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High Plains Outdoors: Big Bucks Of The Brazos

Luke Clayton

The serpentine course of the Brazos River below what is now Possum Kingdom Lake, situated an hour or so west of Ft. Worth, Texas runs through what was back in the late 1800’s some mighty call wild Texas real estate. 

This big ranch country is still sparsely settled and once away from the public roads, it’s easy to picture what the hardy souls that settled the land might have encountered. 

This is the country where Oliver Loving and Charlie Goodnight rounded up the longhorns for the long cattle drives that have become a big part of western history.

It’s difficult to imagine rounding up wild cattle in this rough country on horseback and then herding them a thousand miles through hostile country. Yes, this country is steeped in history, Mr. Loving is buried in nearby Weatherford, Texas.  I’m sure most of you have watched the movie Lonesome Dove. Well, this country is actually where many of the cattle drives originated rather than the brush country of deep South Texas.   

On the western banks of the Brazos, right in the middle of this still remote country lays the Dale River Ranch. I have been friends with Randy Douglas, the ranch manager here, for several years and have enjoyed many hunts for hogs and turkey on the ranch. I used to set up a little tent camp on the banks of the river and spend a couple days hunting spring turkey or hogs whenever the weather was cool enough to camp. Just up from where I camped are a couple of graves dating back to the cattle drive era. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering just who these people were and how they came to live in such a remote area.  

Now that you know just where I was hunting, let me tell you about this airgun hunt that will forever be remembered as one of the most rewarding hunts of my life, not just because I killed a big ole’ Brazos River buck but because of the total experience. As I set in a pop up ground blind overlooking a well-used deer trail, my mine wondered back to the frontier days of the 1870’s and 80’s when this far west of Ft. Forth was still being terrorized by the Comanche and when a handful of hearty settlers brave enough to try to make a home in this unsettled land. What would they have thought of a man dressed in clothing that closely resembled the landscape, armed with a weapon that propelled a bullet with the force of air?

My daydreaming didn’t last long, about 30 minutes into my hunt that first afternoon, I began seeing deer. First a couple of does; what appeared to be a mature doe and her 6 month old fawn and then a very respectable 5 point buck right behind them. The timing for the rut was perfect and bucks were on the prowl; most of them were still on the roam, looking for a doe in estrus.  Normally my hunt would have ended with this fully mature 5 point on the meat pole. I absolutely love hunting big old bucks and number of points is not a prerequisite to me pulling the trigger. This ole boy had heavy main beans, about 20 inches long, forked on the right side and three points on the left. 

I was hunting during a full moon and the solunar game movement table on my Hunt Stand cell phone app predicted that game would be moving best during the last hour of daylight and deep into the night. As I have often found to be the case these predictions, based on moon phase are usually pretty accurate and during the last 30 minutes of legal shooting time, I saw several bucks and doe on the move. Turkey and songbirds were also active.

Then, with only a couple minutes of shooting light left, I spotted a big buck with heavy antlers step out of the brush, trailed by a youngish 8 pointer. I couldn’t count points but this buck was sporting some serious headgear. Both bucks came in to a corn feeder and had their heads down feeding. Even with my scope set at 3 power, I simply could not tell for sure which was the giant buck and which was the smaller one. I was 99 percent sure I had the crosshairs settled on the heavier buck’s shoulder but I’ve made a career out of waiting for what I KNOW is a high percentage shot on an animal I wish to harvest. I passed on shooting and when the bucks spooked, the big buck held his head high and I saw I had indeed had the crosshairs settled on the correct buck. As they old saying goes, “That’s hunting!”

I still had another day to hunt and my confidence level was through the roof. Randy had been out checking game cameras and scouting and dropped by just after dark to pick me up. On the ride back to the camper, I clued him in on what I had saw; during his afternoon of scouting, he also had seen lots of deer on the move including a couple of shooter bucks.

I was hunting with my Airforce Airguns .45-cal Texan SS, loaded with what has become my favorite hunting bullet, the 240 grain hollow point by Nielsen Specialty Ammo. I have the new tank/valve on my Texas now and had it pressured up to 3500 psi. The rifle with this bullet was consistently keeping 3 shots within a 2 inch circle at 75 yards, the first two shots were very close, almost touching and the third was plenty close for the hunting I do. But, in real hunting situations, it’s the first bullet that really counts, we might need a follow up second shot but it’s good to know the rifle has enough power to deliver a killing third shot.

I used to be a proponent of using heavier bullets for taking game close in but once I discovered these precisely built swaged bullets, I’ve found them to do a good job on game and I especially like their flatter trajectory compared to the bigger bullets. I’ve taken a couple of good size hogs with the bullets and had full confidence in their ability to anchor the biggest whitetail buck.  I now feel totally comfortable shooting big game at 100 yards and a little beyond (the added power of the 3,500 psi tank on my Texan also adds to my confidence making longer shots). 

The Dale River Ranch has a very nice lodge situated right on the river but my buddy lets me headquarter in his camper located a couple miles from the nearest road. Back at camp that evening, I dined on some smoked wild pork ribs, sweet potatoes and canned collard greens. I thoroughly enjoy camping and hunting with friends but sometimes it’s good to go solo, it gives one time to think and reflect upon not only the big buck tomorrow might bring but in my case, the past 55 years of deer hunting. It was a good feeling being totally alone that evening but I was happy to see my buddy show up about 30 minutes before daylight the next morning. 

“Luke, I’ve there is lots of deer movement down closer to the river, I know It’s going hard to pry you away from where you saw those bucks yesterday but you might wish to give this other spot a try.” Says Randy as we head out for the morning hunt. I’ve hunted and guided hunts long enough not to attempt to ‘guide the guide’. YES! Let’s head to the new spot was my reply!

Randy dropped me off on a trail crossing about 200 yards from a ground blind situated atop a ridge where the terrain falls quickly down toward the river. As I walked in, there was deer sign everywhere; rubs on the sumac bushes along the trail and the ground covered in deer tracks. I could even smell deer in the damp air. If you have been deer hunting long enough you understand that rutting bucks leave a pungent odor that hangs in the air for some time after their passing. 

The wooden box blind was comfortable and I was thankful to have four walls around me to nock off the morning chill. Daylight broke across the river and I soon spotted a couple of does at the feeder. Then, down toward the river, I caught movement and then I saw antlers, BIG antlers on a big bodied buck working his way out of cover, heading toward the does. It’s not uncommon for mature bucks to skirt around a feeder during the rut, looking for a receptive does. We old Texas hunters refer to feeders as the deer’s “Singles Bar”, its where the buck goes looking for action! 

I could spend the next 500 words describing what occurred next but, that’s not necessary. The big 11 pointer skirted downwind as they often do (he didn’t get my scent because I had sprayed down liberally with Scent Guardian by Texas Raised Hunting Products). I lost sight of him when he went behind me through the brush but I took the cue and put the Texan in the window of the blind and made ready for the shot. The doe began starring hard in the direction I expected the buck to appear. He popped out of the brush about 55 yards to my right. I shoot off my left shoulder and could not have been steadier for the shot. The power of 3,500 psi of compressed air pushed the 240-grain bullet out the barrel and completely through the bucks heart and on somewhere into the brush past the buck. As most heart shot bucks do, this one jumped straight up a good 5 feet, hit the ground running for a total of about 40 yards. I watched him go down just before entering a trail that led into a thick patch of sumac. No trailing required.

Through the years, I’ve taken many, many whitetail bucks from North Dakota to Mexico but this first one with my air rifle will always be special. There is just something special about this “Brazos Country” that keeps bringing me back.

To learn more about the Dale River Ranch, visit www.daleriverranch.com. Ranch manager Randy Douglas welcomes airgun hunters for bucks, doe and turkey. There is a very good population of free range red deer along this stretch of the Brazos. Red deer hunts are also available for the stags (bucks) and hinds (females). Red deer are actually European sub species of elk, they can even interbreed with the elk we have in the United States. 

Visit www.catfishradio.org to listen to Luke’s weekly outdoor radio shows. His weekly video, A SPORTSMAN’S LIFE is now on YouTube. Please watch and subscribe, always lots of ‘real life’ outdoors on the show. 


Outdoors writer, radio host and book author Luke Clayton has been addicted to everything outdoors related since his childhood when he grew up hunting and fishing in rural northeast Texas. Luke pens a weekly newspaper column that appears in over thirty newspapers.