At first look, the South Texas Brush Country is a seemingly desolate land as it stretches from just south of San Antonio to the Mexico border. Waves of monotonous gray and green brush waver in the sunlight as far as the eye can see.
Most of the plants are full of thorns or sharp needles, like Junco and prickly pear cactus. Junco actually means “all thorns” and was, in fact, the name of the 47,000-acre ranch my guide, Keith Chaffin, and I were hunting on as we glassed for deer on a recent winter morning.
But as you watch and listen, you realize it’s not as bleak as it looks. The landscape actually teems with life.
A cardinal sings in the brush. Bobwhite and blue quail whistle as they scurry through the thickets. Wild boars root for tubers and javelinas scurry nervously about.
Bringing the scene to life like no other creature, though, is the whitetail deer. It thrives in this land that is actually some of the richest habitat in the world for America’s most popular big game animal.
A group of does ambled out into one of the four senderos (trails) spiking out from our blind, then suddenly Keith hissed, “there’s a ten pointer.”
This is where the Texas hunting experience gets intriguing–and frustrating for many hunters until they get into the spirit of it. Much of a hunt in the Brush Country will consist of looking over countless bucks that are either too young to shoot (less than five or six years) or in a trophy caliber above the price range of the hunt you booked.
This one was a massive buck the ranch managers had nicknamed “August” after the month when they’d first seen him. He was a 160 class ten pointer, but just five years old. They would let him grow another year, maybe two.
Another old, heavy-bodied eight pointer in the 135 class came out next. He was six years old, and I could have taken him with the hunt I’d booked, but I held off. Then an 11 pointer ambled out of the brush, but Keith said he still needed another year to grow.
Several other bucks appeared, and then a huge buck came out 180 yards away, sniffing behind a group of does to see if one was ready to breed.
The bucks’ face had loose skin, his ears were floppy, and his nose Roman shaped. His chest and belly were both deep, making his legs look short.
Keith’s main job is Professor of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M. That makes him an expert at differentiating the body and facial features of the various age classes of deer. This one he said was definitely six.
The rack stood tall, with heavy mass and four evenly matched points on each side. The second tines appeared to be close to a foot long. When the buck chased a hot doe through the brush, then stepped broadside at 150 yards, I squeezed the trigger of the .30/06.
The 165-grain boattail found its mark and the buck was down. When we walked over, we found he was even more impressive than we’d thought, with five-inch mass above the base and long G-2s. He was also a big-bodied deer for Texas, weighing 150 pounds field dressed.
Every sportsman has dreamed of a whitetail hunt in the South Texas Brush Country. You should definitely try it if possible. You’ll see anywhere from 5 to 20 mature bucks a day when hunting a quality ranch in this unique deer-rich landscape. That alone is worth the time and money invested for the trip.
Contrary to common belief, the prices for many hunts in this area are not outrageous. In fact, if you’re willing to hunt for a massive eight point, or a ten with short tines that is still a big bodied buck and fully mature, you can do it for a very reasonable rate.
The cost is so low for these quality “management” deer that some hunters actually take two bucks of this type for less than the price of a single top-tier buck hunt.
The eight-pointer I described earlier came under that designation and allowed me to continue the hunt and search for a second buck. On the last day, I filled that tag while stalk hunting with a massive seven-year-old eight pointer with long kickers off his G-2’s.
Protein-rich plants such as white brush, guayacan, ebony, catclaw, huisache, mesquite, and guajillo are a major reason why south Texas grows so many big bucks. But that’s just part of the story. The other part is management.
Texas landowners have developed a whitetail philosophy that emphasizes a balanced sex ratio and allowing bucks to grow to five to seven years before they are harvested.
Some would say this is all about trophies, but it’s not. It’s more about allowing each deer to reach its full potential and keeping the sex ratio balanced.
The result of that happens to be lots of big bucks with heavy antlers. And that’s what makes the Texas hunting experience so unique.
Hunting sometimes involves sitting in a box blind watching senderos (paths) cut in the brush. But I’ve hunted south Texas dozens of times over 25 years and have used a wide variety of other tactics.
Rattling gained its fame in this region. On my first South Texas hunt ever we rattled in seven bucks the first afternoon. Later in the hunt I killed a five-year-old ten point that came galloping into the horns—the 23rd deer we’d rattled up.
For close range hunting, grunting is a very effective method. I took one of my largest Texas bucks ever with this tactic, a 150-inch ten-pointer with an eight-inch drop tine.
Watching food plots is also a tactic being used more and more often in South Texas. Glassing and stalking these areas is yet another exciting tactic that works well with the abundant cover available to hide behind as you approach the quarry.
So don’t think you’ll simply watch from a box blind for the entire hunt. And even if you did, seeing 10-30 mature bucks a day makes south Texas deer hunting an adventure every sportsman should try at least once in their life.
The Management Hunt Alternative
Top tier trophy hunts can be expensive, but if you’re willing to go after a “management” buck, you can go for less than half the price of the top-of-the-line hunts.
You get the same guides, food, and lodging. You simply settle your sights on a lower level buck to attach your tag to, typically a heavy eight or a ten with short tines typically in the 120-140 class. These are still outstanding deer, and fully mature 5-7 year olds. In most cases you can also take a doe, boar and javelina to round out the hunt.
For more information on trophy or management hunts contact chambers of commerce or the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department for lists of guides and then check with references before booking.
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