The dusty breeze tickled the tops of spindly mesquites and thick bunch grass as I descended the steps of the tower stand.
At the bottom, the icy chill of the late November morning hit me square in the face as binoculars were raised for what seemed like the 100th time.
The massive nontypical buck was laying down.
Better yet, he was facing away.
Best of all, he was upwind.
Rarely does stalking deer of any kind end with any type of decent attempt at a shot. However, after sitting for four hours after sunrise and spying one of the largest deer I’d ever seen bed down in the middle of a prickly pear flat and stay for more than an hour, I decided to press my luck.
I cautiously exited the stand with just a rifle and my optics, and to my utter amazement, the deer never even moved, much less busted me, so I commenced a slow approach, attempting to stay as low to the knee-high bunch grass as possible and using what little cover the scattering of mesquites could provide. Every 50 yards or so, I would stop and check the situation, and every time the buck’s chocolate rack was in the same position.
It was simply astounding that I was going to get a chance to harvest this animal, and all the scenarios I’d ever heard about picking your spots to stalk up on a deer seemed to be lining up perfectly.
Of course, nature has its own way of shooting down your opportunities.
Because the buck was bedded down amid the vegetation and all I could see was its head, getting a clean shot off proved difficult, which meant getting as close as possible. As I slowly got a decent rest on a fluttering mesquite about 75 yards away from the buck, I popped my head up and took one last glance through my binoculars.
The other set of eyeballs that I hadn’t accounted for and didn’t know were there got all the scrutiny they needed with my movement, and the doe that was obscured by the buck’s head and grass sounded the alarm, and a pair of white flags scampered away. I could have taken an offhand running shot, but all I could do was remove my stocking cap and scratch my head.
The reason the buck acted so strangely, and the reason why the doe was there can be summed in two words: The rut.
The whitetail breeding season in our state falls anywhere from early September to as late as February depending on where you’re at, and hunters looking to get a shot at the largest bucks they’ll find all year will target days when bucks are chasing does and are more susceptible to being seen.
Any veteran hunter will tell you that big deer can be like ghosts. You simply won’t see them until the rut comes along, which is why you can stack the deck in your favor by examining trends and timing your hunt to coincide withpeak breeding activity.
A statewide study conducted by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists and technicians shows some interesting data regarding the peak of the whitetail breeding season. In the Rolling Plains, most does were bred from Oct. 8 to Dec. 30, and study areas showed a peak date of Dec. 3 in northern stretches of the region and a peak of Nov. 20 in the south. This region also had the highest incidence of pregnancy at 97 percent with an average of 1.7 fawns for each doe examined.
By comparison, the big buck landscape of South Texas had the latest rut with breeding dates ranging from Nov. 9 to Feb. 1, and the peak dates for the eastern and western portions of the region both were well past the middle of December.
The Edwards Plateau, the area of the state with the highest whitetail and hunter densities showed conception dates ranging from as early as Oct. 9 to as late as Jan. 30.The peak dates show just how geography affects breeding cycles with the eastern portion of the region seeing a peak of Nov. 7, the central portion a peak of Nov. 24 and the western portion a peak of Dec. 5.
As with the big nontypical buck that I stalked upon,male whitetails often will single out a receptive doe and not leave it until it has bred, which could be days or even longer. During this time, bucks are more aggressive with both does and male rivals, which means that the rut also is a perfect time to break out the rattling horns in attempts to draw in deer. Bucks within earshot often will come running to the sounds of a fight, especially those looking to fend off challenges to their harems of does, and one of the best ways to hunt this time of year is to buddy up with one person playing the part of rattler and the other shooter.
The peak of the rut across much of the state will fall within the next couple of weeks, and provide hunters with the chance at a buck of a lifetime, especially with such fabulous range conditions across some of the best habitat around.