Though the displays at local stores want to suggest otherwise, it’s still a few weeks until Christmas Eve, the annual December night when youngsters — and plenty of adults — will find it very difficult to go to sleep.
While old St. Nick’s annual visit will have to wait for now, there’s a ready and willing substitute, one that is coming up tonight in dozens of back road spots between the Red River and the Rio Grande.
Places like Brady, Eagle Pass, Fredericksburg, Hebbronville, Jefferson, Kingsville, Llano, Nacogdoches, Pearsall, Quanah, Sonora, Throckmorton and Uvalde to name a few.
Why such a fuss about out-of-the-way spots? Because tonight is the eve of the 2018 Texas deer hunting season, that’s why.
And if my guess is right, there will be plenty of cammo clad creatures stirring in deer camps tonight, and not just because of the piles of leftover Halloween candy either.
Once again, expectations are running high on the eve of another deer season. Thanks to intense private land management, a wealth of natural habitat, and a sizable deer herd that numbers some 4.6 million whitetails at last count, there is simply no better state in the country to hunt whitetails in.
Want to see big numbers of deer? As I was reminded last December on a hunt to the Hill Country region, there’s simply no better place than the Edwards Plateau where some of the highest deer densities in the state are found.
On the first evening of my hunt at Vatoville Ranch on the backside of the Hill Country, a stiff northerly wind dropped temps down into the mid-30s. After a heavy rain event the previous 24 hours, there was limited movement as most whitetails held tight to thermal cover.
The next morning, however, there was a noticeable increase in deer movement as the winter storm - remember the heavy snow that fell last year at places like College Station? - moved out, skies cleared, and the thermometer dropped below freezing.
As the sun crested the horizon, the chilly morning warmed slowly as a dozen plus deer eventually wandered through while I sat in a box blind with guide Bunk Galbreath of Vatoville and PR man Jake Meyer of Mossy Oak. Eventually, a grizzled old nine-pointer wandered in and started pushing his way around, a dandy mature buck that Galbreath gave thumbs up for me to take.
Later that evening, with doe tags remaining in everyone’s pocket, J.J. Reich of Savage Arms and Federal Premium Ammunition, joined me in a different blind. If memory serves correct, we saw more than 30 different deer that evening, more than a dozen solid bucks, and a beautiful 10-pointer that was a true giant for Central Texas.
If the other kind of numbers are your thing - as in the final numbers of a buck on the Boone and Crockett Club scoring scale - then you’ll probably want to look south of San Antonio. Because when the rut is on in December, there’s no more magical place in the country to seek a trophy buck than the fabled Brush Country of South Texas.
To be truthful, I’ve only found myself in that region once during hunting season, invited down by Texas bass fishing pro Kelly Jordon. While some whitetail management work was the primary goal of the trip for my two sons, KJ had given me the green light to bring my bow along and sit in one of his stands.
The first afternoon was warm and deer sightings were slim, but I entertained myself by watching a few does come and go along with several coveys of bobwhite quail and a few scaled quail (blue quail) scurrying about in comical fashion.
As the day’s legal shooting light evaporated, I began to take my release off and prepare my hunting pack for the trip back to camp. But as I looked up, a shadowy antlered figure could be seen hanging out on the edge of the thorny brush.
Staying hidden until the final sands in the day’s hour glass had run out, the giant buck took his time coming in. But several minutes after shooting time expired, the bona fide Muy Grande buck finally committed and came into feed.
For several minutes, the only noise I could hear was the faint breeze, the whispering wings of doves overhead, and the sound of this giant whitetail crunching on kernels of feeder-thrown corn. As darkness fell, all I could do was sit and watch this B&C caliber buck, chewing gold nuggets less than 20-yards away from my brushed in ground blind.
When the rattle of KJ’s truck was heard coming down the ranch road to pick me up, the massive whitetail looked up and slowly trotted away. Leaving me with one of the greatest memories of my deer hunting lifetime, the sight of a 175-inch giant on a low-fence ranch in some of the state’s best whitetail country.
And me smiling big, even though I never had a shot. Truth is, even though the buck was known to KJ and the other hunters on that lease, no one ever got a shot at that old wise guy.
If South Texas is grand for big whitetails, the East Texas Pineywoods region isn’t too shabby either. Despite the dense cover of the region and more limited deer sightings, each year some remarkable giants come from the forested woodlands in the eastern third of the state.
East Texas will always hold a special place in my hunter’s heart, in part because the region produced the first deer that my boys ever took. Not to mention the first buck that their dear old dad tagged many years ago.
For me, it happened on a cloudy, mild November morning during my college years. Sitting in a hand-built ladder stand on the farm owned by my late friend Raymond Copley, about an hour into the morning sit a young buck suddenly appeared.
In the days before antler restrictions and management concerns, there was never a question as to whether or not I was going to use my tag. So as the whitetail slowly edged down the trail, my upper torso began to quiver violently with my first real case of buck fever.
After a few deep breaths, I finally calmed down and got the scope’s crosshairs settled on the buck’s boiler room. When everything looked right, I touched the trigger and entered a fraternity that I had only previously dreamed of.
Since then, I’ve wandered deeper and deeper into the deer hunter’s world. Since my late father Bill was more of a fisherman than a hunter, much of my in-the-woods education has come through time afield as well as from advice given by hunting pals like Raymond, John Estes and his brother Gary, Mike Davis and his brother Charlie, and of course, my long time friend Jim Lillis.
As my work in the outdoors communication industry has opened up the occasional door to travel and hunt whitetails in other locations, over the years, I’ve enjoyed seeing the deer hunting that other states have to offer.
But I’ve always enjoyed deer hunting here in Texas the most. So much so that if the Lord tapped me on the shoulder and said there’s time for only one more hunt on this side of eternity, I know it would be here in the Lone Star State with my two sons.
Maybe a tripod nestled back in the brush along a thorny sendero near Laredo. Possibly a raised box blind overlooking a hardwood creek bottom in East Texas. There’s also the oak covered hillsides near Strawn, a place where a Mary’s Cafe chicken fried steak awaits the post-hunt celebration. Or perhaps, a ground blind out in the stunning Pease River bottom country near Quanah.
Better yet, maybe I’d choose a certain timbered spot I know here in Grayson County, a bowhunting place that has been good to me in the past and just might be again.
The one thing that I am certain of is that such a hunt would be somewhere between the borders of this great state. Because when it comes to deer hunting, there’s no better place than Texas.
Just ask the thousands of hunters that will have trouble going to sleep tonight.