Long Stalk Leads to Big Texas Muley Buck

Seeing deer in western Texas usually isn’t much of a problem. In open country, hunters frequently spot more than 100 deer a day, but stalking close enough for a killing shot, even with a high-powered rifle, can create a major challenge.

In west Texas mesa country, whitetail and mule deer populations overlap. When a whitetail deer senses danger, it often flees at high speed, leaving sportsmen with little more than a flash of white tail to watch. Instead, a mule deer typically hides, remaining motionless until it believes the danger passed.

While hunting on a massive ranch south of Fort Stockton, Texas, and about 20 miles north of the border one day, Frank Cusimano and I spotted a mule deer carrying a perfectly symmetrical 10-point rack drinking from a water tank about 100 yards away. Finishing its drink, the buck loped off around a hill and disappeared before we could leave the vehicle.

Frank Cusimano of Houston, Texas, scans the West Texas landscape for mule deer.  (Photos by John N. Felsher)
Frank Cusimano of Houston, Texas, scans the West Texas landscape for mule deer. (Photos by John N. Felsher)

Our guide drove around the hill, hoping to cut off the deer. We didn’t see it, but decided to climb the hill to scan the area with our binoculars. Cusimano spotted the buck walking through some sparse cedar clumps about 600 yards away off to our right. True to mule deer habits, it found some cover it liked under a cedar bush and bedded down, looking right at us skylined atop the hill.

“There’s no way we can stalk him while he’s looking at us,” Cusimano advised.

“Let’s use that to our advantage,” I suggested. “You stay highly visible on this hilltop and keep his attention. I’ll sneak down the left side of the hill and come around him from behind. If I don’t get a shot, maybe at least I’ll push the deer toward you. Let’s hope mule deer can’t count.”

“It’s worth a shot,” he replied.

As planned, I descended the hill off to the left to make the long, roundabout stalk. The buck kept keenly focused on Cusimano, remaining conspicuously visible on the hilltop. It didn’t notice me.

At the bottom of the hill, thick cedar bushes made visibility extremely difficult. It resembled a Christmas tree lot with the thickest branches right at eye level. I lost track of exactly where the buck hid, but Frank could clearly see it still looking at him standing on the hilltop. I kept watching Frank through my binoculars to see where he was looking with his binoculars. As I approached where I thought the deer hid, I overshot it. Frank, still on the hilltop, waved his hands to indicate the direction I should go to find the deer still hunkered down under its bush. I reversed direction.

About 50 yards away, the deer bolted from his hideout and ran into a scrub cedar thicket. Out of breath from the long stalk and shaking with excitement, I chanced a quick standing shot before the deer loped away through heavy brush. I missed clearly, but the deer didn’t rocket away as a whitetail would. It disappeared behind some other cedar clumps.

I followed in the direction it ran and spotted him again. This time, he walked quartering away from right to left. If he continued in that direction, he would pass behind a thick cedar clump. As quickly as possible, I raced for the clump and created an ambush point behind a small cedar bush where I could see an opening in the thicket.

The author and his Texas mule deer.
The author and his Texas mule deer.

I could hear the deer walking across the rocky soil in the thicket. Invisible behind the small bush, I dropped to one knee and pointed the Winchester Model 70 toward the opening in the thicket. I didn’t wait long. About 60 yards away, the buck stepped into the small opening, turned broadside and stopped to look in my general direction. It never saw me. Moments later, a 130-grain, .270-caliber slug smacked into the deer’s shoulder. The bullet passed through both lungs and exited the other side, dropping the buck instantly in its tracks.

“When I saw that deer jump up and heard the first shot, I thought that was the end of it,” Cusimano said after climbing down the hill to join me at my first deer kill. “If that had been a whitetail, you would never have seen it again. I followed the buck the whole way with the binoculars, but lost sight of you. Then, I saw the deer fall and I thought it was just lying down and hiding again. Moments later, I heard the shot and said, ‘All right, Felsh, got his first deer!’”

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