Longhorn steers Texas hunter the right way
By Max Kutscher
Photos By Adam Marmolejo
Hovering over my rifle, I observed a rare black phased whitetail buck through my riflescope as it gazed toward the doe that had just jumped the fence on my property line.
I couldn't control my hands shaking which threatened the culmination of my deer season and a lot of preparation for this moment.
This 36 degree Texas Hill Country evening's blast of cold air was a departure from the 80 degree weather I'd left in my hometown of San Marcos earlier in the week. That didn't help the situation.
I closed my eyes in an attempt to steady myself for the shot, but my mind was inundated with memories from the first time I saw this strange buck on my farm, (which is not a high fence).
In late spring, this deer showed up on my game camera, and I didn't know what it was. The photo indicated a completely dark animal, and stranger still were the black velvet antlers. I thought something was wrong with my game camera!
Then I remembered, as a boy, hearing my father speak of sightings of a black deer on our farm. There were several stories collected over the years, but I always thought they were simply tall tales.
As spring turned to summer, the black buck frequented my feeder, and I captured several photos and even had a few run-ins with it prior to hunting season.
I sought to learn more about this beautiful whitetail and why it was so different.
I found that eight central Texas counties boast more black whitetails than anywhere else in the world. I happen to live at the crest of three of these, in Guadalupe County.
I also found that melanism is the name given an animal with an over production of skin pigmentation called melanin, which is a genetic mutation.
Melanistic deer are usually smaller in stature and the shades of darkness range from dark grey to solid jet black.
I was shocked to discover just how rare these animals are, and I realized how lucky I was to have seen one, let alone have one coming to my feeder. But winter came and the buck ceased to show up on my trail cameras. I feared it would simply become a distant memory.
Then one day, I saw that my neighbor's massive Texas longhorn had escaped its pen. I called him immediately, but he couldn't leave his medical practice at that moment, so I offered to wrangle it on my ATV with the assistance of my best friend David.
While in pursuit, two deer suddenly crossed in front of the ATV. I continued looking for the stubborn longhorn when I saw a flash of darkness in the brush. I stopped, backed up and was thrilled to see the melanistic buck standing there!
My hunting instinct kicked in, and I reached for my rifle, only to come up empty-handed. I'd left my rifle in my truck back at home since I wasn't hunting.
Soon, my neighbor arrived with assistance and four-wheelers to catch his unruly longhorn. This gave me time to quickly head home to grab my Remington 700 .30-06 in case I saw the black buck again.
As I was driving the ATV home, my house my cell phone rang; it was David. He'd just spotted the black buck. Even though I'd shown David my pictures, he was overwhelmed to see how beautiful and unique this animal was.
His sighting didn't last long because the buck was spooked yet again by people searching for that crazy longhorn. An hour had gone by with no sightings, and I called it a night.
The hands of darkness enveloped the last bit of remaining light as I slowly drove home. With a churning stomach, I tried to keep my eyes peeled, yet shielded from the bitter cold.
In one sense, I was happy the buck was still living here, but without a high fence, I feared it would leave soon.
Suddenly, as I drove past the brush line where I'd spotted the melanistic buck before, there it was!
With adrenaline pumping, I turned off the engine and reached for my .30-06.
I got out and stalked the longest, slowest 50 yards of my life. My feet felt like they were made of lead. I knew this might be the one and only chance I would ever have at a trophy so rare.
I remained focused, stalking closer to the buck, walking alongside it and catching glimpses through the brush.
I kept expecting it to look at me, but as fortune would have it, the buck's attention was set on a noise in the distance.
It slowly made its way to the next clearing, nearing the border of two properties. Suddenly, a doe took off in front of the buck and jumped over my fence and onto my neighbor's property.
Joy turned to panic as I watched the buck prepare to spring over the fence, too.
I knew what would happen if it made the jump. It would disappear into the trees, and I might not ever see the black buck again.
Despite my heart beating out of chest, I put the crosshairs on its chest, forced my shaking finger on the trigger and quickly made the best shot I could. A deafening boom filled the air and my bullet struck the front shoulder. Success!
The fruition of all my hard work lay 20 feet away, and it came on a day when I was least expecting it.
I was flooded with emotion, feeling so excited, relieved and extremely blessed. I reached down, grabbed the antlers, and I was so happy that I kissed the buck right on the nose!