On most ranches in Texas, those bucks are classified as either “trophy” or “management” deer. Trophies are bucks with 10- or 12-point racks that have the gaudy potential to grow and score 170 inches or more. The larger trophy bucks grow their racks, the more expensive they are to hunt.
Ranchers and deer managers consider management bucks to be 4-year-old and older animals with limited antler potential. Typically, old bucks with 9 points or less that gross score less than 135 inches. These are the type of bucks that I can afford to hunt (the cost of a management hunt is typically a third that of a trophy hunt) and actually enjoy hunting the most.
My latest hunt for an old, antler-challenged buck took place on a low-fence ranch near Bracketville, Texas, a couple hours west of San Antonio.
I spent the first 2 days of my hunt sitting in box blinds and glassing and studying as many bucks as I could. If you go on a similar hunt, I recommend you do the same. Glassing racks with 9 points or less that score 120 to 135 is not really a problem. But aging bucks on the hoof, trying to decide if a deer is 4 or 5 years old, is tricky, especially in the January post-rut when bucks are thin and run down, having lost as much as 20 percent of their body weight from chasing and breeding does back in peak rut in December.
I glassed and observed more than 30 nice bucks in 2 days, and with 8 of the bucks I struggled with judging their age by body: 3 or 4 or 5 years old? A good problem to have! Seeing more rack bucks in 2 days than you might see in 4 or 5 seasons back home is another great reason you should hunt Texas at least once in your life.
On the third day one of the guides on the ranch texted me a picture of a shooter, one I had not seen yet, but the one I wanted for sure to shoot. He was 5 or 6 years old with a thick if saggy body, and a main-frame 8-point rack that was missing brow tines. If you looked up the definition of management buck in a pictorial dictionary, this would be it.
An hour before dark, he busted out of thick brush and started pushing every doe in sight. This being the post-rut, I did not really expect this much rutting, but it was cool to see. The buck pushed does around for a good 5 minutes before he stopped for a shot.
My 140-grain bullet was on point, and one of the biggest-bodied management bucks I have ever killed was on the ground.
If you have never hunted South Texas for a management buck, I encourage you to go one January. It is an entirely different type of hunting than you do back home, a new challenge and one heck of a lot of fun. Oh yeah, and the 70-degree days are nice!