Texas Rattle Trap

Back to back bruisers.

Back to back bruisers.

Before  Matt Leerkes, the most enthusiastic, hard core hunting partner a man could have, was even in sight I could hear the blaring sound of Uncle Ted’s Stranglehold racing up the driveway.  What an entrance.  As he skid to a stop in the center of the circle drive, his door flung open and a Yeehaw!!! kicked things off.  No doubt he had spent the four hour drive up from Baton Rouge contemplating and analyzing the strategy he was developing to kill his first Texas Hill Country P&Y.   Our plans rarely panned out the way we envisioned but, hell, you’ve got to start somewhere.

With my butt fastened to the swivel stool, I hunkered down peering out into the darkness; the smell of freshly cut Cedar in my nostrils, hand clenching the cold Switchback XT, I had no inkling of what was in store for me that day.  Focused only on the 250 lb wild hog circling my blind only feet away, I was starting to get rattled.  My bow would be useless in the dark and at this distance.  For the first time since I was a child I was in the woods alone and a little scared.  Trying to balance my desire to keep from tainting the blind location and wanting to scare away the huge boar, I snapped on the small LED lamp embedded in my camo hat.  That did the trick and, the big boar retreated into the chill of the predawn darkness.

Here I am trying to get a doe with my recurve.

Here I am trying to get a doe with my recurve.

The wind was barely blowing my scent away from the feeder and out into the open pasture on the adjacent property.  There was a heavily used game trail that originated downwind and headed straight to the feeder coming only feet away from my blind.  That worried me a little but, there wasn’t much in the form of bedding area in that direction and, I felt the fresh Cedar would overwhelm any odor that happened to escape my Scent Lok.  30 minutes after daylight, I was proven wrong when the silence of the morning was shattered by a big nanny doe catching my scent downwind.  As she stamped off into the distance the short blasts of wind through her nostrils effectively killed my confidence.  But, I was here and for the South wind blowing that morning, I had no other options.

Dad's buck on trail cam a few weeks before the season opened.

Dad’s buck on trail cam a few weeks before the season opened.

After letting things calm down for only ten minutes or so I decided to give rattling a try.  After all, the commotion could have been caused by a buck harassing a doe or so I told myself.  As I performed the short grunts and light clinking of two right sided sheds (one of which was my good luck charm; a shed antler from my first P&Y buck) I envisioned the huge typical 8-point, we had trail cam pictures taken in this exact spot, trotting out into the open giving me a perfect broad-side shot.  After waiting, bow in hand, for about 30 minutes I put my bow back on it’s perch and settled in to wait.   Every 45 minutes or so I would pick the antlers back up and go through my routine.  Up until this year, I had rattled but, had never had a buck respond.  I was used to hunting Louisiana and Arkansas where the buck to doe ratio didn’t afford much success with rattling.  But, things had changed and in the month leading up to this hunt, I had rattled, grunted or snort wheezed no less than a dozen bucks into bow range here in the Texas Hill Country.  More than a few would have made the P&Y book but, I hadn’t been able to seal the deal.  I told myself it was only a matter of time.  So, whenever I felt the timing was right, I would begin my sequence of grunts and rattling and then wait anxiously for the sound of footsteps or the tell-tale sound of a buck raking brush.  Every time, that morning, the outcome was the same: nothing.  This was really putting a dent in my impeccable 50% success rate of bucks called in per set for the season up to that point and my confidence was slipping ever so slightly with each attempt.  I knew that the corn feeder wasn’t much help with the abundance of live oak acorns on the ground and I was in a spot that my Dad had hunted a few weeks prior for 3 days straight without seeing a single deer but, again with the South wind we had for the day, I was out of options. So, I soldiered on passing the time texting my buddy Matt who was just informing me that he was listening to the sound of two bucks fighting some distance away. This gave me a boost of much needed confidence on the cold crisp morning.  It was one of those cold still mornings where every rustle in the leaves and every twig break could be heard.  Occasionally, a fox squirrel would break the silence of the morning as he headed out on a limb to snatch an acorn.

Dad's 160 inch P&Y.

Dad’s 160 inch P&Y killed in the same blind.

At about 8:30 I could feel the acid in my stomach beginning to deplete the Pop-Tart I had scarfed down in the truck and knew I would only be able to last without any action for another hour or two.   I cut my usual wait between rattling and tickled the ends of the sheds together in an attempt to get my mind off of my growing hunger and waited intently listening for a sign of pending action.  That squirrel was at it again and, I quickly spun my head around to confirm the source of the noise I knew was that old fox squirrel.  My heart began to pound when I saw that what I thought was a squirrel was actually a mature buck with his head in the overhanging limb of a live oak only 17 yards away.  He was broad side and distracted with tearing the limb from the tree.  It was a perfect opportunity for a shot but, with the thought of avoiding being silhouetted Matt and I had piled the cedar brush high in the back of the blind and I had no shot.  I did all that I was able to at the moment and slowly pulled my bow from its perch and attached the Scott release to string.  My hope was that the buck would make his way in front of the blind where I could take a shot.  He began to do just that but, his route was the trail that came only a foot from the blind.  “Damn,” I thought , “this is all but, over.”  The wide, typical 10-point was five steps from being downwind and gone forever.  As the buck halted downwind he tossed his nose into the air and began to lick his nose.  Surprisingly, his posture was not of alarm but, more of intrigue.  I suddenly remembered the bottle of Code Blue I had uncapped and placed near the feeder.  But, there was another issue. He was looking intently in the direction of the estrous scent and obviously was seeing nothing.  There was no brush or thicket that could hold a doe out of sight and he was much too old and wary to just barge out in the open to meet his demise.  It seemed like minutes before he slowly wheeled back in the direction he had come.  My mind raced with the possible moves I could make but, none supplied me with the confidence to attempt a shot.  For the next ten minutes the buck walked back and forth less than 15 yards away anxiously looking for the doe his nose told him was there.  As he began to rake a bush and, with the knowledge that he would not commit to any of my shooting lanes, I decided the only action to take was to get turned around and hope for a small opening to slip an arrow through.  Only 6 inches off of my stool, the buck must have heard my movement and threw his head up and, commenced to stare a hole through the blind and me.  I froze at half crouch half standing, bow in hand.  He froze as well and, for a few minutes we were engaged in a standoff until, my phone began to vibrate with incoming texts.  Now, usually that wasn’t a problem but, this buck was close and already alert to some presence inside the pile of cedar brush.  As his head bobbed back and forth looking for the source of buzzing, my legs began to quiver.  I was stuck in this half-standing half-crouching stance bow in hand and nerves on the edge of breakdown.  Finally, the buck had enough and began to walk back the way he had come.  At this opportunity I finished standing up and, snatched the bowstring back against my check. In the same instant the buck bolted. My eyes quickly located a single six inch hole in the brush and just before the buck was to enter the gap I gave my best mouth grunt.  Normally, it wouldn’t have fooled a spike but, with the buck on the run he must not have heard the noise clearly and, it did just the trick.  He stopped perfectly in the gap quartering away and, twisted his body around to look back at me.  In an instant, the arrow was in flight and then disappeared into the animal.  I felt pretty good about the shot but, I had no way of knowing if I was right in using my 30 yard pin or where on the deer the arrow struck.  I just couldn’t see through the thick cedar brush clearly enough to determine the point of impact.  In a flash the buck was gone and I was left quivering, adrenaline flowing heavily through my veins.  Usually, I would wait for 20 minutes or so for the animal to get wherever it was going but, I couldn’t stand it any longer, the encounter that had lasted only about 4 minutes was more than I could handle.  I immediately nocked another arrow and slowly made my way to where the buck had been standing.  There I found blood splattered all over the ground and my arrow looked like it had been dipped in dark red paint.  I took a pic of the bloody arrow and texted it to Matt with the instructions,”Meet at Rendezvous.”  I basically skipped back to the truck where I was to meet Matt feeling very good about my chances of recovering what might be my biggest buck yet.

Matt's 126 inch P&Y trophy!

Matt’s 126 inch P&Y trophy!

After meeting up with Matt, and giving a passionately detailed account of the hunt, Matt had one request,”How about rattling one up for me?”  After gearing up and, chugging a bottle of water, we eased about 150 yards into the brush and set up to try for a buck for Matt. What ensued is the wildest hunt and recovery that I have ever been a part of.  You can read all about it in Matt’s story titled “1-2 Texas KO.”  After our encounter with Matt’s buck we headed over to where all the action had taken place that morning for me, a tripod location known as Cat’s stand. It was named after my wife who had taken her first deer there, a beautiful nine point.  There we got on the blood trail and quickly recovered the wide 138 inch 10-point only 50 yards from the last place I had seen him.  No doubt that day goes down as the best hunting day I have ever experienced and is only trumped by the birth of my future hunting buddy.

panoramic tx bucks

Suttermire Ranch, near Marble Falls, TX