"RED 88 - A LAST MINUTE BUCK! " by Luke Clayton Luke Clayton Many of you that follow college and pro football remember Mike Ford, the starting quarterback from Mesquite that played for SMU back in the seventies and later signed with Tampa Bay and the Cincinnati Bengals, finishing up his career with the San Antonio Gun Slingers in the USFL. These days, Mike is calling the shots for deer hunters rather than plays for a football team on his Rio Rojo Rancho in Red River County in northeast Texas, and hes having the time of his life. I just returned from a late season hunt here for a management buck and came away with not only a nice buck but a homecoming of sorts. I harvested my first buck over forty years ago, about 10 miles as the crow flies, from the Rio Rojo Rancho near Bagwell on my Uncle Conners back forty. Back in the fifties and well into the sixties, deer numbers were low in our area of the state. I remember well coming home from school, loading my old Mossberg .410 shotgun with a rifled slug and heading to the woods behind our little farm in the Dimple community. Back in those days, I got excited when I saw a deer track. When I was lucky enough to occasionally sight a deer, buck or doe, my buddies and I were fueled with fodder for hours of deer talk. We didnt have many deer to hunt in those days but we were all smitten with the deer hunting bug. My brother in law, Billy Joplin, took me to a sure nuff deer camp when I was about eleven and after seeing a couple of big bucks hanging on the meat pole, I was hooked for life on the sport of deer hunting. Later I was lucky enough to spend more time with guys like Mike Fords uncle, John Earl Hawley who grew up hunting deer. John Earl has spent a lifetime in the woods ranching and logging and, of course, deer hunting and he can read sign as well as anyone Ive ever hunted with, and as an outdoors writer the past quarter-century, Ive had the privilege of hunting with some mighty knowledgeable hunters. Ford has his ranch under a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) management plan and the harvest quota for bucks and does is determined by the department. With a few management buck and doe tags still left to fill this season, my friend Bob Hood and I were invited up to enjoy a late season hunt. Photo by Luke Clayton Our hunt coincided perfectly with the big cold front that pushed across the country last week. The rain stopped but the wind was still howling during the first afternoon hunt. Deer were up and moving late. I was hunting a ground blind situated on the edge of one of the plots and about ten minutes before dark, the field was covered up with deer. My goal was a management buck and in the low light conditions, I passed on several that probably would have qualified as shooters but I was unable to accurately determine the deers age and number of points. I also saw a couple of monsters that were most definitely not in the management class. I was looking for an 8 point buck, four years old or better, that didnt have the genetics to develop into a true trophy class animal. To my way of thinking, a heavy antlered 8 pointer is definitely a trophy but by todays high standards of intense deer management, its those huge ten or twelve pointers that deer managers want on their ranches. The next morning, I was in the same blind and on the back side of a pond dam, I witnessed a spectacle I wont soon forget. A total of 7 bucks came up below the dam, all heavy antlered animals. I could see their antlers and the top of their heads but not the deers bodies. The bucks fed almost out of site for a good ten minutes, then exited the field along a wood line on the far side, again, at 200 yards, I did not feel confident at judging the age and antler development of the animals. I watched them, one by one, follow a trail that lead to several acres of heavy cover where I am sure the animals bedded. Our plan was to leave after the morning hunt, but Hood and I have often had to alter our plans to achieve our goals when doing outdoor articles. Covering team sports has a definite time line, a game begins and ends pretty much at a pre-determined time but covering the outdoors is different. As Hood says, we have to roll with the flow. We decided to hunt the afternoon and leave as soon as possible after the hunt. I wanted to harvest a management buck for an upcoming magazine article and asked Ford if he would sit in the ground blind with me on the afternoon hunt. I felt more comfortable with him choosing the buck he wanted me to harvest, besides, it would give us a bit more time to visit before I had to pack up and head home. With only about 20 minutes of shooting light left, we had yet to see a buck that filled the bill as management. The chips were down and Ford elbowed me and whispered something like, back when I was quarterbacking, I would call a play of RED-88 which translated to my teammates as weve got little to lose, lets go for broke with this next play. Lets make a fast walk through the woods to the next food plot and do a little spot and stalking. We might just luck out. In about ten minutes, we were glassing the field from the cover of a stand of hardwoods. The light was again fading but, through the binocular, I counted 8 antlered bucks and there were more deer on the far side of the field. Choosing one buck out of so many is a challenging endeavor and Mike pointed out a deer he wanted me to shoot. I couldnt get on him fast enough, then another buck stepped clear of the others, about 250 yards out. Lean on that corner post, get a solid rest and take him, instructed Mike. I did just that and in less time than it takes to tell about it, we had a nice ten pointer on the ground. As I watched the sun set on the western horizon, my mind fast forwarded me back to that first little buck I took in Red River County over forty years ago. When I squeezed the trigger on my old Marlin 30-30 years ago, I would never have dreamed a ranch such as the Rio Rojo Ranch would someday exist in this wild part of Texas. Nor, did I dream that a nice 10 pointer such as the one I had just shot would one day be classified as a management buck! For more information on late season hunts at the Rio Rojo Rancho, contact Ford at 903-674-3750. CHECK OUT LUKES RADIO SHOW AT www.catfishradio.com And check out the new Radio Station feature at www.catfish1.com: http://www.catfish1.com/forums/radiostations.php.