Deer Season '03 Grande Finale!

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Realtree.com Online Hunting Journal #16A

Entry Title: Deer Season ’03 Finale!

By David Blanton & John Tate Compiled By Nino Bosaz

Hunter’s Names: David Blanton with cameraman Nick Mundt; David Morris with cameraman John Tate.

Game Hunting: South Texas Whitetails

Where Hunting: El Cazador (The Hunter) Ranch in South Texas.

Hunting Method: Blanton hunted with the Thompson Center Encore muzzleloader. Tate and Morris killed their bucks with Morris’ McWhorter, custom-made .300 Weatherby Magnum.

Phase of Season: Deer were really starting to feel antsy. The rut really knocking on the proverbial door and the bucks were really active.

Dates Hunted: Arrived December 13th, started hunting on the 14th through the 19th.

Weather Conditions: Temperatures were perfect. It was in the mid-40s just before daylight, and the temperatures peaked in the mid-60s during the day. However, with the full moon not popping until the end of the month, we found out that the rut was a little behind schedule. The rutting activity that we normally would see at this time of the year was not happening. David Morris attributed this lack of stronger activity to the moon phase. We listen to David Morris, because he is absolutely a walking encyclopedia when it comes to deer movement. What that man knows is just incredible! Just to go down there and spend four or five days with him is like going to the best seminar you could ever imagine.

Stand Locations: Tecomate seeded food plot stands and ground blinds. Tripods located in semi-open mesquite. For more information on the Tecomate Seed Company, please visit its website @ www.Tecomate.com

Trophy Notes:
Blanton’s Buck: Grossed 159 inches. Had a split G-2 and a full eight-inch drop tine. Live weight was 230 pounds.

Morris’ Buck: The first net Boone & Crockett Club buck every videoed by Team Realtree. The buck grossed 178 typical inches and netted 172. A main-frame 12-pointer, 5 years old.

Tate’s Buck: Main-frame eight-point in the 140s, 7 years old.

David Blanton’s Hunt:

This would be my final hunt for the year. We were headed down to one of my all-time favorite places to hunt—the El Cazador Ranch, in south Texas. The El Cazador Ranch is owned by David Morris. Morris also owns the Tecomate Seed Company. The El Cazador is the private ranch where David let his fence down. It is simply the most incredible spot because of the year-round food plot systems that Tecomate has pioneered over the last 15 years. It’s all culminated here on the El Cazador. I’ve never seen such lush, nutritional food plots in all of North America, much less South Texas where they get very little rain. They farm it right and they take their business very seriously!

The El Cazador borders the Tecomate Ranch, which by now everybody has heard about. People may remember that last year on the last day of the hunt, I took a really nice buck there. We were hunting for on this particular week was 6-year-old bucks or older. David has found out that when you supply these deer with incredible year-round nutrition, (lab-lab through spring and summer, and Max Attract and Monster Mix in the fall and winter) they don’t peak antler-wise until 6 to 7 years old. So we were hunting for some really old and mature deer.

The one particular deer that we started hunting, Morris and company had seen once. This was the week before we arrived at camp. It was a clean 10-pointer that we figured would go in the high 140s. But it was just a bull of a deer that would probably go some 230 pounds. Heck, they said he looked almost like a mule deer. Big in the neck and very old looking—a perfect deer to take out of the breeding cycle.

Nick and I started hunting a food plot we named The Ebony. On the first evening we went in there to build a ground blind. The wind was decent, but not perfect. You could say we were cheating the wind. We settled in, and on that very first evening we caught a glimpse of the buck. He came out on the far side of the plot—maybe 150 yards away. I was hunting with my Thompson Center Encore muzzleloader and did get ready for a shot. But the buck did not hang around for very long. He just fed for a minute and took off! Nick and I looked over the footage back at camp and realized that the deer bolted because he heard a nearby buck brawl going on. The buck through its head up and bolted over the hill.

We continued to hunt the same plot after that brief encounter with the buck—morning and evening. The way Morris has his plots situated, hunters can slip into ground blinds at any time during the day without spooking deer as long as you have a decent wind. We didn’t see the buck again for another two or three days. We did see a lot of deer, but mostly in the 3 to 4-year range. These were all great looking young bucks with lots of potential, but we knew that they were not what Morris wanted us to shoot.

Finally, when we started running out of time, Morris told us of another deer he’d been seeing on the back of the ranch near the Savanna food plot. He’d seen the buck only a couple of times and the buck seemed to be covering a lot of ground. David wasn’t really sure where this buck would pop up next, but he assured us that we’d know him if we saw him. He was a great, big main-frame eight-pointer with about a nine-inch drop tine. It sounded like an awesome deer, but Morris was feared sending us back there mainly because he thought we’d be wasting precious time. This was such an elusive buck and we’d be taking a chance by hunting there and never actually seeing the buck. We were running out of time.

With a day and a half left to hunt, Nick and I headed to Savanna for an afternoon hunt. We built another ground blind and had some pretty good wind to work with. It wasn’t until our last evening hunt in the blind when things happened. It was just after lunch, and I mean to tell you that we were only set up in the blind for maybe 20 to 25 minutes. A beautiful 4-year old buck stepped out. This deer was for sure in the 160s. This was just an awesome deer! He started feeding on the Max Attract and at this point we could really tell that the rut was really slow to crank up. A buck of this kind would definitely be involved in rutting activity, but all he cared about was feeding. Nick and I knew immediately by the body of this deer that he was young, and not the type Morris would have wanted us to take. We did get awesome video of the buck and he eventually fed on off into the brush.

About 45 minutes before dark, way back in the brush, I saw deer movement. I picked up my Nikon binoculars, looked through the brush, and all I could see was the left side of a set of antlers. It was a massive eight-point. I alerted Nick and he cut the camera to the buck. I lost the deer and couldn’t see him for a few minutes. I wondered why the deer didn’t come through the visible opening. Then I picked him up again. The deer was angling towards us through the brush, heading for the open food plot. Nick got on him and I through my binoculars up again. This time I could see the buck’s full rack. On its right side I saw a big drop tine. I liked to have died!

I’ve never, never encountered a drop-tined buck in the wild in all my years! I could not believe what I was seeing. My heart started to pound! Nick and I were both pumped! Now I wasn’t nervous about my gun’s capability because every day I take that Encore to the range. I just enjoy shooting it and I know what it can do. Now I didn’t have a rest in the blind but I did have one of those Mono-Pods by Level Lock (1-888-IN-ONE-SHOT) that I’ve used in the past. I’ve learned that I’ve got to have that kind of rest in order to make the kind of shot that was about to present itself. Nick and I were looking at about a 175-yarder. Again, I knew the gun was capable—it was David that was worrying me.

The buck started feeding and my heart, by this time, was in my throat! We got great video but by no means were we “milkin’ it. We both had visions of that other deer that threw its head up and tore off into the bush looking for a fight. So as soon as this buck gave me a broadside shot I squeezed the trigger. He went down immediately on his hind end. I started to reload and the deer got up and started walking away. Then his back legs got real weak and he went down and stayed down. It was the most exciting hunt—I just thanked the good Lord right there for what a blessing. I was so overwhelmed with the gift of that deer walking into that food plot.

We scored him out. He had 41 inches of mass on an eight-point rack. Basically it was a 150-inch eight-pointer. The G-2 on its right side is split and the drop tine was a full eight inches. The deer grossed 159 inches. This deer had Canadian mass like I’ve never before seen on a south Texas buck. The reason—the protein these bucks are getting year round! This deer weighed 210 pounds—unheard of in south Texas. Heck, we’ve hunted ranches 30 minutes from El Cazador and their average weights for mature bucks peak out at 140. What a way to end the year.

John Tate’s Buck:
The morning I shot my buck was really foggy. It was foggy for maybe three of the mornings we were hunting. For some reason, the fog wouldn’t lift on this particular morning. On our cameras, we have a humidity sensor. When it gets humid enough, our cameras will go into “lock-down’ mode. They simply won’t work. I mean, you can’t even pull the tape out or anything.

So David Morris and I were hunting a more-open-than-normal section of mesquite. As we sat there, he was telling me that over the summer they’d seen some nice bucks in a nearby lab-lab plot. Morris figured the bucks were soon going to let the rut take over, and start chasing does through mesquite fields similar to the one we were sitting in. It was barely daylight and we really couldn’t see but 50 yards all the way around our tripod stand. I told David that I was going to turn the camera on and get some pre-hunt footage. Don’t you know, the camera was locked up. Red lights were flashing but nothing was doin’! Next thing you know, deer start coming out in the field. The fog lifted a little bit, but certainly not all the way. Some little bucks started chasing does around and we felt that it wouldn’t be long before some bigger bucks would show.

I just kept opening up the camera and tried blowing in it to dry it out. As I’m messing with the camera, Morris saw a nice buck step out with a doe some ways out in a grassy strip. He told me that it was an old deer but I didn’t figure I’d get a crack at one until maybe Blanton and Morris himself got their kills in the can. So Morris once again said, “That’s an old booger right there, and I want you to shoot him if you can.’ I told the camera was locked down and he basically said, “Well you do whatever it is you got to do.’ So I decided that I had to get to the truck that was about 400 yards away so I could dry the camera out. I sneaked out of the tripod and headed for the truck. I ran the heater inside the cab of the truck and dried the camera for about 10 minutes. Frustrated, listening to country music, I kicked myself thinking that our luck was not going to show up on this particular day. When the camera was working again, I slipped back out to the stand.

With my binoculars, I watched Morris’ hand signals. He waved me on when the time was right and stopped me when it wasn’t. Eventually I got to the stand without spooking the deer. I got set up. Morris told me that the big deer was a nine-point. He aged him at close to 7-years old. He said they’d been trying to bust this buck for the last year or so because it was a big old deer that just never was going to amount to much as far as the gene-pool goes. The buck had gone back into cover with the doe. We were hoping she’d drag him back out into the open before the camera locks down again. So I started camerawork on some smaller bucks. Not long after, the doe came back out into the strip of grass, about 300 yards away. Sure enough, he was right behind her. Morris then told me to get all the footage I’d need, then we’d switch stands and he’d point the camera when I was ready to shoot.

I got the footage we needed, then we swapped stands and gear. We looked like two monkeys. I dropped myself down to the ground, and because the two stands were so close together, David was able to safely step over from stand to stand to man the camera. I climbed back up into the other stand and David passed me the gun. All looked pretty good at this point. I got a good rest and he assured me that his gun was sighted in dead-on at 300 yards. (David Morris’ gun was a McWhorter, custom-made 300 Weatherby Magnum.) The deer was at about 310. I put the crosshairs on him and it took me some time to get settled after the circus act we’d been performing to this point. Finally I squeezed one off and dropped him in his tracks. The doe ran off and we were celebrating. David caught it all on camera and I put a good shot on him! Then the doe came back out. She went up to the dead buck. Nosed it a few times, then accepted the fact that he wasn’t getting up to pester her anymore. She went back to feeding just yards away from our trophy.

Five minutes later, just downwind from the feeding doe a large 4 year old buck steps into view. This bugger had at least a 20-inch inside spread, with seven-inch brow tines (one of which was broken). By this time, I’m back running the camera. The buck is coming in our direction. The only thing between this buck and the doe is the dead buck. That buck walked right past the dead buck like it wasn’t even there. He never even looked down at him. He just went straight for the doe that was likely coming into heat. He ran her off finally, and that was the end of our hunt.

David Morris’ Buck by John Tate:
On the day after we killed my buck, nearby ranch owner Steve Grinnel stopped by El Cazador. Morris had been toying with the idea of shooting a couple of different bucks that he’d seen recently. He knew they were only 5 Ω years old but of late, they were losing some good bucks to a local mountain lion. Grinnel reminded Morris of the mountain lion situation and this is what kind of pushed Morris into active mode.

The week before David Blanton and I arrived, Morris had spotted a typical 12. This was a really good deer that he knew would net Boone & Crockett. And since they’d already lost two good bucks to the mountain lion (which by the way don’t go after does typically), David got to thinking more and more about hunting the 12-pointer that he’d seen. He was figuring—’A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.’ So we decided to go and hunt this particular deer.

We decided to hunt him in a food plot. Hardy Jackson--one of David’s friends who was helping him guide hunters--sat in a nearby mesquite stand. Sure enough, we got set up in our food plot stand and Hardy radioed us. He told Morris that the 12-pointer had arrived! Hardy sat there getting camera footage with the monster at a mere 50 yards. He was sick that the deer was in front of him and not David and me. We thought about putting on a stalk while Hardy videoed, but darkness prevailed. We decided to wait and go to that area in the morning.

We slipped in there the next morning. And imagine this—it was foggy again. My camera, of course, locked up again! Once again, I had to hoof it back to the truck to dry it out. It only took me about four or five minutes in the heated truck to get my rig going again. Same routine as last time—I slipped back into position. I put my camera into its tripod and no more than two minutes later this big deer steps out. There he was bigger than I even imagined. I got great footage of him in the fog. Then he ducked out of site temporarily. As the buck cut from opening to opening, all the camera could pick up was the deer’s rack zipping through the mesquite. The deer headed for the same opening where Hardy had videoed him the day before.

After a few cutaways, I focused the camera on an opening I was sure he’d step into. Don’t you know, he stepped out into the clearing only 60 yards away. The deer was full frame, and he was no doubt, a real monster. He was swinging his big old head around looking for does. I can tell you honestly, I had a case of buck fever. I knew that if David Morris says it’s a “book’ buck then it darn sure is. I was videoing a huge Boone & Crockett whitetail!

David got his gun up and let his safety off. The deer was kind of spooky. He heard the safety go off and his ears went on full alert. I quickly told Morris to shoot him. And shoot him he did. He dropped him on the spot. I pulled back with the camera and put in on David. You could tell that he was definitely choked up. He looked straight into the camera and said, “Folks, I’ve been hunting deer for 35 years and that is the biggest typical I have ever shot. I’m so excited right now that I wouldn’t be able to get down out of this tripod stand even if I had to.”

We did finally settle down once the adrenaline stopped pumping. We did the recovery scenes and by this time the sun starting burning off the fog and it was just simply beautiful. Not to get hokey, but the birds started singing, the sun was rising like I’ve never seen before, and the light was unbelievable pretty. It was simply a picture perfect moment in time.

Turns out that this is the first-ever net, Boone & Crockett buck Team Realtree has ever captured on camera. What a close to an awesome 2002 deer season!

Editor’s Note: Stayed connected to the Realtree.com Online Journal. In coming weeks we will bring you more 2002 hunts plus a full roundup of the entire season! For more information on the Tecomate Seed Company, please visit its website @ www.Tecomate.com