As bowhunters in Texas and Oklahoma anticipate the arrival of this weekend’s opening bell for the 2017 archery deer season, it’s hard not to be a little excited.
Why? Because as the Sept. 30-Nov. 3 Texas early archery deer season and the Oct. 1-Jan. 15 Oklahoma archery deer campaign both prepare to begin, there are few better places to chase a giant whitetail than in the handful of counties lying in the shadow of the Red River.
Take the monster 245 2/8-inch non-typical Sooner State buck arrowed on Nov. 12, 2016 in Comanche County, located one county to the north of the Red in southwestern Oklahoma.
That’s where Lawton, Okla. archer Travis Ocker tagged the giant non-typical last fall, a 28-pointer that ranks second in the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Cy Curtis Program listings.
Further to the east along the Red River, the Sooner State bucks aren’t numerous, but they can be eye-popping big on occasion.
For proof, look no further than the northern portion of Bryan County where Larry Luman enjoyed a day off from his game warden’s job back on Nov. 21, 1997. By day’s end, he was the proud owner of a giant typical whitetail buck gross scoring 199 2/8-inches and net scoring 186 2/8-inches, good enough to make it the Sooner State record for a solid decade.
In a state that features 530,000 or so whitetails and a record archery harvest a year ago that numbered 26,151 deer, what can archers expect this fall and winter on the Sooner State’s side of the border river?
“I’d say from recent trends over the last few years, hunters can expect hunting this fall that’s pretty close to what we observed last year, if not even a little bit better,” said ODWC big game biologist Dallas Barber.
“There should be plenty of opportunity for bowhunters this year and that includes the immediate opening day coming up on Sunday, Oct. 1,” he also noted. “With the cooler (and wetter) weather across the state (this week), the deer should be on their feet. It should be a great time to get out into the woods.”
Across the river in Texas, there is plenty of optimism too, an expectation that is easy to come by in a state blessed by the Creator with 4.3 million whitetails.
What’s more, in addition to big numbers of deer in many portions of the Lone Star State, there are also plenty of heavy antlered bruisers in the state that keep local taxidermists busy.
In short, with great numbers and superb trophy quality between the Red River and the Rio Grande, there aren’t very many bad deer seasons in the state of Texas.
And this fall should be no exception.
“The vast majority of the state had good habitat conditions going into last winter and early spring, which helped bucks recover from the rigors of the rut, and gave them a good foundation to start the antler growth cycle this year,” said Alan Cain, whitetail deer program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, in an agency news release.
If whitetails got off to a good start across most of the state, they were able to finish their growing season with a flourish in some spots this summer thanks to good precipitation trends.
“Landowners and hunters with properties lucky enough to receive some of (the) early summer rains and that have remained green may expect better than average deer quality this fall,” said Cain.
That has to include the counties here along the Red River — especially Grayson and Fannin Counties, where summer brought record rainfall in July and August — turf that is well known for big antlered bucks despite low overall numbers.
Last fall, several big bucks fell to archers within 35 miles of the Red River, including one giant to the south in Collin County.
That buck was tagged by McKinney bowhunter Cody Griffin, who took the 230 4/8-inch net non-typical not far away from the quickly growing county seat. If Griffin’s name sounds familiar, it’s because the bowhunter tagged another Boone and Crockett qualifier from the same property in 2015, a non-typical that scored 195 0/8-inches.
Here in Grayson County, several good bucks were tagged on private land and at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. And one very good non-typical whitetail, whose score I’ve never been able to learn, fell early in last October’s archery season.
With 11 Boone and Crockett Club entries here in Grayson County — add in a 2008 typical pick-up rack and it’s an even dozen B&C bucks — and there’s little doubt that the local turf is still some of the state’s best.
And that continues to be the case even as the burgeoning population of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex continues to quickly expand towards the local whitetail habitat.
Grayson County’s list of bruiser bucks produced by that habitat includes Jeff Duncan’s former Pope and Young Club state archery record, a November 2001 non-typical buck taken at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge that featured 26-scorable points and a net score of 225 7/8-inches.
It also includes Robert Taylor’s massive buck taken at the end of December 2012. Originally scored at more than 254-inches, panel scoring eventually reduced the buck’s final numbers a bit, but it still remains one of the most impressive non-typicals to ever come from Grayson County.
The same can be said of Jim Lillis’ huge typical, a Hagerman NWR bruiser that fell to a well-placed arrow from the Sherman resident on Nov. 30, 2007.
Lillis - often called Mr. Duck by yours truly thanks to his many years of service as the North Texas senior regional director for Ducks Unlimited — scored the biggest hunter harvested typical whitetail in Grayson County history thanks to his 175 2/8-inch monster.
There are plenty of other good deer hailing from Grayson County too, something proven by the 100-plus entries in the Grayson County Whitetail Record Book (GCWRB) I’ve endeavored to keep since the late 1990s.
With 50-plus typical entries and 50-plus non-typical entries — bucks that have scored high enough for inclusion in the Boone and Crockett Club, the Pope and Young Club, and the Texas Big Game Awards program — the local woods offer great potential even if deer sightings aren’t as numerous as they are in other parts of Texas.
With all of that record talk duly noted, what will this fall’s bowhunting campaign bring to archers here in the Red River Valley?
More of the same, thanks to the local genetics, older age classes, and superb habitat conditions. In fact, don’t be surprised if a dozen plus record book entries get reported, perhaps even an eye-popping Boone and Crockett monster or two.
So grab the camouflage, sharpen your broadheads, and climb into a treestand because you might be the one this year tagging a massive record book whitetail — a Booner in the hunter’s vernacular — that will still stop the presses.