December 13, 2018
We’ve all heard the clichés about Texas — everything is bigger and better in the Lone Star State. Well, for three very lucky deer hunters, 2017 was the biggest and best of their hunting careers, with each taking a non-typical monster that any hunter would sell his pickup truck for.
Texas is unique in that many bucks are taken on so-called “high fence” areas, enclosed properties often covering thousands of acres, which are carefully controlled for herd management and antler growth. When started “from scratch,” it might take 10 years or more for a high-fence operation to begin producing annual, dependable crops of trophy-sized bucks. In most cases, the deer are fed using food plots, feeders and naturally occurring browse, and they are well-protected against predators, poaching and disease.
In some cases, trophy-sized deer are purchased from out-of-state breeders and brought to Texas where ranchers allow hunters to shoot them, charging a “trophy fee” for the most exceptional bucks.
The situation is such that the Texas Big Game Awards program announced rule changes effective with the 2017-18 hunting seasons. No scored entries will be accepted from release sites for five years following the last release date. This will affect all properties with pen-raised, Trap-Transport-Transplant and/or Deer Management Permit deer released after March 1, 2017. In addition, hunters will now be limited to one Texas Slam award per harvest method (rifle and archery only) during their lifetime. TBGA awards are given to all scored entries that meet minimum regional requirements, and there are no entry fees. Deadline to enter is March 1 annually.
Two new trophy categories have been created by TBGA to recognize novice and youth hunters.
Any youth hunter (under 17 years of age when they purchase their hunting license) hunting under the authority of a Youth Hunting License (license type 169) who lawfully harvests any white-tailed deer, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep or javelina during the current year’s hunting season is eligible. Any big game animal is eligible regardless of sex or score. A maximum of one Youth Division certificate will be issued per hunter per year. Landowner recognition is also available.
In addition, any hunter (regardless of age) who harvests his/her first lifetime big game animal (white-tailed deer, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep or javelina) in the state of Texas during the current year’s hunting season is eligible for recognition regardless of sex or score. A hunter may receive a First Harvest Certificate only once during his/her lifetime.
Despite all the controversy and discussion over high-fence operations, it is almost ironic that two of the three top non-typical bucks taken in Texas last year fell to sportsmen who were hunting on comparatively small, unfenced parcels of privately owned land.
GREGORY PERRY BUCK
Big as Texas may be, Gregory Perry’s incredible 200-class non-typical buck was taken on a family parcel of 117 acres in Milam County in east-central Texas.
“I’ve been hunting for about 25 years and have shot plenty of deer,” Perry said. “I like to go out and sit all day early in the gun season just to see what’s out there. Then, I’ll go out the last week or so and try to shoot the biggest buck on the property.
“I had three years’ worth of pictures of this buck and saw him once bedded about 40 yards from my stand during the early bow season, but I prefer to wait till gun season to hunt, so I just backed out and left him alone,” Perry said.
On November 24 (“Black Friday”), Perry headed to his stand at daylight ready to sit all day if necessary.
“Around 7:20 a.m. I saw some deer in a planted oak patch,” Perry recalled. “First, three does came out, and then I spotted a large-bodied deer about 30 yards back in the brush, but I could not make out any antlers.
“After a while, the deer stepped out of the brush about 100 yards away and I could see that he was a good one,” Perry said.
Using a Remington Model 788 rifle in .243, Perry sent a Core-Lokt bullet on its way.
“I always try for a spine shot because it drops the deer in its tracks,” Perry said. “This time the deer just walked away!”
Perry found himself praying for either a clean hit or a clean miss as he looked for the deer.
“I found no blood and was starting to worry when I saw a weird-looking cactus a few yards into the brush,” Perry said.
Walking closer, Perry realized that what he was seeing was his deer lying dead just 30 yards from where he’d shot him.
The deer had 21 scorable points with an inside spread of just 18 3/8 inches. Outside spread was 22 inches.
“He had lots of abnormal points with a bunch of twirly looking tines,” Perry noted. “I thought it was interesting because I had trail cam shots of him in velvet just two weeks earlier.
“I realize that this is a buck of a lifetime, and I probably won’t ever see a bigger one, but I still love to hunt,” Perry admitted. “There are several bucks with palmated antlers on the same property that will keep me busy in the future.”
MARK SVANE BUCK
Another small-parcel hunter downed his buck of a lifetime — a possible state-record crossbow kill — while hunting in Grayson County in northeast Texas.
“I first detected the big guy, which I’d nicknamed the Gray Ghost, while reviewing my game camera footage on Oct. 13, 2016,” Svane said. “I hunted hard for him, but he never showed again. I kept my game cameras in place, and the buck again showed up on January the 9th. He was still out there!”
There was no sign of the deer the following October.
On Nov. 30, the deer was back on the camera, and on Jan. 3, the buck broke his nocturnal pattern. He showed up on camera with just 15 minutes of legal shooting time remaining in the day.
Svane hunted hard the evenings of Nov. 4 and 5, but the deer was a no-show. The weather report showed a cold front with the high probability of rain coming in on Sunday, Nov. 7 (the last day of the season). Svane figured his last realistic chance at the deer would be the evening of Nov. 6.
“I got in my tripod stand about 3:30 p.m. and waited with my crossbow in my lap.
“About 5 p.m. I heard a deer spook from my right side,” Svane recalled.
“It was a doe with a couple of deer following. She ran past my stand back into the trees beyond. Two bigger deer behind her consisted of another yearling buck and the Gray Ghost! The big guy was quartered toward me and didn’t present a shot, so I waited.
“I waited until he turned and was slightly quartered away from me at about 17 yards,” Svane said. “I pulled the trigger and the arrow made impact. I felt good about the shot.
“I waited for over an hour for my brother to come help retrieve the deer,” Svane noted. “We walked over and inspected him. It was the first time I actually counted his points, and there were 22 of them!”
The rack gross scored at 236 1/8 inches with a net score of 225 1/8 inches. The bases on the main beam are in excess of 6 inches. Five of the longest tines measured from 9 to 12 inches. The main beams were about 23 inches.
“This is definitely the deer of a lifetime,” Svane enthused, “and I was the lucky hunter!”
RANDY MARGO BUCK
Mansfield’s Randy Margo is an experienced South Texas deer hunter who has killed several 160-class bucks on his Starr County ranch and other central Texas properties in the last several years.
“We manage for size,” said Margo, who owns property in Mansfield, including part of a 7,000-acre farm where he grew up. “I’ve bought two of the parcels back over the years and have been managing them for big deer.”
Margo is hardly a novice in the world of big whitetails. The 51-year-old has taken 165-class bucks in each of the last nine years and, in 2017, was actually looking for a spectacular buck with exceptional height, mass and width.
A friend who owns and manages the TADD Ranch, a 500-acre, high-fence operation in Mason County, had just the deer in mind, a huge non-typical that had been showing up on trail cams all that summer.
Margo hunted the area earlier in the season and saw five bucks that would meet his requirements. The largest of the group was also the most mature. Margo’s friend had already used trail cams and recent sightings to pattern the buck and recommended of two places Margo should hunt.
“I like to hunt using the moon calendar, weather report, wind direction and pure luck,” Margo said. “Based on all this, I decided to hunt out of a ground blind in the area that seemed like the best choice.”
It was a clear evening with a favorable wind, and Margo settled in for the afternoon. Almost exactly at sunset, a group of deer walked out of the brush near a distant meadow, each one a massive, mature, big-bodied whitetail.
“Normally the biggest buck in a group will come out last, but this guy appeared second in line. It was immediately obvious that he was the biggest buck in the bunch,” Margo said.
“I got a little nervous because there were only a few more minutes of shooting time,” Margo said. “The problem was the big buck was facing me with his head down, his rack completely covering both shoulders.”
Finally, the buck turned slightly, and Margo touched off a shot at 206 yards with his .300 Winchester Magnum rifle. The deer ran about 40 yards and collapsed.
Margo admitted to having experienced “buck fever” three times in 20 years — and this was one of them!
“Even from the blind I could tell that this was definitely the buck of a lifetime,” Margo recalled. “He was a really big deer with really big horns! I was amazed at how symmetrical his antlers were. He was definitely the widest and most beautiful deer I’d ever seen. Looking at him was like looking at a Christmas tree!”
Margo’s huge buck had 32 points over 1 inch. The G1s were like matching “starfish,” with five scorable points each. There were several kicker points off the G4s, and the rack was just over 30 inches wide — a beast of a buck by anyone’s calculation!
Margo’s buck had a whopping gross score of 293 7/8 and a net score of 283 6/8, according to Texas Big Game Awards measurers, which makes it the No. 4 non-typical buck of all-time in Texas among high-fence deer.
Margo’s deer also has nearly 15 more inches of antler than the No. 1 non-high-fence buck, according to the most recent Texas Big Game Awards listings.
As Randy’s friend said when Margo’s big buck went down: “Oh, man, that deer is sick!”