In field judging game, Jack O’Connor is often quoted: “The big ones always look big!” That quote is found at least in one place on page 326 in Hunting Big Game in North America. The December 1973 Petersen’s Hunting magazine contained an article titled “The Big Ones Look Big”.
I will remind myself of that many times on future hunts!
It was Friday, our last day to hunt. At 3:30 PM, I decided that the “Flaco Nueve” would be shot on sight. At 4:40, he stepped out of the brush, at about 125 yards, right where I had taken his picture some 5 hours earlier. I only put the binoculars on him long enough to ascertain that he had not broken off any points in the last 5 hours. Then I got my rifle into position with the steadiest rest I could in that old tripod.
This hunt all got started last July when I visited with Judge Joe Clayton in Tyler, Texas. I had gone to pick a supply of his new printing of the Ruger No.1 book. While admiring several of his whitetail mounts taken in South Texas and Mexico, the discussion naturally turned to deer hunting. Joe mentioned he had scheduled a Mexico hunt the first 5 days of January, 2008 and there might still be an opening.. I knew of the rains that nearly all of Texas received in the first 7 months of the year; I knew that rainfall is highly correlated to the number of B&C quality bucks taken in that year. It had to be a super year for taking big bucks in South Texas and Mexico. In anticipation, I had entered the Los Cazadores Big Buck Contest in Pearsall in December. I was returning from a trip to the Chaparral WMA. I also signed up for the Los Cuernos de Tejas Contest at Carrizo Springs.
I was to meet Joe at the Circle V Ranch Center at 10:00 AM. I left home at 3:30 and was in Carrizo just after 8 o’clock. The McDonalds looked good. We left Carrizo Springs at 10:30 AM Monday (New Years Eve) morning to drive to the Colombia International Bridge to cross into Mexico. There were 6 in our group; Joe and myself, Howard Britain and Chris Petty, also of Tyler; Jim Schmidt of Granbury, and Howard’s Brother-in-law, Tim Weedo of Florida. We were to meet our Outfitter, Dr. George Vogt of the Laredo Hunt Club at the Bridge-USA side. All paper work was in order on our Gun Permits and Hunting Licenses. We were supposed to just drive right over, have our Gun Permits validated for entry into Mexico, go to the Ranch (about an hour from the Bridge) and be hunting by 3: PM. Well, it didn’t go quite that way- Guess What?? New Years Eve was a Holiday and no one was there to check the guns in! It was known that Christmas Day and New Years Day were Holidays, but take note-New Years Eve is not a good day for entering Mexico to hunt with your own rifle. We made a U turn and headed to Laredo and left the rifles and ammunition with a friend of Georges. Since it was expected to be sometime on Wednesday, January 2, before we could cross the rifles, on arrival at the Ranch our first order of business was to scrounge up loaners and shoot them. This was a little more time consuming than would normally be the case as we were not expected to show up at the Ranch without our rifles!
Judge Clayton was the first to get a rifle; a .300 Win. Mag. It took 18 rounds to get it on the paper and sighted in well enough to go hunting. The remainder of the rifles turned out to be an odd assortment; a .30-06, a .270, a 7mm Rem. Mag, and a couple of .243s.
Since Joe had such difficulty getting on paper, we moved the paper plate targets to 50 yards. Several rifles were “dead on”; mine was a Ruger Ultralight in .243 which shot an inch to the right. One shot and that was good enough! Several other rifles took several shots before the shooters were confident enough to take them to the stands. We finally were off; I was in my tripod at exactly Sunset that first afternoon. Even so, I saw a couple of does with fawns and was anxious to return the next day.
Returning to the main house, we all had a great dinner and were excited and optimistic that we might have our rifles the next day-New Years. George had contacted an Angadi representative, who was at the camp to pick up the Permit paperwork. He knew the General in charge; could get the paperwork processed and we would have the rifles to us on Tuesday. Joe and I went out Tuesday morning with Horacio, the Head Guide. I had deer all around me from daylight on! Three were bucks; a spike, a small 8 point and a really old buck with broken and palmated antlers; quite unusual. Horacio picked me up at 10:30 AM and we were anxious to see what Joe had shot at 7:15 AM. Seems as Joe was testing his rifle on a coyote! Prior to shooting light and trying to get settled in the tripod, the rifle had slipped out and went bum
pity-bump down the ladder. I didn’t laugh, as several years ago, I managed to knock a rifle out of a stand and broke the stock. It was a really nice No. 1, too! Anyway, no coyote, but Joe was satisfied the stainless laminate Model 70 was still good to go. That afternoon, we both went to a different stands. I had 2 smaller 8 points around all afternoon, along with several does and fawns. No rifles on Tuesday. Wednesday morning, we both returned to the same tripods as Tuesday morning.
Joe shot again at 7:10 AM! Again deer were everywhere; does, fawns and a couple of small bucks. At 8:15AM, off to my right, the biggest buck I had seen so far stepped out of the brush. He looked like a black Angus bull! After a few minutes of him studying my tripod, he joined the other deer. I put the binoculars on this buck and started to size him up. He was not wide, about 18”; he had a huge body. His right antler was a perfect 5 and very heavy; something was quite wrong with his left! There were 4 points; G-2 and G-3 were noticeably shorter than the right side and the main beam was considerably shorter and differently shaped. I decided he was not what I was looking for this morning! While he was off in the brush after a doe, I got my camera out and took some pictures of him when he returned a few minutes later. He had scrapes and scars on both sides of his neck and shoulders.
At 10:30 Horacio picked me up and we went to get Joe. George and Horacio had told us this pasture had not been hunted in 7 years and there were some good bucks here. I was sure Joe had nailed one! Joe shot the freak 9 point I had seen the previous day! Joe’s explanation was that he likes “kinky horned” bucks, has quite a collection of them and this one fit the bill. Also, it was just 32 yards away and he was confident in that .300 Win Mag. We returned to the Ranch House for lunch; today was the day we were expecting our rifles. After lunch, word from the Guides was that the rifles would be delivered at 2:00 PM.
Then it was 3:00 PM- no rifles; we decided to go back out for the afternoon. Also, we went to a different pasture than we had been to before. Joe had hunted this pasture the previous year and was very optimistic about it. Had deer all around me all afternoon; a small 10 point; a really good 8 point, fairly heavy, long tines and 20” wide. I thought him to be a 125-130 class buck. There were does everywhere and a few smaller bucks. Joe had a very nice 9 point at his stand. It was a long dusty ride back to the Ranch House. Dinner was ready, AND our rifles had finally made it across! Tim Weedo was interested in the big 9 point Joe had seen that evening, so that is where he went on Thursday morning. Now that I felt adequately armed, I intended to go back to the tripod I had hunted the first two mornings and stay all day.
It had been my plan to stay out all day each day, but with my doubts about that Ruger M77 Ultralight in .243, I just could not muster up the determination. It was 24 degrees F Thursday morning when I got out of the truck, the coldest morning of our hunt. I eagerly awaited shooting light! This tripod was exactly like one I have on our Ranch; a 10’ Strongbuilt. It was set on a fence line that separated 2 pastures. There was a ranch road running along side the fence on both sides. I could see to my right and left much farther than I was capable of shooting; it was probably 600 yards to half a mile. I set facing the North looking up a very old sendero that I could see through the brush to make a 200 yard shot. A light wind was out of the North.
I was looking for the bruiser that had beat up on the big-bodied 9 point. What I started seeing was cows! A bunch of cows, the whole herd! They were in the pasture behind me, coming down the road from my left. About 4 cows with calves had gotten through the fence and were coming down the road on my side of the fence. Now my experience with deer and cattle on our own ranch is that while deer are wary of the cows, they do not seem to be afraid of them and sometimes will feed along in close proximity. These Mexico deer were very alert to the cattle and would not stay anywhere near them! So as the herd (about 40-50) came down the road behind me and in front of me, the deer vamoosed! I stayed very still during all this as I thought the cows were going to a water trough way back to my right. As soon as they passed by and went on to water, I should start seeing deer again. Well, they didn’t pass on by; they stopped in an opening behind me and started grazing on grass. This went on from 7:00AM(shooting light) until 10:00 AM. I saw only a few does at a distance and only the little spike buck from two days earlier. Needless to say, when Horacio came by at 10:30 to check on me, I was in no mental state to stay here the rest of the day.
We picked up Joe and went to Lunch. There was some excitement at the Ranch House, as Tim had shot the big 9 point Joe had seen the previous afternoon. We took pictures, had lunch and got ready to go back out to a new pasture. This pasture was way out to the far back Southeast corner of the Ranch. We went through 11 gates! It took about 45 minutes driving(and gate opening) to get there. There was about 25,000 acres in el Rancho San Antonio, divided up into about 20 pastures. Horacio told me that about 500 head of cattle were on the entire ranch. This tripod was also a 10’ Strongbuilt; Horacio told me it was his favorite! I was out in a more open pasture and not on a road or fence line. The seat was broken and this stand had not been hunted this year. We checked on replacing the seat, but that was not possible with the tools we had. Actually, the seat was not broken; it was just a little loose. I got on it and could tell that it was not a problem. It wiggled a bit when you rotated the chair, but with setup presented, there was never a need to move the chair.
Horacio told me there was a really big 10 point(maybe 160 class) here and a skinny 9 point(the flaco nueve). I should mention here that all my communication with Horacio was in Spanish, as he spoke very little English. I had spent 3 years working in Monterrey, Mexico from 2000-2003, but had not really picked up that much conversational Spanish. I often joked that I did well in Restaurants and Banks; I knew the food and the numbers! I guess my Spanish was adequate for deer hunting too as you only need to know a few words. Words like the numbers from 8 up to however many points you want to say; that venado is buck, venada is doe and muy grande, muy ancho, muy alto and muy hueso is big buck, very wide, very tall and very heavy! Points is puntas and now you can go deer hunting in Mexico.
This tripod was setup in the most picture perfect location that one could imagine for hunting deer. I have often been guilty of hunting the “Pretty Places”; a setup where deer should just want to be because it was picture perfect! This was it! Only drawback was that the setting sun went down very nearly in your face.
I could handle that for a 160 class 10 point. Deer were everywhere; several bucks and a lot of does. The best buck that came in was about a 120 class 8 point. Also, there were no cows! I was ready to return the next day and stay all day. With the sun coming up at my back, Friday morning had to be the morning. Temperature was about 40 degrees when I got out of the truck; Horacio was going to check on me at 10:00 and then come back at dark. At shooting light deer were everywhere. My shooting lanes were straight ahead and to my right.
There were too many bucks to count, but I think there were about 10. They were all very young 8 pointers and it was hard to tell them apart and get a count. Does were everywhere also and these bucks were chasing them around, sparring with each other, and two of them actually squared off for just one serious clash. The lesser one ran off with the more aggressive buck hot after him. At 9:20 AM, way back to my right, I picked up new buck coming in. With the binoculars on him, it was clear he was 9 points, very wide, nice tine length, but not very much mass. It was obvious this was the Flaco Nueve and aptly named! I made no move for my rifle, but continued to concentrate on him with my binoculars. I tried to estimate what he would score. This was a fun process, but as I was later to learn- I am not very good at it! I decided he had a 20” spread, gave him 50” (25” each) for his main beams, 28” for mass (14” per side) and 50” for the 7 tines. Well, that is easy math-148”! Not a bad 9 pointer! At 10:00 I could hear Horacio’s truck coming to check on me. Why not just go ahead and shoot him, load him up, go and be done. I got my rifle up, was on him, slipped the safety off. He was facing me at about 100 yards; I didn’t really want to shoot him head on. As soon as he turns, I will shoot. Well, you have seen this picture show before- when he turned, he was gone. He never saw me, but he heard the truck too. Horacio only stayed a few minutes. He told me he would return to the area in the afternoon when he brought Joe back and would come if he heard me shoot. He had no more than left and deer were back in sight. At 11:00 the Flaco Nueve returned for about and hour. Since I was committed to the rest of the day, all I did was take his picture.
Except for about a 5 minute period, deer were in sight all day. Several interesting anecdotes of the day I will relate here. These tripods were covered in the black weed barrier that my wife uses in her garden. It is a very tough material, but the constant wind of the area generally had these covers torn so that they were constantly blowing in the wind. The deer paid no more attention to the tripod when I was in them, since they were apparently used to the constant movement on them. Secondly, the wind blew from my left to right all day and at no time did any of the deer on my right seem to have awareness of my presence. I know it is contrary to everything you read, but at 10:00 when Horacio came, I got down out of the tripod, walked about 40 yards directly behind it and relieved myself. Well, at about 2:45 PM , an 8 point with 2 broken tines decided he would bed down, facing me, about 30 yards directly in front of the tripod. He was still there at 3:30. I knew I had to get down once more or I would never make it to 6:00PM. I could just envision the big 10 coming out about 5:30 and me about to pee in my pants! So I got down, walked the 40 yards behind the tripod, did my business and returned. Just as I was at the top of the ladder, I managed to bump my rifle and nearly knocked it out of the tripod! These tripods are not that easy for old, fat and clumsies like me to get into! I caught the rifle and made just the slightest noise. It must have woke up the 8 point, as he got up, and walked off stiff-legged to my right. He was not spooked, never looked at the tripod and never saw me. Even though I had brought a lunch and plenty of snacks, there was never a time to eat. I drank one small bottle of water. At about 4:00 the deer started moving; the big 8 point from the previous afternoon came out. I had already decided that the skinny 9 would be shot this afternoon if he came back. I was holding out for the big 10, but I did not want to go home without a story to tell. At 4:40, there he was; he stepped out of the brush right where he had disappeared 5 hours earlier. At the shot, my .25-06 sounded nearly like it was a squib round. It just wasn’t very loud. I could see he was hit; watched him run out of sight through the scope, and then just set there for a few minutes, reflecting. I knew Horacio would be here shortly, as a couple of hours earlier I had seen his truck on a distant road through my binoculars. I gathered my gear and walked over to find him. He had fell just out of my sight, having ran not more than 20 yards. Horacio arrived with 2 of the Ranch vaqueros. We took a few pictures, loaded him up, went back to the road and waited on dark-thirty. Next day, Joe and I were leaving to go home.
Postscript 2: Bringing the antlers and cape back is all you can cross with. The cape must have been frozen for 48 hours. There are other ways; check out **. Horacio had caped Joe’s “kinky horned” buck and the cape was frozen. Joe did not intend to use it and since my buck had been shot less than 16 hours earlier, I used Joe’s cape.
Postscript 3: My .25-06 Ruger No.1 was one of the Special Distributor’s Exclusives made in late 2006. There were less than 200 made with the 24” lightweight barrels, Alex Henry forearm and no sights. Less than 50 were stocked in Circassian walnut. I continue to be impressed with the shooting and handling qualities of this rifle. I had first mounted a Leupold VXII 2×7 on it for the Texas Deer Season and hunting on our Ranch. For this trip to Mexico, I mounted a VXIII 3.5x10x50. By next hunting season I hope to have a VXIII 2.5×8 matte with the B&C reticule mounted on it. I used Federal Premiums loaded with the Barnes 100 grain TSX on the 2 bucks taken this year. Both ran 20 yards; both had very small entrance and exit holes; very extensive internal damage, but there was no visible blood trail on either. I didn’t have to look for one, because each was easily found in the open. I am planning on using this same bullet next year, but will be watching its performance very closely. Many hunters more experienced than I with the Barnes TSX bullets report the game just don’t go far enough ( if out of their tracks) to need to have to trail!
Postscript 4: This is the second time I have ended up shooting a buck that I had previously passed over. I am resolved that this will be the last time. With regard to my 148” field estimate, other than spread, I missed the other 3 measurements rather badly.
Spread was 20.75 versus 20 estimate; main beams were 44.5 vs. 50; mass was 24.5 vs. 28 and tines were 42.5 vs. 50 making for a 132” score. He was skinny!
In field judging game, Jack O’Connor is often quoted: “The big ones always look big”!
That quote is found at least in one place on page 326 in Hunting Big Game in North America. I will remind myself of that many times on future hunts!