Having deer around your stand not only helps pass the time, it gives you an advantage. You don’t have to constantly scan your surroundings for signs of approaching deer. Simply watch the ones in front of you, because they’ll see and hear other deer long before you will. I was doing just that, sitting in a Texas ground blind when I picked up a clue.
First, an old doe perked her head up. Something coming, I thought. Her action prompted similar reactions from other does, who all stared into the thick mesquite toward my left. It was the bucks, however, that got my attention.
They looked up, too, as they had every time a new deer approached the growing assembly. This time, however, instead of going back to feeding, they continued to stare into the brush. Hmm; something interesting perhaps? Then the larger of the two bucks did something that set my heart to pounding. First, he bristled up his hair, then took one step toward the approaching, but still unseen deer. “Buck,” I whispered to my guide, Derrick.
A few seconds later, my educated guess was confirmed when a magnificent 10-pointer strolled into the open. He was mature and in his prime, with a thick, swollen neck. Four long tines jutted up from each beam in near perfect symmetry. It was the buck of every hunter’s dreams, the product of outstanding genes, ample nutrition and effective management.
I dared not make eye contact with my guide for fear of looking foolishly naive. My eyes would have said, “Can I? Can I please shoot?” But I already knew the answer. “No. That deer is too big.” It was a bittersweet, unique predicament, at once both exhilarating and frustrating.
Welcome To Bar None
I was hunting at Bar None in Poth, Texas, a 5,000-acre ranch intensively managed for trophy-class whitetails. It’s the kind of place most hunters, myself included, could never afford to hunt—ordinarily—but this was no ordinary hunt.
While Bar None’s many 140- to 170-class bucks were hands-off to me and my companions, we’d all get a crack at bucks that most any bowhunter (and a good many gun hunters) would be more than happy to hang on their walls, and at a fraction of the cost to hunt one of the many wallhangers that roam the ranch. Our guides called our target animals “management bucks,” yet we considered them trophies.
Like so many Texas ranches, Bar None is managed for big-racked whitetails. That requires allowing young bucks to reach maturity and trying to balance the age and sex ratio of the deer herd. It also means providing proper nutrition and removing the competition, which includes both does and management bucks.
Management bucks were once little more than a drain on a ranch’s resources, because they compete with trophy bucks for food and for breeding privileges, passing on what some managers might consider inferior antler genes. They’re also extra mouths to feed that formerly provided little if any return for the manager’s investment. Removing them required even more resources in the way of time and manpower.
Then somebody figured out how to make it a win-win situation. By selling management hunts, ranch managers can reduce un-wanted bucks, cover the expenses and often see a profit. Meanwhile, hunters can experience a challenging pursuit for a respectable deer at a fraction of the cost of a trophy buck hunt. That all sounded ideal to me.
The first 2 days of the Bar None hunt were exhilaratingly frustrating. We’d see dozens of deer during each morning and afternoon hunt, including some jaw-dropping, eye-popping specimens, yet the right buck failed to materialize. That proved a mixed blessing. It gave me ample time to watch deer at close range and study their behavior. This, in turn, taught me to be a lot calmer when in the presence of whitetails, even on later hunts. And after 2 days, it didn’t take long before the sight of a trophy whitetail buck barely quickened my pulse. That all changed, however, with one word from my guide.
It was the third morning out, and only an hour before pick-up time. We had deer in front of us nearly all morning, just none in the slot—all were either too small or too big. Still, there was this one that I’d been paying extra attention to for about 20 minutes. But my guide hadn’t given me the green light, and I was too proud to ask.
Then he said it: “That one there is a good management buck. You can shoot him.” His words were so nonchalant I almost wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly. “Say what?” I said to myself. “Surely he doesn’t mean that one,” I thought, fighting to conceal the sudden rush of adrenaline and giddiness. “Which one?” I asked, my voice cracking like a teenager.
That’s when things got interesting. I’d watched this deer for 20 minutes with relative indifference. Suddenly, now that he was prey, my whole mood changed. I was predator, and I was every bit as excited as if the animal would qualify for the Boone and Crockett Club.
The buck seemed to sense the change, too. Previously, he’d stood within bow range, offering several good shots. Now, he remained close by, but acted tenser, and refused to pose for a shot. I was beginning to come unraveled.
Finally, another buck broke the stalemate. Distracted by a sweet-smelling doe, the interloper came too close to my intended target. The larger buck made a quick lunge, and in so doing, offered me a chance to draw. He then obliged by pausing broadside at 22 yards. I centered on the buck’s chest and sent an arrow on its way.
The shot was good and after the customary 30-minute wait, Derrick and I easily followed the scarlet trail to my downed trophy. The deer’s gray muzzle belied his old age, and his sweeping rack carried no brow tines—an ideal management buck.
Bargain Hunt Bonuses
The hunt was winding down, but it wasn’t over yet. Opportunities vary from ranch to ranch, but few Texas hunts are one-deer affairs. Does are almost as big a drain on the resources as management bucks, and outfitters will usually include at least one in your hunt package. Some will even let you take a cull buck for a small additional fee. Many outfitters will throw in a hog or javelina, sometimes both, as well.
The following morning I set out to take my first javelina. I was set up in a ground blind—alone this time—overlooking a trail they frequently used. Though I was treated to plenty of deer sightings, the little wild Southwestern javelina had failed to show as pick-up time neared.
Then I heard a noise in the brush, followed by gray, ghostly shadow. Before I could pick up my bow, two little “J-pigs” burst into the open, their funnel-shaped noses scanning the ground for orts and morsels. Fortunately, a javelina is not known for its eyesight. Though they were already in bow range, I was able to draw and aim without being detected. A direct hit concluded another successful morning’s hunt.
I still had one more chore to tend to. Feral hogs are a bit like management bucks: They’re a tremendous drain on resources and can be quite destructive to the habitat. However, they also provide for some great hunting, and if you get a good one they can provide fine tablefare. I was more than willing to assist a neighboring rancher rid his place of such a blight.
The hunt proceeded in what was becoming a common scenario—no sign of intended quarry as pick-up time neared. And then, like their little wild cousins, the big hams burst onto the scene. Fortunately, I heard the snorts, grunts and footsteps in time to grab my bow and get set. The nearest one, a big reddish-brown sow, paused in my shooting lane for a fatally long instant. My arrow pierced her lungs and she expired 20 yards later.
I had a great hunt, so much so that I returned the following year and took a management buck, a doe and a javelina (the hogs never showed). I’ve also enjoyed several other management buck hunts in other locations.
All things considered, a hunt for a management buck is a great deal. Just being able to hunt in a place like Texas is a thrill. You get to see some genuine trophy deer, and the thrill of hunting and shooting a management buck is no less exciting than if it were one of the big boys. If conditions are right, you can even bag a little extra venison and load up on pork. And best of all, you can do it at bargain-basement prices.