Texas deer seasons are just about always good, but this one may turn out to be one for the record books for Greg Simons of San Angelo. Hunting on a 40,000-acre Culberson County lease shared with two buddies, Simons recently shot a desert mule deer buck that grew a magnificent set of antlers much larger than most deer hunters have seen.
The remarkable non-typical rack carries 27 scorable points almost too thick to reach around in places, massive main beams upwards of 27 inches in length and an inside spread that may be as wide as 32 6/8 inches, depending how judges decide it should be measured.
There won’t be an official Boone and Crockett score on the big West Texas buck until early January, after the antlers undergo a mandatory 60-day drying period.
However, Simons, a veteran wildlife biologist, has green-scored the antlers conservatively multiple times. He believes the buck will gross around 290 and net in the mid-to-upper 280s after deducts.
“He’s got a lot of palmation on one side and the variation is going to be in some of the interpretive points,” he said. “There could be a 3-4 inch swing in the final score depending on how it is judged.”
If Simons’ green score is remotely close, the buck will be the biggest free ranging, native mule deer ever reported statewide since the Texas Big Game Awards program began maintaining a registry of Texas big game harvests in 1991. TBGA is a hunter/landowner recognition program aimed at promoting quality wildlife and habitat management across the state.
The current TBGA state record non-typical mule deer record is a Reeves Co. buck that scores 283. It was shot in 2003 by Damon Compton. The top scoring Texas non-typical mule deer in B&C’s all-time registry is Rick Meritt’s 264 3/8 whopper from Gaines Co. in 2014.
It takes a special animal to grow such a spectacular set of antlers, particularly in an environment as harsh as the Chihuahuan Desert that is the rugged Trans-Pecos region of far West Texas. Drought is the norm in that part of the world. Deer and other wildlife have to hustle to find enough food to get by, and bucks rarely reach their full potential.
Culberson County averages about 12 inches of rainfall per year. Simons and his partners help offset the inhospitable conditions by supplementing the deer with protein pellets that are distributed at 12 feeding stations during the antler growing season.
Equally important is water. The ranch has three active wells that distribute water to about 28 large water troughs scattered around the property.
“Our water program is huge,” Simons said. “Water is a nutrient, just like protein. Without water, the protein would be moot.”
The big buck Simons and his friends came to know as “Hank” obviously responded pretty well to all the love. Simons claims he saw the deer once as a 3 1/2-year-old 14 pointer in 2016. He estimated the buck’s score at around 180 B&C.
Judging from game camera pictures the deer stacked on about 25 inches of antler in 2017, then jumped to around 235-240 B&C last season as a 5 1/2 year old.
“We saw him one time last November, but the shot opportunity didn’t work out,” Simons said. In hindsight, the missed opportunity last fall turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The buck exploded last summer and polished out its most impressive set of antlers yet just ahead of the 2019 hunting season. Simons said he could tell from pictures that the buck’s rack had blossomed another 40-or-so inches, and that he was looking at potential state record buck. “Once he started finishing out I knew there was a chance he was going to be bumping that kind of score,” he said.
The Hunt for “Hank”
The general mule deer season in the Trans-Pecos doesn’t get underway until Nov. 29, but Simons’ lease is under a state approved Managed Lands Deer program that allows for an earlier opener.
He shot the deer on the afternoon of Nov. 4 on the heels of what turned out to be one of the most exciting spot and stalk hunts he has ever experienced. Here’s how it came together:
Realizing he was going after a truly spectacular deer on challenging terrain with limited visibility, Simons knew he was going to have to get crafty in his approach.
The hunter had a good hunch the buck was holed up on a large creosote flat where the dense native brush runs for miles.
The deer was spotted in the area during a mid-October helicopter survey and Simons had actually seen him there on the hoof. To boost his odds, Simons created a vantage point by fashioning a makeshift spotting platform in the bed of his pick-up using a 12-foot step ladder anchored with ratchet straps.
“It’s flat as a flitter out there,” he said. “You can’t see anything unless you’re elevated — the brush is just too thick.”
Simons parked his truck on a ranch road near the brushy flat on Monday morning and scanned the landscape with binoculars. Shortly after sunrise, he spotted movement in the brush about 550 yards away.
Simons initially thought the movement was a bird until he spotted the buck’s antlers dancing in the morning sun. “I watched his antlers for about 15 minutes and never saw anything else. I assumed he bedded down right there.”
The hunter said the brush was way too thick to risk a blind stalk. He made note of the location and returned to area that afternoon, this time parking within about 350 yards of where he had spotted the buck.
Hank showed himself about an hour before dark, but the deer was still in a spot too risky to stalk. Staying patient was Simons’ only option.
“I was hoping he might move towards an area where the brush wasn’t quite so thick, and that’s exactly what he did,” he said. “He eventually started rubbing a Spanish dagger. He was still 350 yards away, but I could see his entire body.”
With the buck preoccupied at the ‘dagger, Simons exited the platform, grabbed his shooting sticks and duckwalked 250 yards down the road to close the gap.
He moved within easy view of the Spanish dagger, but the buck was nowhere to be seen at first. “I stood up and panned to the left — that’s when I spotted his antlers, about 75 yards away,” he said. “I couldn’t see his face, but it was obvious he had me pegged. He knew something was there, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.”
Simons said he slowly dropped to his knees, rolled on his side and extended his shooting sticks as the curious buck tried to loop downwind, stopping occasionally for another look.
In Simons’ mind he was in a do or die situation.
“There was no way to shoot him from the ground because I didn’t have a clear line of sight through the brush,” he said. “All I could do was stand up quickly and hope he hesitated long enough to give me a shot. That’s what he did.”
Simons shot the big mulie shortly before dark at about 50 yards. “It was definitely one of those deals where things were too close for comfort,” he said. “I would have much rather had him at 125 yards instead of right on top of me. Luckily, it worked out.”
Outdoors Briefs: TPW Commission adopts new passive fishing regs
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission recently adopted several new regulations pertaining to tagging and updating requirements on passive fishing gear, including trotlines, throw lines, limb lines, perch traps and other gear used to target catfish.
Law enforcement officials say the rules are aimed at reducing the number of derelict devices in public waters, while cutting down on the harmful, wasteful impacts and potentially dangerous consequences that can result when passive gear is left abandoned in freshwater rivers, reservoirs and backwater oxbows. The following regulation changes go into effect Feb. 1:
*Gear Tag Updates: The timeline for updating mandatory gear tags on passive fishing devices was reduced 10 days to six. The change was implemented to help reduce unintended fish mortalities that can occur when passive fishing devices are not inspected in a timely manner or are abandoned altogether. TPWD studies have shown bare hooks on passive gear continue to catch fish and that mortalities resulting from “ghost fishing” can increase after four days. TPWD had originally proposed a four-day timeline on updates but opted for six days after taking into consideration angler input gathered during a short public comment period.
*Gear Tag Identification: Anglers may now identify ownership of passive devices by placing the 12-digit customer number from their fishing license on the gear tag instead of their name and physical address.
*Float Marker: All passive fishing devices, including perch traps, must be be equipped with floats at least 6 inches long and 3 inches wide to mark the location of the gear. Recreational anglers may use floats of any color except orange. Commercial fishermen will be required to use orange floats.