I first became aware of the “Huisache Buck” back in October 1999. As Chief Wildlife Biologist for the King Ranch, and a Research Scientist with the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, I was charged with helping to coordinate a research project on King Ranch that involved live-capturing bucks by helicopter and net gun on the ranch’s Laureles Division.
During the first day of captures, we caught an unusual buck in the Gallito Pasture that scored as a mainframe 6 x 2. He obviously had either severely injured his left antler while in velvet. Or, he suffered a traumatic body injury that caused the abnormal antler growth. If the buck had a body injury, it had since healed because there were no visible signs of injury at the time of capture. The estimated age of the buck by tooth wear was 3-1/2 years old. His gross B&C score was only 90-6/8 inches. We quickly processed the buck and implanted AVID microchips at the base of the right ear and in the right front leg. The microchips, which are each programmed with a unique, nine-digit code, are implanted to allow us to identify each buck when it is later recaptured or harvested. The buck was then released at the capture sight.
The fact that the Huisache Buck had only eight antler points at the time of capture, qualified him for harvest under the intensive, selective harvest study we were conducting in cooperation with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. We hunted the Gallito Pasture, and the neighboring Huisache Pasture, hard that season for “cull” bucks, and although we managed to harvest 34 “cull” bucks, we never saw the Huisache Buck.
During October 2000, we were again back in the study area live-capturing bucks by helicopter and net gun. We managed to recapture the Huisache Buck during the three-day capture, but this time he was on the other side of the fence in the Huisache Pasture, where he eventually got his namesake.
No one would have ever guessed it was the Huisache Buck we had captured that day because his score jumped from 90-6/8 inches to 148-6/8 inches in just one year - an increase of 58 inches! He also added five antler points, going from an 8-point to a 13-point. Amazingly, all five additional points were added to his left side, which changed from only two points in 1999, to a typical five-point side with two additional abnormal points in 2000. The score of this left antler changed from 15-1/8 inches to 44-6/8 inches. Again, if this buck had not been implanted with microchips, no one would have ever thought he was the same buck. The buck was aged by tooth wear at 4-1/2 years old and, now that he had more than eight points, he was no longer considered a cull and was off limits for that hunting season.
The Huisache Buck was not recaptured during the 2001 buck capture and was never seen during that hunting season. The buck, which now should have been 5-1/2 years old, had either died of natural causes or had become even more elusive.
Anticipation was high during the 2002 buck capture because of two other bucks in the study area that were enormous. These two bucks, nicknamed the “Gallito Buck” and the “Drop Tine Buck,” had both been previously captured and then photographed during the pre-season helicopter-deer survey. The Gallito Buck was captured first. His 16-point frame grossed an amazing 177-6/8 inches. The double drops, and his estimated age of only 4-1/2 years, made the buck extra special. We recaptured the Drop Tine Buck a short time later. His wide, tall, 10-point mainframe, double brows, and triple drops pushed his gross score to 173-5/8 inches. Little did we know however, that neither of these bucks would be the biggest of that year’s capture - the Huisache Buck was about to make a reappearance!
We moved to the Huisache Pasture during the third and final day of the 2002 capture. As our research team was processing a captured buck, I heard a call over the Texas Parks and Wildlife radio that the other team was processing a buck that I “needed to come look at.” After releasing the buck, we hurried over to where the other team was processing their buck. When I saw the enormous rack, I immediately recognized it as a buck I had seen during the pre-season helicopter-deer survey in the same general area, but I did not anticipate that the scanned microchips would reveal it to also be the Huisache Buck. The monstrous buck had 16 scoreable points on a typical 7 x 6 frame. The gross score was an unbelievable 179-1/8 inches, with circumferences totaling 37-5/8 inches, and main beams of 25-6/8 inches and 26-6/8 inches! Surprisingly, the buck was aged by tooth wear at only 5-1/2 years old (the buck had been aged at 4-1/2 years two years earlier). We all watched in awe as the amazing buck faded back into the brush upon release.
The King Ranch Wildlife Department later put this buck “off limits” for another hunting season because he was aged at only 5-1/2 years. Even though the buck should have been 6-1/2 years old, and likely at his peak in antler development, we decided to give the buck the benefit of the doubt in anticipation that he might be even larger the next hunting season. The 2002 hunting season came and went with only a few, brief glimpses of the Huisache Buck.
In anticipation of guiding a hunter to this buck during the 2003 hunting season, I installed a spin-cast corn feeder near what I thought was the center of his home range. I then hid a tripod within archery range of the feeder in hopes I would get the chance to guide a bow hunter to this giant buck. Later however, I learned that my first opportunity to guide a trophy hunter would not happen until the third week of December, giving all of the other guides “first crack” at this great buck.
The 2003 buck capture ended without us capturing the Huisache Buck. To make matters worse, none of the other guides had even caught glimpses of the wary buck during the first 11 weeks of the hunting season. Was the huge buck still alive? Or, had he died of natural causes, never to be seen again? You will have to check back next week to find out in Part II of the unique story of the Huisache Buck.
Posted by Dr. Mickey W. Hellickson