Last-Ditch Bucks

Last-Ditch Bucks

Pay heed to what this veteran East Texas deer hunter has to say about hunting pressured bucks late in the season. His advice might come in handy for you real soon!

By Matt Williams

East Texas deer hunters can learn a lot from Waylon Harvey. Only 33 years old, the personable oilfield mechanic from Longview has already logged hundreds of hours in the field - and taken a pair of once-in-a-lifetime whitetails in the process.

The top buck, a 16-pointer that grossed 188 5/8 Boone and Crockett points, earned Harvey top honors in the Region 6 non-typical division of the Texas Big Game Awards program last season. The other was a 16-pointer that he shot four years ago. The rack scored 156 1/8 and qualified as the No. 25 Region 6 TBGA non-typical in 2000-01.

Magnum whitetails like those are a rare commodity east of Interstate 45. Add in the fact that both bucks were harvested during the month of December from a 500-acre tract of unmanaged land in Rusk County, and Harvey's credibility as a deer-hunting guru takes a quantum leap. Harvey doesn't rely on crafty tricks and/or off-the-wall hunting tactics to bolster his chances in the woods.

In his deer-hunting rulebook, there are no substitutes for good old patience and persistence. This holds especially true when the East Texas deer season heads down the home stretch and into a period that typically brings with it the toughest hunting conditions of the year.

Rutting bucks are apt to show up in just about any place and at any time, and to do things they normally just would not do. After the rut, however, bucks regain their senses and shift their focus to survival, which makes them substantially more difficult to hunt.

Harvey says that one of the best ways to boost your odds of killing a big East Texas buck in December is to hunt smart before and during the rut. The theory is particularly applicable when you're doing business on small tracts of land - a common denominator for most East Texas deer hunters.

"How much pressure you put on a good buck early the season can make a big difference as to whether he stays there or not," Harvey said. "One of the biggest mistakes hunters make if they suspect a buck is hanging out in an area is hunting the spot too hard. Put too much pressure on a big buck and he'll go nocturnal on you. Worse yet, he may leave the area altogether."

Harvey hunted smart last season - and it paid off with one of the best non-typicals reported statewide. But the big buck didn't come easy by any means.

After seeing the deer for the first time in September, Harvey spent the entire bow season and the first half of the general gun season hunting it unsuccessfully. He saw the deer twice during the October bow season - both times through binoculars as the hunter sat quietly on top of a hilltop overlooking a small field adjacent to a wooded creek bottom winding through the Rusk County lease. The deer was roughly 300 yards away both times.

Longview's Waylon Harvey has taken two great bucks, which score 188 5/8 and 156 1/8, from his Rusk County lease in just four years of hunting it. These big boys would be "shooters" anywhere in East Texas. Photo courtesy of Waylon Harvey

"I hunted around the field several times, but I never saw a thing," Harvey said. "I eventually decided it might be a good idea to back off and spend some time watching from a distance with field glasses so I could hopefully pattern what he was doing. In looking back, it is pretty obvious to me that the buck knew it when I was in there."

After two and a half months of playing cat and mouse, Harvey's patience and persistence finally paid off shortly before sunset on Dec. 23, when the big buck came slipping in at 100 yards on his downwind side to teach him one final lesson.

"I realized right then that I had been hunting him backwards the whole time," Harvey said. "I thought I had been downwind from the direction he was coming, but as it turned out, I was hunting upwind and he was pegging me every time. I still can't believe he came on my downwind side after all that time."

Harvey has learned a lot about deer and December deer hunting since he and Brady Sutherland of Longview landed their 500-acre deer lease in 1999. First and foremost, he has found out that it doesn't necessarily take big acreage to produce big bucks in East Texas. In addition to Harvey's two prize bucks, Sutherland shot a 160-class whopper off the lease in 2000-01.

"One of the main reasons we've been able to kill these deer is because we are very selective in what we shoot," Harvey said. "We've seen several 130- and 140-class deer that we have let walk. Last season was the first time I've shot a buck since 2000."

While allowing their bucks to age has played a key role in helping Harvey and Sutherland grow some bona fide whoppers on their East Texas lease, it's their hardcore hunting styles that have enabled them to harvest a buck from time to time. Here are some things that Harvey believes have helped contribute to his late-season hunting success.

GET IN AND GET OUT

Some deer hunters are party animals. Not Harvey and Sutherland. From the moment they pass through the gate at their Rusk County spread, the hunters are all business, no play.

"We don't build camp fires, hoop and holler or ride around our lease on four-wheelers," Harvey said. "We slip into our hunting areas quietly, do our hunting, and we try get out as quietly as we go in. I know a lot of hunters who have larger leases that have lots of potential for producing big deer. But for some reason you never hear of big deer coming off those places."

SCOPE IT OUT

White-tailed deer are creatures of habit. Unfortunately, so are many deer hunters.

"A lot of hunters make the mistake of hunting the same stands repeatedly and big bucks learn to pattern them," Harvey said. "One of the main things I learned last season is that it can pay to back off and watch from a distance with field glasses. Not only can it help you learn a buck's travel route, but also it can help you learn where it is bedding, watering and feeding. When you know those three things, your chances of intercepting the deer are much better."

MAP IT OUT

A good topo map is an invaluable tool to a deer hunter. It will display stands of timber, drainages, creeks and other geographic features that influence deer movements and travel. If you don't have one available, you might consider following Harvey's cue and drawing your own.

"A map might help you figure out his bedding, feeding and watering areas," he said. "My wife thinks I'm a fanatic about this stuff. But I'm convinced that it works. Anything that gives you that little bit of extra confidence can help, especially on a lease like ours that has a low deer density."

EARLY AND LATE

As mentioned earlier, mature bucks gradually redirect their attention to the business of survival as the rut begins to wind down. For this reason, Harvey thinks, post-rut bucks are more prone to move during low-light conditions than at any other time.

"It's a good idea to be the woods at first light and again right at dark," he observed. "I spend a lot of time in the field during deer season, and I've never seen a good buck between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m."

LATE BLOOMERS

Mature East Texas does in healthy physical condition will usually cycle into estrus sometime in late October or early November. However, yearling does usually won't experience their first breeding cycle until a month or so later, possibly as late as mid to late December.

According to Harvey, December deer hunters should stay on their toes whenever does are in the vicinity, because one of the late bloomers could be in the crowd.

FOOD FOR THE WEARY

Much of the whitetail's natural food supplies will have dwindled away by the time December rolls around. Acorns that haven't been gobbled up by deer, hogs and other wildlife probably will be rotten as the result of seasonal winter moisture. Meanwhile, freezing temperatures will have bitten succulent forbs and other vegetation. Food plots and corn feeders can be especially attractive to deer during December. Hunting odds can improve greatly when foul, cold weather sets in.

WATCH THAT WIND

The whitetail's nose is one of its primary modes of defense. For that reason, Harvey always tries to hunt downwind from where he thinks deer will approach. The Longview hunter also makes good use of scent-blocking clothing.

"I can't say it is 100 percent effective," he said, "but do believe that it helps."



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