Thirty-Four Days To A Trophy

Thirty-Four Days To A Trophy

Before the 2007 season opened, Bud Dearing found that his Erath County ranch harbored a giant buck, and vowed to hunt it until he bagged it. It took a while to get the job done.

Avid deer hunter Bud Dearing poses with the mount of his best-ever whitetail, which was shot from the stand in the background. Produced on the rancher's own land, the 189 7/8 B&C monster was hunted hard for 34 days before the kill was at long last made.
Photo by Bob Hood.

A 78-year-old hunter who has survived war on foreign shores, a bout with cancer, heart ailments and much more might be expected to be little impressed by much that comes his way during his eighth decade. But Bud Dearing today finds himself humbled by what he's been able to achieve with the quarry animal cherished by so many of his fellow Texans: the white-tailed deer.

The Gordon resident personifies what hunting deer and managing land for deer are all about, not only entering the record books last season for trophy whitetails but also gaining a place in Texas history for his land management practices.

Here, then, is the story: of the man, the deer, the pursuit -- and the ultimate reward.

THE MAN
Bud Dearing, born in Fort Worth on April 25, 1930, looks back at his past with appreciation, and toward the future with a renewed hope for wildlife on his ranch and for those who might visit there to appreciate it with him.

When the Korean War was in full swing in the early 1950s, Dearing volunteered for three years of service with the U.S. Marines. Slightly more than six months later he was scrambling up a ravine in South Korea with a company of Marines to relieve another Marine company on a ridge above them. A North Korean mortar shell hit his company in the ravine, killing four and injuring 12; one of the dozen wounded was Dearing. Evacuated to a military hospital ship with 27 pieces of shrapnel in his body, he can still remember the sounds of the metal that doctors removed from his legs and torso being dropped into a can. During his 40 days aboard ship, Dearing was awarded a Purple Heart for his bravery and sacrifice.


Like many a big buck on low-fenced ranches, Dearing's monster whitetail may have managed to remain in seclusion from birth to harvest.
 

Of his service in the conflict he said, "I don't regret it one bit, and I would do it again if I were young. North Korea is the last uniformed enemy our country has fought."

Returning to the U.S., Dearing became a cattle rancher. Ranching has made him a comfortable living, but his major objectives today are to improve habitat on his ranch for deer, turkey and other wildlife and to produce a 13-pound bass in his well-managed private lake -- which has already yielded an 11.5-pounder.

"The only wealth you make on this earth is the friends you make," he said. "You can take that to the bank."

Dearing has survived not only the Korean War but prostate cancer, two strokes and two bypasses, and has had two stents put in his heart. But a visit with him is a sharing in his humility, his appreciation for what surrounds us and his uplifting outlook on life in the outdoors -- one that's certainly not short on humor. He isn't out to grow the largest whitetail buck in the world; rather, he simply wants his land to produce the quality of deer that he knows it's capable of if it's well managed.

To create high-quality habitat deigned to foster high-quality whitetails on his low-fenced ranch, Dearing has implemented several management and harvest programs. Food plots are alternated seasonally, and high-protein pellets are provided by free-feeding off-the-ground containers located around his ranch.

Also, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife biologists have noted an abundance of natural browse, which provides the deer lots of nutrition during the spring and summer months, when supplemental food sources via food plots are not needed. Aerial applications of herbicides to kill back scrub oaks and other canopy cover have allowed many important species of brush and grasses to flourish.

Steve Whisenant (left) and Bud Dearing admire the gargantuan buck near the spot at which it fell. Whisenant passed on a chance to down the deer, generously insisting that his longtime friend be the one to claim the phenomenal animal.
Photo courtesy of Bud Dearing.

Dearing has been so successful in managing his land for wildlife that he was presented the TPWD's Region 3 Lone Star Land Steward Award in a special celebration in Austin on May 21 this year. The program annually recognizes landowners in eight ecological regions who have excelled at wildlife and habitat management on their properties.

THE DEER
Like many a big buck on low-fenced ranches, Dearing's monster whitetail may have managed to remain in seclusion from birth to harvest. In northern Erath County, an area of rugged hills and canyons that are heavily timbered and rocky, a deer can step into the open and disappear in seconds, and some hunters say that many of the larger specimens are never seen at all. Alternatively, it simply grew antlers that may have been considered merely admirable during its first three years of life.

It was during the 2005-06 season that good fortune gave Dearing his first look at what two seasons later would be the huge 14-pointer he was ultimately to shoot and enter into the record book.

Despite drought over much of North and West Texas at that time, Dearing's food plots and high protein commercial feed had helped the buck to grow -- virtually unnoticed by Dearing and other hunters -- into a magnificent animal with a heavy, relatively wide rack.

"I was taking a lady hunting for a spike deer one day when the big one came out of the trees," the rancher recalled. "He was a really nice 10-pointer, and I told her that buck was going to be a really big deer in one or two years."

In the period that followed, the buck remained elusive, apparently enjoying the company of numerous well-fed does, and a homeland that included steep, dense hills and canyons furnished with lots of escape routes and feeling little hunting pressure.

A year later, the big buck showed up aga

in, this time in images captured by motion-sensitive trail cameras that Dearing and his longtime friend and hunting companion Steve Whisenant had set up around protein feeders. The buck, now sporting a very impressive 12-point rack, had managed to elude all eyes -- but not the gaze of the trail camera.

Whisenant established a file folder containing images of the bucks recorded by the trail cameras. These showed numerous well-proportioned animals, among them several "management" 8- and 10-pointers that most hunters would relish placing on their walls.

The 2006-07 season ended with Dearing confident that his land management program was well on the right track. After all, several exceptional 8- to 10-pointers as well as the "management bucks" had been observed that season, and the promise of revivifying rains in the region was on tap for the following spring and early summer.

Another season had passed, but somewhere beyond the flash of the trail cameras, Dearing believes, the big buck that he'd later shoot was about to encounter light of a different kind -- perhaps that from someone spotlighting deer.

Spring and early-summer rainfall hit record levels, causing flooding problems in some areas of the region, but replenishing underground water sources and promoting heavy growths of ground cover and excellent deer forage.

Ahead for the 2007-08 season was a forecast for an excellent period for deer -- and a poor season for hunters. The deer wouldn't have to move as often, owing to overabundant acorns and other food sources in plenty, and heavy growths of underbrush would keep many of them well hidden. Trophy bucks like the one Dearing was later to take probably felt as if they'd been given the deer equivalent of a Las Vegas suite with all the food and pleasures that they could hope for -- and with no address on the building.

THE PURSUIT
The deer season for Dearing's ranch is established under the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Managed Lands Deer Permit System, which allows landowners to open the season around the last of September and continue through February. The program enables landowners like Dearing to optimize their management and harvest strategies through improved habitat projects and liberal harvest criteria.

Dearing knew that the big buck was ranging somewhere on his land, perhaps on neighboring properties as well. His spirits were lifted when a neighbor reported seeing what may have been the same buck cross a county road.

Then, in early October, Steve Whisenant was driving a tractor to plow food plots and do other land management work on the Dearing ranch when he got two glimpses of the big buck. Although Whisenant always carries his rifle with him while on the tractor and could have shot the buck on at least one occasion, he wanted Dearing to be the one to take the monster, and so held his fire.

The sightings by Whisenant and the neighbor and photographs from three trail cameras indicated that the buck was traveling about a one-mile radius in the vicinity of three blinds on the property.


"Most deer's antlers get smaller when you walk up to them, but this one's antlers just got bigger. I felt so humbled that I dropped down on one knee, took off my hat, put it across my heart and thanked God for the privileges He has given me."--Bud Dearing
 

Soon the pair developed a plan: Dearing would begin a day-by-day pursuit of the big buck, rotating on a daily basis among blinds nos. 1, 2 and 3. Long before daybreak each morning, Whisenant would drop Dearing off at the blind of the day and pick him up later -- proof (if any were needed) that the friendship between the two men is stronger than stone.

Dearing still hunts with a Winchester .270 that he's had for more than 50 years and a pair of Bushnell binoculars nearly a decade older than that. A half-century-old hunting knife that he made from the blade of a crosssaw now belongs to Whisenant, who hunted with Dearing for 50 years on a West Texas ranch near Van Horn where Dearing once bagged a desert mule deer scoring 183 B&C points, and where old cave in a draw served as the pair's "hunting camp."

From the start of his pursuit of the big Erath County whitetail, Dearing learned that he'd be having company in one of the blinds. An owl had built a nest on the floor inside one of the wooden box blinds and five young flightless owls crowded against one of the walls each time Dearing climbed into the blind.

"You can imagine the stink that was in that blind," he recalled. "I figured that would help cover my scent from the deer, but I poured a bunch of doe-in-estrus scent around between me and the owls just to make sure. Boy, that place stunk!"

A fine example of the type of deer that Dearing's ranch fosters, the huge buck began showing up on game cameras placed at some of Bud's feeders (note the other buck in this photo).
Photo courtesy of Bud Dearing.

Each morning for 34 days, Dearing sat his vigil, visiting the owls every third day. During that time, one of the owls earned its wings and flew out of the blind, leaving its four siblings behind to entertain the hunter in the aroma and atmosphere provided by man and bird alike in the blind.

THE ULTIMATE REWARD
When the morning in the 34th day arrived in mid-November, the deer in Erath County were in full rut; Dearing's blind faced to the east. As he watched the yawn of dawn arrive, seven does came to the feeder nearby.

"All of a sudden I looked back at the feeder and all the deer were gone," Dearing said. "Then the big buck came walking right past the blind from behind me, only a few feet away, heading toward the feeder. He came out of the west and was walking away from me. I knew that there was no shot to make. He sniffed around the feeder a few seconds and then continued on into some trees just past it. In a few moments, he came out again and stopped in the clearing 82 yards from me. I put it (the scope reticule) on his neck, and he went down -- and never moved again."

The buck scored 189 7/8 Boone and Crockett Club points, its rack's inside spread stretched the measuring tape to a whopping 29 inches. "He weighed 159 pounds live weight," said Dearing, "which isn't regarded as heavy for a deer with the size of antlers this buck carried.

"Most deer's antlers get smaller when you walk up to them, but this one's antlers just got bigger. I felt so humbled that I dropped down on one knee, took off my hat, put it across my heart and thanked God for the privileges He has given me. I am as happy as I have ever been in my life."


Dearing knew that the big buck was ranging somewhere on his land, perhaps on neighboring properties as well. His spirits were lifted when a neighbor reported seeing what may have been the same buck cross a county road.
 

Dearing took the buck to a nearby meat processing plant; it created quite a stir. "The man at the processing plant said he would have been better off rather than charging a processing fee if he had just put a bucket on the door and charged people to get a look at the deer," the rancher said. "People came from all around to see it."

Pure determination and patience led Dearing to his great accomplishment, but he's learned since bagging the trophy buck that some luck was involved; at least one and possibly two other people could have claimed the bragging rights -- of a sort.

"The taxidermist who mounted it found one hole in the buck's right ear and another long cut on the right top of his neck that left bullet fragments there," he said. "I don't know if someone tried to spotlight it or what, but he had been shot twice before."

Some things are just meant to be -- and in this case it's clear that the right man ended up with his buck of a lifetime!

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