Ben Bartlett

Lufkin archer Ben Bartlett was hunting aloft in a white oak tree when he arrowed this Halloween morning 12 pointer. The buck was in the company of a doe when it bedded down just beneath Bartlett’s stand. The buck grosses 148 as a non-typical and nets 139 5/8 as a main frame typical 10 pointer, easily cracking the 125 minimum score required for entry into the Pope and Young records program in that category.

Ben Bartlett and Lukey Smith have learned plenty about deer hunting through the years. One lesson plan they share in common: Always expect the unexpected.

Bartlett, 60, has enjoyed some truly bizarre experiences chasing whitetails. A recent run-in with a free ranging 12 pointer on his 5,000-acre lease in western Angelina County is sure to rank among the most memorable.

It was just breaking day on Halloween morning and the veteran archer from Lufkin was running way behind schedule. He was racing down a lease road in his pick-up when he came upon a really handsome buck, about 80 yards from his stand. The hunter claims he had never seen the deer before.

“I drove right by and it didn’t even phase him,” Bartlett said. “It didn’t register with me at that point that he might be with a doe.”

But he was.

Roughy 30 minutes later Bartlett saw the buck in the company of the doe, about 100 yards away. The two deer appeared to be moving in the direction of the lock-on platform he had hung 18-feet above ground in a white oak tree the week before.

Bartlett said he could tell by the buck’s demeanor that he wasn’t about to lose sight of his lady friend.

“He was locked on,” Bartlett said. “The doe was feeding along and he stayed about 20 yards from her, just watching. I tried my bleat and grunt calls, but he paid them no attention at all.”

The two deer eventually changed course and appeared to be on a path that might lead them well out of bow range before the hunter got the opportunity for a shot. In a last ditch effort to lure the buck closer, Bartlett dug into his pack for and snort/wheeze challenge call.

He didn’t get the chance to use it.

“When I looked back up the doe was right there, 15 yards away and heading straight to me,” he said. “At that point I knew it was on. The buck was right behind her.”

The doe fed directly beneath the hunter’s feet while the buck loafed in some brush, about 15 yards away. Bartlett said the deer was in easy shooting range for about 20 minutes. He actually drew his compound bow on the buck once, but it never offered a clear shot.

Then something strange happened.

“In one fluid motion he takes 3-4 steps towards my tree and plops down on the ground, five yards away,” Bartlett said. “He’s laying broadside looking the opposite direction right under me, so I pretty much had to shoot straight down on him. I’ve had deer bed down around me before, but never a target buck like that one.”

Bartlett’s arrow finished the job in short order.

The headgear on the 4 1/2 year-old buck isn’t the biggest in the land, but it’s way better than most hunters will ever see. Bartlett says the rack has been taped at 148 B&C and 145 3/8 net as a non-typical. The main frame 10 pointer green scores 139 5/8 net as a typical, easily cracking the 125 minimum score required for entry into the Pope and Young records program in that category.

In hindsight, Bartlett believes the deer gods had his back on that chilly October morning, but not just because a whopper buck chose to take a nap at the base of tree he was hiding in. Normally a consummate hunter, Bartlett claims he did plenty of things wrong leading up to the hunt.

“I had my dog with me the week before when I hung that stand and he was running all over the place,” Bartlett said. “Plus, I drove my truck right up to the tree and used it to help cut some branches I couldn’t reach the ground with my pole saw. I guess my give-a-crap tank isn’t near as full as it used to be, because I never would have done stuff like that 20 years ago. This whole deal was pretty much manna from heaven. I couldn’t have picked a better tree to be in that day.”

Davy Crockett bruiser

Like Bartlett, Smith knows all about the advantages of being in the right spot at the right time.

On Nov. 10, a casual scouting trip to the Davy Crockett National Forest in Trinity County paid off with a lifetime buck for the Diboll hunter. Carrying only eight typical points, the 5 1/2-year old whitetail was officially taped at 159 2/8 B&C by Texas Big Game Awards scorer Alan Huggins Lufkin. It is one of the most remarkable 8 pointers killed in eastern Texas in a long time and may be best ever taken off of national forest land.

Smith, 38, said he is no stranger to the big woods of the Davy Crockett. though had deer hunted there only once before.

“I coon hunted in there at night a lot with my dad back when I was a kid,” Smith said. “I know my way around over there pretty good, but I’d never deer hunted the national forest a single time until this year. We went to Houston County the day before (Nov. 9) and it looked pretty crowded, so we decided to check out an area I knew about in Trinity County the next day.”

Smith said he and his brother-in-law, Walter Matthews, arrived at the forest about 9:30 a.m. The men hiked for about a mile to a big creek bottom before going separate ways. Their plan was to scout for a few hours, then return later in the week.

“We got to a draw and he went right and I went left,” Smith said. “The draw opened up into big, open bottom with a palmetto flat. It looked like a spot where you’d expect to see giant deer. I was moving spot-to-spot every hour or so with the wind in my face.”

Smith said he was sitting quietly on the ground against a pine tree about noon when the deer suddenly stepped out of a thicket over his shoulder.

“I’m in the wide open with no cover at all and he came right in on me,” he said. “It happened quick and it happened at 40 yards. It was one those deals where there was no question whether you pull the trigger or not. He’s one of those deer that just keeps growing the longer you look at him. I’m looking at his antlers right now and they are still growing.”

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, mattwillwrite4u@yahoo.com.

Outdoors Briefs

Walters cracks 104-12 at Texas Fest, Wendlandt reels in AOY title

By Matt Williams

Outdoors Writer 

In a classic example of modern-day video game bass fishing, South Carolina bass pro Patrick Walters relied on forward-facing sonar technology and suspending jerk baits to crack the code with finicky Lake Fork bass and bring home the win in the Bassmaster Elite Series Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife on Nov. 5-8.

Walters, 26, crushed the competition en route to securing his first Elite Series victory, wrangling 20 big bass that together weighed 104-12 pounds. His four-day weight topped runner-up Keith Combs of Huntington (75-2) by a staggering margin of 29-10 — a new benchmark for Elite Series winning margins.

The win earned Walters a $125,000 pay day. He gets a Bassmaster “Century Belt” as a bonus. The coveted trophies are reserved for Elite Series pros who amass 100 pounds more in a single event.

Walter’s Falcon bass boat was among the many rigs in the field equipped with Garmin LiveScope, a high-tech system that provides detailed, real-time sonar images of structure, bait and swimming fish below or around the vessel.

He used it to discover big bass finning around in treetops at suspended depths. Once fish were located, Walters used precise casts and varied retrieves with a series of jerkbaits in different colors to trigger strikes. He said he bird-dogged one bass for 200 yards before he eventually caught it.

Walters weighed in limits of 25-14, 26-14, 29-6 and 22-4. His biggest fish was a 9-1, but it wasn’t the tournament’s heaviest bass.

Minnesota’s Seth Feider reeled in a 9-9 on Day 1 using a crankbait. He fish earned Feider a $50,000 Toyota Tundra pick-up while helping carry him to an 11th-place finish worth $15,000.

TPWD fisheries biologist Jake Norman says he was pleasantly surprised to see the winner reel in such a big total in the autumn event. Fall is typically a tough time on southern fisheries, and Fork is no different.

Many anglers had originally predicted it might take as little as 80 pounds to win the four-day event on a 27,000-acre reservoir with a storied reputation for producing big bites. Possibly less.

“Patrick Walters accounted for the wildcard that can always happen on Fork, and he really put on a great commercial for Garmin LiveScope,” Norman said. “The better fish on Fork are traditionally tough to pattern in the fall, but his weights reminded folks what the lake is capable of, regardless of the time of year.”

Seven Texans besides Combs competed in Texas Fest. Brad Whatley of Bivens finished 5th, Lee Livesay of Longview, 7th; Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth, 13th; Clark Wendlandt of Leander, 28th; Frank Talley of Temple, 39th; Ray Hanselman of Del Rio, 43rd; and Randy Sullivan of Breckenridge, 74th.

Wendlandt nails down AOY title

It’s mission accomplished for Texas bass pro Clark Wendlandt of Leander.

Wendlandt’s 28th-place finish at the Elite Series Texas Fest on Lake Fork earned him enough points to regain the lead in the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year points race and bring home title for the 2020 season.

Most pros consider the AOY title the most prestigious in bass fishing. It hinges on consistency and goes to the angler who accumulates the most points by the end of the season year.

After a poor showing last month at Lake Chickamauga in Tennessee, Wendlandt entered the season finale playing catch up in the AOY race, 16 points behind David Mullins and 11 points behind Austin Felix. He needed a strong finish win the title and claim the $100,000 bonus that comes with it.

“Winning the Elite AOY is the greatest accomplishment of my career — a dream come true,” said Wendlandt. “My hat is off to BASS for pulling off a full season during the pandemic. I’m also thankful for all the fans, fellow competitors and our friends for their support — looking forward to the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Roberts (next March).

Wendlandt won the FLW Tour AOY title three times during a 22-year run with that league. He is one of only a few pros to win the AOY title in both circuits.

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