"HUNTING THE RUT" by Luke Clayton Luke Clayton Graford, Texas - I arrived at my tree stand on the Holt River Ranch near Graford a bit late for the afternoon hunt, around 4 pm. I had no more than hoisted my Mathews Drenalin bow up with the pull cord when I got the feeling this was going to be a good hunt. Back in the heavy cover of the mesquite and oaks, I heard the unmistakable sounds of two bucks fighting. For a couple minutes, the sound of brush breaking, rocks sliding and antlers clashing caused my pulse to quicken, then all was quiet. One of the bucks had obviously pushed his opponent out of the area, there was surely a doe in estrous nearby. For a whitetail hunter, hunting during the peak of the rut is as good as it gets. Bucks are up actively chasing does and one will see mature bucks that, earlier in the season, remained in heavy cover. The afternoon was picture perfect; blue skies with cool but not cold temperatures, the type weather we deer hunters long for. Some of my most relaxing and reflective moments come while I am on stand. Faintly, I heard the distant call of migrating Sandhill Cranes traversing this beautiful country at nose bleed altitude. The setting sun was nearing the distant peaks of the Palo Pinto Mountains to the west, across the Brazos River. Clouds were on the horizon and the blend of light and mist created an image that Van Gogh would have been challenged to duplicate. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a doe emerge from the cedars. She moved with a tentative, cautious trot, occasionally stopping to look at her back trail. There was a buck in hot pursuit, and a good one. The pair came into the little food plot well out of bow range and, about 60 yards out, began the courtship ritual. The doe would stop and urinate, then trot a few yards and stop. The Buck, with his head held high and lips curled to take in more of the scent, was in hot pursuit. The pair obviously liked the little clearing I was hunting. I watched them for a good ten minutes, hoping their courtship would eventually bring them within bow range. Then, with about ten minutes of shooting light left, the doe began working her way toward my bow stand and the awaiting corn the feeder had dispensed. Just as the buck was approaching my self imposed 25 yard maximum bow range limit, I and the two deer were startled by a very loud, huffing sound back in the brush. An instant later, a big boar that would push 300 pounds on the scales came running straight for the feeder and the buck and doe, now joined by a smaller buck, hit the brush. Shooting light was gone and I spooked the big boar as I climbed out of the tree. The buck was a good one, a big ten pointer and he was spooked by the boar, rather than me. I made plans to be back in the stand well before daylight the next morning! Back at the camp house, nestled in the seclusion of the hills on the vast ranch, Bryan and I discussed the afternoon hunt. John had hunted a food plot at the head of several draws leading up from the Brazos that was a natural funnel for deer. He reported seeing over twenty deer, including three good bucks. The rut was on and we were on one of the best ranches in the region. Our dinner consisted of chicken fried venison back strap, baked new potatoes and fresh greens. We were up well before daylight the next morning, anxious to get on stand and let the woods settle down before first light. I had contemplated using the rattling horns but thought better of the idea, feeling my odds better to simply station myself in the same bow stand and hope the doe would lead the big ten pointer within shooting range. I began seeing deer through the morning mist as light was just beginning to filter over the distant mountains. Try as I might, peering through the binoculars, I could only see the form of deer feeding in the little food plot. About the time I could make out the 20 yard pin on my bow sight, I watched a doe approach my stand, behind her was what I am positive was the main frame 10 pointer I had seen the previous evening. He stopped broadside at 22 yards and I released the Carbon Express arrow tipped with a 125 grain Grim Reaper mechanical broad head. I have a practice of waiting thirty minutes before taking up the trail when bow hunting. In past years, Ive followed game too quickly which resulted in a long, difficult recovery. After the long and agonizing wait of only half an hour, I took up the trail. After the shot, the buck had followed a deer trail through the thick cedars and I found him about fifty yards into the heavy cover. Photo by Luke Clayton John took another equally nice ten pointer with the TC 50 caliber muzzle loader. With two mature bucks on the meat pole back at camp, we decided to see how the rutting bucks would respond to rattling horns. In a small grove of live oaks, not far from the Brazos, we set up with our backs to a couple of large trees, waited a few minutes and began rattling and thumping the ground to imitate two fighting bucks. In a matter of minutes a big buck came charging in, looking for a fight. He was sporting a rack that appeared about the size of the bucks John and I had harvested. The rut is defiantly going strong now in Palo Pinto County and across much of the country. There is no better time to be in the woods. Photo by Luke Clayton Bryan plans to allow hunters to harvest a few more of these trophies this season. You can check out the ranch online at www.holtriverranch.com or call 940-452-3415. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ DUCK HUNTING TIPS: If you enjoy hunting ducks, chances are pretty good you forget some of the subtle sounds made by the various species each year. Haydels Game Calls (www.haydels.com) has a great web site with the mp3 recording of the various species. If youre like me, chances are very good you are harvesting more Gadwalls than in past seasons. The company makes a call specifically for Gadwalls and I have found it to be very effective in getting this plentiful species in close. Check out the mp3 recording online. Listen to Outdoors With Luke Clayton at www.catfishradio.com and check out the new fishing videos at lukeshotspots.com We have a virtual library of Luke's stories here on the BOC; just about anything you could want to read about the outdoors. Click here to see a boat load of information!