Overall activity status: Big-buck expert Ronnie Parsons had this to report on the hunting around San Angelo in west-central Texas. “The rut is basically over here on the ranch. The big bucks have crawled under a rock and are hard to find. Hunters on our lease are focused now on taking does and cull bucks.”
In north Texas, bucks are in post-rut recovery mode. Watching a corn feeder or ag field is a good strategy for rut-weary deer.
Meanwhile, Temple Ranch manager Robert Sanders reports that rut action is still good in south Texas. Good action should prevail in the brush country for another two weeks as the rut winds down. (To view some of the monster bucks killed this season in the famed brush country, go to the Los Cazadores deer contest in Pearsall.
Fighting: Many bucks show signs of past fighting. I saw a large six-point a few days ago with basically no hair on its shoulders or back from fighting. Lots of bucks have broken tines. Another small buck that I saw up close had a swollen, closed right eye and a broken brow tine on that side, likely from sparring with another buck. Scars, lost eyes, broken jaws, ripped ears, broken legs, even death by an antler impalement are common consequences of serious battles associated with the chaos of the rut.
Chasing: On December 27 I watched a 6 ½- or 7 ½-year-old 10-point mule deer chase three does back and forth. They were literally in the yard at my ranch headquarters at 4 p.m. At one point the buck was only 30 yards from my truck. He was lip-curling, bird dogging, chasing, and grunting like a pig. What’s even more significant is that I had not seen that buck in six weeks and had assumed he’d been killed during the general season. But the peak rut has brought him out of whatever hole he was hiding in. In my experience, the mule deer rut in the Texas Panhandle peaks year-to-year from Christmas through the first week in January. Mule deer season is over in Texas except for ranches on the MLDP program (managed lands deer permit). Hunters on MLDP ranches can go after mule deer until January 25, 2015.
Estrous sign: One of those three muley does was twitching her tail often. She also arched her back randomly as she was walking away from the old buck. She was the one he was mostly focused on. That twitching, teasing tail motion is a sign that she is in heat or close to it. I’ve seen the same behavior in whitetails.
Scrapes: Walking a creek bottom, I found three basketball-sized scrapes on a trail paralleling the creek. All three were filed in with dead leaves and had not been freshened up in some time.
Rubs: I watched that same rutted-up, big-bodied 10-point mule deer rub his dark-colored rack on a tree in my yard as he was following does. Bucks, both mule deer and whitetails, often rub trees in the presence of a doe during the peak of the rut to impress her or intimidate smaller bucks standing nearby.
Daytime movement: Cold weather is expected this week in the northern half of the state. That should put bucks up on their feet searching for food. The later it gets in the season, especially in January, the more those former early-season vampires suddenly become daylight regulars.
X factor: I say this often: Texas is a state about so much more than just whitetails. Turkeys, hogs, and exotics add spice to any deer hunt. Especially in the central and southern part of the state, common exotics like axis deer, blackbuck, fallow deer, and aoudad can be seen while deer hunting. Those species can be hunted year-round.
The photo here shows Barry Heiskell with an old aoudad ram that I guided Barry to earlier this month. The ram’s longest horn was 31 inches. Be sure to ask the guide or rancher you hunt with about extra fees for or policies on taking an exotic.