Phil and Jackie Hunter have met a goal in deer management that’s a milestone for most ranchers. After 10 years of ranch improvements and carefully applied trophy deer management practices, Jackie killed a wide 12-point mossy-horn that would make most deer hunter’s mouth water. The 181 6/8 net B&C was near perfect in confirmation, and the best typical buck from low fence that I have scored in South Texas in many years. Based on the total number of bucks killed each year in Texas, and the rather high score (11 6/8 inches above the minimum) this is truly a one-in-a-million Texas whitetail.
While some magnificent bucks are killed behind high fence, a typical buck of this stature is rare. It will probably rank 23rd of the172 typical Texas bucks in the Boone and Crockett All-Time record book. The B&C record book was established in 1950 as a source of recordkeeping for the best big game trophies taken in North America.
Jackie’s buck hunt on Nov. 6, 2010, has a good story line. Jason Shipman, ranch biologist for the Hunter’s Charco Marrano Ranch just east of Cotulla, had seen an outstanding buck on one of the Cuddeback trail cameras. The deer was very elusive—Jason had seen him once or twice in the pasture, and a few times on the camera. Phil and Travis had seen the deer a few times, but Jackie and Trisha had never seen the buck in the pasture.
The good thing about trail cameras is that you can get a “still” photo that can be evaluated. The only camera look that I saw of the buck was a nighttime photo and the buck was eating cottonseed (which was my main interest at the time). The buck was about 5 years old, and showed great promise. Phil, who seldom ever hunts, but enjoys seeing others take good bucks, had a plan. Jackie had not killed a buck for two or three years, and had just celebrated her 60th birthday. Phil wanted Jackie to hunt this buck as a birthday present when the season opened in November.
Saturday, Nov. 6 came with cool, clear weather. Jackie and her guide, son Travis, were in the high blind before daylight. The blind overlooked a large pasture with high grass and sparse brush where the buck was last seen. As the eastern sky showed a vivid pink, announcing the coming of the sun, Jackie looked through the Nikon glass, hoping to get a glimpse of the huge antlers that were the hallmark of the huge buck. “Don’t worry, Mom,” Travis assured his mother. “When you see his antlers, you’ll know that it’s him.”
Daylight came and went; the birds quit their chirping and went to where birds go, and the buck was a no-show. The hunters (no pun intended) kept their vigil, and Jackie almost quit breathing when Travis said,” There he is, Mom.” The buck had emerged from the brush, jumped a ranch fence, and was moving at a right angle to the blind, about 200 yards away. “He may circle and get closer,” Travis predicted as the buck slowly made his way across the field.
However, Travis could tell by the way the buck slowly, but steadily moved towards the brush on the other side of the field that he had probably been to water and was on his way to bed down for the day. “I wouldn’t take a shot that far on a great buck like that,” Jackie later told me. “He was too far for me to shoot, and besides, I knew that it was the first day of a long deer season. We let him go.”
Jackie has taken four bucks on Charco Marrano during the last five or six years, and three more while hunting with Phil through the years on deer leases. One of her Charco Marrano bucks from ’08 was exceptionally wide—27 inches. She shoots a Weatherby Vanguard in .30-06, with a 3-9X scope. I was surprised when she showed me the 220-grain Remington Core-Lokt cartridges. “Isn’t that load a little big for whitetails?” I asked. “Not for me. I like a heavy bullet that will break bones and put them on the ground,” Jackie answered.
“The toughest lease we ever had was at Rio Medina,” Jackie recalled, as she winked at Phil as if to remind him of the old days. “We camped out, and slept in a lean-to with the rats, snakes and armadillos.” I could see Phil’s eyes light up at the thought. “We’ve come a long way since Rio Medina, haven’t we?” he said with a smile.
Then there was the lease south of Batesville. Phil and Jackie (and the kids) hunted there with their long time friends, Buddy and Debbie (and the kids) for eight years. “Back in those days, if it had ‘horns’ on its head, it was dead,” Jackie said.
A short history of the Charco Marrano Ranch is in order. Phil Hunter has a successful construction company in Cibolo. He recalls that when he put the ranch together about 10 years ago, the deer herd was shot out; water was in short supply, and the entire 7,000-acre ranch was in need of “TLC.” One side was high-fenced, and one side faced S.H.624. With a primary goal to raise above-average whitetails, Phil soon saw the need to fence one more interior side of the ranch. The other two sides have remained open.
The whole world knows that the “Golden Triangle” of South Texas (Cotulla to Laredo to Eagle Pass and back) has outstanding whitetail genetics. Phil’s Charco Marrano lies along the eastern edge of the Triangle. A primary part of the management plan was a good supplemental feeding program. Between all of the Hunters (Phil, Jackie, Trisha, and Travis), and Jason, the feeding program has been a remarkable success. Also, it is important to note that all of the deer on Charco Marrano are native. Phil and Jason believe that the genetics of the deer herd are more than adequate to produce high quality—even “super” bucks.
Harvest management is second only to the supplemental feed program, and Jason has held the bar high for bucks that are allowed to live another year on the ranch. Family and friends, along with a few commercial hunters manage to keep the deer herd in line with the management plan. Phil doesn’t apply for special permits, such as Managed Lands Deer Permits (MLD) or antlerless control permits. “We don’t need special permits to manage the deer. We just do it the old fashion way—we hunt hard!” Phil said as we talked about the success of his hunters one Saturday evening.
We were evaluating the seven best bucks taken last season. The five typicals were Jackie’s B&C buck; Jason’s wide nine-point, Carter Smith’s big 10-point, and two big bucks taken by commercial hunters. Then there was Travis’ whopper non-typical, and Buddy’s big non-typical. Most likely, the total scores for all seven of these bucks (1,182 1/8 total B&C) would set some kind of record for a single season on a South Texas ranch!
After the big buck disappeared into the brush on his way to bed down, Jackie and Travis lingered a while longer in the blind and then went back to the house. “It is tough, leaving a huge buck in the pasture, knowing that he could just get up and go out two sides of the ranch and get shot,” Jackie said. “Before the season opened, and when I would see a deer dead on the pavement on the west side of the ranch, I would have a choked-up feeling until I was sure it wasn’t the big buck.” In all of her 32 years of deer hunting, Jackie had never seen a buck that would rival the one she had seen that morning.
Travis thought about how the buck had headed straight for a certain spot on the ranch. He had to decide whether to go back to the morning blind, and hope that the buck would come back out the way he had gone in, or chose another blind. Jackie wanted to go back to the morning blind, and by four o’clock they were in the blind. Travis figured that they could hunt until about 6 p.m. because it was a sunny day and dusk would come late. “There was no reason for that buck to be anywhere except out there where he went into the brush. He hadn’t been disturbed, or chased, or shot at,” Travis recalled after the hunt. They waited.
The five o’clock sun was getting low, when Travis nudged his mother and said,”There he is.” The buck came out just as Travis has expected, and angled toward their blind. “I got nervous,” recalled Jackie. “I wanted to shoot because he was close enough. Travis held up my shot, waiting for the buck to get broadside away from the brush at about 75 yards.”
Travis calmly said, “Mom, he’s coming to a good spot for a shot. Don’t look at his antlers—just get ready to shoot.” Jackie recalled that she could hardly breathe when she placed the rifle on the window of the blind. She squeezed the trigger and the bullet was on its way. The impact of the 220-grain Core-lokt soft point bullet could be heard as the buck stumbled sideways, plowed through the high grass for about 70 yards, and disappeared from view. “We knew that he was down,” said Jackie. “The pasture was pretty open, and we knew that we could find him, even in the tall grass.”
The hunters got down out of the blind after they had let Phil and everyone at the house know that Jackie had put the buck on the ground. “We had a good blood trail, but the high grass made it hard to follow the wounded deer. We went out and lost the trail. We went back and picked it up again and after about 30 yards, Travis said,”Mom, I see an antler.” Jackie had almost been running to keep up with Travis, and she said under her breath, “Where”? Travis motioned,” Over there. See the big antler beam above the grass.” With that, Jackie saw the antler, and ran up to the dead buck. “He was awesome,” said Jackie.
About that time Phil drove up in his old grey truck. He doesn’t have to drive an old truck like that, but he likes that old truck. I think I know Phil’s feeling about that old truck. He knows that he could drive a new truck, but the old truck reminds him of the old days, when he couldn’t afford a better truck. It is a way of people who have been successful.
Phil got out and went to Jackie and her buck. “I got him,” said Jackie, with quite a bit of emotion. “Do you think he will make the B&C record book?” Phil put his hand on Jackie’s shoulder and convincingly said, “Yes, he’s there—NOT TO WORRY.”
Jason and I had a plan. When the 60-day drying period was up, I would score the buck officially for the “Book.” Jason was interested in watching me score the deer, because he had applied for a scorer certification school that Boone and Crockett was putting on in Missoula, Montana (at the home office). I’ve been a devout Boone and Crockett scorer for over 40 years, and I was concerned that the buck would get a score that would be accepted by the Boone and Crockett Club officials.
When the drying period was up, I met with the family at the ranch and scored the buck. I wanted Jackie to see everything I did with the scoring. She watched me like a hawk. We finished the score, and I told them that it was a good score, but not official until approved by the Club in Missoula. I’ve been an official scorer for more than 40 years, and I was sure that the score would be accepted because the typical antlers were very easy to score.
Nov. 6, 2010 was a good day for Phil and all the family. They were 10 years into they’re deer program, and the hard work (and money) were paying off. Two years earlier, daughter Trisha, and her husband Glen had taken two monster bucks on Charco Marrano (see The Journal, Sept-Oct ’08, “Dynamic Duo”). As mentioned earlier, Jackie’s “book” buck was the best in a series of seven above-average trophies taken on Charco Marrano during the 2010 season—maybe some kind of season record in Texas.
One thing is sure—Phil and Jackie have come a long way since Rio Medina—the lean-to and all the rest. Jackie’s 60th birthday buck will soon be in the record book, and it looks like there will be good trophy deer hunting on the Charco Marrano for many years to come. Jackie says that she will probably put the rifle up for a while and get into archery. “I want to get a good buck with my bow.” I DO LOVE success—don’t you?
Editor’s note: Jackie Hunter’s 12-point buck has been accepted for the Boone and Crockett record book with a score of 181 6/8.
Pull quote: Travis calmly said, “Mom, he’s coming to a good spot for a shot. Don’t look at his antlers—just get ready to shoot.” Jackie recalled that she could hardly breathe when she placed the rifle on the window of the blind. She squeezed the trigger and the bullet was on its way.