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Lynn Burkhead — When it comes to big deer, early hunts can trump all

Staff Writer
Herald Democrat

When I first started writing about the outdoors in the late 1980s as a college kid getting ready to graduate from the University of North Texas, I’ll readily admit that I wasn’t much of a deer hunter.

Doves, ducks, and geese, you bet. White-tailed deer, not so much.

But as a writing stint at the Gainesville Daily Register (thanks Mike Hill) turned into time at the Sherman Democrat (thanks Rusty Hall) and finally into my time here at the Herald Democrat (thanks Jason Della Rosa, Bill Spinks, Todd Hutchinson), what I knew about deer hunting began to change both personally and professionally.

I became a card carrying whitetail hunter myself, taking my first deer ever on a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department draw hunt at Pat Mayse WMA near Paris. Eventually, there was a buck downed at a farm owned by my late Sunday school teacher, Raymond Copley, followed by several smaller bucks at the Cooke County farm owned by my friend Mike Davis, Charlie Davis, and their family.

Eventually, I covered my first two big buck stories — Junior Robertson’s late October 1995 non-typical bruiser and Donnie Brewer’s early December 1995 behemoth, both 200-inch plus bucks tagged at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. Stories about those Hagerman Hatrack bucks became my first magazine article sales, something that would eventually snowball into other stories and a future career path that I’m still following to this day.

A year later, the Good Lord blessed me with a friend’s advice (thanks Randy Jones) and an undeserved Pope and Young buck of my own at Hagerman, a November deer that really accelerated my interest in all things related to whitetail headbones.

Before long, I was writing stories about deer hunting, confident that I knew what I was talking about, especially when it came to the best time to chase big bucks. If you only had a few days to get into the woods, make sure it was between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

After all, with apologies to Andy Williams and his beloved Christmas tune, November was actually the best time of the year. For the deer hunter, at least.

But slowly, that idea began to be challenged as my outdoor writing hobby blossomed and headed for a full blown career change.

Vernon, Texas bowhunter John Wright’s then Pope and Young Club state record typical started that shift, a 173 3/8-inch nine-pointer he arrowed in Wilbarger County…on opening day of the October 1998 bow season.

Other big bucks would occasionally follow suit early in the Texas archery season, a trend that seemed to accelerate in the early part of the 21st Century as I began to cover deer hunting across the national landscape.

When Iowa teenager Tony Lovesteun downed his “Walking World Record” giant on Sept. 29, 2003 — a 307 5/8-inch non-typical that was the largest buck ever taken by a hunter at the time — I had my first big buck story at ESPNOutdoors.com and growing proof that November wasn’t the only good time to head for the whitetail woods.

Locally, Sherman bowhunter Brock Benson continued my education that November isn’t always better, downing his own giant, a 201 2/8-inch Grayson County monarch on opening weekend of the 2007 bow season for Texas deer.

Back in 2012, A.J. Downs set the Texas deer hunting world on fire when he arrowed a giant non-typical in San Jacinto County, a state record archery buck that scores 256 7/8-inches. When did he arrow that buck — which would eventually duel Robert Taylor’s late season Grayson County monster for top billing — that year? On opening weekend of the October archery season.

By now, you’re getting the picture that while November is still undoubtedly the best time of the year for most deer hunters to dream big — or maybe early December if you hunt in South Texas — don’t snooze on the early season potential to see a whopper wallhanger go down.

Already, that idea seems to be holding water this season, only days into the 2020 archery deer hunting season.

Why is that? Talking to a well connected Grayson County deer hunter the other day, he relayed a story at midweek from a deer hunting friend who has seen a photo of a great typical buck supposedly taken on opening weekend near Dorchester.

While local hunters can often be tight lipped about such bucks, the rumor is that the deer could be a Boone and Crockett qualifying typical and then some. We’ll see, if the buck is real and if the hunter wants to come forward.

But there’s no doubt that at least one Texas bowhunter has already taken a world class giant as a glance at the Texas Big Game Awards Program website shows. That deer, a 30+ point non-typical taken by Robert H. Buker, Jr., is a King Ranch giant with a TBGA reported net score of 260 5/8-inches. The photo of the buck certainly seems to confirm the idea of such a lofty score.

If the Buker buck is a bow kill from the low-fenced Motas Negras Lease on Texas’ most famous deer hunting property, it’s a world class giant that could be a potential Top 10 all-time bow buck from the Lone Star State. It would also potentially be the new P&Y state record, surpassing the A.J. Downs deer mentioned above.

If the Buker buck turns out to be an early rifle kill (under the state’s MLDP, or Managed Lands Deer Program rules), it is could easily be one of the best non-typical bucks to ever be downed in the Lone Star State. In fact, the only Boone and Crockett entries that I see larger than the Buker buck — if the early green score by TBGA is ultimately held up after the 60-day drying period is complete — is the 284 3/8-inch state record Brady Buck from 1892 and a 272-inch pick-up buck from 1925.

That’s pretty lofty territory for a giant whitetail, among the best ever taken in North American deer hunting history. Time will tell if the deer is in fact, that big.

In the meantime, it’s further proof that sometimes, the early bird deer hunter can indeed get the worm.

At a time of the year when the living is easy, food is plentiful, and big deer are still patternable on early season chow hall patterns.

Compared to the craziness of next month’s whitetail rut, if you’ve got access to the early October deer woods, don’t wait until next month.

In other words, if recent trends are any proof, November, eat your deer hunting heart out because the year’s best whitetail hunting just might be in the here and now.