Dr. Mickey Hellickson’s Albany, TX Whitetail Hunt
(Nov. 5th – 9th, 2011)
Day 1 - November 5th
Noemi and I left Corpus Christi before 6:00 this morning to meet David Morris and videographer Matthew Carmen at David's house outside San Antonio.
After a quick tour of David's jaw dropping collection of giant trophy Whitetails, we were off to Albany, TX to meet Justin Trail for another trophy whitetail hunt in Shackelford County.
We arrived in Albany right at 2:00 pm, unloaded, and were hunting on Justin's ranch by 3:45 pm.
This afternoon's first outing was extremely windy, which greatly reduced deer movements. All told we saw around 20 deer with 7-8 being bucks. All of the bucks were young except 1 very nice middle-aged buck that will be a trophy in a couple of years.
As usual, Justin had a well-thought-out strategy despite the poor weather conditions. We passed by several feeders with Reconyx trail cameras. Justin had previously identified 3 "shooter" bucks at these feeder sites that we were targeting. We then shut off the truck, got out and walked up a ridge top with senderos on each side. At the end of the ridge, we were able to glass over a large winter wheat food plot with only 2 deer present when there are normally 20-25. Despite the poor conditions, we still managed to see the 20 deer mentioned above.
Day 2 – Morning - November 6th
We awoke at 4:30 am (new daylight savings time) and drove to one of Justin Trail's leases (versus his own ranch), a tract called West Hooker.
At shooting light, we went into the brush to set-up for our first rattling sequence.
Rattling Set-Up 1 - Justin and young Parker rattled in tandem, each with their own set of rattlin' horns.
Justin and videographer Matthew Carmen spotted one middle-aged buck come in behind me. I never saw the buck, which quickly disappeared.
Rattling Set-Up 2 - we moved further from the sendero and deeper into the brush to an open area. Justin spotted the first buck to respond, a mature mainframe 8-pointer with a double brow tine. The buck trotted in and out of sight, always staying inside the brushline behind me. A few minutes later he reappeared at the far end of the opening and paused long enough for me to get the scope on him. I could have made a quick shot, but Matthew never gave me the "I'm on him" signal to shoot.
I later spotted what I thought was the same buck trotting through the brush further left. This buck turned out to be a 2nd mature buck. He went back and forth "hugging" the brush for several minutes until another rattling session caused him to break cover and trot toward us into the opening.
I tracked his movement toward us through my scope as Matthew zoomed in on him with the camera. The buck trotted to within around 60 yards and stopped, quartering toward us. I had previously judged the buck to be mature (5+ yrs old) based on his antler size, darker forehead (caused from rubbing more frequently than less dominant, younger bucks), tarsal glands already stained dark before the rut (another indication of dominance), and muscled up neck and shoulders.
In the excitement, I quickly judged the buck to be a shooter based on his tall brow tines, good spread, and strong right side. I did also see the broken left G-4.
I steadied the crosshairs on the kill zone, squeezed the trigger, and watched the buck stumble hard, turn, and run in the opposite direction until his tail flickered rapidly as he tumbled.
We then filmed the blood trailing and recovery and recapped the hunt while admiring the buck. We also shot a quick "management minute" about deer aging using the 3 methods... On-the-hoof, tooth wear, and cementum annuli.
We decided to continue rattling to get additional rattling footage.
Rattling Set-Up 3 - we set up on a ridge overlooking a very large open area several hundred yards across. Buck responses were awesome at this location with 6-7 bucks responding to the rattling! The biggest buck however was a 4-yr-old 100-class 8-pointer.
Rattling Set-Up 4 - no buck responses. Mid-morning temperatures toward 75 degrees and buck activity dwindling.
Rattling Set-Up 5 - one young buck response to Parker and I rattling while Justin retrieved the truck.
Day 2 – Afternoon
In the afternoon of day 2, the strategy lined out by Justin was to try to put young Parker Moon on a mature 6-point buck at an area of one of the leased ranches known as "The Runway."
We arrived at the location around 4:30 pm. A middle-aged buck and 3 to 4 does were already present. Watched buck chase a doe. We drove past these deer leaving the area to allow the deer to settle down and return to the feeding area.
We drove to another area of the lease and got out of the truck to stalk to an earthen tank with a feeder nearby in the hopes of seeing a shooter buck or a hog. One young buck at the feeder.
We returned to Runway by 5:00 pm. One buck and 5 does on the sendero. Stalked to within 190 yards of feeder and rattled 4-5 different sequences, no responses. One buck already present turned out to be the targeted 6-pointer. Justin, Parker and Matthew stalked to within 130 yards of buck while Noemi and I stayed behind. Parker made a great shot while on his knees using his Bog Pod shooting sticks.
Filmed recovery and congratulations segment, as well as a segment with Parker and I discussing why Justin put the 6-pointer on the hit list... aged on-the-hoof as a mature deer, 6-point rack obviously much smaller than the norm for a mature buck, and buck was wounded one week earlier by a bow hunter who shot too high and too far back. Buck aged at 6-1/2 by tooth wear.
Day 3 - Morning - November 7th
We awoke at 5:30 am to overcast skies, no wind and warm temperatures We then traveled 10-12 miles to a 12,000-acre ranch Justin leases called the Green Ranch. By the time we arrived at the ranch, the winds had picked up to 15 miles per hour with gusts to 25 - less than ideal conditions for rattling to say the least.
The strategy Justin planned for us was to put out a line of corn before shooting that looped by several spin-cast corn feeders. We would then walk and glass, looking over the feeders and corned ranch roads, while also setting up to rattle in likely locations.
The first feeder we checked, about 300 yards north of where we parked the truck, had a handsome 4-year-old buck under the feeder that had a tall, 10-point typical frame with matching, deep, "muley" forks on both G-2 tines that pushed his gross score into the 140's. Obviously, the buck was not on Justin's "shoot" list however because the buck was middle-aged. A young buck and 2-3 does were also present at the feeder.
Rattling Set-Up 1 - We moved a short distance away in the hopes of rattling in the buck at the feeder for some exciting video footage. No such luck, no deer responded.
Rattling Set-Up 2 - we walked and glassed along the edge of a ridge for 500-600 yards and then set up at a ridge point to rattle. Within a minute or two of the initial sequence, a 2-yr-old buck appeared downwind and then quickly disappeared. On the 4th sequence, a 2nd 2-yr-old buck appeared from the left and trotted closer as he moved downwind of us, where he also quickly disappeared. After finishing the final sequence, a yearling buck briefly appeared.
We then returned to the truck, drove about a mile, and again left the vehicle to walk, glass and rattle.
Rattling Set-Up 3 - no deer responses.
Due to the high winds we ended the morning hunt around 9:30 am.
Day 3 - Afternoon 11/7/11
Due to the extremely windy conditions (gusts over 30), rattling was not an option, so we elected to hunt out of a box blind on the Trail Ranch. Justin picked us up at 3:00 and we were tucked away in our box blind by 3:30. Not until around 4:45 did we see our first deer, a lone buck fawn. By the end of shooting light at 6:15, we had seen 5-6 bucks, 11-12 does, and 2 fawns, but no "shooter" bucks. We'll try it again first thing tomorrow morning.
Day 4 – Morning 11/8/11
This morning we awoke at 4:45 am to heavy rain and high winds. As a result, Justin suggested we delay our start by 45 min. He also suggested that we hunt on the top of a ridge from a makeshift ground blind because weather conditions were not at all conducive to rattling.
Matt, Noemi and I were dropped off by 6:45. We found a good area for a blind and settled in. We didn't have to wait long before 10 deer were out in front of us. By 8:00 am we had seen 5 different bucks, 10-11 does and one fawn... the rain and colder temperatures (43 degrees) had the deer moving! Unfortunately, only one buck was mature, and he was only a 110-inch 9-pointer with a broken brow tine.
Justin returned to pick us up to drive a quarter mile down the ranch road to set up for our first rattling session.
Rattling Set-Up 1 - 8:30 am. Thankfully, the wind calmed and the wet conditions made walking less noisy. Two big bodied deer responded to the rattling but stayed down wind and inside the brushline. Matt thought one of the bucks may have been a shooter. A doe and a fawn walked into the set-up but were not likely responding to the rattling.
On our walk to the next set-up, we stumbled into two bucks chasing a doe. The bigger buck was a nice, middle-aged 10-pointer.
Rattling Set-Up 2 - shortly after the first sequence, Justin spotted what looked to be a 4-yr-old buck standing in the distance. After getting my binoculars on him it was clear that he was not the size we were looking for. By the 4th sequence, a mature-aged 8-pointer, with wide-spreading beams, but very short tines, trotted into view and then quickly back out of view.
Rattling Set-Up 3 - no responses.
Stopped morning hunt around 10:30 am.
Day 4 - Afternoon
This afternoon we spent over an hour attempting to stalk within range of a mature buck tending a doe on the Green Ranch lease. After failing to relocate the buck Justin had spotted during midday while running his Reconyx trail cameras, we moved to a nearby box blind where we spent the last 2 hours of daylight.
We sighted 5 bucks and 5 does. The biggest buck was a mature, 8-pointer that I guessed would gross-score around 120 inches.
30 minutes before the end of filming light, 13 feral hogs came in and moved out all of the deer. Noemi killed her first pig - a yearling sow with a broken hind leg... way to go Noemi!
Day 5 – Morning 11/9/11
We awoke to ideal conditions for rattling... low wind, cold temperatures, and clear skies. As a result, our plan was to rattle at as many different set ups as possible.
Rattling Set-Up 1 - we set up in an area where Justin thought we might be able to rattle in 1 of 2 different shooter bucks in the area. Surprisingly, a doe responded to the rattling! I've only rattled in does a handful of times in my life. No bucks responded.
Rattling Set-Up 2 - picturesque set-up at the end of a long ridge with open draws on both sides... no responses!
Rattling Set-Up 3 - we set up at the end of a draw near an artificial turkey roost. Very first sequence, a beautiful, tall-tined 10-pointer trotted into view. I immediately recognized him as a shooter buck based on his antler size... low 140's. I then tried hard to get him to maturity based on body characteristics, but in the very brief time I had to judge the buck, I could not get him past 4-1/2 years old, despite Noemi whispering... "Can I shoot him?!?" The buck sighted us and was then quickly down wind of us. As soon as that happened, he turned tail in the opposite direction.
Rattling Set-Up 4 - to be continued.
Day 5 - Morning
Rattling Set-Up 4 - we set up in a "tight" area on the side of a ridge. At the first sequence, a buck several yards away trotted across a ranch road and then disappeared. Following the 2nd sequence a 3-yr-old buck quickly ran into view and almost ended up in our laps. Following the 5th sequence, a mature 9-pointer ran in to our left and on past us where he
disappeared behind the brush clump we were hiding in. A few minutes later he reappeared to our left. We were then all able to judge him and the consensus was that he was definitely old enough. His 9-point rack likely scored around 120, but given our late we were in the hunt, Justin suggested that Noemi shoot the buck. I then helped Noemi to get re-set with the Bog Pod sticks. She was able to get the crosshairs on him just as he began walking away from us. Justin grunted to get him to stop, which he did in a quartering away position. Unfortunately, Noemi had a short brush clump obstructing her view of his vitals. He then stepped out of view... very close call... and a very lucky buck!
Rattling Set Up 5 - as we were nearing our rattling location, Justin spotted a mature, 10-point shooter buck feeding to our left. He judged the buck to score around 140, but we were caught in a less than ideal location, so we backed out and circled around the buck where we set up to rattle. Unfortunately, shortly after starting the first sequence, the buck winded us and high-tailed it the opposite direction.
Day 5 – Afternoon 11/9/11
Due to the strong winds, Justin suggested we hunt out of a newly placed ground blind in an area where 3 of the "shooter" bucks converged.
We headed out early, at around 2:45, in order to allow plenty of time to set up the ground blind. By 3:30, videographer Matthew Carman, huntress/fiancé Noemi Alfaro, & I were tucked into a brushed-up ground blind near the middle of a large open field at the center of where 3 "shooter" bucks had been picked up on Reconyx trail cameras by Justin Trail.
Deer movements began slow and it was not until around 4:45 that we saw our first deer... a yearling, multi-point buck.
By 5:00 pm, we had 5 does and a different yearling buck in sight. By 5:15, 2 additional yearling bucks appeared. By 5:30, another yearling buck appeared, as well as 2 more does.
Finally, at 5:40 pm Matthew spotted a bigger-bodied buck move into view. We all put up our binoculars to recognize that we finally had a mature buck with the right kind of headgear out in front of us!
Initially, the mature buck was slow to close the gap in between us. As he moved closer, I was able to see the 8-point buck's brow tines and I immediately realized he was the 8-pointer Justin had on the "shoot" list and was also one of the 3 "shooter" bucks he had hoped we would see from this new location!
Our excitement grew as the buck slowly moved toward the group of 5 does to our left. On his way to the does, the buck briefly disappeared behind a brush clump.
Meanwhile, one doe became suspicious of our ground blind and then became nervous. This nervous doe slowly moved toward us, pulling the other does with her. Now all deer, including the shooter 8-pointer, were on edge and staring our direction.
What had seemed a sure thing, quickly unraveled in front of our eyes as the lead die began nervously trotting for cover to our right. In single file the other 4 does followed closely behind.
Now the shooter 8 was trotting as well and would quickly be out of shooting range. Noemi did everything in her power in an attempt to get the buck in her crosshairs before he moved out of camera site, but it wasn't to be... almost as quickly as the buck had moved into range, he had trotted back out of range... SO CLOSE!
After our 5th and final day of hunting, I want to sincerely thank Justin and Tamara Trail for their incredible hospitality and unbelievable generosity! The folks of Albany are very friendly and the deer hunting just outside of town is as good as it gets outside of south Texas!
I'm also incredibly proud of my fiancé and all that she did in an effort to harvest her first trophy buck. She was up at 4:30 or 5:00 am 3 days in a row. She walked along side us as we stalked through thick brush between rattling locations each morning and evening. She sat patiently, in box blinds and ground blinds, as the "guides" around her talked "deer" non stop.
In the end, she tried her best to make her fiancé proud... she most definitely succeeded!!!!
Posted by Dr. Mickey W. Hellickson