Bucket List Whitetails
by Darren Choate, Editor In Chief
Before I die, I would like to accomplish a Western Whitetail Slam, which in my mind comprises the following sub-species of White-tailed deer: Carmen Mountain, Columbian, Coues, Dakota, Northwest and Texas. To date, I have taken three of the seven sub-species. Living in Arizona allows me the luxury of hunting for Coues whitetail on an annual basis, and I have taken bucks with both bow and rifle. Thus, the Coues whitetail was the first sub-species I crossed off my list. Second, to go was a Texas deer. My infatuation with Texas deer hunting finally led me to the Trans-Pecos region, where I have taken two of the Texas variety. This past December (2012)—list and pen in hand—I headed to West Texas in pursuit of a Carmen Mountain whitetail.
The Carmen Mountain whitetail may be the least known of all the Western whitetail sub-species, even among the most passionate of whitetail deer hunters. The Carmen Mountain whitetail is a small deer that inhabits only the mountainous regions of West Texas and Northern Mexico. Carmen Mountain deer have similar features to the Coues whitetail, but most experts agree, are slightly smaller. Just like all of their whitetail cousins, they have similar coloration and their namesake trait, a big white tail.
With plans to film an episode of our Western Whitetail WEB-TV show, my cameraman, Shelton Boggess, and I escaped the high elevation of Northern Arizona, beneath a huge winter storm that left two feet of snow under its path. We were happy to be on our way to the low country, and hopefully into warmer, drier weather for a few days. Under, gloomy skies, we experienced an occasional rain shower over the two- and a half-days of travel required. However, by the time we reached Texas, the weather was bright and sunny. Just after noon on the second day of driving, we arrived in Marfa, Texas, and less than two hours later we were in camp with Steve Jones, the owner and operator of Backcountry Hunts. With a couple hours of light left in the day, Steve offered up an afternoon hunt. Without hesitation, we gathered our gear, and jumped in the old, camp Dodge.
In a matter of minutes—granny-gear engaged—we were creeping up the rough roads of the ranch in search of a Carmini. On our first stop to glass the surrounding hills, our collective eyes yielded only a few scattered elk. Steve suggested that we try one more spot before nightfall, so off we went. On the short drive, we saw an outstanding, West-Texas mule deer buck, a typical 4×4 with tall tines and an average spread. After a quick look at the buck, we continued on our quest.
Since his invitation to film my hunt, Shelton contracted a severe case of “Aoudaditis,” which, I guess can only be cured by an aoudad hunt. Our second stop, Shelton’s disease took a turn for the worse when he spotted a small band of aoudad. For several minutes, we glassed the exotic, longhaired sheep, admiringly. Then, it happened, Steve spotted a deer! As Steve gave us directions to find the deer, I moved my tripod/15x Swarovski combination into position, knowing I was about to see my first Carmen Mountain whitetail. Quickly, I found the buck and made an adjustment, bringing the buck into clear focus. If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed that I was back in Arizona, glassing a Coues buck. The buck was a solid representation of the Carmen variety, but it was early in the hunt, and darkness was falling fast. We decided to let the buck walk, and try again in the morning.
The next morning, we were up early, fed, and on the road long before dawn. Again, we crept slowly up the road to a glassing vantage point. The early morning hours yielded only a few herds of elk, including one with a decent bull and several cows. Later in the morning, the aoudad began to appear, including a small band of rams, Shelton’s fever spiked! It wasn’t until mid-morning when we saw our first deer, but that was a mule deer buck on a distant hill. Finally, we spotted our first whitetail, and shortly thereafter, the whitetail came out of the woodwork.
First, near where we spotted the mule deer buck, I spotted a buck, as it made its way down a long ridge. Almost immediately after that, Shelton spotted a good buck on the most distant hill. It was far away, but we could tell that the buck was one worth taking a better look. After a few more minutes of glassing, we spotted only a few more does, so we decided to make an attempt at the buck Shelton had spotted. By that time, the buck had made its way over the hill and out of sight. The old ranch road meandered through the rough terrain, and near the hill where the buck had disappeared. We gathered our gear and set off to a new vantage to glass the opposite hillside, hoping to re-spot the buck.
On the drive, we came across a smaller whitetail buck that was chasing a doe—the rut was near on this late-December morning—but I chose to pass. It took us almost an hour of crawling over the boulder-laden road to get to a point where we could make our way to a vantage point to glass for the buck. We climbed out of the truck with our optics and made a short hike to glass. Steve and Shelton covered one direction, while Dave (my other guide) and I covered another. Almost immediately, Steve spotted a buck, and called us over to take a look. The buck was almost 700 yards away, but we could easily tell that it was a wide, heavy-antlered buck. After careful examination, we discovered that the buck was only a 3×2 or seven-point (Texas count). However, I was impressed with the mass of the buck’s antlers, and thought that it was a mature deer, worth taking a closer look. We studied the surrounding topography, and plotted a stalk that would lead us through a small creek bed to close the distance, and potentially offer a shot opportunity.
Steve stayed on the hill to keep an eye on the buck, while the three of us stalked back toward the truck, down the road, and up the creek drainage. Luckily, the buck bedded, providing us with the perfect opportunity to make the 20–30 minute stalk, and close in for a shot. The route through the drainage allowed us to approach the bedded buck, while staying concealed in the underbrush. Additionally, the wind was blowing directly into our faces, concealing our scent as well. While stalking, I would stop periodically and check the distance with my Leupold RX-1000 rangefinder: 600 yards, then 400, and then 300. Finally, I got a reading of 250 yards near where the buck bedded, but was too concealed in the thick brush to see. About 150 yards ahead, I could see a large juniper tree that I knew would offer both concealment and an opening for us to see the buck, so off we went.
Quietly and cautiously, I made the final 50 yard approach to the tree, with Shelton in toe, camera in hand. Now, I was approximately 100 yards from the buck. I situated myself against the truck of the old juniper, and made a rest for my .300 Winchester magnum on top of my backpack. With my Leupold Mohave binos, I investigated the situation; I could barely make out the snow-white antlers of the buck, still bedded in the thick brush. I put my binos aside, and prepared for a shot.
My hunting-rifle is topped with a Leupold VX-3, 6.5–20X—I obviously hadn’t figured on a 100-yard shot—which I had to turn down to the lowest power setting to have enough field of view to see the buck. However, the buck, so well hidden in the brush, I couldn’t make it out in the scope at the low power setting. I knew the buck was going to have to stand, for me to have any kind of shot. Not having much patience, I became the aggressor. When Shelton was ready with the camera, and gave me the go ahead to shoot, I whistled loudly; the buck didn’t respond. Knowing that the rut was near, I followed with two or three loud buck grunts, the buck rose immediately to the “buck-talk.” The buck, still protected from the brush, stood where I was able to pick a spot on its body for a shot. I verified Shelton was on the deer, and then fired. My first shot hit the buck, but also hit some of the brush in front of the deer, throwing it slightly off target. It was not a great shot by any means. The buck ran about 20 yards and stopped, and I made a second and fatal shot.
Elated, I made my way up the hill to the downed buck. I was not disappointed either—no ground shrinkage—the buck was as heavy and wide as I had predicted. Steve came down off the hill to join us; we filmed a couple of segments, completed the recovery, and then headed back to camp to celebrate.
Texas in the Rear View Mirror
Once back in Arizona, I had the Carmen Mountain buck officially scored by a Safari Club International (SCI) measurer, which was just recently added as a separate record category). My first ever Carmen Mountain whitetail scored 97 3/8-inches, putting it just over the minimum score of 96-inches required for entry into the SCI record book. Overall, my experience in West Texas, although short, was quite amazing. I successfully crossed off another whitetail on my bucket list of whitetail hunts. I encourage you to do the same, sooner than later. Watch the author’s hunt (S1E6 of Western Whitetail TV) on Youtube.com.
Backcountry Hunts, Steve Jones
1029 Haston Road
Carlsbad, NM 88220
Office: (575) 887-6178
Cell: (575) 361-1053
Satellite: (480) 768-6122