The Trophy Bucks Of Roger Mills
October 05, 2010
Western Oklahoma has great potential for producing big bucks, and this county is a prime spot for taking some of the region's best -- as the author discovered. (July 2008)
Cheyenne resident Susan Mabra killed this fine buck last fall near the author's hunting spot in Roger Mills County. The hefty deer sported a 13-point rack.
Photo courtesy of Susan Mabra.
Sometimes a hunt is so great that you have to shake your head and pinch yourself a time or two to make sure that you're not dreaming.
That's the way it was for me last November during my hunt on Turley Ranch, near Durham. Covering nearly 15,000 acres, Turley Ranch sprawls across the red hill country of Roger Mills County, which lies on the western edge of the Sooner State, near the Texas Panhandle. The ranch encompasses several miles of bottomland along the Washita River and Rush Creek, as well as miles of virgin prairie, windswept hills and isolated canyons.
That's not unlike a lot of the country in that part of Oklahoma. It's very similar to the habitat on Black Kettle National Grassland, which borders much of the ranch.
Perhaps the biggest difference is the hunting pressure. It can be intense on Black Kettle, at least during modern gun season, but the deer on Turley Ranch are less pressured, virtually undisturbed even. Turley and other landowners in the area also plant large fields of wheat and alfalfa that attract and nourish deer. Of course, deer travel back and forth between public and private land, so there's always a good chance of encountering any buck you might find on private land while hunting Black Kettle.
Scott Perry, a wildlife biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said the secret to the excellent deer herd in Roger Mills County is no secret at all. Great habitat equals healthy and numerous deer, and there's as much of that on public ground in the region as there is on private holdings.
"A good portion of Black Kettle WMA happens to fall in pretty fair deer habitat," Perry said. "It supports some healthy wildlife populations just the way the property falls. Black Kettle has about 30,000 acres, but there's about 350 miles of boundary fence around the WMA. You've got these little islands of public land surrounded by private land. Because of that, you gain a lot of private land influence.
"The flip side is that a fellow can go in there and have some good luck, and the next day new critters can move in. You're actually looking at a much larger piece of habitat, and that makes it more productive."
One big management component at Black Kettle is prescribed burning. Perry said he and the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the area, tries to burn at least 3,000 acres per year, and as many as 8,000. They also strip disk large sections and maintain about 40 food plots of at least an acre each. He also said the soil has plenty of all the right minerals to develop good antler mass for mature bucks.
Finding them on public ground is a challenge, he added.
"We're not set up for trophy management at all," Perry explained. "There are a lot of yearling bucks on the area, but the numbers of older deer drop off pretty quick. The average buck is going be 1 to 2 years old. In this part of the world, that tends to be a little better than the average yearling."
Counting does, white-tailed deer are too numerous to count in this area. On Turley Ranch, I saw nubbin bucks, spike bucks and forkhorns, but I also saw multi-tined monsters ranging from those scoring 120 Boone and Crockett to some approaching the 180 class. All of them carried tall, wide typical racks with near-perfect symmetry.
Tony Sumpter, the ranch manager and my part-time guide, said a buck killed on a neighboring ranch several years ago sported a rack with an inside spread of 29 inches and scored better than 200 points.
Mule deer also live on the ranch, but Sumpter said they are being rapidly displaced by the more aggressive whitetails.
I was the first person in modern times to hunt this wonderland. Windle Turley, who owns the ranch, never allowed hunting until 2007, when it finally became clear he needed to manage his growing deer herd. To begin that new era, he graciously invited me out for a muzzleloader hunt. My goal was to get what Sumpter calls a "management buck," which he described as a "basic 8" in the 110-130 class.
"They look like they all came from the same cookie cutter, and we've got them running all over the place," he told me. Sounded like a sure thing.
Sumpter and I are the same age. He left these parts for 13 years to work a big ranch in New Mexico, but he couldn't stay away. He left a good life to return to Roger Mills County, where he got a job punching cows at Turley Ranch. Ten years later, he's running the place.
"New Mexico was good to me," he said. "I had my own spread out there, my own cattle, and I was doing well. But this country here never gets out of your blood, and I gave it all up to come back.
I can relate. Something about that red Roger Mills soil seeps through your boot soles and gets in your blood. I killed my first turkey near there, just a few miles from Reydon, in 1999. Every deer I've killed in Oklahoma was in Roger Mills County. I come back whenever I get the chance, but on Turley Ranch my prospects promised to be better than usual.
Mr. Turley stopped in to visit on Oct. 31, the eve of the hunt. Finally he asked me about my equipment. "Do you use a flintlock, or cap-and-ball?" he inquired. (Continued)
"I use an inline with W209 shotgun primers and Triple Seven black powder substitute. My gun has a German target-grade barrel and a Weaver 4-power scope."
"Not very primitive, is it?" he observed dryly.
"Well, it is a muzzleloader," I said. "With a lot of components that have to work flawlessly, and in unison. There is always an element of chance."
That proved to be quite an understatement. I didn't know at that moment that many of my shotgun primers had gone bad, producing a maddening series of duds and hangfires that ruined excellent shots at three big bucks and several does. One occurred on the evening of Nov. 1 when a heavy-racked 10-point presented a perfect broadside shot at about 120 yards. The primer popped, but the buck bolted before the main charge detonated.
The evening of Nov. 2 found me hunting from a pop-up blind at the edge of a wheat and rye field
with Sumpter's assistant, Monty McGlothlin. He said deer had been coming through an open gate about 30 yards away, but they didn't show up until very late.
Instead of coming through the gate on that day, however, every single deer jumped the fence at the same spot about 120 yards away. Eventually, we counted 50 deer, but only two were bucks and they were about 500 yards distant.
At one point, three does jumped the fence, one of them going wild when she saw our blind. She ran in circles, snorting and blowing from the other side of the fence for 30 solid minutes.
"Man -- is she whacked out or what?" I asked.
"She don't know it," growled McGlothlin, "but she's gonna be hanging in that big refrigerator back at the ranch house if she keeps that up!"
But that group finally joined the other deer at the far end of the field, and the clock kept ticking. With each passing minute, McGlothlin grew increasingly fidgety. "I know a big 'un's gonna show any minute," he said, his urgency thinly disguised.
And then, like magic, there he was: a "basic 8" with a tall, wide rack and long points. He jumped the fence and offered a full profile at 130 yards. I rested my barrel on a shooting stick, pulled the trigger and --
Ping! A dud primer! I quickly re-primed and reacquired the buck in the cross hairs. This time, a loud, hollow thump followed the muzzle blast, and my buck collapsed 146 yards away in a kicking, thrashing heap.
McGlothlin and I exchanged high fives, but our celebration was premature. To our surprise, the "dead" buck lurched to its feet and slammed into the fence, then jumped into the thicket and disappeared. I heard a distant crash, but my heart sank just the same, with the thought that I might lose him. Happily, I found him 15 minutes later just inside another thicket about 100 yards away.
He weighed 182 pounds and had a basic-8 frame with a 14-inch inside spread and a small kicker point on the base of the left main beam. The rack would probably score about 120. It wasn't a record-book buck by any means, but to me, it was a trophy of a lifetime.
"There'll be bigger ones killed out here, but there'll only be one 'first,'" Sumpter said. "Nobody can ever take that away from you."
As proud as I was of that buck, a neighbor brought one in from another ranch the following evening to hang in Turley's walk-in cooler. My buck's rack easily fit inside that one; I estimated it to be at least 20 inches wide.
Susan Mabra of Cheyenne also killed a dandy buck in Roger Mills County during the modern gun season. She described it as a basic 12-point with a sticker for a total of 13. It scored 135 B&C and weighed 214 pounds.
It was also her first buck, and it gave her a double thrill.
"I was so excited!" Mabra said. "My husband had me pick the head up and lay my gun beside the deer. I started counting the points."
Mabra hunted that day with her husband, Robbie from a ground blind. She said she often sat with him as a non-hunter in the past, but Loren Damron, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's game warden for Roger Mills County, told her it was unlawful for her to be in a blind with a hunter without hunter education certification.
"I said, 'My God, if I've got to sit through a 10-hour class, then I'm gonna hunt, too."
They were hunting at the edge of a wheat field on private land owned by some friends. Mabra said they saw a nice buck on opening day of the modern gun season, but she decided to wait for a better one. The same thing happened the next day.
The following day, a cold front came through, and the evening was very chilly; the wind shifted from north to south. Mabra believes that the rapid change in temperature and barometric pressure got the deer moving.
"My husband was looking out of one side of the Double Bull (blind), and I was looking out other side," Mabra said. "He tapped me to get my attention and started doing sign language, like 'Big Buck!' I got the shooting sticks out, and I just shot.
She rolled the buck with one shot from her 7mm Remington Magnum at a distance of about 250 yards.
I saw nubbin bucks, spike bucks and forkhorns, but I also saw multi-tined monsters ranging from those scoring 120 Boone and Crockett to some approaching the180 class. All of them carried tall, wide typical racks with near-perfect symmetry.
I was like, screaming, going crazy, trying to get out of the Double Bull as fast as I could to go see the deer," Mabra said. "I didn't think it was going to be that big, so it was a surprise when I got to it."
Robbie Mabra later killed a buck of his own. It was an 8-pointer, but with 6 points on one antler and 2 points on the other.
"He was thrilled for me, but he wasn't too thrilled that my buck was bigger than his," Susan said.
Another Roger Mills devotee is Yukon's Michael Bergin, who serves as news editor for the ODWC. He also killed a nice 8-point on private land that he said weighed 130 to 140 pounds. The rack wasn't scorable, but it wouldn't have mattered to Bergin, anyway, because he's not a trophy hunter.
"I don't look at it like a lot of deer hunters do," he said. "It was a shooter buck. One antler broke when he fell. It snapped in two, and I had to go find the other piece. Another piece came off that I never found."
Bergin killed his buck on opening day of modern gun season, Nov. 17, also from a pop-up blind on private ground. See a pattern here?
"For Roger Mills County, I don't think they can be beat," Bergin said of the portable ground binds so common these days.
Bergin's blind was at the intersection of two drainages, one of which stretched nearly half a mile to a point where it narrowed. He said the country was wide open, with sight lines extending at least 700 yards. The only vegetation was a sand plum thicket and a copse of Osage orange trees. He did not have a chance to scout that spot beforehand, but he said he had a feeling something good would happen there.
"I was looking straight up one drainage, and the other one I could see lengthwise. He came up out of that," Bergin recalled. "The main drainage is 15 to 20 feet deep, and the one that butted into it where the buck came from was 10 feet deep. There was no water in it, of course. He was walking toward the bois d'arc (Osage orange) patch, but he stopped at 60 yards broadside."
Bergin bagged the buck with one shot from his Winchester Model 70 in .270 WSM.
During muzzleloader season, Bergin said he
hunted the same drainage a little farther west, but didn't see any bucks. By moving his blind, he also had a good view of a distant wheat field. His spot was on a travel lane that deer used to reach the wheat field from their bedding area.
"The year before, I killed a 6-point, a really nice deer, and saw some other nice deer," Bergin said. "That one came from wide-open country from a real low area. The way deer move out there, you can look across that land, and you'll see some low areas that just kind of happen. Look at them on Google Earth, and you can see elevation changes. You can see the T, a dried up creek, and deer would come through there on their way to a wheat field. You could pretty much predict they'd be there at first light and last light."
Bergin killed that buck early in the morning, as he did the one he killed on opening day last year. However, he first glimpsed his 2006 buck when it was with a group of does about 400 yards away.
For those who are used to hunting in relatively close quarters in the central or eastern parts of the state, the vast expanses of Roger Mills County can be intimidating. But don't let that stop you form hunting it. Whether you kill a deer or not, the experience is unforgettable.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
The Turley Ranch is located in Roger Mills County, about 12 miles west of Cheyenne. Package hunts include lodging, meals and guide. Costs are $3,500 for a 3-day deer gun hunt; $2,500 for a 3-day muzzleloader hunt, $1,250 for a 3-day archery hunt.
For more information, call (580) 983-2326 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.