Deer Facts
Texas has around 3.6 million white-tailed deer, which are among the most popular game animal in North America.
—story by MATT WILLIAMS