Chilly season opener sparks thoughts on love-sick bucks and whitetail lingo
As the weather goes, the timing of Texas’ 2019 season opener for white-tailed deer couldn’t have been scripted any better.
Opening day, Nov. 2, came on the heels of back-to-back frontal passages that ushered in the coldest air masses Texas has seen since last winter. Temperatures ranged from near freezing to the low 40s across much of the state with relatively clear skies and light winds that left the woods still and quiet as dawn fell on deer hunting’s biggest day.
Deer hunters likely welcomed the shift in the weather, but not just because it stifled mosquitoes and put a pleasant nip in the air just in time for the opening kickoff of a big game played by more than 800,000 Texans.
Cool snaps can be like magic for getting deer on their feet and putting bucks on the prowl. Dips in the temperature can be especially beneficial for hunters when they happen around the rut.
Rut is a popular word in the deer hunter’s vocabulary. It’s frequently used in discussions about the whitetail breeding season.
Research studies conducted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department have shown peak breeding activity varies with the geographic region. In the Pineywoods, the rut usually peaks during the first two weeks of November; South Texas, mid-December; Central Texas, early November to early December.
Unsettled weather doesn’t mean much in the timing of the breeding season. Deer breed at about the same time of year regardless of what the weather does; however, most experts will agree that chilly weather during the rut can be a blessing for hunting prospects.
Cooler temperatures put deer on the move and typically result in more daytime breeding activity. Mature bucks are most active during the height of the rut. Plus, they are more prone to take chances and make stupid mistakes they normally would not make.
Timely cool snaps also have a way of giving hunters the confidence to get in the woods more often and stay put for longer periods while they are out there.
I’ve interviewed dozens of lucky deer hunters over the years who have tagged outstanding bucks. Probably 90% of those deer were under the heavy influence of testosterone and lost their lives because of an uncontrollable interest in the ladies.
Leta Thomas of Lufkin knows all about the magical powers of the rut. Thomas was hunting on a Managed Lands Deer property in Trinity County on the afternoon of Oct. 30 when she shot a remarkable 16-pointer. Hunters on qualifying MLD properties are allowed to open their rifle season ahead of the general season opener.
Details about the buck were limited at press time, but Thomas’ husband, Mike, did indicate that the buck showed up shortly before dark in a shooting lane in company of three does.
Thomas added that the 5 1/2-year-old buck has been green scored at 185 1/8 and 181 2/8 as a non-typical. The enormous rack carried 39 6/8 inches of mass and 20 2/8 inches of abnormal growth. It is sure to be one of top bucks reported in eastern Texas this season.
Jason Sluder’s magnificent Fannin County 20-pointer taken near Bonham on opening weekend of the 2014 general season is another good example of how quickly a rut-crazed buck looking for love can get into serious trouble.
Not long after daylight, a doe showed up at corn pile near Sluder’s makeshift ground blind. A young spike approached the doe and eventually chased it out of sight.
Moments later, a mature buck with enormous antlers came barreling into the opening, about 50 yards away. Sluder said buck had its nose to the ground as it zig-zagged across the flat on the trail of the doe.
“It was the most picture perfect example of a rutting buck that you’ll ever see,” he said.
The buck eventually stopped broadside 25 yards in front of Sluder’s blind. His bullet connected, but the deer didn’t fall. Instead, something bizarre happened. Unaware of where the shot had come from, the wounded deer bolted in Sluder’s direction and crashed into the side of his brush blind.
“It was totally unreal,” he recalled. “I was sitting there on the ground with a 200-inch buck running right at me, and there was nothing I could do.”
The hunter said the buck came so close he could have grabbed his antlers or touched him with rifle barrel.
“His eyes were sort of rolled back in his head,” he said. “Looking back, it was very surreal.”
Sluder said the buck stopped about 10 yards behind his ground blind, and he put him down for good. The deer was subsequently scored at 200 6/8 gross and 192 net by veteran Boone and Crockett scorer Ken Witt of Burleson.
Not every deer hunting tale takes such a bizarre twist, but one thing they all share is the unique language used in telling them.
Deer hunters are no different than members of other sporting fraternities. They talk a certain talk.
A seasoned hunter probably won’t get much of an education from here on out, but a novice might learn a little something. Here’s a lexicon of terms and phrases frequently used in discussions about North America’s most popular big game animal:
Scrape: A spot on the ground where leaves and other debris have been cleared or pawed away by a buck deer. A scrape can be as small as a basketball or as big as truck hood.
Scrapes usually occur beneath a low-hanging tree limb or bush, and they are often made at night. Bucks personalize scrapes by urinating in them. They also leave their scent on overhanging twigs by mouthing and rubbing them with their preorbital gland, found in the eye’s tear duct. Does receptive to breeding are prone to be attracted to ground scrapes.
Button Buck: Usually a yearling buck that has not yet developed its first set of antlers. It will have two bumps or “buttons” on top of its head beneath the skin. Hunters should evaluate antlerless deer closely with binoculars to avoid shooting button bucks by mistake. Button bucks shot during legal doe days may be tagged using an antler-less tag from your license.
“I got busted.”: When a deer hunter says he “got busted,” he often means he was detected by a deer prematurely. It’s never a good thing.
Deer often “blow” or “snort” when they sense danger. The resonant sound can be heard from a considerable distance on a crisp fall morning and sends a warning signal to other deer that might be in the area.
“She was hot.”: Refers to a doe in estrus that appears to be receptive to breeding.
“He went nocturnal.”: Used to describe a buck that suddenly drops off the grid and chooses to move around only under the cover of darkness. Mature bucks have a tendency to go nocturnal after the rut winds down. A nocturnal buck can be next to impossible to kill.
Rub: A tree or sapling with the bark removed just above the base. Bucks rub trees with their antlers to remove velvet and polish hardened antlers. As the rut nears, rubs are made as bucks condition their neck muscles for fighting, mark their territory to ward off other potential suitors or release energy.
Game camera: An electronic device strapped to a tree or post that automatically records digital images and/or video of everything that passes in front of it. Deer hunters rely on game cameras to scout potential stand sites, feeders, ground scrapes, crossings, trails and other points of interest. Data is recorded to a removable SD card. Some cameras are capable of sending images instantly to cellular phones via text messaging.
Field dress: Involves removing the internal organs of a dead deer before transporting it to camp or a meat processor. Deer should be field dressed promptly to avoid tainting the meat, especially in warm weather conditions.
Coming to corn: Refers to deer that are habitually coming to feeding stations to dine on corn.
Backstrap: Tender strips of venison located on both sides of a deer’s backbone.
Deer stand: A place where a hunter takes cover to wait for deer to come into shooting range. A good hunter will spend hours there over the course of the deer season.
There are several types of deer stands including elevated boxes, leading ladders, portable climbers, lock-on platforms and ground blinds. Ground blinds can be built from natural brush or mesh netting. Some companies are manufacturing ground blinds made from heavy duty material that can be erected in minutes.
Deer camp: A place where hunters congregate to eat, sleep and reflect on the day’s hunt. Some deer camps are equipped with all the modern conveniences of home. Others are strictly makeshift.
The term a hunter uses when he learns a buck’s antlers are significantly smaller than he thought when he pulled the trigger.
Coming to horns:
Used to describe a buck attracted to the sounds of clashing antlers, which often means a buck fight. Hunters can simulate the sounds of a buck fight by “rattlin’.” This involves banging real or synthetic antlers together, or using a “rattle bag” in staggered sequences. Rattlin’ tends to work best around the rut on managed property, where buck/doe ratios are relatively close.
Grunt: The low pitched sound a buck sometimes makes when chasing or tending a doe. The sound can be simulated with a store bought call or by burping into cupped hands.
Cull buck: A buck deer that is shot because it is thought to carry inferior genes. Cull bucks are usually determined by antler characteristics deemed unsatisfactory under a particular management program.
Bedding area: A place where deer go to lounge or rest. The best hunting spots are usually found between bedding areas and feeding areas.
Buck fever: The uncontrollable shaking sensation some hunters experience when they see a deer. Lucky hunters get buck fever after the shot is made. The unlucky ones start shaking the moment a deer comes into view.
Spike: A buck with one or more unbranched antlers.
Antler restrictions: Rules that define a legal buck in 117 Texas counties. The rules limit hunters to two bucks, only one of which may have an inside spread of 13 inches or more. The second legal buck must have at least one unbranched antler.
Texas Big Game Awards: A hunter/landowner recognition program run jointly by the Texas Wildlife Association and TPWD to promote quality wildlife and habitat management across the state.
Shooter: A deer a hunter determines is worthy of harvest.