It seems the older I get the more I look forward to the opening of deer season. The opener for the general season (rifle) is at hand and I’m positive deer hunters from all across the country are putting the finishing touches on their ‘provisions’ list for deer camp. Making these lists and getting ready for an upcoming hunting trip is ALMOST as much fun as opening day itself! Many of us will be rushing to the lease this week end, just to make sure the deer feeders are filled and to cut enough firewood for the campfire or wood burning stove, hopefully we will actually harvest a deer but, regardless, we’ll come away refreshed after spending a little time in the fall woods.

As a youngster, I thoroughly enjoyed everything about deer hunting but as a veteran hunter with more than four decades to reflect upon, I find each new season entwined with people and events from time spent at past deer camps.

The hunts when my sons took their first bucks are etched in my memory, and I can easily recall the boy’s first deer as though the hunts occurred last week. I hope these memories remain as vivid when I become too old to take to the deer woods, and I hope that is a LONG time in the future!

Thanks to having the opportunity to hunt a couple of ranches enrolled in the TPWD (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department) Level Three management program, I have been hunting deer now since late September. I’ve spent a few days up in Red River County with my friend Mike Ford, who owns the Rio Rojo Rancho (  Just yesterday, I returned from Palo Pinto County where I spent a couple days hunting on the Holt River Ranch (  I’ve yet to put meat in the freezer or antlers on the wall this season but it’s not because of lacked opportunity, I’ve  just become ‘picky’ when it comes to loosing an arrow or igniting the primer of my muzzleloader. I want the next whitetail buck I harvest to be bigger than anything I’ve taken previously. 

The harvests quota on ranches enrolled in the Level Three program is set by TPWD and ranch managers must make sure hunters take the necessary number of animals each season. I plan to continue with my trophy quest but will soon begin harvesting ‘management’ bucks and several doe for the freezer. We eat a lot of venison throughout the year at the Clayton house and it’s time to begin restocking the freezer!

My venison supply is almost depleted from last year’s hunts, I took several steaks up to the Holt River Ranch to enjoy with my friends John Bryan, who manages the ranch and fellow outdoors writer Bob Hood. I fried the steaks then piled on some onion and added a big can of mushroom soup, put a lid on the big cast iron skillet and let it bake on low temperature for several hours while we enjoyed an afternoon hunt. Upon returning to the cabin, we cooked a pot of rice and heated a kettle full of fresh greens I had brought from home!

 I checked the freezer and have one last piece of venison from last year, a 4 pound ham roast that will probably be transformed into venison BBQ. My next trip to the deer woods will be for meat for upcoming hunts, the big buck will come in good time!  Food at deer camp always seems to taste better, probably because we forget abut calories for a few days and concentrate more on flavor!

Deer movement was slow on my recent hunt, probably thanks to a heavier than normal acorn crop. Deer were not hitting the feeders like they will in a few weeks.  I got away from stands and hunted around the fringe of groves of oak trees with plenty of deer sign. This can be a good practice when hunting early in the season. If deer have abandoned your feeders to feed on acorns, which they much prefer to corn, then it might be a good plan to locate the trees that are being hit hardest, with the most sign around them and move in a trees stand or set up a well camouflaged ground blind within bow or rifle range. In years past, I would stick with my permanent blind, usually within rifle or bow range of a corn feeder until I harvested my animal. In retrospect, that was often later in the season, after the acorn crop was gone! Remaining flexible and ready to adept to current conditions is a must for successful early season deer hunting.

On many occasions, I have harvested deer  from stands that I set in  ‘hot’ areas only hours before. Ground blinds can spook deer for a few days if they are not ‘brushed’ with native vegetation to make them appear a part of the landscape. I remember several occasions where I set up a ground blind and did a good job of making it blend into the surroundings, and harvested deer from it with my bow that same afternoon.

A couple of more thoughts before you head to deer camp next weekend: Make sure and take the time to plan your meals. Have everything you will need.  I’ve hunted from many camps where hunters return to camp well after dark and, setting around the campfire, ask the question: “What’s for supper?” Unless supper will consist of a steak quickly grilled over hot coals with a pre-prepared salad in the cooler, it might be a LONG  time  until supper is ready.  When possible, I often prepared most of the evening meal during mid day when there’s plenty of time then, after the evening hunt, put the finishing touches on the meal.

Hopefully you have already taken ‘Ole Betsy’ out to the range to make sure the scope is still zeroed from last year. If you have not, there’s still a few more days and I’m sure this rates very high on your ‘to do’ list. Trough the years, I’ve harvested deer with many different calibers. I’ve cleanly taken deer with calibers ranging from the diminutive .22-250 up to the 7mm Magnum and most calibers between. I believe far too much time is spent arguing which caliber is best for deer hunting and not enough time learning to shoot the caliber one is taking to the deer woods. Any properly designed hunting bullet, in any caliber from the 6mm up has the ‘umph’ to do the job but only if bullet placement is correct. Some hunters swear by neck shots on deer but ‘behind the shoulder” shots into the heart/lung region are much higher percentage. Granted, shots must be kept within the inherent capabilities of the caliber. A vintage old lever action 30/30 will down the biggest buck in the woods, providing the hunter doesn’t try to stretch its capabilities. If you’re planning on taking those long shots on deer, spend the time shooting at extended ranges and know where your bullet will be at distances from fifty yards out to the farthest distance you plan to shoot.

Now, my friends, let’s thoroughly enjoy that time honored ritual known as deer hunting. We have the privilege of spending time in the deer woods only a precious few days each season, let’s make the most of them! 

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