The Wide Nine
By Larry Weishuhn
The morning’s hunt had been “slow” by Chris Treiber’s description and standards. We had seen only nine bucks including two typical twelves and a couple of ten points. The rest were eight point or less. “Slow morning” in Chris’ description was a bit different than “slow morning” in my vocabulary. “Let’s head to camp, get some breakfast, then we’ll go see if we can either rattle up some bucks or try to call in one of those bobcats that’s been killing critters in the headquarters’ back yard.” Suggested Chris.
I nodded in agreement, then questioned, “Can we run by “The Wall”, I really want to hunt there sometime during our stay here on Sandstone.” “The Wall” is a natural upright rock outcropping which serves as a perfect natural hunting blind. It overlooks a food plot where the year before I had taken what I describe as my most handsome whitetail ever.
“We’ll take the long way. I also want to check a couple of spots I’ve previously seen a really wide racked buck. I think he’s a nine point with a short drop-tine.” Said Chris.
Chris had my interest at the statement of wide and especially when he mentioned drop-tine, no matter how long it was. I looked back at Al Schaklett then one our “DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” television show cameramen. He, like me was smiling.
We had driven a half a mile when we turned a corner to overlook a wide valley which leads to one of Sandstone Mountain Ranch’s numerous fish-filled lakes; to our left was a line of oak trees next to a gnarly outcropping of sandstone and granite; to our right a knoll covered with green briar and shoulder tall oaks. We stopped to glass the valley. From our right came a doe, running, her tail held at half mast! Right behind her followed a wide, tall antlered buck. I dropped my binoculars and madly tried to pull my .300 Win, Ruger FTW/SAAM Hunter out of the soft-case I had put it in while in the vehicle. Before I could clear the rifle, the doe and buck disappeared into the shoulder high oaks. I stepped away from the ATV and chambered a 200-grain ELD-X Hornady Precision Hunter round, one I learned while doing considerable shooting at the FTW Ranch’s many S.A.A.M. ranges my rifle dearly loved!
“Grab your shooting sticks. Follow him and see if you can get a shot. He’s definitely a mature deer! And wide!” instructed Chris. I did as he suggested, Al right behind me.
We cautiously edged to the oaks, fully expecting any time for the buck to run from cover. Nothing! I moved into the oaks. Still nothing! When we got to the outer edge on the other side, it became apparent the buck had dropped into a swale leading to the densely vegetated creek bottom. I sat down to glass the entire area. I quickly spotted three other bucks, two of were tending does, but they were not the big, wide buck I was after. The third was a nice though young ten point.
After twenty minutes of glassing, I headed back to where Chris waited. As I approached the vehicle, “I’m pretty sure that was the wide 9 point with the short drop.” Commented Chris as we crawled into the vehicle. “I think he’s a buck we should hunt for.” Before I could respond Chris continued, “I got a place in mind, somewhat of a corridor pinch point between what might be his bedding area, and a Tecomate food plot I think he’s feeding. There should be a place where we can set up a ground blind. We might catch him going from bedding to feeding.” Sounded like a great idea.
A few minutes later we drove to where Chris thought we might set up a ground blind, between some rocks with brush behind us. “If you put that Stalking Shield in front of you, I doubt anything will see you. The setting sun will be to our far right. The wind will be quartering in our faces.” We added several oak limbs to help hide the three of us.
“I want to add one other things for this afternoon’s hunt.” I told Chris as we were finishing our natural looking ground blind. “Years ago before Texas deer knew what corn was, we often used mistletoe as bait while trapping deer back when I worked for the State as a biologist. Let’s go get a bunch of mistletoe and spread it in front of our blind. I think that will stop deer that come by and might even attract some as well.”
Using my fully extended shooting sticks, I knocked down a bunch of mistletoe from the mesquite trees it was attached to. With a minimum of work, we filled the bed of the vehicle. Drove back to out blind and spread it over a fifty-yard area.
Back at camp over lunch I learned my hunting partner and co-host Blake Barnett, his guide Brian Dungan, and cameramen Cody Fite and Dustin Blankenship who film and edit our show had also seen several bucks. “One of the bucks I would have taken, had he given us a bit more time. He’s an extremely tall ten-point. Great looking deer!” said Blake.
Immediately after lunch we headed to our ground blind. It did not take long for the first deer to appear. Soon as deer smelled mistletoe they searched for it and ate what they found. I had left some intact, but also had crushed some leaves and scattered those over a large area.
That afternoon we had no less than twenty-five deer come by. Several times we had numerous in front of us, but also singles. Almost half of the deer we saw were bucks, including one that had he been symmetrical we would have shot! Unfortunately, he had, had an injury to his developing antler and it was misshapen. I strongly suspected he would come back looking differently next antler cycle. He was one to look for in the future. We also saw some truly outstanding young bucks, ones as I frequently describe as “bucks for which you wish your life away”! Unfortunately, the wide nine did not show.
Back at camp as Blake and I were preparing to do an evening telephone interview for a local radio show, Chris said, “Bobcats have just about killed all the smaller animals we have in the enclosure next to headquarters. Brian and I are going to try to call up what we can.”
“Surely would love to go with you,” I replied, “but this is the only night the radio show host can record.”
“Tell you what…how about you and Blake come back in late January or early February and we’ll try calling again. I usually hunt predators during winter when they respond reasonably well, to remove them before we start having fawns.” Chris went on to explain, “We’ve had a tremendous increase in the bobcat population lately. Guess with the great rains we’ve had, and a few other things, kitten survival rates has been extremely high. Don’t want to get rid of all of them, but we need to control their numbers just like we do with the deer on the property.”
We had just finished our radio interview when Chris returned with a huge bobcat tom. “Got this one! We had two other bobcats come in at a run, normally like you’d expect a coyote to do. Unfortunately, they got behind some underbrush and did not again come out where we could see them. Can hardly believe the number of bobcats we have in this area!”
Chris, Al and I left camp way before the easterly sky turned gray. I wanted to scatter more mistletoe, I had knocked out of a couple of trees in the dark on our way back to camp the night before, in front of our ground blind. Based on how the deer ate it the afternoon before I suspected there would be little if any left for the morning hunt.
In near darkness, we had three bucks feeding on our left before we could really see how big they were. As dark gray grudgingly gave way to lighter shades more deer appeared, bucks and does. Full light there were no less than twelve deer in front of us. Thankfully the wind had not changed directions overnight.
A couple of sizeable buck were in underbrush beyond the deer closest to us and out in the open. But I could not fully discern their antlers. One started walking our way. He was a really nice buck, but probably a four-year old. On Sandstone they strive to take buck five years old and older.
The second buck started moving toward the mistletoe. Soon as I as could see his antlers, I knew it was him, the wide nine. He had five points on his left and and on his right, four, plus a short drop-tine. I guessed he might be as wide as 25-inches outside. Body confirmation confirmed him to be a mature buck.
Chris whispered from my left, “It’s him…” Followed almost immediately by “Don’t move…buck coming close from left!”
I dared not move, but tried to keep an eye on “my” buck, and, watch for the buck coming from the left. He was indeed close, less than ten feet away. Thankfully the wind was in our favor and the buck was concentrating on something to our far right. And, we were well hidden. The extremely nice eight-point strode past us. I did my best not to breathe an audible sigh of relief. The wide nine was behind a couple of deer preventing a clear shot. It seemed to take an hour before the deer in front of the one I wanted to shoot moved so I could clearly see the buck’s vitals through my Trijicon scope. I took a deep breath, let it all out, with the crosshairs planted solidly on the buck’s vitals then gently pulled the trigger. No sooner had I shot, without taking my eye away from the scope or losing the deer in the scope, I bolted in a fresh round. I watched him fall in my scope within five steps. I stayed on target until I was certain he would not be getting up.
A few moments later I kneeled at the wide nine’ point’s side, said a prayer of thanks and reached for his antlers. He indeed was easily twenty-five inches wide, outside. And, he did have a short drop. I could see where he had broken a short drop on the other side as well. I was thrilled! As I admired my buck, I also remembered how absolutely delicious venison from Sandstone Mountain Ranch was. I generally share venison from the deer I take with my college attending grandkids, but with those from Sandstone Mountain, I might be a bit stingy than usual.
After photos we took my deer to the ranch’s cooler. There we met Blake, Brian and crew. As we were admiring my buck, Brian said, “Larry, that’s a truly fine buck, but we’re going to call him your “management” buck. We want you to come back and try for a bigger one! Think you can do so? Since we’re on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Managed Land Deer Permit (MLDP), our hunting season continues on through February.”
I do not think I ever said “YES!!” as fast as I did then! Remind me next time we cut each others’ trails to tell you about the other buck I shot on Sandstone Mountain Ranch nearly a month later.
Photos - Credit Larry Weishuhn Outdoors