By Matt Williams
Everyone knew the 2002-03 deer season in eastern Texas was going be a good one.
Mother Nature had written the proper prescription months earlier when she blessed the region with timely rainfall that kept the woods ripe with protein-rich forage throughout the critical antler-growing season.
Another factor that pointed toward a banner year for big bucks had close ties to the below-average deer harvest that occurred during the previous season. With a surplus of mature bucks in the herd, wildlife biologists predicted a busy year for taxidermist – if hunters just got out and hunted for those older bucks.
What the experts couldn’t predict, however, was the bizarre turns of event that eventually would unfold during the months ahead. I call them “bizarre,” because that’s exactly what they were.
To wit: How often is it that a young Hispanic man goes hog hunting on 500 acres of unmanaged property and comes home with a moose of an 8-point buck that misses the Boone and Crockett record book by a mere 4 inches, or that a pair of women collect the No. 1 and No. 2 non-typical bucks in the entire Pineywoods region?
How often do you hear about a record-book typical coming from far northeast Texas, particularly from Red River County? Or how about a B&C buck walking up on a man standing in the woods with his britches down?
Here’s how those stories played out last season.
Paul Howard of Huntington was well aware of all the big-buck hype circulating around the region when he drove to his hunting spot in Cherokee County before daylight on opening morning. But with only 50 acres to hunt on, he really wasn’t thinking much about tagging a monster.
Howard had been sitting in his stand without seeing a deer for about an hour when he got bored and decided to take a walk around the small spread.
Not far into this walk, Mother Nature called and Howard eased into a hardwood creek bottom to tend to business. But he didn’t find much privacy next to that slow-moving creek.
A doe darted across a nearby ridge and trotted within 40 feet of Howard before it winded him and threw on the brakes. The deer bolted the opposite direction and disappeared into the brush.
Howard tried to continue his rest stop, but he was rudely interrupted a second time when a 10-point buck came charging across the ridge and fast on the trail of the doe.
“I looked up and saw nothing but antlers,” said Howard. “It was a pretty big shock.”
Howard made a nice recovery, though. He shouldered his rifle and dropped the buck with a single shot to the neck before it got out of range.
Howard was even more shocked when he got up close and personal with the buck. The rack was massive.
“I’d never seen anything like that in 18 years of hunting,” he said.
Neither have most deer hunters.
Howard’s buck wasn’t your ordinary 10-point typical. It has exceptional mass and tine length measurements that resulted in an official Texas Big Game Awards program gross score of 175 7/8.
Stan Cook, an official Boone and Crockett scorer, taped the impressive rack following the mandatory 60-day drying period. It nets 169 5/8 points – just 3/8 inch shy of making the prestigious Boone and Crockett record book. Still, the buck ranks as the No. 1 typical collected in Region 6 last season.
Howard’s buck wasn’t the only whopper killed on small acreage last year. Jimmy English was hunting on opening day on his family’s 250-acre Trinity County farm – which borders the Davy Crockett National Forest – when he shot an impressive 14-pointer that ranks as the No. 3 non-typical taken in Region 6 last season.
But the whopper whitetail didn’t come easy. Earlier that very day the water-well contractor from Lufkin had attempted a long-odds freehand shot on the deer – and missed.
“It was about 10 a.m., and I started getting a little hungry, so I got out of my stand to head back to camp,” recalled English. “As soon as I put my feet on the ground and looked up, there he was, about 200 yards away.”
English scurried back up the ladder of his tower blind, but unfortunately, the deer had disappeared in the brush by the time he got set. “I got back down and ran about 100 yards, hoping to get another look at him and possibly get a shot.”
The Lufkin hunter got his wish, but was unable to capitalize on it when the buck showed up again, this time about 300 yards away. “I really thought I’d blown it when I missed,” he said.
Frustrated, English went to camp and ate lunch. He returned to his stand about 1 p.m. in hopes that the buck might show up again. It was just about dark when the hunter reached for his rattle bag.
“I rattled for about two minutes, and then made a couple of low grunts,” he said. “When I looked to my right, there he stood. He was just scanning the field, like he was looking for something.”
English used a Remington in .243 caliber to drop the deer. Ben Bartlett, an official scorer for Texas Big Game Awards, said that the big rack looks even more impressive than what the score would suggest.
That’s saying a lot. The antlers’ gross Boone and Crockett score is 172 3/8 and 161 net.
Estaban Gonzales of Alto didn’t know much about Boone and Crockett scores when he went hog hunting on the second weekend of the season. Nor did he have a clue as to how quickly word can travel when a bona-fide warhorse bites the dust in eastern Texas.
But he does now: Gonzales, a 19-year old graduate of Alto High School, came home with a monster whitetail buck that’s sure to rank among the top 8-pointers ever reported in the state. And, most certainly, it’s the highest-scoring 8-pointer that’s ever been shot in East Texas. The chalk-colored rack grosses 168 1/8 and nets 166. That’s a lot of bone for an 8-pointer to grow!
Gonzales shot the deer in a 500-acre pasture in Cherokee County, land belonging to Freddy Wallace, also of Alto. According to Wallace, who was Gonzales’ employer at the time, Gonzales approached him on the evening of Nov. 9 and asked for permission to go hog hunting on his land the following morning.
“He said he needed to kill a hog because his mother was wanting to make some tamales,” Wallace said. “I don’t hunt, and there wasn’t anyone else hunting on the place, so I told him it was fine. I also told him he could shoot a deer if he happened to see one. I couldn’t believe it when he showed up with this buck. He had no idea what he had.”
The story gets better.
Amazingly, Gonzales managed to kill the buck despite a badly misplaced shot. Gonzales aimed at the shoulder of the buck, but the 9mm bullet struck the animal in the head, killing it instantly.
In contrast, 60-year old Margie Seaman of Fuller Springs knew exactly what she had when she pulled the trigger on a giant Angelina County whitetail on the morning of Nov. 7. She just had a little trouble talking about it at first.
“I called my husband, Raymond, on the walkie-talkie and all I could do was jabber – he couldn’t understand a word I was saying,” said Seaman. “I stayed calm while I made the shot. But I just fell apart after that. Every board on that deer stand was shaking.”
And Seaman’s buck was worth shaking about. The massive 11-point buck grosses 172 6/8 and nets 162 7/8. It’s the No. 2 non-typical taken from Region 6 last year.
Seaman shot the huge deer shortly after 8 a.m., just minutes after returning to her post after a short break. A young 4-pointer and a doe had stepped into a small opening about 100 yards away and were nibbling on some corn Seaman had scattered on the ground at daylight.
“Then this big buck appeared out of nowhere,” said Seaman, a veteran hunter of 33 years. “He just walked out of the woods and started eating corn. When I saw him, my first reaction was ‘My Lord – what a deer!’ He was facing me, so I had to wait for him to turn broadside before I could take the shot.”
Seaman is a churchgoing woman and said she thanks God for giving her the opportunity – and the composure – to take such a great animal. She disposed of the buck with a single shot from her 6mm Ruger.
Clint Jackson has shot a big buck or two in 22 years of deer hunting in Red River County. But none can match up to the incredible 10-pointer he shot on the morning of Nov. 15 at the 19,000-acre spread he was hunting.
Not many bucks can.
Jackson’s whitetail is one of the highest-scoring typicals to come out of northeast Texas in decades. With a 21-inch inside spread and main beam lengths of 25 1/8 and 24 4/8 inches, Jackson’s B&C buck grosses 174 6/8 and nets 171 4/8, making the record book with room to spare.
It’s hard to imagine a hunter letting such a great deer walk. But that’s exactly what Jackson did about a week earlier when the deer appeared at 100 yards and offered nothing more than a side view of its rack.
“I couldn’t tell how wide he was, so I let him go,” said Jackson. “I’m a serious trophy hunter and I won’t shoot a deer if I’m not absolutely sure about it.”
The big buck erased any doubts Jackson had about pulling the trigger when it showed up at the edge of the woods exactly one week later.
According to Jackson, the deer walked into an open pasture on the heels of a pair of does. “It was about 6:50 a.m. when he showed up, about 125 yards away,” recalled Jackson. “I could tell right away he was a good buck, but I didn’t realize how good until I got to him. Ground shrinkage definitely wasn’t an issue with this buck. If anything, he grew.”
The Rusk County hulk shot Nov. 4 by Patricia Sparks grew a little, too. But the lady hunter from Houston didn’t know it until hours later, when she finally got up close and personal with the old monarch.
Sparks shot the deer at about 9:45 a.m. as it attempted to slip across a powerline right of way deep in the heart of her father-in-law’s 220-acre farm near Mount Enterprise. The deer was about 300 yards away.
The buck bolted at the blast of the 7mm/08, but it didn’t show any signs of slowing down. She shot twice more before it disappeared into an adjacent woodline.
Going to the spot to look for blood, Sparks found nothing more than a few tracks. Confident that she’d hit her mark, she drove to nearby Henderson to get help from a friend.
She’d been there a few minutes when she got an alarming phone call. Her father was having a heart attack and was on the way to the hospital in Lufkin, about an hour away.
“I got my stuff together and headed that direction; then I remembered I’d left the gate open, and all my stuff in my stand,” said Sparks. “I went by there on my way to Lufkin and my friend was already out there. I told him where I’d last seen the deer and I left.”
Sparks got some pleasant news when she arrived at the hospital and nurses said her father was going to pull through just fine. About 20 minutes later, she got a phone call from her friend, who’d found the deer – a giant buck with two fatal hits: one to the shoulder, one through the heart.
“I knew I couldn’t have missed,” said Sparks. “I never miss with that gun.”
It’s a good thing she was on target. Otherwise, the No. 1 Region 6 non-typical title would belong to someone else.
Sparks’ buck is exceptional. The palmated rack carries great mass, beam length and 15 scorable points that together gross 179 5/8 inches, 169 5/8 net.
Eastern Texas produced a number of other outstanding bucks last season, including a massive 21-pointer arrowed in Anderson County by Jack Brittingham.
Brittingham grew the huge buck behind high fence. The No. 1 Region 5 non-typical grossed 219 5/8 B&C points and nets 206 2/8, which includes more than 51 inches of abnormal bone – all that connected to an inside spread of only 16 4/8 inches!
Farther north, Grayson County contributed multiple bucks to the Region 5 non-typical leader board – among them, an impressive private-land 19-pointer that Dean Bullard of Yantis drilled with a crossbow. Bullard’s impressive drop-tine buck grossed 202 7/8 and narrowly missed record book entry with a net score of 191 7/8. With 41 2/8 inches of abnormal antler growth, the buck ranks No. 2 among Region 5 non-typicals.
Grayson County also yielded the No. 4 non-typical and the No. 2 typical for Region 5.
Sherman archer Casey Hogenson claimed the big non-typical, a 30-pointer that grosses 201 1/8 and
nets 182 7/8. The No. 2 typical belongs to archer Ray Petrie of Sadler.
Petrie’s 12-pointer has main beams of 25 5/8 and 25 3/8 inches, respectively. It grosses 169 2/8 and nets 165 4/8.
As impressive as all those bucks are, none is probably more meaningful than the brute shot in Anderson County by Logan Bailey of Montalba. Bailey’s big non-typical sports 20 points and grosses 196 B&C. The deer nets 190. That’s a whale of a buck for anyone – especially a first-time youth hunter who’s only 11 years of age!
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