A 200-Inch Trophy

A 200-Inch Trophy

Even in South Texas, a buck that scores 200 inches doesn't come along every day. Here's the story behind a giant whitetail that met that mark with inches to spare! (August 2007)

Rough-scored at a whopping 227 7/8 B&C points, David Coleman's huge buck from the McAllen Ranch may well have been the best whitetail taken outside a high fence last season.
Photo courtesy of David Coleman.

David Coleman booked his 2007 whitetail hunt on South Texas' McAllen Ranch not long after his first visit to the 100,000-acre cattle operation had ended. "We're going a week later this year because we believe it will be better," he explained.

Yeah -- right!

Last Dec. 14, the Mississippi deer hunter took an amazing buck from the "Rucio" section of the ranch, a behemoth that rough-scored 227 7/8 inches and ultimately proved to be the largest "free-range" buck -- meaning not from behind a high fence -- taken last year in the entire Lone Star State.

Hunting deer in South Texas wasn't new to Coleman when he booked his 2006 hunt on the McAllen Ranch, in Hidalgo County near Edinburg. But even time spent chasing big bucks on the famed King Ranch couldn't have prepared him for the events that unfolded in mid-December.

" 'Rucio' is the name they use for one side of the ranch, where I began my hunt," said Coleman. "I didn't see as many deer as my buddies did hunting elsewhere the first afternoon, but I decided to continue hunting that area."

Coleman's decision probably wasn't too tough to make. He'd seen plenty of bucks in the 130-to-140 class the first afternoon, and then had a potential "Booner" materialize, almost ghostlike, in the heavy fog of his first morning hunt.

"Dec. 13 was our first day there," Coleman said. Longtime hunting buddy Dr. Scott Jones was along, as was their friend Dustin Waldrip. "We shot our guns to check them, then hunted in the afternoon. We compared notes that night, and we'd all seen several bucks in the 130-to-140 range."

Coleman said that in researching places for the 2006 Texas hunt, he learned that hunters on the McAllen Ranch generally got opportunities to take 160-class bucks, and larger deer were possible. He trusted the information because he knew the ranch wildlife manager, Travis DeWitt.

"Travis' daddy, Amos, had worked on the King Ranch, and we'd hunted there for years," Coleman said. "I actually turkey-hunted on the King Ranch with Travis. When we found him and the McAllen Ranch on the Web, we contacted him and booked this hunt."

Coleman and his friends had an idea of what to expect, because they knew DeWitt, and had hunted the King, so South Texas' big whitetails weren't new to them. But that doesn't mean the hunters weren't surprised by what they found at the sprawling McAllen operation.

"Mr. Jim (McAllen) opened the main McAllen Ranch to hunting about five years ago," said DeWitt. "There are about 23,000 huntable acres on the main ranch. We lodge and house our hunting guests on a different ranch nearby that also has about 7,500 huntable acres."

DeWitt said that, these days, deer density is eight whitetails per 23 acres, or slightly more than 30 deer per 100 acres. Diligent herd management efforts since the main ranch was opened to hunting has helped DeWitt and the McAllen staff get the buck:doe ratio down to about 1.2:1.

"The first two years," he said, "we really knocked (the does) down. We took 200 the first year, and about 160 the second year. This past season, we took right at 100 does. Our annual harvest depends on a lot of factors, but our goal will always be to keep the ratio as close to 1:1 as we can."

According to DeWitt, the ranch participates in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Managed Land Deer program, one element of which is an annual aerial survey of the deer population. "We usually fly the first or second week of February, not long after the rut ends," he said.

That's about the same time DeWitt and his staff ramp up their supplemental feeding program. "We're into it pretty good by the end of February," he said, "because we want to provide as much nutrition as possible to help our deer get their body weights back up after the rut."

The nutrition program focuses on habitat management to provide as much natural browse as possible, DeWitt noted, with free-choice feeding stations that provide protein pellets.

The hunting plan includes no more than 10 to 12 trophy hunts per season, although, DeWitt pointed out, the ranch sells more package hunts that include the chance to take a management buck. "We consider a management buck to be a mature deer that will score in the 140 class," he explained. "We believe that fully mature bucks that are only scoring in the 140s have most likely reached their potential, so we sell hunts for these management bucks. And our hunters know that they are going to get multiple opportunities to harvest a nice management buck."

DeWitt's last comment relates to something important to stress in this story: The McAllen Ranch isn't aggressively marketing its hunts, because their hunt calendar pretty much stays full. "We pretty much only have to figure out which hunters will be here which weeks during the season," he said. "We are thankful that so many of our hunters think enough of the operation and their experience here to book with us pretty much every year."

Coleman didn't need much time during his very first visit to figure out why that's true. "This ranch is primarily a cattle operation," he said. "I learned very quickly that the deer on this ranch act like they don't get much human contact. They were very skittish. These were wild deer we were hunting; they were very skittish. At dinner that first night we talked about how we'd need to make an accurate judgment of a buck quickly -- because we wouldn't get too long to make a good shot."

Fog compounded things for Coleman and his buddies during their first morning hunt. "The ranch has ground blinds, and they also use vehicles with elevated blinds," he explained. "We were all in those vehicles with our guides, moving slowly along senderos looking for good bucks. It was the very beginning of the rut, and we also had the chance to try rattling."

As that first morning hunt unfolded, the Rucio revealed only its healthy population of bucks in the 130-to-140 class to Coleman -- until 9:30. "I caught a glimpse of a big buck through the fog," he said. "This was a 170-class buck, no doubt. But there was no way to get a good shot, and he disappeared. I ended up rattling in several bucks after that, but this

big boy never came back."

Coleman and his guide returned to camp for lunch, and the hunters compared notes again. Everyone had seen a number of bucks up to 140, but only Coleman had seen a deer that might reach record-book dimensions. His hopes fueled by the sighting, Coleman decided to stick with the Rucio section of the ranch and to get back out there quickly.

"I was ready to go back out at 12:45," he said. "It was hot, and that definitely was early, but I knew there were big bucks on that side of the ranch. I wasn't going to see them sitting at the lodge."

Heading out for the afternoon, Coleman and his guide, Adam Braune, made their way to a crossroads of sorts, the intersection of two senderos that provided shooting opportunities in four directions. The pair had the chance to play the wind from there, and had enough edge cover to get concealed.

"We were all set up by 2:30, and deer started coming out," Coleman said. "But they were very skittish for some reason. It finally occurred to me what might be going on.

"These ranch trucks have feeders attached that the guides use, and I thought maybe the bright sun reflecting off the feeder could be making the deer even more nervous than they already were," the hunter explained. "So I took my Realtree shirt off and covered the feeder with it. They did seem to calm down a little after that."

Through the afternoon, Coleman and his guide saw upwards of 20 deer from their position, just inside the brush at the sendero crossroads. Then 4:30 arrived.

"It was like someone flicked a switch," Coleman said. "We had deer in all four directions on the senderos . . . lots of them. I let a pretty good 13-point buck walk because I knew there were bigger deer in the area. They had seen a 180-class buck before we arrived, and I thought I might get a look at him."

He didn't. Another buck showed up instead.

"There was a white stake at the edge of the sendero he walked into that was 200 yards from where we were sitting," Coleman said. "When he walked out, I guessed he was another 200 yards beyond that stake. When I checked the rangefinder, he was standing there at 487 yards."

The buck fed in the sendero, albeit on edgy nerves. And Coleman had two mature does between him and the buck; they likely would spy the slightest movement and wreck any chance he might have to get a shot.

"I told Adam I could make a kind of stalk through the big mesquite," Coleman recalled. "I'd make a big loop and come out at the edge of the sendero by that white stake. That would give me a 200- to 250-yard shot."

After assuring his guide that (1) he wouldn't get lost in the thick, tangled, cover, and (2) that he could, indeed, make the shot, Coleman moved off as quickly as he could toward a chance at history. Practically every step added intensity to the moment.

"There were lots of doves roosted in that cover," he said, "and it seemed like seven or eight of them busted out of there every time I covered more than three or four steps. It worried me sick because I was afraid they'd spook those does on the sendero, and that would send the buck into a sprint.

"It occurred to me, though, that the deer worked through that stuff all the time, and that there were lots of other animals in there. I hoped that the deer didn't see anything unusual in doves flushing like that."

That time, at least, they didn't.

In only a few minutes -- though they admittedly passed like hours -- Coleman found himself at the edge of the sendero, just a few yards past that white stake.

"I came out almost exactly where I expected to," he said. "The buck was still there, and I had closed the distance to about 225 yards."

Coleman put his shooting sticks up, steadied for a shot, took a deep breath and squeezed of a shot. His gun is chambered in .264 Winchester Magnum, with handloads from his dad -- a 140-grain bullet sitting atop Hodgdon 4831 smokeless powder ignited by a Federal Magnum primer.

"I heard the big whop of my bullet hitting him," Coleman said. "And it seemed like only a second passed before Adam was sitting next to me in the truck, on the sendero, telling me he'd gotten the whole thing on video."

Oh, could things get any sweeter? Actually, they could.

Coleman and his guide first saw this amazing buck at 4:45 p.m.; he touched off the shot at 5. "It turned out that nobody had ever seen this buck before on the ranch," Coleman said. "When we first saw it, Adam and I guessed him to be in the 170-to-175 class."

Then, just a few minutes later, they found themselves in the presence of true South Texas buck royalty. "'Oh, my!' I remember saying," Coleman recalled. "'He's a little bigger than what we thought.'"

Talk about understatement!

"The first time I counted 31 scorable points," he said. "But I kept counting him over and over, and I got a different number every time. I was a little nervous, I guess."

Coleman and his guide got on the radio, contacting his hunting buddies on the other side of the ranch.

"'Y'all might want to ride over here; this is a 200-class buck,' I told them. And of course, they immediately hollered back it probably wasn't even a 195, giving me lots of grief. Adam convinced them that this was something they needed to come take a look at."

Rough-scoring as best they could, Coleman and Company came up with 227 7/8. "We started sending photos out on our cell phones, and before you know it, this deer was all over the place," he said.

Ultimately, it ended up in one of the most sought-after places in Texas deer hunting -- winning its division in the Los Cazadores Big Buck contest. Coleman's incredible buck took second place overall in the contest, beat out by a 248-inch buck killed behind a high fence.

"In 1994, I killed a buck in Mississippi that had been my biggest deer ever before this guy," Coleman said. "That buck scored 181 3/8, and was second in Mississippi only to the Fulton buck."

Coleman's hunting partners also scored on the trip. Jones tagged a 147-inch 9-pointer, "literally at the last minute," Coleman said. "Dustin took a 131-inch management buck -- an 11-pointer with a real pretty rack."

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

The McAllen family has owned and operated the ranch since 1791. More than six generations have lived on the property, and Texas officials recognize it as one of the state's oldest ranches in continuous family ownership.

In 2006, the ranch earned designation as a national historic area.

Find more about Texas fishing and hunting at: TexasSportsmanMag.com

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