Texas deer hunting is known across the country for both quantity and quality. And while many folks typically associate the Lone Star State as being a land primarily under high fence, there are huge bucks taken each year on low-fence lands.
Many of those bucks are taken on smaller tracts that may span only a few hundred acres, tiny by comparison to places like the King Ranch and other hunting hotbeds larger than some East Coast states.
From the top of Texas to the bottom, there are many deer harvested each year that seem almost too good to be true. Here’s one of those stories.
Bryan O’Neal and his family hunting story is one for the record books. In fact, O’Neal’s deer tale is a prime example that giant whitetail bucks can from smaller acreage.
O’Neal, who is still relatively new to hunting, and his kin have hunted their 400-acre family place in Smith County since 2009. His son Nicholas is one of those family members, and the pair has a big-deer story that may never be topped.
“He has been hunting with me the last couple of years, but did not get the courage up to shoot until last season,” O’Neal said.
The pair started their 2016 deer season with an opening-morning sit that would soon reveal a huge buck, though the elder O’Neal wasn’t sure just how big the whitetail ultimately shaped up to be.
“I could see it had plenty of points, but it never turned so I could see if it passed the 13-inch inside spread antler restriction (a longstanding regulation across most of the Pineywoods and portions of the Post Oak Savannah),” he said. “We went back the next day and saw a doe and some smaller bucks early. I told Nicholas to get ready to shoot one of the bucks, and before he could, I looked farther up a hill and saw a bigger buck.”
It took nearly an hour for the big deer to get within range, stopping and turning broadside at about 75 yards, O’Neal noted. His boy attempted a rifle shot but missed the buck, the deer by happenstance running even closer. Another round chambered, Nicholas again pulled the trigger, again missing the deer.
“We got out of the blind to check for blood or other sign, but we didn’t find anything,” Bryan said. “We went to the range afterward to check the rifle, and it was shooting high, which was why he missed him both times.”
Even after the misses, O’Neal admitted he didn’t know just how big the buck was, and it wasn’t until the following weekend that he and Nicholas went back to the family place for another hunt. After helping his wife search for a pig she had shot at, Bryan, his son and wife got back into the stand in the late afternoon on Nov. 13.
They saw some smaller bucks, but not the big deer. Around dusk, they spotted a 12-point walking along a treeline toward them. O’Neal was going to take a shot, but before he could, his son said he wanted to shoot again at the deer.
“In the midst of getting the rifle up, he bumped the wall of the blind, but the buck didn’t take off,” Bryan said. “That sound was pretty loud and actually stopped the deer, and Nicholas took another shot. He missed, but the deer didn’t run, so I got the rifle and dropped the buck right there.”
The buck was green-scored by a local game warden who also is an official scorer for the Texas Big Game Awards program. The typical frame grossed 186 5/8 (Boone & Crockett) and netted 180 4/8. After the 60-day drying period, the official tally came to 184 7/8 gross and 178 net.
“I didn’t realize just how big the buck was until I had someone else look at it,” O’Neal said.
The 4-year-old buck was easily the largest typical whitetail taken on a low-fence tract last year in Texas. It also is a historic deer in context, being the largest buck ever taken from Smith County. The Top 5 typical whitetails all-time from low-fence lands range from 190 to 185 B&C, according to TBGA program figures.