Would-be WMA hunters face 30-to-1 odds for a foot in the door. If drawn, they must then shoot TWO does before they can even think about punching a buck tag.
It’s probably easier to win a multi-stage immunity challenge on the reality TV show “Survivor” than it is to legally shoot a buck – small or large – inside the Lone Star State’s Granger Wildlife Management Area.
James Henderson of Taylor, Texas, knows how many hurdles lie in that path. The 40-year-old deer hunter brought in a buck to the WMA weigh station last year that drew nearly six dozen gawkers before he could check it in and take it home.
Among the largest free-range Texas whitetails felled in 2015 and one of the most impressive ever taken from public land in any state, the people who saw it that day aren’t likely to forget it.
And to think he shot the buck with a weapon he once scorned!
James has put in for the Granger WMA’s “postcard hunt” for 15 years. Last season was his second time to draw a permit.
About 1,800 people applied for the 60 permits. When only 38 folks showed for the orientation meeting on Oct. 16, the state turned to the 154 hunters on the standby list to fill the remaining spots. James and his longtime friend, Jackie Volek, got in during that second round.
In order to shoot a legal buck at Granger (at least 13 inches wide), participants must first take two does.
“It’s sort of a management and trophy hunt combined,” he said. “And it seems to be working. That’s why the hunt is so popular.”
James, a road maintenance worker with the Texas Dept. of Transportation, has bowhunted for 22 seasons. Before last year’s WMA hunt, he’d never shot one that has a trigger.
“I was against crossbows, at first,” he admitted.
When a friend bragged about a great 10-pointer he’d shot at 60 yards, James realized the extra yardage might be just the ticket for the mostly open spaces within the WMA. If necessary, he would take advantage of the very capability he’d once criticized.
Floodwaters submerged a lot of the WMA’s ground that fall. In many areas, the water was well above the highest of rubber boots. To access the place he wanted to hunt, James towed his bowfishing boat, a flat-bottomed 16-footer with a 50-hp outboard and a push-pole.
In order to be in place before sunrise, he arrived at the public tract by 5:00 each day so he could be settled in by 5:30.
He and Jackie scouted the property before hunting it. James saw this buck during his second day afield. It stood up in some tall grass just 60 yards from him.
With a healthy dose of incentive, James made short work of collecting the required two does. The guys had prepared about a dozen stands apiece, and both had set out trail cameras. James had seven or eight; Jackie had another four or five.
On Nov. 22, Jackie retrieved the first trail camera photograph of the gnarly buck.
On the day before Thanksgiving, he moved a couple of his stands just to be a little farther from the encroaching hunters.
He went to a brushed-in ground blind on a cold and rainy Thanksgiving morning. He saw the buck about an hour after he set up shop, and he took a shot at it 10 minutes later.
“I couldn’t see the bolt hit. It’s just too fast to follow,” he said. “But the way the buck reacted, I thought: I just missed that sucker!”
He called Jackie, but the extra eyes were of no help in finding a blood trail. He also contacted the game warden and received permission to summon a man from South Texas who had a tracking dog.
“The dog kept going in the opposite direction from where the deer ran, so I eventually told the guy to pull out,” James said. “I didn’t want to push all the deer out of there. It’s bad enough that we have to contend with archery hog hunters, squirrel hunters and other deer hunters. I didn’t want to further ruin my chances of seeing that buck again.”
James returned and hunted all day Friday. On Saturday, he saw the buck chasing does at 200 yards. It had a pronounced limp, but not enough to affect its speed or libido.
He didn’t see it Monday.
When he returned before sunrise on Tuesday, Dec. 1, and set out in his boat, he saw a car floating in the water. He might have stopped to lend assistance if the windows hadn’t been down. After mulling things over, he sent a text message to the ranger and continued to his deer stand.
“I knew that if I waited around, I’d probably be tied up all morning,” he said. “It was raining, and the temperature was in the mid-30s.”
Turns out, the car had been stolen and apparently was dumped there. There were no missing persons associated with it.
James’s braving the elements paid off later that morning. He saw the limping buck pestering does about 500 yards distant. One of them lured it all the way past a stump James had ranged at 65 yards. The shot was broadside.
Fifteen minutes after the loud snap of the bowstring, James walked over to where the deer had been standing. Having devoted 70 or 80 hours to the pursuit of the distinctive whitetail, he needed the reassurance of a blood trail.
James searched for blood drops for nearly half an hour, and then began heading back to the blind. En route, he saw the dead deer in a grass-filled ditch.
It had run only 50 yards.
“Sixty or 70 people were waiting at the weigh station to get a look at it,” he said. “It was unreal. All in all, a crazy morning.”
This article was published in the August 2016 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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