Day 1: Morning Hunt
Videographer Matthew Carman and I arrived at the LBV Ranch headquarters yesterday in preparation for our Bucks of Tecomate hunt that started this morning. The 14,500-acre LBV Ranch is in Webb County, about 30 miles from the Rio Grande River and Mexico.
This morning we sat over a food plot where we watched 2 does feed for 30 min. Matthew spotted a fully mature 8-point buck trailing a doe off the plot in the distance. We also saw 2 more does and a fawn in the distance. No other deer visited the plot during the first hour of daylight.
We then stalked to another food plot to watch several does and fawns leave the plot. A fully mature 8-point buck was tending a doe in one of the corners of this plot. Matthew got some great B-roll video of this buck with the doe.
We then fed a half-mile loop of corn around a trail camera site where 1 of the 4 "target" bucks for this hunt was photographed during the fall trail camera survey. He's a symmetrical 12-point buck that should score in the 160s.
After feeding the route, we then re-traced our steps and saw a young buck, 2 middle-aged bucks, a mature buck and several does, but not the targeted buck.
Lastly, we stalked back to the food plot where we sat at daybreak and saw what appeared to be a 4-year-old buck tending a doe at the edge of the plot.
Day 1: Afternoon Hunt
This afternoon we "stand" hunted out of a parked, high-rack suburban at an intersection of 5 senderos where we had earlier stand hunted at midday.We saw lots of deer activity, including 3 fawns, 3 does, and 8 different bucks! The bucks included 2 yearlings, 2 2-yr-olds, 1 4- to 5-yr-old, and 3 fully mature bucks. The best buck was the 4- to 5-yr-old, which was a high 130-class 9-pointer. One of the fully mature bucks was a 6-pointer that we elected to harvest as a low-end management buck just before the end of shooting light. After a 150-yard shot, the buck crumpled. At the skinning shed, I determined the buck was 7-years-old by tooth wear. He weighed 175 lbs. and gross-scored 98 inches! The mid-point of his neck measured 28 inches. We elected to harvest this buck for 4 reasons. First, for the recreation... the opportunity to harvest spikes, cull bucks and low-end management bucks provides TONS of hunter recreation. On the LBV Ranch, 70-80% of bucks harvested each year fit within one of the 3 categories above... that is a lot of recreation!
Second, removing these types of bucks reduces the deer density, which is obviously important where deer numbers are near or above the maximum recommended by the biologist. In this case, removing "mouths off the habitat" allows for more forage for remaining deer. And it reduces the ranch bills for food plots and supplemental feeding.
Third, although genetic change is unlikely, landowners and managers obviously would prefer these small-antlered bucks be removed to reduce their overall breeding success.
Day 2: Morning Hunt
We sat at a third food plot at daybreak. We saw 4 does, 3 fawns, and 6 bucks including 1 young buck, 3 middle-aged bucks, and 2 mature bucks. The largest buck was an 11-point, but his short tine height on the 1's, 3's and 4's kept his gross B&C score under 140 inches.
Mid-morning we moved to a 6-way intersection of senderos and sat in the parked high rack for a couple of hours. Deer movement was good... we saw 4 does, 1 fawn, and 9 bucks. Bucks included 1 spike, 2 young bucks, 3 middle-aged bucks and 3 mature bucks.
The best buck was s tall, big-framed, mature 9-point that was very tempting to harvest as a management buck. I guessed his score in the low- to mid-140s. He would be a great buck for my wife Noemi to kill when she arrives tomorrow.
Day 2: Midday Hunt
Last night I elected to change our primary target buck after a strategy session with the ranch guide. And after reviewing 2 SD cards from our Reconyx cameras.
I placed these cameras 2 weeks ago at the 2 feeder sites where the original 'primary target' buck was photographed during the pre-season trail camera survey. Unfortunately, the buck did not show up a single time in 2 weeks at either feeder... a clear sign that it would be unlikely for us to see this buck during our 5-1/2-day hunt.
As a resilt, I elected to change our primary target buck despite the fact that this buck is likely the largest of the bucks available for harvest - with less than 6 days to hunt, we need to target a buck with better odds of success!
Our new target buck is a typical 12-point with a deep split on his left brow tine giving him 13 total points. His tine height is average, but his beams are above average.
During midday we first stalked to the food plot we had hunted at daybreak... no deer on the plot.
We then walked a short section of a new loop of corn we had placed following the morning hunt in the area of where the new target buck was photographed during the camera survey. No deer sighted.
Next, we parked at a 4-way sendero intersection for 2 hours following a short lunch break. Only 2 does appeared.
We could have been sunburned! This afternoon's temperatures rose to the 70's and likely slowed deer activity.
Finally, we moved about a quarter mile north to another 4-way intersection in the hopes that we were just in a bad spot earlier. No luck, we only saw 2 bucks in an hour-long sit... a young buck and a middle-aged 8-point buck. We even tried a sequence of antler rattling, but no response.
Day 2: Afternoon Hunt
We spent our evening hunt overlooking a cool season food plot, the same plot where we sat this morning. We had high hopes based on flushing more than a dozen deer from this same plot yesterday evening on our drive back to camp following yesterday's evening hunt. Several of the dozen-plus deer were bucks.
It turned put however that the action was slow for the evening hunt at the plot. We saw a total of 6 deer, including 2 does, 1 fawn, and 3 bucks. The bucks included a spike, a yearling buck and a small-antlered mature 9-point buck.
I think the warmer temperatures slowed movement, although on our drive to the plot before the afternoon sit, we watched 4 non-shooter bucks chasing a doe.
Temperatures were warm enough for the no-see-um gnats to come out and be a nuisance.
The beautiful sunset however, made it all more than worth it!
Day 3: Morning Hunt
We hunted a new 5-way sendero intersection at daybreak about a 1/4-mile from one of the two feeder locations where the new target buck was photographed during the Pre-season trail camera survey.
We saw a lot of deer... 20! Including 10 does, 5 fawns, and 5 bucks. The bucks included 3 young bucks, 1 middle-aged buck, and 1 mature buck. The mature buck was a 120-class 8-point.
After deer movement slowed, we moved to a 6-way intersection we had visited the day before and sat for 30 minutes. We saw 2 does before I had to leave to meet a real estate agent and a potential buyer for the LBV
The 14,100-acre ranch is being marketed as the trophy deer hunting paradise that it is, with the agent limiting the initial pool of buyers to those interested in continuing the 30+-year history of trophy management on this ranch.
I have been working with the folks at the LBV Ranch as their consulting deer biologist since the mid 1990's. They have a 15-year history of intensive, year-round supplemental feeding, food plots, year-round predator control, and a very selective buck harvest program.
In addition, the LBV Ranch folks have been working with myself and the folks at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Kingsville since 1998 on the South Texas Buck Capture Project.
Day 3: Afternoon Hunt
A TROPHY BUCK SIGHTING... AND MORE!
Following a quick lunch at 11:00, we returned to the field to the same location we had hunted in the morning where we saw 20 deer, hoping for a continuation of high deer activity.
Thirty minutes later, exactly zero deer had appeared so we elected to leave early and try a different spot.
ANOTHER NEW TARGET BUCK
By this point in the hunt we had invested 1-1/2 days hunting for target buck no. 3 of 4 target bucks identified from the pre-season trail camera survey.
I was starting to doubt our odds of seeing buck no. 3 so I decided to make a quick check of the 3 trail cameras we had placed the day before.
We checked the cameras, pulled the cards, and re-baited the sites. After reviewing nearly 700 images from the 3 cameras, my doubts increased regarding target buck no. 3 because he did not appear in any of the photos. We then made the decision to try for the 4th of the 4 target bucks.
A QUICK RECAP...
We hunted for the first of the 4 target bucks the first morning of the hunt. This buck was closest to camp and was likely visiting a food plot with a box blind for us to sit in comfortably.
The first afternoon, with daylight to guide us to the best spot, we switched to the 2nd of the 4 target bucks. This buck was the buck I most wanted to try to harvest before the hunt. Unfortunately however, we learned that evening after reviewing 2 weeks of Reconyx images from 2 locations, that we would have low odds of seeing this buck.
We then switched to the 3rd of the 4 target bucks beginning with the morning hunt of the 2nd day, bringing us to where we are at now.
After reviewing the images from the 3 trail cameras, we elected to switch over to hunting target buck no. 4.
This fully mature buck is a mainframe 6x5 with short, 1-inch kickers on each G-2 tine giving him 13 total points. He has exceptional height on his G-3s and G-4s and good brow tines, pushing his score into the 160s. This buck was on the 'Hit List' last year as well but was not seen by hunters.
Buck no. 4 had been photographed at 2 different feeder sites during the pre-season trail camera survey. I like to target bucks that are photographed at more than one site because this gives you a much better idea of the buck's home range than if he is only photographed at one site.
THE TROPHY BUCK APPEARS
At 1:30 pm we arrived to the area where buck no. 4 had been photographed. We then corned 4 different directions from a 4-way intersection nearest the middle of the 2 feeder sites he frequented and parked the high-rack suburban at the intersection.
Amazingly, within 10 minutes of parking Matthew spotted target buck no. 4 stepping into 1 of the 4 senderos! The buck was only a 100 yards from the truck and was obviously skittish of it as he quickly trotted across the sendero too fast to get any footage. However, he stopped about 20 yards into the brush and looked over his back trail just as a doe stepped into the sendero where the buck had first appeared.
To my great benefit, the doe calmly fed on corn within 100 yards of us. It was obvious she was in heat and paired with buck no. 4 as he nervously stepped back into the sendero near the doe.
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH ARRIVES
My moment of truth had arrived as I tried to get the buck in the crosshairs of the Leupold scope. The rail of the high rack platform was too low for me to get a comfortable rest so I knelt down on the floor.
The buck turned from quartering toward me to quartering away... the perfect angle for a shot. When Matthew gave me the ok to shoot, I squeezed the trigger. The buck crumpled, but regained his footing and dashed across the sendero with a front leg flopping.
The shot sounded solid and the buck's reaction also indicated a good shoulder hit. Thanks to the video we were able to review the shot several times in the high rack while waiting the standard 30 minutes to climb down and begin trailing the buck.
The video review confirmed what I thought I saw through the rifle scope, that the buck was hit hard in the front shoulder. It even appeared on the footage that the buck was already bleeding before getting across the sendero.
THE (ATTEMPTED) RECOVERY
The shot occurred at 1:50. We climbed down at 2:25 and walked to where the buck was standing at the time of the shot. I found his dug-in hoof prints and started following his hoof prints across the sendero and into the brush on the other side.
I expected to see blood on the sendero, but none was present. In fact, we did not find the first blood until we were 15 yards into the brush and 25 yards down the buck's trail. The first blood was also unusual, a finger-sized clump of clotted blood?! I followed hoof prints and broken branches another 10 yards before the next spot of blood was found, a single drop.
At this point I became concerned and elected for us to stop tracking and back out of the brush only 30 yards onto his trail. We returned to the vehicle and drove back to camp to review the shot on the big screen tv at the camp.
Matthew connected the camera to the tv and we watched the footage over and over. By hitting the pause and play buttons, we were able to view the footage almost frame by frame. Our 2nd review of the footage confirmed to us that the shot was good. However, the review on the big screen allowed us to finally tell that it was the buck's right front leg that was hit in the shoulder, not his left, which was the opposite-side shoulder for the shot.
This fact told me that the buck may have only been hit in his right lung versus both lungs, which usually means a longer blood trail.
All-in-all the video review refreshed my confidence that the buck should be dead within a couple of hundred yards of the shot. As a result, I elected for us to return to the blood trail with Mr. Pete Mauricio, the Camp Manager, and his blood-tracking dog. My wife Noemi was also bringing our white Labrador to help.
Both dogs have assisted with recovering dead and wounded deer many times, but much more experienced tracking dogs and their handlers were a phone call away. In hindsight, this was a bad decision on my part not to bring in the professionals.
Two-and-a-half hours after the shot, we were back on the blood trail with 2 dogs and 6 people. Pete's dog was led to the first spot of blood and then the 2nd and released from the leash. First, We all attempted to find the 3rd spot of blood, but when no additional blood could be found, we fanned out as the dogs worked in front of us.
Forty-five minutes later everyone had returned to the trucks without anyone ever finding a 3rd spot of blood. The 2 dogs had moved around 200 yards into the brush, but never 'got birdy' as though they were on the buck's trail.
By this time I was depressed and dejected. What had seemed an easy recovery, had quickly turned into a horror story.
We sat in the high rack at the same intersection where I had shot the buck as the sun sat on the 3rd day of the hunt. I was not looking forward to a sleepless night's wait until daylight to begin the search anew tomorrow morning.
Day 4: Morning Hunt
NOEMI'S HUNT BEGINS
My new bride Noemi (our wedding date was 12/28/11, 4 days before the start of our BofT hunt) arrived yesterday afternoon to assist with the tracking of my buck. And to begin her hunt for a high-end management buck.
I had selected 4 management bucks for us to target for this hunt when reviewing the images from the pre-season trail camera survey. One of these buck's was photographed at the same feeder site where target buck no. 3 had been photographed.
While hunting for this trophy buck, we sighted another management buck on the mid-morning hunt of day 2. This was the 9-point, 140-class buck that I had been very tempted to shoot myself.
The fact that 1 trophy buck and 2 very nice management buck's were all in the same area, made the decision an easy one on where to begin Noemi's hunt.
Our plan for the morning of day 4 was for Noemi and Matthew to hunt together for her management buck as I continued the search for my trophy buck. Noemi and Matthew sat for 2 hours, but no management buck appeared.
THE SEARCH CONTINUES...
While Noemi and Matthew were hunting for her buck, I continued the search for the buck I shot yesterday afternoon.
I drove to the spot where the buck was shot and parked. At daybreak my lab "D" and I then made 3 passes on foot through the block of brush the buck had entered after the shot. We were looking for any sign, including cara caras, a carrion-feeding member of the falcon family that South TX hunters cue in on when
searching for dead deer.
Two hours later I had had no luck in my search. Noemi, Matthew, and I then got back together and began driving all of the senderos within a one-mile radius of where I shot the buck, looking for cara caras and vultures. Noemi and Matthew rode atop the high rack in order to have a better vantage point.
We drove for 3 hours stopping at 2 different locations to search where we had spotted cara caras on the ground and perched in nearby trees, but no luck. We also stopped at the 2 nearest water sources and circled these areas on foot and with our dog. Again, no luck.
We then returned to camp for lunch.
Day 4: Afternoon Hunt
During the lunch break I made several calls to professional deer trackers in South TX and was able to schedule an afternoon search with Pepe, a Ranch Manager from a neighboring ranch who has 2 very good tracking dogs.
While waiting for Pepe, we returned to the area where I shot the buck. Noemi, Matthew and i fanned out to ground search the block of brush where the buck had disappeared, as well as the next 3 blocks of brush. We slowly walked through these areas, but did not find any sign.
After Pepe's arrival, We showed him the blood and he then released his 2 tracking dogs, each wearing radio-transmitting collars.
While Pepe was following his dogs through the brush, we moved back into the high rack to continue driving senderos in the area in search of cara caras and vultures.
Sadly, 2 hours layer no additional sign had been found by anyone. Pepe and his dogs even circled a 3rd and 4th stock tank to the south of where I shot the buck.
In a repeat of the evening before, we watched the sun sit from our seats in the high rack at the same intersection where I had shot the buck.
Day 5: Morning Hunt
After watching the shot on video more than 100 times and spending 2 days searching for my buck by vehicle, on foot, and with 2 groups of tracking dogs, I've come to the disappointing realization that I made a poor shot on the buck.
My shot was likely 2-4 inches too far to the right. I clearly missed the opposite side shoulder that I thought I had been aiming at. I likely missed the left side lung, and I may have even shot in front of the right side lung, missing the chest cavity altogether.
In hindsight, I deeply regret not hiring a professional deer tracker. I have no doubt we would have recovered my buck the evening I shot him if we had more experienced dogs on the trail. I'm convinced the buck's shoulder is broken, which should have made it a very high likelihood for his recovery with tracking dogs.
After talking with several deer tracking experts about the scenario regarding my buck, they all believe the buck is still alive.
Fortunately, I have until February 29th, the remainder of the deer hunting season for ranches enrolled in TPWD's Managed Lands Deer Permit program, to hunt for my buck.
You can be sure that I will be in his 'neighborhood' at every opportunity looking for him. I will also continue foot searches around the 2 stock tanks, and their drainages, inside his home range. I hope to report to all of you that I have finally recovered this great buck!
NOEMI'S HUNT CONTINUES...
With our 5-1/2-day hunt winding down, we decided to focus on hunting for Noemi's management buck for the remainder of the hunt.
This morning we decided to hunt a whole new area of the LBV Ranch at a feeder site where 2 different management buck's were photographed during the pre-season trail camera survey.
These 2 buck's are uniquely different. One is a very wide, tall-tined typical 7-point. The 2nd is an even taller, basket-racked 9-point that is also very heavy.
We drove to a 4-way intersection nearest the camera site and waited on daylight. Unfortunately, very heavy fog rolled in limiting visibility to less than 100 yards. We tried sitting out the fog, but by 9:00, the fog was still heavy so we changed game plans.
We drove back across the ranch to hunt mid-morning for the original 2 management buck's. We were hoping that the fog was less in that area of the ranch.
As soon as we arrived, it was obvious it was just as foggy on this area of the ranch so we elected to check all of the trail cameras while waiting on the fog to lift. We reviewed images from 4 cameras, but there were no images of any of the targeted trophy and management buck's.
The fog was still heavy so we drove to the earthen stock tank nearest the center of the home range of the buck that I had shot. Noemi, Matthew and I all got out to make a wide loop around this tank in the hopes that we might stumble across my buck.
After a 45-minute search nothing was found but 5 large shed antlers, 4 of which were matched sets from the same buck 2 years apart!
By the time we finished the ground search around the tank, the fog had lifted, allowing us to start hunting again.
Day 5: Afternoon Hunt
For our afternoon hunt we shifted to a different pasture closer to the camp to hunt for the 2 management buck's we targeted at daybreak.
We first sat at a 3-way intersection. Matthew spotted a big-bodied buck well down the sendero so we exited the high rack and began a stalk to the buck for a closer look.
After cutting the distance in half, the buck disappeared. We then relocated to a different 3-way intersection where we sat for 30 minutes without seeing any deer.
We then drove back past the initial intersection and exited the high rack in order to stalk to a winter food plot.
We spotted a couple of bucks while stalking to the plot. One buck turned out to be one of the shooter bucks from the hit list... a mid 150-class 10-pointer.
We stalked closer to the plot and after glassing over the 15 or so deer on the plot, we recognized that the wide, 7-point buck was one of the deer on the plot.
Because daylight was disappearing fast, we hurriedly stalked closer to the plot but ran out of video light before getting within rifle range of the management buck.
Based on all of the deer activity at the plot, and the presence of one of the target management bucks, we made plans to spend the last morning of the hunt at the edge of this food plot.
Day 6: Morning Hunt
Noemi didn't feel well so Matthew and I spent the final morning of the hunt without her.
We arrived at the food plot well before daylight, where we saw 1 of the 2 targeted management bucks the evening before.
Unfortunately, after a 3-hour sit at the plot, no management bucks appeared amongst the 15 to 20 deer that fed on the plot.
Reluctantly, Matthew and I returned to camp to conclude the hunt that had some incredible highs, but also one of the worst lows any deer hunter can experience.
Posted by Dr. Mickey W. Hellickson