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Trials and Tribulations of a Texas Cull Buck

CorleyBy Adam Corley

-- It was the first weekend of January 2007, and I was down to my last hunt, my last morning, my last hour of what was for me a difficult deer season. As I sat in my box blind that cool South Texas morning, I was beginning to face the fact that I might be going empty handed this season.  

The hunts this year were not as many as years past. However, the few trips we made were to some of the country's finest real estate for white-tailed bucks. My season started out with two hunts on the King Ranch with my father-in-law, Andy, as part of the ranch's Kineno's Hunting Club. You have to book your hunts several weeks prior to hunting season hoping that you pick days that will have good conditions for seeing the deer. This year we were not that lucky, as both hunts we booked presented us with temperatures pushing the 90s.

Needless to say, the deer movement was very slow, and even hunting during the rut left us surprised on how slow the deer movement was. So my next opportunity would be at Andy's aunt and uncle's ranch in Webb County. Ronnie and Gloria invited us to come down the week after Christmas in anticipation that the rut would be in full swing in that part of the country. 

When we arrived, we found out that the rut was slow and winding down as bucks were seen chasing doe as early as the first week in December. They said that this was unusually early for their ranch, but we might still be able to catch a few stray does attracting bucks. This hunt was also a controlled hunt as they are in the first few years of their deer management program. Their main goal this year was to take bucks that were deemed "culls" by their wildlife biologists. Now the word "culls" is a misperception, at least for me, when it comes to hunting on these South Texas ranches. There were "culls" on this ranch that I would call trophies, and I was excited at the opportunity to pursue one of these bucks. 

This specific hunt did give us a little cooler weather than we had previously in the season, but with the rut winding down, deer activity was slow. We did have the privilege of seeing some nice young bucks that are going to make great trophies one day, but for what we were looking for, things just didn't work out. So we finished another trip empty handed. I was invited to come back to the ranch if I had time before the end of the season, and I figured with my schedule there was no way I was going to get to return. 

It was really wearing on me that I had not taken a deer this season, and I wanted one more crack at it. The Wednesday night before the second to last weekend of the season I was on the phone calling Gloria to let her know that I was going to be on my way the next morning to Webb County to take another try at it. She was glad that I was coming back. I placed a phone call to work letting them know I was taking off the rest of the week, and the next morning I was on the road for a 5-hour drive to Webb County.

I got there just in time for the evening hunt, and it seemed my luck had changed, as Ronnie spotted a group of bucks that afternoon chasing a few does. I was very excited and anxious to get to the stand to see if this activity was going to continue throughout the evening and present me with an opportunity to take a buck. As luck would have it, no such activity was happening were I was. I could see through my binoculars way down to the other end of the sendero where Ronnie was hunting that he had all the activity. He was surrounded by several bucks all chasing one poor doe that was still in heat. However, none of the bucks were ones that fit the description of "culls."
Friday morning I took my chances to the east end of the property where I saw a lot of deer. Most of the bucks, however, fell into the category of too young or the big 10 points that they wanted to keep in the gene pool. I did take a shot at a tall 8-point buck that morning but missed. I regret taking the shot as I waited too long to convince myself that this was a mature deer. 

By the time I decided to shoot, the buck made its way back into the brush. It finally stopped and turned ever so slightly to the right, and I fired knowing that the buck had put itself behind a small mesquite bush. It was a shot I never should have attempted and will never try again. 

I had two hunts left and after that my season would be over for sure. That evening we went back to the west end of the property only to produce the same results as the rest of the hunts. So, Saturday morning arrived and the last hunt of the season was now upon me. I told myself that I would leave the ranch no later than 10 a.m. because it was such a long journey home. A journey I did not want to have to make empty handed.  

A fresh cold front pushed its way into South Texas that morning, and I was excited about the deer activity it would stir up. I went back to the east end of the property where I had spotted deer the morning before. Come to find out, this cold front stirred up about as much activity as the 90-degree weather hunts did earlier in the year.

I am now where this story began, in the stand, with one hour left until I was scheduled to pack up and go home to end the season. As I sat there, I began to think back to Friday morning when I had missed that buck. I walked the brush line for two hours covering a lot of ground to ensure that I had missed and that no signs of blood could be found. I was not being the quietest as I moved through the brush looking for any signs of a wounded or downed animal. As I did this, I jumped up a few bucks bedded down in this thicket. I had spooked these bucks pretty good, but I was beginning to wonder if I had taken my time, tried to be as quiet as possible, could I have stalked one of these bucks bedded down in the brush? 

That's when I decided that if I was going to have another chance at taking a buck I was going to have to make it happen. In doing so, I was going to try something I had never tried before. I was going to get in the brush with the deer and try some sort of stalking method. I see the pros do it on television, why couldn't I? The wind was in my favor blowing straight in from the north, and to keep the noise down, the ground was wet and soft from the light rain that had come in with the front. 

With an hour left, I made my way into the brush that separated an open field where my stand was and the back fence. In the middle of this brush there is a series of small ridges. I had read that bucks like to bed down on higher surfaces to help their senses pick up any threat of predators approaching. So I decided to walk very slowly right up and over these small hills to see if any thing would happen. 

The second hill I came to I jumped up two young bucks that I had seen earlier in the hunt from the blind. They were right on top of the hill, saw me and ran for as long as I could hear them through the brush. As their pounding hooves faded out, I thought to myself that maybe this spot and stalk thing was not going to be that easy. Just as I was going to take another step, I heard the familiar sound of a buck grunting just on the other side of the hill. Excitement took over. 

I stood there though not really knowing what the best plan of action was. I finally decided to walk slowly up the hill, and if the buck would not pick up on me, then maybe I could look down the other side of the hill and see it from up top. I slowly made my way forward. As I got to the top I could hear the buck moving through the brush. It had made its way over the next hill, and I tried the same method of walking up to the top of the hill, hoping that I could catch the buck from above. Once again I heard him move through the brush and over the next hill, leaving me with no visual of him yet.  The buck knew something was following it because it was on high alert.

I was watching the buck from about 40 yards away. I knew right away this was a shooter. I made my shot and as I walked up on this beautiful buck I could not believe how I had just harvested this animal. I got in the brush with this deer and actually stalked it. This was the best hunting experience I have ever had. The excitement of playing cat and mouse with this mature buck and to be able to outsmart it made me feel that I had really worked for this deer. 

I can't explain how great this feeling was. Everyone was excited for me and proud of the way I had taken this deer. This "cull" eight produced 137 inches of antlers with a 19 1/8-inch inside spread. In addition to a great trophy, it was gratifying to know that I helped out with the deer management program Ronnie and Gloria are using their ranch. They are strictly doing this so that family and friends can come down to their ranch and experience exciting hunts for trophy white-tailed bucks. I can only hope that one day I can have my own ranch in South Texas to do this very same thing. 
I want to thank Ronnie, Gloria, and Andy for giving me the opportunity to hunt in some of the best places in the country.

Adam Corley
Bartlesville, Oklahoma

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