"WHAT CONSTITUTES A TROPHY BUCK?" by Luke Clayton Luke Clayton I think the term trophy hunting is often grossly misunderstood. What exactly constitutes a trophy animal? When I was a youngster, any whitetail buck with hardened antlers qualified as a trophy. Deer were few and far between in Red River County where I was raised and any buck was considered a trophy by most hunters. As I matured as a hunter, my ideas of trophy status began to change. These days, a buck doesnt necessarily have to score high in the record books to meet my trophy requirements but he must have the age to reach his potential. I had much rather harvest a six pointer or even a huge forkhorn that has reached his potential, or is possibly past his prime, than shoot a 3.5 year eight pointer that needs a year or two to reach full maturity. Earlier this week, I spent a couple days back in my home county hunting with my friend Mike Ford, at his Rio Rojo Rancho (www.riorojorancho.com). Mike manages his deer herd with a passion and intensity that is spawned by desire to have one of the premier big buck hunting destinations in the region. From what I saw on my two day hunt, he is well on his way to achieving this goal. The rut is still a few weeks away in northeast Texas and the Rio Rojo has several mighty big eight point bucks roaming its pine and hardwood woods that Ford wishes to be removed from the herd before breeding season begins. Its the genes of those big ten and twelve pointers that he wishes to be passed along to the herd. Before my recent hunt, we reviewed the images from a couple of trail cameras that clearly identified several eight pointers, a couple of which I am positive were packing over 135 inches of antler. Eight point whitetail occasionally grow larger antlers, but an eight pointer that grosses 130 BC points is definitely considered a trophy by most deer hunters. Photo by Luke Clayton As I climbed into a treestand tucked away on a remote hillside on the east side of the ranch, my game plan was clear. I knew the possibilities of seeing multiple bucks was excellent and that I would have to be patient and wait for a big eight pointer to come within bow range. Weather was perfect with clear skies and cool mornings and evenings. Deer were responding to the first real cool spell of the season by moving throughout the day. There was no wind during my first morning hunt and I could hear deer walking on the dry leaves, heading to the corn/protein feeder a good thirty minutes before first light. As a lifelong hunter and fisherman, Ive had my share of exciting moments in the outdoors but setting in a treestand on a great trophy whitetail ranch such as the Rio Rojo and listening to deer walking in the dark under the tree in which Im sitting rates very high on my list! Trophy hunting, whether the trophy be a mature six pointer on his way down hill, or a 150 BC class twelve pointer, is definitely a challenging endeavor and to my way of thinking, hunting at its finest. In the first fifteen minutes of shooting light, I had excellent broadside of quartering bow shots on three different bucks. One was an eleven point that would score around 150 BC, one was a 3.5 year eight pointer that looked very good but needed one more year to mature and the other a 2.5 year old ten pointer that, in about 2 or 3 years, will become a real wall hanger. Then, from behind my stand, I again heard leaves crunching; another deer was coming. The deer stopped just out of sight, and I assumed it was a mature buck hanging up in the brush, testing the wind and making sure all was clear before moving out of the heavy cover. As mature bucks often do, the deer began circling the stand/feeder. I could see the form of a big animal skirting the little clear cut then, there he was on the opposite side of the clearing, a fully mature eight pointer packing what I estimated at around 135 inches of antler! This was my buck and I felt the adrenaline rush as I looked him over closely through binoculars. The eleven pointer was now standing broadside at 18 yards. My eight pointer eased toward the feeder, stopped on the far side of the bigger buck for a few seconds, and began feeding. There was no shot opportunity but as a lifelong deer hunter, Ive had much worse challenges than one trophy buck blocking a shot opportunity! Two BIG deer within easy bow range! My pulse was pumping adrenaline but I knew I had to set still and let this scenario play out. When deer decide to move from feed to bedding cover, they often move as a group. I watched the eleven pointer turn toward the 8 point and the entire herd; there were now several does and smaller bucks feeding, walk through the 30 yards of clear cut into the brush. One minute, I was looking at a total of 10 deer, including the buck I wished to harvest, the next I was watching a cat squirrel nibbling on corn around the feeder! During the remainder of my hunt, I was within bow range of a couple more mature eight pointers but neither presented that close, slam dunk bow shot I was looking for. Truthfully, I cant remember two days in the deer woods that I enjoyed more. I left the Rio Rojo Rancho making plans to return for another chance at harvesting a big eight pointer. Ford is offering bow hunters the opportunity to harvest a mature eight pointer through the month of October for $1,000, including lodging. His number is 903-674-3750. Ill see you there! Annual Dallas Ducks Unlimited Banquet October 23, 2008 Dallas Ducks Unlimited will be hosting its annual fall banquet on October 23, 2008. Come out and be a part of one of the top D.U. banquets in Texas. Dallas D.U. features an outstanding selection of merchandise that is featured in Live and Silent Auctions as well a some great raffle drawings. The Live Auction will feature some great hunts and fishing trips. Location: The Frontier's of Flight Museum Date: October 23rd, 2008 Time: Doors open at 5:30 p.m.; Dinner at 7 p.m. with Live Auction to follow For more information, visit www.dallasducks.org 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!