Texas Trophy White-Tailed Deer

Texas Trophy White-Tailed Deer

Texas is a big state with big hunting tracts. On many guided trips, that gives hunters plenty of opportunity and flexibility. (Photo by Gordon Whittington)

Arguably the most diverse deer hunting on the planet awaits whitetail hunters who come to Texas.

If he were blindfolded, then hauled to this spot and dumped, not even a crusty world traveler could have pointed to it on a globe. In every direction, dry, treeless land led to a sharp horizon. Sub-Saharan Africa? Inner Mongolia? The Australian Outback? Nothing in view made a strong case for any one answer.

Long minutes ticked by. Then, with the sun creeping into view came a clue: an animal on the horizon. Training my SIG Sauer binoculars on it literally brought everything into focus. This couldn’t have been Africa, Asia or Australia . . . the animal was a white-tailed deer.

The buck walked down the far side of the draw, heading toward the point on which T Fork Outfitters owner Tye Sims and I waited. With my Browning X-Bolt resting atop its bipod, we watched the deer march from roughly 500 yards down to 185 and then stop.

In a whisper, Tye asked if I felt the deer was big enough. Forward movement of my thumb on the safety suggested my feelings. Seconds later, the .270’s report confirmed them.


As we drove to the nearby Texas Panhandle ranching community of Mobeetie to celebrate my filled tag, I reflected on the hunt and, especially, on its location. I’d just shot a 5 1/2-year-old 8-pointer on land where the very term “deer woods” seems a stretch. Don’t you need trees in order to have woods? Well, maybe not. In the past couple decades, this ranching country has become about as productive a whitetail region as any other, even if it doesn’t look the part.


A LAND OF WHITETAIL DIVERSITY

Texas offers a broader range of whitetail opportunities than anywhere else on earth. I cut my hunting teeth on these animals as a Central Texas rancher’s kid and since then have pursued them in roughly 40 other states and provinces across the U.S., Canada and Mexico, plus New Zealand and Finland. Those far-flung travels have only reinforced my belief that in the wide world of whitetails, there’s Texas and then there’s everywhere else.


Nearly every county in the eastern two-thirds of the state has decent to high deer numbers. The most common whitetail race here is the Texas subspecies. However, along the mid- to upper coast, you’ll find the Avery Island whitetail. In isolated high country of the Big Bend region way out west lives the tiny Carmen Mountain race. And, in parts of East and North Texas, genes of the husky Kansas subspecies are in evidence.

Find the best day and time to hunt in your zip code

As you might guess, there’s overlapping of gene pools in some areas. One is the Panhandle. There, near the Oklahoma border, I’ve seen stocky, reddish-blond bucks with crisp, white markings interact with daintier bucks bearing the classic salt-and-pepper gray coat and murky throat patches of the Texas subspecies. And 500 miles south, just inland from the Gulf of Mexico, I’ve hunted a ranch straddling the historic range of the Texas and Avery Island subspecies and still featuring both.


While nature made the Lone Star State a diverse whitetail world, man also has played a role. In the early 1900s, with all wildlife under pressure from unregulated hunting, predators and changes in land use, whitetails from the King Ranch south of Corpus Christi were trapped and relocated to other areas around the state. These releases jump-started the statewide deer boom still in evidence today.

And, early on, some private landowners were at the forefront of many management methods now considered common. These include not only supplemental feeding but also such intensive practices as artificial insemination and introducing handpicked “breeder” bucks to boost genetics.

These more extreme efforts to grow big racks led to the stereotype of Texas as a land of semi-tame whitetails trapped inside “pens.”


In reality, even in the South Texas Brush Country, only a minority of tracts are high-fenced. Most Texas whitetails being hunted today were born in the wild and remain totally free to roam.

THE RIGHT HUNT FOR YOU

There isn’t much public hunting land for a state so big, and competition for good access is high. For nonresidents, quality opportunity is most often by way of package-style guided hunts.

Because Texas is so big, has so many types of habitat and features extremely liberal season dates, bag limits and other regulations, you can customize a hunt to a far greater extent than is practical in most other places.

While prices vary widely (with some ranches even charging by the gross antler score of deer taken), the high success rates and uniqueness of the experience can make for good value in today’s world of big-game hunting.

Overall, the Rio Grande region of South Texas is the state’s most expensive place to hunt free-ranging deer. But then, the average size of bucks shot there is the highest of any part of the state. And you often get to see and hunt a lot of land.

This Brush Country region also offers the most uniquely Texas deer experience, with a December rut in habitat full of memorable sights and sounds. Bobcats, cougars, coyotes, javelinas, quail, doves, waterfowl, rattlesnakes, roadrunners, neotropical songbirds: the list of fascinating critters is a long one.

Click to subscribe to Game & Fish Magazine

Antler rattling got its start here, and it’s still popular. Balanced buck-to-doe ratios on the better ranches make the rut an intense affair. Plus, it’s among the latest in North America, with peak rut occurring in December and trickling at least in to January. In fact, one Feb. 22 I shot a bruiser 8-pointer as he was headed to an actual buck fight in the brush. That low-fenced South Texas ranch had an extended gun season via the state’s Managed Lands Deer Permit program.

In much of Texas, the rut peaks in November, coinciding with the first few weeks of the lengthy general gun season. But you don’t have to hunt then to take a nice buck. In the Panhandle and Central Texas Hill Country, I’ve also had great trips in December, well after peak rut in those regions.

Much of what makes for good season-long deer activity is light overall hunting pressure. Another factor is the lack of legal restrictions on supplemental feeding/baiting. Many ranches provide feed year-round, often delivered via timed feeders.

In recent years, hunting over food plots also has caught on. Plots tend to be more productive in the eastern half of the state, due to more reliable rainfall, but some also exist elsewhere. The “Texas tower” style of blind—an enclosed shooting house set high enough to offer a view over the brush—remains popular for good reason.

With the exception of snow tracking and dogging, any whitetail tactic used anywhere else in North America is a practical option for the nonresident somewhere in Texas.

A WHOLE OTHER COUNTRY

When it comes to whitetail hunting, Texas really is like a whole other country. It shares habitat types with several other states, plus Mexico, yet has a relaxed feel all its own.

So there are options galore. Which means the hardest part can be deciding which regions and hunting methods not to try on your first hunt. But that’s just a good excuse to plan a return trip.

A TEXAS SAMPLER

The Lone Star state is so vast it’s hard to know where to start the search for a good hunt. Here are a few operations that feature memorable hunts for whitetails, as well as other species:

PANHANDLE

  • T Fork Outfitters
  • (806) 336-7584
  • Wide-open rangeland broken every few miles by thin drainages might not look like great habitat, but there are plenty of big whitetails hiding out here. Peak rut is in November.

HILL COUNTRY

  • Wildlife Systems
  • (325) 655-0877
  • wildlifesystems.com
  • While the rocky hills of the Edwards Plateau boast sky-high deer densities, the better ranches also yield some impressive bucks. The rut runs from late October deep into November.

SOUTH TEXAS

  • La Lupita Ranch
  • (956) 212-9081
  • lalupitaranch.com
  • In the lower Rio Grande Valley, ranches with roots in centuries-old Spanish land grants offer unique hunting and cultural experiences. This part of Texas is renowned for its December rut.

SEASONS, LICENSES AND REGULATIONS

Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Recommended for You

 Several factors need to be evaluated before reaching a conclusion about what fly, lure or bait Trout & Salmon

How to Catch the Biggest Trout in the Stream

David Paul Williams

Several factors need to be evaluated before reaching a conclusion about what fly, lure or...

Our picks for stuffable protection against any weather.

Field Tested: Lightweight Raingear

David Draper - May 30, 2019

Our picks for stuffable protection against any weather.

Adam Heggenstaller takes over after 14 years with NRA Publications. News

Game & Fish Magazine Names New Editorial Director

G&F Online Staff - May 23, 2019

Adam Heggenstaller takes over after 14 years with NRA Publications.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Simms

Simms' Solarflex Ultra Cool Armor Hoody

John Frazier of Simms Fishing Products helps OSG's Lynn Burkhead understand the new features of the new Simms' Solarflex Ultra Cool Armor sun protection hoody.

13 Fishing Pathfinder Weedless Walking Bait

13 Fishing Pathfinder Weedless Walking Bait

Fresh off catching the biggest bass in ICAST Cup history, 13 Fishing pro Jessie Mizell shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead the new Big Squirm soft plastic worm and the company's unique Pathfinder topwater walking bait that is totally weedless in design.

Costa

Costa's Award Winning Waterwoman Sunglasses

Costa's Amanda Sabin tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead about all of the great features that made the new Waterwoman frame a big winner at the 2019 ICAST show as well as out on the water.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

You can catch bluegill faster with these strategies. Panfish

Find and Fish Bluegill Beds Efficiently

Terry Madewell - May 22, 2019

You can catch bluegill faster with these strategies.

Here are the 10 most common reel performance problems and how to fix them. Reels

10 Most Common Reel Performance Problems

Anietra Hamper

Here are the 10 most common reel performance problems and how to fix them.

 A 7 pound giant taken on a jig during the pre-spawn transistion in the Midwest.

Although the art Bass

4 Tips When Jig Fishing For Bass

Chris Schneider - August 25, 2015

A 7 pound giant taken on a jig during the pre-spawn transistion in the Midwest. Although...

See More Stories

More Whitetail

If you want to bag big mid-fall bucks, find the oak trees where deer are feeding. Whitetail

Follow Falling Acorns to Find More Whitetails

Mike Marsh - October 28, 2019

If you want to bag big mid-fall bucks, find the oak trees where deer are feeding.

Kansas is a deer-hunting gem and should be on every whitetail addict's must-hunt list. Whitetail

Where the Big Bucks Grow

Jace Bauserman - October 18, 2019

Kansas is a deer-hunting gem and should be on every whitetail addict's must-hunt list.

Many deer hunters see October as November's ugly cousin. Big mistake. Whitetail

3 Reasons to Chase Trophy Bucks in October

Scott Bestful

Many deer hunters see October as November's ugly cousin. Big mistake.

See More Whitetail

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.