When Steve Brzozowski of Mechanicville and I stepped off the airplane in San Antonio, Texas, several weeks ago, it was a comfortable 84 degrees, but the warmth was short-lived.
Our final destination, reached in a rental car, was the Bucks & Birds Ranch, located in southwest Texas’ Crockett County, a little over 200 miles away. This may sound like a long ride, but the legal speed limit on Texas Route 10 is 80 mph.
We arrived just in time for dinner, and Jack, the ranch manager, is also the cook — a very good one. As usual, during dinner Jack discussed the next day’s hunt — a 4 a.m. wakeup and the blinds we would be going to in the morning. He also advised dressing warmly. By the time we arrived, the temperature had dropped into the low 40s.
Steve and I were already awake when the alarm went off the next morning, and after a quick breakfast, we got a truck to our blinds. The Weather Channel said it was 18 degrees with winds gusting from 15-20 mph.
Steve was first to be dropped off at the Windmill blind, one of at least 35 blinds scattered throughout the 25,000 acres. I was at the End of the Road blind, a comfortable 4x8-foot wooden box with shooting windows about six feet off the ground. It was facing the feeder 168 yards away. The wind was perfect, blowing into my face, causing a runny nose and tearing eyes for the next five hours.
As daylight started to come, I was able to silhouette several whitetails already moving around, and shortly thereafter, I could identify three does and a very big spike horn. His antlers had to be about a foot high. However, he had to relinquish his ownership of the harem when a four-pointer trotted in and chased the spike away.
About 8 a.m., the four-pointer had his nose to the ground, chasing one of the does, when he stopped, looked back and ran away. He wanted no part of the big buck coming in. Unfortunately, I never was able to get a full view of his rack. The main beams were beyond its ears, but I couldn’t see brow tines. I wanted at least an eight-pointer, and watched him and his does move off.
That afternoon, back in the blinds, Mother Nature greeted us with sleet, freezing rain and high winds. In my Cliff blind, I spent all afternoon peeking out the window at the feeder 110 yards away. That day, both Steve and I found out the deer were smarter than we because there was not much moving, and those we saw were definitely not shooters.
The next two days were also cold, but we saw plenty of deer, including numerous bucks, many of which were six- or seven-pointers. Jack, who decided to hunt one day, had a nine-point cull buck come in and he downed it at 200 yards with one shot from his Browning 7mm mag.
A cull buck is considered inferior or inadequate, not as good as the rest. The landowners believe removing it will improve the quality of the herd. It’s generally the deer’s antlers that determine whether it’s a cull buck. The big spike I saw opening day was considered a cull buck because he was at least 3 or 4 years old and should have had a larger rack.
Although deer was my primary target on the trip, I also decided to spend a morning trying to get a Rio Grande turkey. Jack told me where they roosted, where they fed in the morning and where they headed after eating. He suggested trying the latter, and that’s what I did.
Well before daylight, I headed out to the top of the juniper- and scrub cedar-filled hill where they spent the day. It was just getting daylight when I got to the hilltop, and out in front of me jumped a bobcat. As quickly as I could, I unslung my gun from my shoulder, chambered a round and tried to get him in the scope. My lead on the cat was just a bit high, and I missed.
As for the turkeys, while sneaking and peeking through the junipers and cactus, I spooked a flock of 50 or so about 20 yards from me, but flock shooting with a .223 rifle while birds are in the air is not a safe idea. I should’ve been carrying a 12-gauge.
Day four was New York state Hunter’s Day in southwest Texas. Steve’s blind choice was Bucks & Birds’ first built, the Condo, so named for its comfort and stability. Steve was able to see the outlines of several deer moving around well before shooting time, and had his Marlin XL-7 .30-06 out the shooting window and ready for daylight.
This type of waiting is both exciting and nerve wracking, especially when you see one deer chasing another around. You know it’s not two does, and the chaser is definitely a buck. Finally, when things started to brighten up, Steve was able to make out the small buck — not a shooter. Shooters must have eight points or more.
When the little buck suddenly broke off and disappeared, Steve again readied his rifle when he saw movement in his Konus Pro M30 scope. All he could see then was the big body and then got a glimpse of its rack, definitely a keeper, but the kill zone was still hidden in the trees.
“It seemed like an hour, but probably was only 10 minutes,” Steve told us that afternoon at lunch. But when the kill zone appeared, he centered the Konus crosshair on the buck’s shoulder and squeezed the trigger, dropping him where he stood, 120 yards away. The 41⁄2-year-old buck carried a chocolate brown, eight-point rack and tipped the scales at 160 pounds.
After a Texas chili lunch and an hour or so of buck tales, Jack took me to a blind he called the Hilton. It was a double-decker, fully enclosed, set off to the side of a narrow sandero (a trail through the woods), offering me about a 120-yard shot. Heavy cover grew along both sides of the sandero, giving the deer plenty of cover.
The wind was off my right shoulder, so I put out one of Tink’s Smokin’ Stick in Rut scents, which is lit like a sparkler, and it will burn slowly, giving off the scent for about two hours. I’ve used it before, and it definitely works for me.
Less than a half-hour after I climbed into the blind, a doe appeared and began to feed. About 4 p.m., the first buck arrived. It was obvious he smelled the scent. He started chasing a doe in and out of the junipers and mesquite, and I couldn’t get a clear shot.
When I did, I saw it was a small eight, but an eight. I had about 40 minutes of legal shooting time before I was finally able to center my Konus Pro M30 on him, but when I squeezed the trigger, he jumped at least 20 feet on his first bound and disappeared into the brush. I MISSED!
Disgusted, I left the blind and spent the next 20 minutes following the path he took to be sure it was a miss. There were absolutely no signs of anything but a clean miss.
With just 15 minutes of shooting time left, I went back to the blind and began to pack up my gear, but when I looked out the window, there was a beautiful eight-pointer with his head out of the brush looking around. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to get another chance. I reloaded my 308 Browning BLR, took a deep breath and once again placed the crosshairs on the buck.
This time, there was no miss. He went less than two feet, straight down. It was luck, but I’ll take it. My buck, just like Steve’s, carried a good-looking, chocolate brown eight points, was 41⁄2 years old and weighed 160 pounds. It’s funny how our two weight estimates were exactly the same.
The next morning, New Mexico hunter Gary Davis, the other hunter in camp, shot a nice 170-pound, seven-pointer at 175 yards with a 300 Winchester Short Mag. That same morning, the day before we left, the Texas Bucks & Birds Rio Grande turkeys again outsmarted me.
Thank you, Texas Jack, for a great hunt. Anyone interested in a deer and/or Rio Grande turkey hunt in Texas can send me an email to email@example.com.
The Capital District Bassmasters is looking for new members, both non-boaters and boaters.
Bass clubs are a way to learn and teach better bass-fishing techniques. Most clubs have regularly scheduled tournaments that require minimal entry fees. The emphasis isn’t on cash as much as the individual competition between club members.
I’ve been a member of this club since the 1970s. It’s where I learned to bass fish. Anyone who enjoys bass fishing can join one. In fact, it might be something to add to a Santa wish list.
For details, contact Tom LaRose at firstname.lastname@example.org.