After you’ve been kicking around in the outdoors hunting and fishing as long as I have, it’s pretty exciting to partake of an entirely new outdoor experience. This past week, during the peak of the cold weather pushed down by the first Arctic blast of the season, I was deer hunting up on the Brazos River on the Dale River Ranch, using my .45-caliber Airforce Airguns Texan air rifle.
This ranch offers affordable day hunts where hunters pay a fee for the day’s use of the ranch ($250) and additional modest fee for buck ($500 up to 140 Boone/Crockett) or doe ($250) harvested. My friend Randy Douglas manages the ranch and keeps feeders going year around to assure there is plenty of game to hunt. Whitetail deer, hogs, turkey and even free ranging red deer roam the rugged hills. Back in the late 1800s many of the cattle drives headed by Oliver Loving and Charlie Goodnight originated here. As I set in a comfortable blind situated about a half mile from the banks of the Brazos, I wondered how the cowboys of that era every managed to gather those wild cattle from the thick cover along the river.
My hunt took place during the middle of the week and I headquartered in a camper situated a couple miles from the nearest human. Randy was there with me during the day scouting and taking care of the many duties on the ranch while I was hunting but at night, It was just me out there listening to the howls of the coyotes, eating simple camp food and enjoying every minute of being entirely on my own. I love to share camps with my friends but occasionally it’s good to go solo, it’s good for the soul as my Dad used to say.
During my first afternoon ‘set’ on stand I had a mature 6-pointer walk within 30 yards, his nose to the ground, obviously on the trail of a doe that had crossed earlier. I am not a counter of points or one who worries about the BC score of a buck when I’m hunting. Actually, I prefer to take what some deer hunters would consider management bucks. This old boy, obviously still in his prime as far as antler development goes, had a high rack and a spread of about 20 inches. But this early into the hunt, I decided to wait and see what I might see. My patience was later rewarded by a great buck but more on that in a bit.
The rut is going strong right now in many areas of the state and up in Palo Pinto County where I was hunting, I expect it to peak out within the next few days. I hunted from stands during morning and afternoon and during the day Randy and I did a bit of antler rattling and spot and stalk hunting. Just after noon, we spotted what I believe to be the biggest buck I’ve encountered in this part of the state. He was a 10-pointer, with a high and wide rack. He was hot on the trail of a doe and the doe passed by a grove of sumac bushed and he held up just on the opposite side. He was about 70 yards out, well within the effective range of my .45-caliber Texan but there were a few sumac limbs in the way when I centered the crosshairs on his chest. I just couldn’t gamble on such a shot. There is a good chance the 240-grain hollow point air gun bullet by Nielsen Specialty Ammo would have found it’s mark but I only take high percentage shots that I feel I can make, we owe that to the game we hunt. The big buck left the cover of the sumacs on a trot and never slowed down. He was one of those bucks you don’t soon forget!
As is so often the case when hunting, I was down to my last afternoon hunt and I had yet to harvest a buck. I’d had a great opportunity early own and seen several bucks that would fill the bill but I was hunting on an excellent ranch with the opportunity to harvest a fine buck and I was holding out. Then I noticed movement on the far right side of the blind. It was getting late and I had only a few minutes of legal shooting light left. A doe came trotting out of cover and paused an instant, looking over her shoulder. When hunting during the rut, a skittish doe is usually a good sign that she has a buck hot on her trail. Just as the doe walked behind a cedar tree, a big bodies and heavily antlered buck appeared along the trail she was following. It’s didn’t take but a second for me to flip the safety off my Texan air rifle and get the crosshairs centered on the crease of the buck’s shoulder. He was only about 55 yards out and standing broadside. Bucks on the trail of a doe during the rut usually don’t remain stationary long and I knew I needed to get this one shot right away. The 240 grain Nielsen hollow point found its mark and no tracking was needed. I watched the buck go down right there.
Ten years ago if someone told me that I would be hunting deer with a rifle powered by air, I would never have believed them. I have taken many wild hogs and several exotics including an aoudad with air rifles during the past 7 years. But this was my first whitetail to harvest with an air rifle and one of the top three whitetails I’ve taken over a deer-hunting career that spans over a half-century.
To learn more about hunting opportunities on The Dale River Ranch, visit www.daleriverranch.com or call ranch manager Randy Douglas at 214-797-2217. Contact Luke via his website www.catfishradio.com.