Too Many Mouths

January 2017 007
Too Many Mouths

Cattle like grass first but will eat brush as a last resort.  Deer like weeds first then fall back on browse or brush as a second choice.  When I say brush, I mean woody plants like yaupon or trees like hackberry, elm and live oak, or vines like green briar, dewberries or even poison ivy.

Let’s concentrate on deer.  Deer ALWAYS prefer native plants over anything you can plant or pour out of a sack.  On good range with plenty of choice native forbs, acorns and browse, you can see it happen all the time.  Deer will not eat corn.  They are not hitting oat and wheat patches.  The deer are not touching protein pellets or cotton seed in free choice feeders. They will walk past or over the above to pick up water oak, live oak and especially white oak acorns.  With timely rains, forbs and clover will be popping out fresh and green and the deer will be concentrating on that.  Hunting becomes poor when nature is at its best.

What happens when there are too many animals?  Heavily consumed choice plants will eventually disappear.  A leaf on western rag weed is bitten off the second it shows itself.  When the small plant tries putting out another leaf that leaf is cut off as well.  Eventually the plant dies.  A dead plant has no chance of producing seed for the next generation.  Over a few years what remains are only plants that a deer does not eat or plants that are very poor quality.  The habitat is degraded.

Wildlife biologist and range scientists often call this, “Too many mouths.”  Overgrazed cattle ranges will end up with only poor quality grasses and overgrazed deer ranges will end up with only poor quality woody plants.  Sad but this happens fairly often.  Probably the main reason is greed.  A rancher sees 100 cows and wishes he had 150.  A hunt manager estimates 200 deer on his ranch and wishes he had 400.

I keep straying.  Let’s get back to deer.  Keep in mind forbs and acorns are seasonal.  Forbs are usually best during late winter and early spring.  Acorns hit the ground in the fall and that may not be every year.  The cushion or insurance policy all deer fall back on is browse.  When the browse is degraded then you have clearly gone too far.  It may be too late.  Body size will be smaller, fawn crops smaller, antlers smaller, deer will get sick easier.  The herd will be stressed.

One of the easiest indicators of too many mouths on a range is a browse line on the trees.  This can be seen easiest in the Texas Hill Country where live oak is the dominate tree species.  There will be a clear line across the landscape where all or nearly all brush leaves have been removed by browsing deer (it could be goats as well).  That line shows you how high a deer can reach while feeding.

When anyone sees this it should be a loud alarm clock ringing in the managers head that he has looming problems.  These photos are excellent examples of a ranch that has had its habitat degraded.  The only cure is to remove more of the mouths (deer).  Remember that the animal that competes for food the most with a deer is another deer.

January 2017 010 January 2017 007

January 2017 002
Introduce a Novice

I am extremely lucky to have had a grandfather who purchased ranches, as well as a dad that liked to hunt and encouraged me to hunt as well.  This background has given me thousands of hours spent outdoors over my lifetime.  I can recount a lot of hunting stories as my hair thins and turns grey, but I can honestly say some of the most pleasing episodes are those when I’ve introduced newcomers to the sport.

A while back, I started paying attention to the youth hunts put on by the Texas Wildlife Association.  It is a structured event where guides follow strict rules setting examples to new hunters, while at the same time promoting ethics.  I arranged for a “guide school” at our camp house and got a few friends of mine to attend. There is a lot of red tape involved with TWA, so we eventually split off from that organization but we continue to follow their blue print nonetheless.

Here is my team:  James Janda, Tony Janda, Alvin Emmel and I are the guides from Weimar. Richard Grobe, my Texas A & M classmate and resident of Columbus is the last guide.  Daria Emmel (Alvin’s wife) is the cook.  We’ve been together dozens of times.  We started by hosting hunts at our ranches and neighboring ranches.  There we were able to smooth out the rough edges to the process.  Later, we hunted in Medina County on ranches I had sold to clients.  Tom Arnett and Jim Thompson both of Houston graciously hosted us, and then later we hunted on another of Mr. Arnett’s properties in Kinney County south of Brackettville.  Our last hunt was on Randle Jones’ Diamond J Ranch in western Mason County.  Each of these ranches had spacious headquarters that allowed these youth hunts to be run in style. It takes a lot of space since not only do you have five guides and a cook, but you have five young hunters and their guardians.  It takes a minimum of 16 people just to take 5 hunters.  

Follow me on how this unfolds:

The first thing I do is contact the Weimar ISD and then Columbus ISD staff.  My goal is to get recommendations of good families that have children from 10 to 13 years old that have never hunted and do not have a deer lease or any relatives that hunt.  We target youth that have never hunted but are game to try.  Children too young can’t hold a rifle well, and kids in high school already have sap rising and are often too interested in holding hands with other hunters of the opposite sex to concentrate on deer.  We take both male and female hunters so you have to be careful.

Once selected, each hunter must purchase a Texas hunting license and they will be expected to pay for their share of the groceries.  Our last hunt cost each person $18.00 for the entire weekend.  Next, they have to pass a proficiency test with a rifle.  We arrange for the new hunter and his/her guardian (parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle) to meet at our camp house and learn to shoot.  Many of these children have never held a rifle.  I’m talking not even a .22 rim fire.   Each guide is responsible for their shooting instructions and they will provide a weapon.  Most of us use 223, 22-250, 243 or 6mm Remington. 

We’ve never had trouble with these newcomers skill.  It’s simple, they listen.  We teach them safe handling, how to support the rifle, how the rifle works, how to aim, the importance of trigger squeeze and deer’s anatomy.  When the child can regularly hit a pie plate at roughly 75 yards, they are then patted on the back and pronounced ready for the real deal.

The big day finally arrives and everyone meets after school then caravans in separate vehicles to the chosen ranch. We hunt Saturday morning and evening.  During the middle of the day it is all busy time with no lounging around the headquarters watching TV or playing video games.  The new hunters help cleaning game, then Tony Janda gives them his gun safety talk.  We do this in the field to demonstrate crossing fences etc. with a rifle.  I go to school with them and walk a bit out in the brush teaching them about what a deer eats and what he does not eat.  I go into some simple biology about deer habits and feeding routines.  Any extra time is spent gathering fire wood.

After the evening hunt and meal is the best part of the weekend.  All guides, guardians, cook and hunters gather in a circle around the campfire and one by one tell their story.  How they saw the deer approach, the number of doe and bucks each saw, how big the bucks were, how they waited for a good presentation, how they shot the deer, how they followed a blood trail, how they shook afterwards, the excitement and funny episodes are all rehashed.  No one is talking over each other but each having the spotlight alone.

January 2017 002
Success!

Even if they get a deer, they still return to the blind to observe wildlife.  We hunt again Sunday morning then everyone pitches in the clean the facilities, haul off trash, stack the remaining firewood and the last thing before leaving is to write thank you letters to the owner.

You never forget your first deer just like you never forget your first kiss.  I’ve been lucky in having given a lot of children the chance to experience deer hunting that may never have gotten the opportunity.  I was sitting at their side when they succeeded.  I am honored to have provided this chance and hope they remember me along with the animal.

PS:  Anyone reading this that has a child or grandchild between 10-13 years old that has never hunted and would like to try it please email me at jack@ranchlocator.com.  I will put you in my data base for future hunts.

Rocky 2
The Nursery

CHAPTER ONE:

 It was New Year’s Day.  No, let me back that up some.  It was about eight o’clock in the morning on New Year’s Day. My ears were still ringing from the band that played too loudly the night before and my head could feel a pulse, plus my stomach was still slightly off of level with a hint of a hangover.  I wanted to make my rounds feeding cattle and be home near noon to take in the series of bowl games.  While driving past a lease pasture of mine on the way to our River Ranch, I noticed all cattle were up and grazing but one.  She was stretched out flat on her side.

 I rolled some hay out at the River for the mommas there, plus the heifer pasture, then took a bale back to my lease tract.  All of the cattle came to my call except one.  I headed over to the down cow and found her in trouble.

 She was on her right side and did not try to stand when I approached.  All I could see was the tip of a calf nose and two front hooves protruding from her.  At least the calf was positioned correctly.  I grabbed hold of the calf’s front hooves and pulled and moved the calf about three inches but that is all I could do.  Luckily, I had some nylon cord that was about a half-inch wide and fairly long in the back of my truck.  I drove the nose of my truck right up to the rear of the cow and tied the cord around the calf’s front feet then to my bumper.  When I took the slack out I was far enough away to see the cow while craning my neck to see over the truck’s hood.

Rocky 1
Rocky after he was pulled

  I then S L O W L Y backed up inch by inch. The cow stiffened her rear legs out but the calf slid out with no problem.  I expected the worst.  The calf had to be dead from its appearance.  No telling how long it was trapped in the cow’s birth channel.  His head was freakishly misshapen and swollen to twice the size and its tongue was bigger than normal with purple dots here and there lolling out the side of its mouth.  When I approached to take off the nylon cord, low and behold the thing blinked its eye at me.  I went back to my truck and got a couple of thick paper shop towels and wiped the mucus out of the calf’s nose and mouth.  It blinked its eyes another time then I depressed its ribs and it made a slight barely audible cough and I noticed its nose flare with its first breath.  Well look at this!

Rocky 2
Rocky about an hour later

 I drove back to our camp house to retrieve a bottle.  When I returned to the patients, the cow was still stretched out on her side so I slowly approached her, patted her side a bit, then reached down and milked the two teats I could reach and retrieved perhaps three or four ounces of precious milk containing the important colostrum that all baby calves need.  That was easy but getting it down this deformed calf head was a problem.  The calf had a feeble suck reflex, but due to its swollen head, mouth and tongue, nothing was going down.  It could barely swallow.  I knelt by its side, held the head up, and slowly and methodically pressed its lower jaw/tongue against its upper palate working milk out of the bottle.  Once every minute or so the poor thing would swallow so I guess a little milk was working its way home.

 Goodbye football games.  Goodbye nice noon meal.  I stayed with that poor calf from mid-morning until around four o’clock in the afternoon.  After about two hours, the momma struggled to her feet and wobbled off.  She had a pinched nerve and limped badly but she could travel fast enough that my milk supply was gone. It didn’t matter.  I did not think the calf would live.

CHAPTER TWO:

 About a week later, at the River Ranch, I noticed a cow that appeared to have twins.  She was alone and had two babies that although I never saw both nursing, were acting like they belonged to the single cow.  The next day both were still near the same cow.  How cool is that?

 The weekend rolled around and it was a pretty day so my daughter Kate and I were tootling around in my Polaris Ranger looking at the cattle.  When I found the cow that supposedly had twins there was only one baby obviously attached to her and a different cow was at her side worrying over a calf.  I told Kate I guess I was wrong about the twins since this momma clearly belongs to the other calf.  Keep in mind calves were dropping all over the place.  About 20 calves had hit the ground in two weeks.  All were from the same bull.  Do you think he was busy? 

 A few more days passed and when I came to the ranch in the morning, low and behold there is a starving drawn up baby calf about one mile from the pasture the cows were in and it was following my horses trying to nurse (to the amusement of my horses!).  It was weak as a noodle with flanks caved in.  Here was the other twin. 

 Unfortunately, cows can’t count.  One of the twins likely took a nap while the other sibling and mother moved off.  The cow is content having one calf nursing and she continues about her routine while the other baby wakes up, calls for momma but due to distance or wind she can’t hear and the napping twin gets left behind. 

 I think this calf nursed for a couple days and then had roughly 3-4 days of nothing.  The poor animal wandered around aimlessly and luckily saw some animals to approach, so I found it in our horse trap.  I prepared a bottle and it readily gulped the entire package.  By this time, the calf had lost its peculiar smell. The momma did not recognize him so she would not have anything to do with the stranger.  It was up to me to be the nurse maid.

 

bottle calves 004
Feeding the babies with my dog Bonnie (back) and neighbor’s dog BB standing guard

 

My nephew, Tye Gunn, named the first calf “Rocky” because he is a fighter.  To come back and survive the rough start he had is miraculous.  I named the second calf “Deuce” since it is a twin.  My wife and I bottle feed both at our home.  Both come to my driveway early morning then again late evening for their 2-3 quart feeding.  Often, Rocky walks over our shallow cattle guard drive way and follows me into the yard and I actually close the door on his nose while he tries to follow me into my home office where I now sit typing these words.

 

may 2014 004
Banner Day for Hogs

 

It’s not often when you get the drop on feral swine.  I’m convinced they are some of the smartest wildlife in the state.  I’m sure they use deductive reasoning during their everyday life.  If hunted hard they turn nocturnal.  If one or two are trapped, the others in the group that witnessed the door slam shut will never be trapped.  If run by dogs, they quickly learn to never stop and fight, but to keep running and eventually wear down the chasing dogs or swim a river to get away.   Those animals are smart rascals for sure.

A couple of years ago I had a wonderful ranch leased for cattle near Rock Island, TX.  The northern one-third of the property was wide open with the exception of a few scattered wild rose hedges.  At one time, that section of the ranch was farmed for rice.  The place was flat as a pancake.

While checking cattle one evening, I spotted a pair of coyotes trotting across the prairie about 500 yards away and made a mental note of it.  I was more concerned with a corner of the field that had huge rooting holes torn through the turf.  From the size of the holes, it looked to me as if it was a solo old boar. This got my blood up.  It was time to wage war.

I learned a long time ago the swine are most active at night whenever the moon is straight up.  It was several days past the full moon which would put the moon at its zenith around dawn. The next morning I left my house early, stopped in Columbus for a donut and coffee, and then cruised slowly towards the ranch.  I had two rifles with me that morning.  One was my old Winchester Model 70 30-06 that was built in 1937.  This was for an old boar.  The other was my dad’s Sako Vixen 222 magnum.  This was for coyotes.  I was set for anything.

 

may 2014 005
The Arsenal

It was a clear morning, cool.  The eastern horizon was just turning silver and the tree line along Skull Creek looked like black lace against the sky.  The pale yellow moon was straight up and added a misty glow to the land.  I was oozing along the paved county road that bordered the eastern part of the ranch and thought I saw some black dots in the field with my naked eye. Binoculars showed me about 20 hogs milling about but drifting north.  I knew with the sun on its way in about 30 minutes they would be off the property heading towards the nearest heavy timber on the Glascock Ranch.  A steady south wind was blowing.  My hunter instinct took over and I planned an ambush.

I quickly did a three-point turn on the narrow county road and headed to the NE corner of the property.  Here was an old gate and gravel road that led into the middle of the pasture where an oil field location once stood.  I inched down this road not wanting to make too much crunching noise as my tires rolled on the gravel road. The hogs were about 1,000 yards away and starting to travel towards me in a more determined manner.  They had quit feeding and were heading home to their bedding area.  My  brown truck blended in with the old poisoned rose hedges that had turned a similar shade.  I circled to the north of one of the clumps of dead brush, and nosed my truck into the hedge.  Just the roof of my vehicle would be visible to the pigs.  I grabbed both rifles, eased my door shut without making a noise, then I climbed into the back of the bed.  I held the 30-06 in my hand and laid the little 222 magnum on the roof of my cab and waited.  I felt like Davy Crocket with a spare musket leaning on the Alamo parapet looking at Santa Anna’s troops marching my way!

This was a perfect trap.  The movement of the hogs looked like  a long black snake weaving but heading directly to me.  The wind was in my favor and my truck was hidden.  I had two loaded rifles with roughly 20 hogs approaching on a wide open prairie and being in the back of my truck gave me a little elevation.  This was going to be EPIC!

Closer and closer they came.  I distinctly recall their ears were flopping as they trotted towards me.  I had the crosshairs solid on the leader with no wobble on my hold when he got to within 25 yards of the truck and abruptly stopped.  He lifted his head to study something that apparently seemed unusual to his beady pig eyes. Perhaps he could see a gleam from a small part of my windshield.  The other pigs were bumping into each other as the whole group came to a stop.  That was the last thing the leader saw.  A 150 grain bullet crashed into its chest dropping him in his tracks.  That was a layup shot.

When the rifle boomed, the herd exploded to action.  Imagine a fireworks display and a star burst.  That is what happened next—pigs of all sizes ran in every direction.  I swung on a hog running to my left and dropped it.  He was only 40 yards away. Another pig was running at about a 45 degree angle on my left side and about 75 yards out and I cut down on that one.  When the bullet hit his ribs it did a flip and slid on its back in a cloud of dust and weed seeds. My fourth and last shot with the big rifle was a straight away hog that required no lead.  This guy was out about 125 yards or so.  Down it went.  Four down with four shots and three were running!  I was in a groove.

may 2014 004
The Aftermath

I laid down the empty 30-06 and snatched up the little Sako.  Now I concentrated on the right side of the truck.  By this time, the hogs were getting out there a bit, and I hate to admit it, but my first shot with the light rifle was a clean miss.  I did not lead enough or stopped my swing.  I corrected on my next attempt and rolled one that was almost 200 yards away.  My third shot with the little 222 magnum hit a hog in its flank.  This slowed the animal and gave me a chance with the final shot to dispatch it with a good hit to the chest.  I took my time on the wounded hog and planted the little 55 grain bullet right on the heart. This last pig was laying about 250 yards away. 

All of the above action took place in about 20 seconds.  Now all was quiet except for the shrill ringing in my ears from the rifle reports.  The air was spiced with burnt cordite.  I watched the survivors racing across the prairie in the distance for a bit then checked the hogs I had just shot.  All were still except for one that had a hind leg limply wind-milling the morning air in its last dying reflex escape attempt.   Slowly the leg relaxed then all were still.  There are no close neighbors to that ranch but if anyone heard the hot action, I bet they thought the Third Infantry Division was wading ashore.  Eight fast paced shots bagged six.  My first shot was standing the others running.  One clean miss and one hog took two shots to put down for good.  I was pleased and expect it to be a long time before that episode will be repeated, though I do carry more ammo now just in case.

4-5
Aging Deer

Anyone wishing to grow trophy whitetail deer knows one of the main ingredients of getting a buck to maximum size is age.  From a fawn until a deer reaches 3.5 years old, the deer’s body is still developing so a large portion of its nutritional intake goes toward growing muscle and bone.  Think of a 3.5 year old buck as being a teenage person.  Once the buck reaches 4.5 years old, its frame is basically through growing and now most of the bucks food can be funneled towards antlers. Bucks that are 4.5 years old deer = 21 year old man.

 It’s pretty obvious, even to a rookie hunter, the difference between a 1.5 year old deer vs. a trophy is pretty obvious–no brainer.  It is also pretty easy to determine a 2.5 year old buck from an older one. The problem lies in the average hunter being able to make a fairly sure estimate on a 3.5 year old buck vs. a 4.5+ year old buck.  This is where most mistakes are made.  A landowner or ranch manager has invested 3.5 years into a nice looking buck with eye-catching antlers but that deer needs that extra time to really bloom into a heavy, dark antlered trophy.  Most hunters look at antlers, and if excited, fire away.  What a shame.  That buck was almost there regarding antler potential but he certainly won’t grow more with a bullet through his lungs.

There are a lot of indicators to help determine age, and most of them require focusing on the animal’s BODY.  Neck size, how the neck relates to the shoulders, sagging stomach, swayed back and loose facial skin are good clues but most of those traits really take practice and a keen eye.  The average person that hunts casually a few times a year lacks the expertise to use many of the above methods.

The one trait I use more than any other when trying to determine the age of a whitetail buck during the hunting season and when the rut is either over or taking place is the tarsal gland.  The tarsal gland is on the inside of what most laymen would call a deer’s back knee. (The true knee is actually higher on the leg bone).

Part of the courting ritual for whitetail bucks is making scrapes.  Scrapes are basically areas about the size of a small welcome matt at your back door where a deer paws away grass and weeds making a clean spot on the soil.  He next hunches his rear legs together and semi-squats while urinating over this gland on the inside of his back leg.  His urine mixed with glandular secretions is the olfactory fingerprint of each buck.  I will not go into the rut ritual at this point but simply wanted to give a background to this gland.

2-5
2.5 year old deer
3-5
3.5 year old deer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4-5
4.5 year old
5-5
5.5 year old deer (note streaks going down legs, down to hooves)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is what you should remember –

A 2.5 year old buck will have a tarsal gland that is tan and might even have white edges.

A 3.5 year old buck will have a tarsal gland that is dark but probably has a few light hairs around the edge.  There may be faint staining below the gland but not heavy.

A 4.5 year old buck will have a black gland.  There will be absolutely no white hairs along the fringe of the gland.  The gland itself will appear larger plus there will be a very noticeable staining streak running down each rear leg under the gland itself.  The streaking is important.  If there is a stain running down that buck’s leg, he is mature.

A 5.5 and 6.5 plus year old buck will have a very black gland.  It will be large, about the size of the bottom of a soda water can.  The stain running down each leg will be very prominent and the discolored hair will reach all the way to the deer’s hooves.  It often appears as a black line down the back of each leg.

 This gland is one of the easiest indicators of age.  The appearance of the buck’s tarsal gland has never proved me wrong.

map-1
Co-ops

A wildlife co-op is a group of adjacent landowners that manage wildlife together by pooling their acreage.  These landowners treat their combined acreage as one giant ranch.  The trendy word now is to call a co-op a wildlife management association (WMA).

 Gonzales County was home to one of the earliest WMA’s.  Another was between Brady and Mason in the Texas Hill Country.  I am not sure if either of those still exist.  The oldest WMA in what I call the “modern era” is the Harvey’s Creek WMA.  I started it.  Here is the story…………….

 Back in the mid 1980’s, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) tried to streamline their method of taking antlerless deer.  TPWD wished to drop the hassle of paper permits.  “Doe Days” were introduced.  If someone owned property in an area of any county where there were Doe Days, you were allowed to kill doe without a permit any time during those days.  In areas of the county where there was a low deer density, usually only one weekend was allocated.  In areas of the county where there was a high density, sometimes up to 10 to 14 days were allocated. This method forced landowners to make a decision on how many doe were to be killed on their prospective properties.

 The Doe Day experiment resulted in an uproar of protests from landowners and hunters.  Everyone said they were going to do the right thing, but their neighbors were going to kill everything that walked.  Blame was placed on neighbors.  A lot of finger pointing was happening.  Newspaper ads and letters to the editor of local newspapers were dripping with indignation. I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Save doe, kill Wildlife Biologists!”

 I knew the problem was too many bucks being killed, not doe.  It was the perfect time to try a new approach since deer management was a hot topic.  I picked up the phone and called Mr. Dokus who managed the Hermes Ranch.  I asked him if the Hermes Ranch would work with the Holman Ranch to do a deer census, and then cobble a harvest plan together that would assure that the doe harvest not get out of hand, and more importantly assure young bucks the chance to reach 4.5+ years of age. His reply was, “Yes we will but only if you can get the Kearney Ranch to do it and I know they will have no part in that!” I called John Kearney next.  His response was, “Great idea Jack, but you will never get the Hermes Ranch to do it!”

 I used the leap-frog method from then on, calling two properties away then backing up to get the property on board that I originally bypassed.  In a single week, I put together 5,700 acres.  The following year, the co-op grew to 10,200 acres and we were up and running. I think it is close to 35,000 acres now.

 All of this was possible because the local TPWD Wildlife Biologist, Royce Jurries, was at my side giving advice and present when we had our first landowner meeting.  He led the way, promoted the idea and was a huge factor in this concept getting off the ground.  Each landowner was trained in how to determine the deer densities on their property.  Each landowner counted bucks/doe/fawns to determine sex ratios and fawn crops.  All of the data was pooled, and the combination’s average was used to determine a harvest plan that would slowly build a buck herd with older aged deer.

 As you can imagine, there was a lot of doubt from the general public.  The majority of landowners and hunters in the area literally laughed at our attempt.  Plenty of snide remarks were made at local cafes, bars and barbershops.   But that tone started to change in a few years.  Guess what?  My plan worked!

 When landowners started bagging old trophy bucks three years later, other landowners wanted to participate.  The Sandy Creek WMA was formed south of Weimar with the help of my old friend and high school classmate Edwin Anders.  The Colorado County WMA was formed downstream from Columbus.  Central Colorado County WMA started as did the Northeast Colorado County WMA.  The neatest thing was a rural housing subdivision actually formed a very successful WMA called The Oakridge Ranch WMA.

 This was not the end.  The same blueprint Harvey’s Creek WMA used was copied in other counties.  Gary Homerstad was the TPWD Technical Guidance Biologist in Victoria County and he help organize what eventually became The Texas Organization of Wildlife Management Associations (TOWMA).  Through his encouragement, WMAs spread like wildfire across the State.  At its peak, there were approximately 3.5 million acres, mostly in southeast and central Texas, that were a part of some type WMA.  Gary Homerstad was the strongest voice the State had regarding promotion of WMA’s.  He helped to literally change the way wildlife management was approached in areas with small acreage ownership.

 This concept, which grew into a movement, all started with a simple phone call.  As far as I know, that is always how these get started.  There is always one individual that believes the idea will work, then that individual contacts one landowner, and another, and another, etc.,  until a sizeable chunk of land is put together to make managing wildlife more effective.

map-1
Original Harvey’s Creek WMA 1990
map-2
Harevey’s Creek WMA 2016

                                            FRAGMENTATION

Fragmentation is the term used when a landowner wills his/her property to his/her heirs.  Let’s start with 800 acres.  Grandpa leaves this to his two sons.  One son sells his portion but the other keeps his and wills it to his 4 children.  Now instead of one 800 acre tract you end up with one 400 acre tract and 4 100 acre tracts.  Each of these owners eventually produce children and they invite friends to the property to hunt.  Now the 800 acres, as far as habitat and nature is concerned, is the same.  But today you have dozens of more people roaming the ground whereas 50 years ago there was only one person using it. 

 The example maps are happening all across Texas and other states as well.  The map with red boundaries is the landowners of the original Harvey’s Creek WMA in 1990.  The green and red boundary map is the current map of landowners in 2016.  Acreage is the same for that section of the WMA but there is much more pressure being exerted on the wildlife due to fragmentation.  WMA’s are an outstanding tool to keep the harvest rates manageable.  Treat the area as one ranch.  No matter how many landowners eventually own that section of the county and no matter how many partition fences are erected, manage the harvest as if there are no fences.  People simply have to take turns

 Keep this in mind—there are three choices on how to manage land:

1.       Do nothing.  Keep doing what you have always done.  This will guarantee fragmentation will eventually swarm you under

2.       Construct a game fence

3.       Co-op

thanksgiving-wt-mule-deer-018
Those Days Are Gone

One of the neatest ranches I hunted was along the Rio Grande River not too far west of Langtry, TX.  Yeah, that Langtry, home of the infamous Judge Roy Bean.

december-2007-015As I recall, the property was roughly 36,000 acres with about 15,000 acres or so south of U.S. Highway 90 and the remainder north of the highway.  I shared this lease with a group of hunters from the El Paso area.  Preferring whitetails, they hunted the north end since that was where most of the whitetails roamed.  This is the area of the state where whitetails and desert mule deer overlap.   I had desert mule deer on my wish list. I concentrated south, where the land was rougher as arroyos turned into canyons before dumping into the river.

There was an old abandoned ranch house out of which I swept the cobwebs and dirt, patched a window and got a bucket with rags and a mop and scrubbed the kitchen.  After a day it wasn’t too bad.  The land owner saw I was attempting to salvage the building so he rewired the thing and installed a water heater. From then on, it was nice.

I hunted there three years.  The bonus was fishing in the Rio Grande.  It took careful driving with a little prayer sprinkled in, but eventually with my Polaris Ranger, I could navigate down to the water.  It was pretty easy to get a dozen or so blue catfish with worms on the bottom.  The ranch was beautiful.  I loved the solitude and remoteness with no traffic noise or train whistles in the distance.  On clear nights, the stars were stunning.

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Jack fishing in Rio Grande
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Brother Phil with his sheep

It was an all season lease and I went there a lot.  Dove hunting was fun sitting at a water trough, and later in the year I got plenty of cardio vascular work chasing scaled quail.  Another exciting byproduct besides the fishing and birds was a large herd of Corsican sheep had migrated into the ranch.  This exotic game was icing on the cake.

Then things began to unravel.  One day I noticed something orange far to the south into Mexico.  I found the item in my binoculars and realized it was a wind sock.  Someone was putting an airfield across the border.  About two weeks later I came back to the same area and was stunned to see a graded road dropping off the high mountains in Mexico right down to the water’s edge.  On my side of the border, I could barely make it to the river in an ATV, but across the way anyone could approach the border in a Ford Mustang. Drug cartel—smuggling I assumed.

Well as you may guess, this bothered me.  I was often on the ranch by myself.  These guys were not seeking work in the U.S. but carrying drugs and money back and forth, probably with AK-47’s in hand.  Not good!

Two things happened to make me leave.

1 – As I parked my pickup near the house to unload gear on my next trip to the ranch, a black suburban raced up to the parking area in a cloud of dust.  Three men jumped out wearing bulletproof vests with large block yellow initials stamped on their windbreakers.  They did not have weapons drawn but they had their hands on their side arms.  “What are you doing here?”  they demanded.  I explained who I was and that I had the right to be there.  At that point they told me I had tripped a motion sensor which caused them to close in on me.  They gave me three phone numbers to call every time I entered and left the property, The Border Patrol, Terrell County Sherriff’s Department and the DEA.  They told me dozens of drug cartel carriers would cross the river at night, each with a 25 pound bag of drugs on their back.  They would deposit the bag in a ditch somewhere within the property I was hunting, then get GPS coordinates to their pick up contact on the U.S. side.  That carrier would tear down fences and travel cross country in one of those big military style Hummers with no flat tires.  All this was happening while I was sitting around a camp fire or sleeping alone in the old house.  Wow.

2 – I watched the movie No Country for Old Men.

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Hunting Satisfaction and Surprises

To people that have never hunted deer, they may be disillusioned by thinking all hunting is shooting and killing.  They may assume all hunts are measured by the number and size of animals taken.  Not so. 

One of the major joys of hunting deer is to get away from the pressure of jobs, the noise of crowds and the everyday demands of society.  I suppose some fishing is the same as hunting, but only when alone on a body of water and not in a crowded guide boat on a Texas bay, or certainly not in a hectic fishing tournament.  The hunting to which I’m referring is not in a tight duck blind or crowded dove field when you have an audience.  Deer hunting, specifically whitetail deer, is in most instances a solo excursion where a person is alone with nature.

 Let me tell you about one of my hunts in December of 2009.  I was invited to shoot doe and spikes on a big South Texas low fence ranch about half way between Carrizo Springs and Eagle Pass.  This property was in eastern Maverick County.  I was a guest of my nephews, Tye and Sam Gunn, and their dad, Henry.  This ranch had and still has some of the best hunting on open range in the State.  The hunters on the ranch and surrounding tracts are all on the same page regarding population control and selective culling.  Over the years I have seen quality shoot through the ceiling with this place.   

My duty was to shoot a doe or two on this trip and any spikes that were seen.  I was also assigned another role to take note of any exceptional trophy bucks seen.  The lease members each had their own blind where they regularly hunted and most had a tri-pod set up at likely spots. However, there were still hundreds of acres of basically un-hunted sections of the ranch.  That is where I headed.

 I went to an area of the property towards the northwest corner that saw little if any human activity.  I got a folding chair, a machete, a shooting stick for a rifle rest and a bag of corn.  I told my hosts I would be back after dark.  I found a spot where a road through that section made an “L” curve.  I took note of where the thickest brush was (along a creek drainage about 200 yards away) and was pleased the wind was puffing in the right direction as not to disturb any game down each leg of the road, or any deer approaching from what I suspected was the bedding spot.

 I slung corn by hand down each road leg being careful not to have it too close to where I was going to set up.  I put my chair behind a fallen mesquite tree in a little granjeno bush that more or less gave me cover in all directions.  The next thing I did was walk back into the brush to hack off several black brush limbs.  These still had dark green leaves attached and I stacked them in front of me by weaving them in and out of the mesquite limbs of the fallen tree.  The finished product was perfect.

 The wait began.  I know people that hunt deer can relate to my story now.  When I first get into the field, it takes about five minutes for me to decompress.  It seems my breathing slows, my senses sharpen and a different type of awareness takes hold.  I’m at peace.  My mind uncoils and drifts.  I tune in to the environment to catch flickers of movement and subtle changes in wildlife behaviors that begin to surround me.  Where there are no birds, raccoons or rabbits to distract me, I often think about past hunting incidents with friends and relatives.  Many times I reflect on the BIG PICTURE.  There is a lot of God in Mother Nature.  This is what keeps drawing me back.

 Well, the magic time hit and deer started to sneak out.  An unusual racked middle aged buck was feeding to my left.   He had very unique antlers so I slowly set aside my 243 and picked up my camera.  He got right on top of me and I was afraid he would see me but at the last minute, he turned back and never alerted.

fall-2009-004When I glanced down the other road angle, my heart skipped.  There stood old Macho Man.  He was an eye catcher for sure!  As I was slowly pivoting my set up for a good photo attempt of this big guy, a movement caught my eye about five feet in front of me. A western diamondback rattlesnake was crawling towards me! 

 What happened next took place in about three seconds.  As my eyes bulged out I thought of my rifle, but perhaps a mesquite club (long handle) would work better.  I thought about jumping out of my chair.  If I jumped, what direction is best without getting tangled up in my brush hide?  Should I remain frozen while holding my breath?  At that instant, the reptile started to angle at a slight tangent to the side of my chair.  It was crawling purposefully from Point A to Point B, just traveling along I suppose looking for a wood rat to strike.  Maybe it was looking for a mate.  It was crawling slowly with little side to side fall-2009-002exaggerated movement.  It had its head slightly raised and its rattlers lifted.  It was just cruising minding its own business.  I remained frozen and tried to mind my own business.  If the snake was looking at me, I wanted him to think I was a true rattlesnake lover and that there was no death in my heart!   I’ll leave you alone if you leave me alone!  The snake was never agitated and never got into a strike position. His closest point came when he crawled by my chair.  My guess is he was three feet from me.  Three feet is one thing while looking at a yard stick but much shorter when looking at a rattlesnake!

 Well, that strategy worked.  As it went by me I thought of my camera so I snapped one photo.  When it was gone, I hate to admit it but my goose bumps and tingly feeling remained awhile.  It helped that deer were still out soI refocused on the big buck.  I got a good photo of it.

 Although there were a slew of doe out picking up corn, I let my rifle lay.  I did not wish to spook the big guy.  I already had enough excitement.  All and all, this was a very satisfying hunt with a surprise thrown in for good measure.fall-2009-005

 PS – Not until I saw the second photo of the big deer on my large computer screen did I realize a coyote was in the frame (click the photo, you’ll see).  I was focused so much on the big deer I never saw the predator.  Here was another surprise.

 Oh, and the lease hunters on this ranch were not impressed with the buck I photographed.  All took larger ones that year and all said that deer needed to grow up!

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A Fine Souvenir and my Best Desert Mule Deer

Desert Mule Deer is what we have in the Big Bend Region of Texas.  The scientific name is Odocoileus hemionuscrooki.  These deer are slightly smaller than their Rocky Mountain cousins, have a more washed out or paler skin coat that is light grey in their winter pelage.  The white rump patch and facial hairs plus the dark scalp patch are not as pronounced as Rocky Mountain mule deer.  They blend in perfectly with the drab desert landscape.  Those suckers are hard to see!

The stars really lined up for me growing up.  My dad started hunting on the Big Bend Ranch in 1966.  That ranch is now a State Park.  At the time, this property encompassed over 250,000 acres of extremely remote and rough desert habitat with bulking mountains, flat topped mesas and rim rock canyons.  The headquarters housed a group of men that hunted out of the central part of the ranch and there were at least three outlying camps on the fringes of the property that other groups of hunters worked out of.  My dad controlled Javalina Camp, which was on the southern portion of the ranch.  I later learned this was in the heart of what some maps show as the Boffocillos Mountains.  All that existed there was an adobe shack and a water well pump-jack.  Two ranch hands lived there all year.  One would watch the pump while the other rode the rusty water lines up to nearby saddles that held water storage tanks.  From those tanks water lines fed down via gravity into canyons and small water troughs for livestock.

Horses were provided by the ranch and Mexican guides mysteriously appeared each opening day.  My guess is we were in a straight line distance of perhaps 20 miles of the Rio Grande.  A horse cost $5.00 per day and a guide was $3.00 per day.  There was no long distance glassing looking for game.  We simply saddled up at daylight and started riding.  We had a canteen of water, a few cans of orange juice, sandwiches and cans of pork and beans in our saddle bags. At noon we would dismount, start a small fire to heat the beans and relax a bit.  The Mexican guide would usually have a tortilla wrapped in foil that he would simply drop in the coals to heat.

We did not use saddle scabbards for our rifles.   We either carried it across our backs by a sling or when our shoulders got raw from the rubbing, unslung the gun and let it sit across our laps behind the saddle-horn.

It is hard for anyone to imagine what a sure footed mountain horse, or especially a mule, would go. The first time I ever rode up to a giant canyon on horseback I almost swooned with vertigo.  The depths were hazy with distance.  Buzzards were sailing around beneath us!  I thought we were stopping just for the view but our guide made us dismount where he double checked all saddles, tightened the girts and we then started down an extremely steep and faint trail INTO the chasm.  It was so steep I was leaning backwards in the saddle and my head was perhaps two feet from the horse’s rump.

On the way down, I noticed an abandoned adobe house near the very bottom of the canyon.  When we got to the sandy bottom, I insisted we travel down-stream to investigate.  That was one lucky move on my part.

The house had the dank smell of dusty decay.  Outside were relics of the past such as small chips of blue and dark green glass, rusty bits and pieces of metal.  I found a couple of buckles that came off of a bridle or some sort.  The corral was long gone and broken down.  Whoever lived there had to approach from the Rio Grande since the way we approached was crazy.  Amazingly, a big section of the roof was still intact.  In an arid region such as this, it takes a long, long time for wood to rot.  In one corner, still leaning against the wall was my pay day – a model 1873 Winchester 44-40.  Rusty with faded wood on the stock and the hammer spring gone but was I proud.  There was a sweeping “J” initial carved in the butt stock.  I wish that gun could talk.  Wouldn’t it be cool to hear its history?  I cleaned it up the best I could and now have it hanging above the back door of my den at home.

That was my lucky trip.  The year was 1969 and I was a junior in high school.  The only way such a long trip could be made was due to the fact the opening day of mule deer season came on Thanksgiving weekend.  We arranged to take a couple days off from school and it cost me some basketball playing time for the Weimar Wildcats but I had to hunt!

The day I killed my largest desert mule deer it was hot.  I recall stripping down to my white undershirt and getting a bad sun burn.  It was in the middle of the day and we were near the time when we needed to make a circle and start back towards camp.  My guess was we were 12 miles SE of our camp.  I was hunting with the late Tim Strunk and his brother Henry (Butch) Strunk.  We were crossing a rolling grease wood flat where game is usually scarce and no one was particularly alert or expecting any action.

Right under our noses an old grandpa buck jumped from its bed.  Everyone dismounted from skittish horses, dropped reins, unlimbered rifles and went into action.  Tim was using a Winchester Model 100 semi-auto 308. He emptied his rifle, pulled an extra clip from his pocket and launched four more rounds at the bounding buck.  Butch had a Winchester Model 70 in 308.  He fired four rounds and never connected.  I was shooting a Sako 270 and emptied my rifle. All misses.  Sixteen rounds and not a hair hit!  You know what was happening, don’t you?  We were racing each other trying to beat the other guy to this big boy and not taking time to settle down and aim.

That buck was hauling it as fast as I have ever seen a mule deer run.  He was bobbing up and down, sailing over little rises in the terrain and disappearing into small depressions, jumping cactus and leaning in and out while passing ocatillo, he would cut left and right looking like a punt return man for Notre Dame.  We missed that deer in front, behind, above and over.  Dust and rocks spurting up around the animal made it look like a war movie.

When the deer got out to about 350 yards it stopped on a small rise.  He was rear to us but its head was turned to the side and I can still see its mouth agape and the deer panting.  Tim and Butch were reloading.  Instead of filling my rifle up like the Strunk brothers, I simply put one round in, got out of my kneeling position into a steady sitting position with my heals dug firmly into the gravel.  I wrapped my arm into a tight sling and settled the sight expecting about a 10” drop.  I was using hand-loaded 130 grain Hornady Spire Points at about 3,050 fps muzzle velocity.  I was sighted in for 200 yards and knew my drop at 300 yards was around 7”.  My guess of slightly over 300 yards was pretty close.  After squeezing off the single shot and after the time interval of the bullet traveling that distance, I saw the buck collapse and then heard the delayed “thunk” of the bullet striking.  I hit the animal just above the root of its tail and the bullet traveled forward into the lungs.

That was the largest desert mule deer I ever collected.  He was old, broad backed and deep chested.  He only had nine total points and he was not wide but the rack was tall with warty bases.  I did not mount the animal and wish I did.  Several years later we had a big party at our camp house near Columbus and one of the “guests”apparently  stole several of the best mule deer antlers we had hanging under a nearby shed.  His rack was one of the ones missing.  Even without having his antlers I will never forget him.

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The One That Got Away

It was my first hunt with my brother-in-law, Gary Pick.  He and his long time Houston Firefighter buddies graciously included me for that year’s trip.  They have been hunting in Southwest Colorado off and on for 20+ years—public land north of Cortez was the destination.

I have hunted Rocky Mountain mule deer twice near Raton, New Mexico, once near Craig Colorado, twice near Rifle Colorado and once near Molina Colorado. This was my first hunt on public land, and even though this region has a limited draw that restricts hunting pressure, nonetheless, the area seemed crawling with blaze orange vests and caps.  I thought it too crowded.  Afterwards I realized at least half of these hunters were only carrying elk licenses so the pressure on mule deer wasn’t as bad as it seemed.

It was the second afternoon of our five day hunt, and Gary and I were driving in my truck on a gravel county road heading west into the area we wanted to check out.  About a mile ahead was an oil drilling rig.  Service trucks, regular pickup trucks, hunter’s ATV’s and jeeps were keeping dust in the air on this busy road.  I was not expecting to see what appeared.

As we were turning right and slowly losing elevation down into a sage brush flat, I glanced to my left into a long sage and pinion studded pocket and what I saw dang near caused me to hit the roof of my cab.  I quickly sped down the road out of sight of the herd of bucks I had glimpsed. There were about 6 or 7 in the group, all mature, but one was a true once in a life time caliber animal.  This guy looked like a calendar buck!  Enormous baseball bat thick bases, cheater points here and there, it had an honest spread of 36 inches.

Colorado law says you cannot discharge a firearm from a vehicle or near a vehicle or across public roads.  Gary already had a buck tag punched from the opening morning, so I instructed him to sit tight while I put on a short stalk. I grabbed my Winchester 270 and Leitz binoculars and took off.  There was a long, low ridge separating the group of bucks from where my truck was parked.  My estimate was about 2 stories high, but perhaps 250-300 yards long.  The hill was covered with sage, tall dormant tan gamma grass, scattered juniper and large dark brown boulders varying in size between basketballs to as large as vehicles.

After scrambling to near the ridge top, I slowed down to catch my wind.  Once my breathing returned to normal, I inched my way up.  As soon as my head cleared the ridge, I spotted the gaggle of bucks but they spotted me the same instant.  All scattered in different directions like a covey of quail exploding and all were running flat out.  I am talking race horse running, not just tootling along, but digging it full speed. 

Of course I had hoped to slowly settle into a comfortable position with a nice tree limb for a rest and potting the monster as it browsed in the pocket with his buddies.  Now I faced a half dozen running bucks and all were gaining distance as I rushed to a fairly clear spot, planted my rear on the ground and settled into a good sitting position to start tracking the animals with my scope.  I quickly found Mr. Macho.  He was with a doe and running to my right. What complicated this mess was the glare in my scope because he was directly in line with the setting sun. 

All of the above happened in a matter of seconds.  I quickly calculated the animal at about 300 yards.  He was still running and showing no sign of slowing down.  My rifle was sighted for 200 yards and had a 7 inch drop at 300 yards.  I held the horizontal crosswire even with its back to allow for drop and swung ahead to what appeared slightly more than a body length to allow for its running speed and fired one shot.  The buck turned uphill with the doe and entered the thick timber that covered a large mountain.  The buck did not flinch or stagger.  There was no sound of a bullet striking flesh.  Now all was quiet with the faint smell of burned cordite spicing the air.  That moment was pure misery.

I walked back down to the truck and gave the details to Gary.  We decided to go back and keep an eye out to see if by some miracle, the deer would reappear.  We climbed back up, found one of the larger rocks to hide behind and settled in for the wait for dusk.  At this time, I noticed a white pickup truck sitting on a ridge to the east but paid no more attention to it.  The sun had set and two of the old bucks came out.  Gary was jittery and urging me to shoot but all I could do is chuckle.  They were good mature animals but were dwarf like compared to what I knew was on the mountain in front of us.

Buck harvested by another hunter on the trip - the one that got away dwarfed it
Largest buck harvested by another hunter on the trip – about half the size of the one that got away

At black dark, we gathered our gear and hiked back to my pickup.  As we arrived, we met the two hunters in the white pickup.  One asked, “Who shot?”  I said I was guilty.  He said, “You missed!”  My response was something like don’t rub it in.  You are going to make me cry.  I asked why they did not go after him and the reason was they were holding elk tags, not deer.  The driver said they saw a few bucks in the pocket so they stopped to glass when the monster appeared.  According to them, he walked out deliberately and while taking exaggerated steps towards the other bucks began swinging his head right and left intimidating the others.  They quickly gave him room.  He was the bull for sure.  Both of the elk hunters agreed he had 36+ in spread and numerous kicker points.  Enormous body too.

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Example of terrain

That night, the story was told in and around the tent camp and camp fire.  The next morning after hunting halfheartedly in another area, Gary and I went back for a closer look.  I showed him where I shot from and pointed out where the deer was running and also where it entered the heavy timber.  We hiked across the pocket and started aimlessly walking about looking for tracks.  Then Gary said something that caused my blood pressure to spike.  “Here’s blood!”

When I say blood, I mean blood.  Using GPS, from the spot of the first blood drop to where we lost the trail, it was 6/10 of a mile.  This was not a faint trail either.  You could walk fairly rapidly and steady following the trail.  The mountain side was a thicket of cedar and basically a beach underneath.  With the exception of scattered dead limbs, there were no weeds or grass under the shady canopy.  Clean sand.  Seeing blood was easy.  The trail angled upward, not steep, but a steady climb.  Splashes of blood were found here and there with occasional small pools about the size of a volleyball.  Near the end, the trail suddenly turned down hill for about 25 yards where we found one large pool of blood about the size of a welcome mat to your house.  I have never seen a deer of any kind at any place bleed this much.  That was the last drop we found. 

It is still a mystery and I think of it often.  Where did it go?  Did the elk hunters come back with their deer hunting buddies from their camp and recover it?  I doubt it since I never saw another human track.  I am confident I did not hit it in the body since it should have made the distinct sound of bullet striking flesh most hunters understand.  I believe the bullet cut it somewhere and severed a big vein.  It might have been its neck.  It might have been a flesh wound to the hams or maybe low in the brisket.   I am still miserable thinking about it.  When mule deer run they do not glide like they are on roller skates but bound up and down.  Think of a rubber ball bouncing down a hill and that about covers it.   When the bullet passed it could have been at the top or bottom of one of its bounds.

I do not believe the deer died from my shot.  The remainder of the hunt, two full days, I crisscrossed the mountain left and right above and below making ever widening circles looking for sign.  I kept a sharp eye out for magpies and ravens since they would go to a carcass and lead me to it if something was dead on that mountain.  I gave a fine tooth comb search of the area near the blood trail to as far as a mile away in all directions.  I am certain, after losing that much blood, the buck found a water hole somewhere, rested up and hopefully healed up.  I hate to think of a trophy of that caliber turning into coyote or black bear food.  I will never know and it still haunts me.

 

PS

I am sure there will be a few readers who will condemn me for shooting at a running deer.  This PS is an explanation/instruction on how it can be done successfully.

The night after I shot at the trophy mule deer, the other hunters in camp and I had a heated discussion about shooting at running deer.  Every one there assured me with a modern fast stepping rifle there was absolutely no need to lead a moving animal.  I am talking about weapons that shoot bullets in the 2,700 feet per second (fps) muzzle velocity range up to 3,200 fps.  This includes most modern deer cartridges such as the 243, 257, 25-06, 260, 270, 7mm-08, 280, 7mm mag., 308 and 30-06.  I was the sole person sitting around the camp fire saying it is necessary to lead with a rifle.  The following math proves it……………

When I was in high school, the fastest man on Weimar’s track team was Allan Anders.  He may have been the fastest man in Weimar’s history for all I know.  Back then, the measured distances in track meets were in yards and not meters and I can distinctly recall on several occasions he ran 100 yards in 10.0 seconds.  A couple of times he was in the high 9 second range but for this example, I will use the 10.0 seconds speed for 100 yards.

Now visualize a person flying along in the 100 yard dash.  In your mind’s eye, can you visualize a deer running along the side of that person?  My guess is even though a man is running as fast as he can, any deer could easily keep up with a casual lope.  Keep that thought.

If the person was running 100 yards in 10 seconds, then the following equation would be accurate:

100 yards in 10 seconds.

10 yards in 1 second.

1 yard in 1/10th of a second.

So a deer running at a casual lope will move 1 yard in 1/10th of a second.

Now let us use a very popular deer cartridge, the 270 Winchester, which I happened to be using that day.  I was using personally reloaded ammunition with 130 grain Speer Spitzer bullets with a muzzle velocity of 3,000 feet per second.  Let us do some more calculating. 

If the bullet travels 3,000 feet in one second, then it will travel 300 feet in 1/10th of a second.  300 feet equals 100 yards.  In real life, the second the projectile leaves the barrel it will immediately begin to loose velocity but to keep the math simple, I act as if the bullet keeps traveling the same speed as when it leaves the muzzle.

Now let us overlay the two examples of deer running speed to bullet speed.  It takes a 270 bullet 1/10th of a second to reach 100 yards.  If a deer is loping along at a right angle and is 100 yards away, then the lead has to be 1 yard in front of the animal to connect.  Those are facts.  Think of a loping deer and visualize putting a yard stick from just behind its shoulder to in front of its chest and that is where you must be aiming to hit the deer perfectly.

Prior to my first ever shot at a running big game animal, my dad’s best hunting buddy, Joseph Munhausen told me, “You can’t hit them unless you shoot and the more you shoot the better chance you have.”  That thought stuck in my young brain.  I was only 13 years old and was lucky enough to have my dad take me out to the Big Bend region of Texas.  I was high in the rugged Bofocillos Mountains in what is now Big Bend State Park.  We were on a lofty mesa and walked a short distance from the road to an enormous canyon called Lion Canyon.  Sheer cliffs and hazy distances gave me a slight feel of vertigo.  I was awestruck and distinctly recall vultures sailing along on the updrafts BELOW where I stood.  After taking in the beautiful scenery, my dad started picking up good sized rocks and began lofting them here and there causing crashing mini rock slides down the talus slopes beneath the rim rock we were perched on.  That unorthodox idea worked.  Up bounded a mature desert mule deer and he was in high gear in a blink of an eye.

All I have ever seen was skinny yearling white tails in South East Texas.  Here in front of me was a bounding broad backed slate grey mature mule deer buck bounding down the steep ridge.  To my young eyes, it was as big as an elk!  Remembering Mr. Munhausen’s words, I opened up.  I shot five times as fast as anyone has ever worked a bolt action weapon.  As soon as I saw deer anywhere in the scope I yanked the trigger.  I doubt I ever hit within 6’ of the running buck.  This caused me to pause and think.  I realized you have to AIM to hit a running animal.  It may be good to shoot fast but it has to be aimed shots.

I hunted that ranch for about 15 years.  The method was to cover as much ground as possible on a horse or mule. No glassing.  No spot and stalk.  Just riding and jumping bucks that were bedded down and once they took off, then piling off the horses and opening up at the running deer.  I quickly learned to lead or miss. It was fairly open country so you had the opportunity to shoot several times at each buck if necessary.  Seeing dust fly from my bullets impacting behind running deer gave me obvious clues to aim further in front of those bounding bucks.

Later I took several white tails running both in West Texas and on our home ranch near Columbus.  Here lately, I have had real good practice on running feral swine.  On one occasion, witnessed by my good friend Wayne Zimmerhanzel,  I shot 5 times with a semi-auto 308 in about 5 seconds.  The first shot was at a standing pig and the last four shots were running.  These were eating sized pigs about 20 pounds each. When the smoke cleared there were 4 dead animals.  I missed once.

So, the moral of this story is you DO have to lead with a rifle to hit running game.  Like a shot gun, the further away the animal is (or bird with the shot gun), the more you need to lead.  Remember to always keep the rifle swinging.  Never stop the swing just prior to shooting.

Here’s an idea.  Get an old tire and stick a cardboard insert inside the rubber.  Have a friend roll it down a steep hill.  Take a few shots at the bounding tire as it rolls past you.  An abandoned gravel pit would be the perfect location to practice.  You will see.  You must lead running game, even with a rifle.