With the Christmas tree kicked to the curb and the decorations dutifully put away in the attic until next year’s visit from St. Nicholas, you’ve probably noticed that a New Year has dawned here in Texomaland.
For that matter, maybe you’ve already made – and broken – a few New Year’s resolutions.
But here’s one deer hunting resolution that you should work hard to keep – don’t put the bow away just yet.
Because with a few days and hours left in local deer seasons, hard core bowhunters still have time to fill the freezer, if not the empty space on the wall.
(Note: The Oklahoma archery season ends on Jan. 15, 2018 while the North Texas general season ends on Jan. 7, 2018, including in Grayson County, which is archery only.)
Take my friend Mike Benson, for instance.
On the last Friday evening of the 2008-09 North Texas deer season, the Grayson County resident guarded a food rich area on his farm, hoping for one final crack at a big whitetail.
After a very slow sit, the physician found himself weary from a season of hunting hard, the holiday rush, and the demands of his busy medical practice.
But just as the good doctor was thinking of calling it quits a few minutes early, he noticed movement in front of his blind.
One well placed arrow later and Benson – Doc as I call him – was tagging a non-typical Boone and Crockett Club qualifier, a net 201 1/8-inch bruiser of a buck.
Not bad for an early January archery hunt — weeks after the rut.
Like a football team scoring late in the fourth quarter to achieve a big win, the whitetail hunting game can also be won all the way to the buzzer, as Benson’s hunt shows.
Which is exactly why you should keep going out and punching the clock all the way to the very end…because you never know what might happen.
That’s what Claremore, Okla. resident Wade Ward learned a few years ago when he persevered to the season’s end and used his crossbow to arrow a net 188 4/8-inch typical buck in Rogers County on Jan. 11, 2011.
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s the third biggest typical buck ever recorded in the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Cy Curtis Awards program. What’s more, it came during the final week of the archery season.
And it’s not the only huge late season entry into the ODWC record books either. Just two days before Christmas on Dec. 23, 1992, Edmond bowhunter Chris Foutz arrowed a net 179 6/8-inch typical in Oklahoma County, a buck that eventually became the state record whitetail and still ranks seventh on the all-time Cy Curtis list.
South of the Red River in archery-only Grayson County, Robert Taylor arrowed his own giant whitetail in the final days of the 2012-13 season. That’s when he arrowed one of the largest bucks ever tagged with any weapon in North Texas, a gnarly non-typical buck that scored north of 215-inches.
The key to Taylor’s hunt — which came on the evening of Dec. 29 as cold weather and the remains of the region’s 2012 White Christmas dotted the landscape — was food.
That food was the combination of a corn feeder and a planted food plot that promised local deer a high caloric intake during a spell of frigid weather. That late season banquet table was enough to lure in several does, a good 10-point buck and eventually, the huge non-typical buck that Taylor ended up shooting.
Speaking of food, that’s the key to the ample late season success that my friend Bob McElfresh has enjoyed over the years while hunting and guiding in famed Pike County, Ill.
In fact, his late season bowhunting strategy is simple – find the local wintertime chow hall.
“I’m always trying to figure out where they are feeding,” said McElfresh, a 40-something bowhunter who is now unfortunately battling leukemia (if you don’t mind, please say a few prayers for Bob, his wife, and his daughter).
“Most of our farms (up here) are CRP lands and there are just a few places with crops.”
When McElfresh – who I got to know on a few trips to Rick Womble’s Hopewell Views Hunting Club – figures out where the late season banquet table is, he has found great success on a number of Pope and Young Club and Boone and Crockett Club record book bucks.
He has tagged a number of those bucks by climbing into a treestand perched near a food source during the afternoon and evening hours, an important consideration since now is usually not the time to hunt mornings near high risk bedding areas since bucks are likely to sleep in.
Better yet, he’ll opt for a stand somewhere between the bedding area and the food source. And the colder the weather is – like this current Arctic blast here in the Red River Valley – the more likely it is that he’ll see feeding deer out in the open during daylight hours.
They’ll do so, of course, to dine heavily on high energy food sources designed to keep their internal combustion engines stoked against the chill of Old Man Winter.
In the Midwest where McElfresh hunts, that usually means leftover grain crops, locust beans, and food plots. Here in Oklahoma, think winter wheat, oats, food plots, and of course, corn feeders like the one that allowed Taylor to tag his giant buck a few years ago down in Grayson County.
If food is the primary consideration for last gasp, buzzer beating deer hunting, don’t forget that there’s one more. And that’s this, that as long as there are a few grains of sand left in the deer season hourglass, keep heading afield.
My friend Dale Moses, a retired Grayson County game warden, did just that a few years ago as he chased a giant non-typical whitetail all the way to the final hours of the 2013-14 season.
The big Grayson County whitetail – a bruiser that Moses had dubbed “Captain Hook” after seeing several November trail camera photos – played an exhausting cat-and-mouse game with the dedicated bowhunter on into the New Year.
As frigid temperatures gripped Texoma, Moses finally caught up with the buck and arrowed it with his Mathews bow on Jan. 2, all but devoid of remaining vacation time thanks to the many, many hours that he had logged in pursuit of the big whitetail.
After the buck taped out at 184 0/8-inches net – one of the top Region 5 non-typical entries in that year’s Texas Big Game Awards Program – it became a cover shot for the Journal of the Texas Trophy Hunters magazine, even as Moses wore a weary smile.
Because he – like the others mentioned above – knew a whitetail hunting truth better than most.
That for those who have the necessary patience, the season’s last gasp results can bring surprisingly big antlered rewards.
Because sometimes, deer hunting in Texomaland can be good all the way to the last drop.
Lynn Burkhead is Senior Writer for Outdoor Channel, World Fishing Network and Sportsman Channel and resides in Denison, Texas. His column appears weekly.