I remember it like it was yesterday. I took a deep whiff of the paper — the ink still wet and pungent — stuffed it inside the envelope and walked to my mailbox. When I closed the box and wrestled the rusted red flag to its upright position, I felt an overwhelming surge of adrenaline. I was going. It was real. My deposit was in the mail.
The next four months crawled by. I shot my bow every single day, averaged 40 road-running miles a week and had all my gear ready. I wasn’t taking my first out-of-state bowhunt lightly. I wanted to walk onto that small Lone Star State ranch brimming with confidence, and I wanted the wild swine roaming the crumbly shale canyons and mesquite thickets to know that I had come to bring home the bacon. Literally.
To make a long story short, my father (who went as a non-hunter) and I went to Texas in search of wild hog and came home with one. The trip was long — 16 hours each way — but it was and will forever be a trip of a lifetime. I fell in love with Texas on that hunt, especially with the sheer vastness of the state and the liberal bag limits. In addition, it was this hunt that ignited my passion to continue to take my bowhunting adventures outside the boundaries of my home state.
I reflected on that hunt a lot as I stared out the window of my Denver to San Antonio flight. Twelve years had passed since that father-son Texas trip, and in that time I had taken my passion for chasing game with a stick and string to 13 different states and Canada. I felt blessed, relaxed and excited to get back to the state that had become like a second home to me over that 12-year span.
Hit The Ground Running
My good friend Mike Stroff picked me up at the airport. Stroff is the host of Savage Outdoors, and he owns Wac ‘Em Archery and SOE Hunts. It’s always a treat to get to spend some time with him, but we wasted little time with handshakes and hugs. We were running out of daylight and needed to get to the Canyon Ranch Headquarters so I could fling a few arrows and get my gear ready for the morning’s hunt.
On the way to the ranch, Stroff explained that I basically had the entire place to myself. I liked that. It was the end of November, and Stroff and his Wac ‘Em Archery partner David Langston wanted to give me plenty of room to roam. The purpose of my trip, after all, was to give Wac ‘Em’s newly designed two- and three-blade expandable broadheads a test run.
When we arrived at the ranch I was, first, thrilled to discover that out to 60 yards the Wac ‘Em 2-Blade and 3-Blade hit spot-on with my field points. Sixty yards was the farthest I shot that night. I’ve since shot the heads out to 100 yards and found zero variance. And second, I was pumped to see Uncle Randy. He has been Stroff’s right-hand man for years and has become a good friend of mine over the years. He is just a blast to have in camp. Though I wanted to, I didn’t get to bed early that first night. Between the anticipation of the morning’s hunt and listening to Randy spin tales, I didn’t get to see the inside of my eyelids until the wee hours of the morning.
Scrapes And Rubs Rule In Texas
I have no problem sitting over bait when it’s legal, and in the Lone Star State it’s not only legal, but it’s common practice. But when Stroff dropped me at my Nature Blind on the icy, drizzly morning of November 30, I didn’t see a feeder or a corn pile.
“This is a huge transition zone,” Stroff said. “There are a couple of big rub lines that run through the area, and it’s just torn up with scrapes. I don’t even run a feeder in here.”
I kept replaying Stroff’s words in my head as the low hum of the Suburban faded away and the silence of the Texas Hill Country returned. I knew the area had throngs of deer, but … no feeder?
Like a floating apparition, milky fog slithered into the oak- and cedar-choked thicket with dawn’s arrival. I couldn’t see far, but as I peered out the window of my hide, I spied a mesquite branch waving around like it was caught by hurricane-force winds. Only this particular hurricane was a respectable 8-point. He wasn’t a shooter, but it was a treat to get to watch the buck take out his frustrations. Minutes later, out of the soupy fog came a second buck, then a third. Those two bucks were traveling the rub line Stroff had pointed out in the dark. They pawed at a set of existing scrapes on their way in, sliming the overhanging branches with their musk. One was a nice 9-point with a busted brow, the other was a basket-racked eight. I was so focused on watching the three bucks that I failed to notice the pair standing 10 yards in front of my blind. It was the clank of a hoof on a rock followed by the clashing of horns that pulled my gaze from the trio.
The two bucks, both young 10-point up-and-comers, sparred in front of my blind for 10 minutes. It was amazing. I’d never witnessed this type of rutting action anywhere else in the whitetail woods. And it only got better. The clashing of horns drew in three other bucks, and one was a shooter. He had a distinct kicker off his left G2, his rack towered above the others and his body boasted multiple characteristics of an older deer. When he walked over the hill, the sparring stopped and all but two of the bucks bounded away.
He smashed a few trees on his way in and pawed out a few fresh scrapes in the saturated ground. The rain was still falling, but it was that light, misty rain all rut hunters dream of. Every buck on the Canyon Ranch was on his feet, and at least at that moment, I felt like they were all going to walk by my blind.
I pressed my Elite Impulse 31 into action. I’d ranged the trail multiple times (26 yards), and I held my 30-yard pin low on the buck’s heart. The release broke clean, and the Wac ‘Em 3-Blade Expandable-tipped Carbon Express Maxima BLU RZ zipped through the buck’s lungs and smashed into a rock after exiting. My heart was in my throat. The blood was pouring out, and the buck crashed in a small oak mott less than 100 yards away.
What a morning! I was treated to what has been, without question, my best rut hunt to date. The broadhead performed better than advertised. There was blood everywhere and, even after crashing into a rock, the head was still in decent shape.
We’re Not Done
The SOE crew was thrilled with my first-morning kill, but Stroff was especially pleased.
“Now we can do more broadhead testing,” Stroff said.
I figured he meant target testing or shooting a few hogs, but I was wrong.
“I want you to shoot a couple of axis does. That is, if you don’t mind,” Stroff said with a grin.
I was pumped. Not only could I continue hunting, but I’d never shot an axis and rumors that the animal makes fine table fare abound. That afternoon, I was sitting in a treestand over a well-used water source waiting on an axis.
The good news was that I saw 15 separate axis. The bad news — all of them were bucks. One was a mega giant, and I knew at that moment I would be begging Stroff to let me make a springtime return to chase these magnificent creatures. Their elk-like horns and white-spotted coats captivated me.
The following morning was another bust. I saw plenty of axis, as this ranch boasts one of the largest free-ranging herds in the world, but each had a different destination in mind. During my two sits I’d learned a lot about these creatures, mostly that they are extremely skittish. Their sense of smell rivals a whitetail. Their ears are keen, and their eyesight is incredible. Plus, there always seemed to be 10 or more of them together, which made things even more difficult.
I got my chance on the evening of the second day. Six does filtered by my stand in a single file. I drew, and three of them spooked. Typical axis behavior. The last three ladies increased their pace but stopped when I made a little mouth grunt. They were 22 yards away, and my 2-Blade Expandable deflated the lungs of the last-in-line doe.
A Bowhunting Challenge
After watching these beautiful creatures for two full days, I decided stalking an axis on the ground would be a great bowhunting challenge. Stroff and Randy told me it was possible but extremely difficult.
Stroff’s dad, Mike Senior — a highly decorated retired Marine Colonel and one of the most amazing and interesting men I’ve ever met — dropped me off in a pasture, gave me some basic directions, wished me luck and drove away. I felt confident going back to my western roots.
My Garmin GPS told me that I’d gone a mile when I spotted them – three velvet bucks bedded under the shade of a towering oak. Beyond their positon fed a group of 10 to 15 does, fawns and lesser bucks. I would have to fly under the radar of the bedded trio if I was to have any hope of letting an arrow fly.
I’d closed 70 yards on my belly. My Nikon rangefinder told me the bedded bucks were 80 yards away and the herd was 126. I had a long way to go. Like a snake, I kept slithering, letting passing clouds cover the sun and cast shadows before making any even semi-risky moves. I looked at my watch. I was two hours into the stalk.
I inched into a small oak mott 48 yards from the bedded bucks, slipped off my shoes and crawled to the edge of the mott. I was only 27 yards from the bedded bucks, but the herd was grazing around them and was going to come back out into the pasture between 50 and 70 yards from my positon. I couldn’t close any more distance. It was a miracle I got this far without tipping my hand. When the first doe walked into the clearing, I zapped her with my rangefinder — 56 yards on the button — drew back and made a perfect shot. The Wac ‘Em 3-Blade blew through her, and her death sprint was short. I was elated. In three days, I had plucked three animals from the Canyon Ranch.
I was close to two miles into the pasture and a little lost. I tried to recall Senior’s directions, removed the orange flagging from my pack and tagged my way out to a road where, thankfully, Stroff Senior was waiting.
It was an amazing trip full of adventure, and it brought back wonderful memories from my many hunts in the Lone Star State.
Bow: Elite Archery Impulse 31
Rest: QAD UltraRest HDX
Sight: Black Gold Ascent 3-Pin
Stabilizer: Trophy Ridge Static
Quiver: TightSpot 5-Arrow
Arrow: Carbon Express Maxima BLU RZ
Broadhead: Wac ‘Em Archery 2-Blade and 3-Blade Expandable
For questions or comments, drop Bauserman a line at email@example.com.