NOTE: These are ROUNDED fall population ESTIMATES based on the best information available.
Number of adult deer (1½ yr. and older) – 650
Adult deer/6.2 acres
Buck/doe ratio – 1:1.3
# adult bucks – 280
# adult does – 370
Fall recruitment rate – 55%
# fawns – 200
Total deer population – 850
Deer (all)/4.7 acres
Percent mature (4½ and older) in buck segment – 35%
# mature bucks – 100
These are good numbers, assuring exciting and fun hunting with lots of sightings, plenty of quality bucks and the ever-present chance for a trophy.
From years of harvest and census data and from talking to Bill and his guests, several of whom had been hunting RHR from the beginning, and my own observations and game camera survey, it was obvious that RHR is a primo Hill Country ranch supporting a large, healthy deer herd with a well-balanced sex ratio and good buck age structure. Using Tecomate’s herd reconstruction model, the cumulative available information and data suggest the following is a close representation of the current state of the whitetail herd on 4,008-acre RHR.
FUTURE MANAGEMENT POTENTIAL
The management program currently on RHR provides incredible recreational opportunity and value…and plenty of big bucks…and is a testament to Bill’s stewardship of the land and its wildlife. It doesn’t have to get any better to be excellent, but if the goal is to produce the maximum number of BIG bucks, it is possible to increase the level of management intensity to grow even more older and bigger bucks, i.e., more “trophy” bucks. Such a program would focus on three areas of management, all of which Bill is currently addressing to a degree. As it relates to future management potential, we’ll be talking about upping the degree of what Bill is already doing. The areas of focus are:
Enhance the already good nutritional plane,
More aggressively remove inferior bucks by age class,
Allow the better bucks to more consistently reach peak age, i.e., 5½ to 7½, for antler size and limit the annual mature buck (4½ and older) harvest to 50% or less of the matures.
Increase the number of protein feeder stations from 13 to 25.
Besides adding more feed stations (No.1), increase the number of feeders at each station to 2 or 3 to improve access throughout the herd. The drawback to supplemental feeding is that access to feed is largely based on a deer’s position in the herd hierarchy. “Nose-to-nose” competition prevents does, fawns, younger bucks and some submissive older bucks from getting their “fair” share. More feeders at a station reduces this problem.
Though more pellet feeders can be added to each station, adding cottonseed feeders may be as good a choice and arguably even better. Indeed, many ranches are growing trophy bucks using ONLY cottonseed as their supplemental feed. Whole cottonseed is fat and protein rich and can be fed using cheap V-mesh wire baskets set over a single T-post. (A 58”x165’ roll makes 22 baskets 58” tall and 90” in circumference.)
Include clover (6 lbs./acre of red, berseem, arrowleaf and/or sweet clover) and chicory (2 lbs./acre) to the fall plots planted in cereal grain, i.e., wheat, oats, triticale, etc. With decent winter and spring rains, the clovers and chicory can provide a protein boast during the critical spring/early summer antler and fetus growth time.
Note: RHR has the food plot acreage for warm-season food plots but not the rainfall. At just over 22” per year average, warm-season food plots would be hit and miss.
The above nutritional program will increase carrying capacity and both body and antler size.
Pressure on Inferiors
Note: RHR is on the TP&WD Managed Lands Program that provides the ranch with buck and doe permits allowing the owner/manager to grant the right to anyone with a Texas license to take any deer on-sight until the issued permits are filled.
A critical part of management aimed at producing more bigger bucks is a disciplined harvest strategy weighted toward inferior bucks, i.e., cull/management bucks. We don’t recommend harvesting 1½-year-olds because their genetic potential cannot dependably be determined at that age. Generally speaking, a “cull” is a 2½-year-old or older buck that is FAR below average in quality for his age class, say in the lower 15-25%. Culling has long been practiced on RHR, usually as opportunity presents on normal hunting outings. Afterall, culls do offer recreational opportunity, especially for the young and experienced. Here, we’re talking about targeting culls in a dedicated, persistent effort.
On RHR, management bucks can be defined as mature (4½+) bucks that are average or below average (lower 25-50%) for their age class. Most often, they have less than 10 points. While management bucks do compete for breeding rights with quality bucks and generally don’t have the antler size or characteristics to warrant carrying them to peak age, they represent a very valuable recreational component of the management program, and by most of the whitetail world’s standards, many are treasured “trophies!” Indeed, thousands of hunters come to Texas every year to hunt big classic 8-point “management bucks.”
Persistent long-term culling of inferior deer and allowing better deer to do a disproportionate part of the breeding year after year will increase the overall “genetic expression” of the deer on a property. It takes some time for the effects to become obvious, but every generation will be better and better. By the second or third generation of better fawns, the improvement can become quite clear. Many biologists/managers greatly accelerate genetic improvement in the herd either 1) by bringing in “superior” outside genetics, often in the form of big pen-reared bucks, or 2) by using the TP&WD “TTT” Program to capture deer on their own ranch in early fall and placing multiple does in a pen with a single captured (or outside) big buck to breed the does. All are released back in the wild in the spring before fawning. While these are legal and legitimate options to quickly enhance genetics, Tecomate Properties’ policy is to focus only on managing the deer herd existing on the property at the time we get involved.
Let good ones grow up
“Quality” bucks are above average size for their age class and are most often 10-pointers or better at maturity (4½). On RHR, 130 to 145-class bucks are considered “quality bucks.” Anything bigger ranks as a “trophy,” some of which score north of 150. Bucks topping 160 show up occasionally. The biggest buck ever taken on RHR scored just over 183. As a management program progresses, the “average” size will increase and adjustments must be made in what constitutes the different classes of bucks.
There is an “ideal” age and a “realistic” age for harvesting quality bucks and the two may not be the same, depending largely on mortality rates outside your control. The owner/manager must realistically determine the right age to harvest quality bucks based on the risk/reward of waiting another year in hopes of bigger size. In more heavily hunted places or smaller tracts, we often recommend a minimum harvest age of 3½ or 4½ if the risk of loss is too great to wait longer. On a large fenced ranch like RHR, we recommend a minimum harvest age for quality bucks of 5½. For potential trophy-class bucks, i.e., the top-ends, we recommend holding off the trigger until 6½. Some managers opt for 7½, when bucks sometimes sport heavier “character” racks.
Quality bucks should be the genetic heart of the herd and sire most of the next generation. Deer on a property at any given time are a direct genetic reflection of their fathers (and mothers but we can’t effectively identify the best of them) and to a lesser but significant degree their grandfathers. Given that, simple logic dictates that better bucks produce better fawns, and vice versa. This is why a strategy that removes inferior bucks and gives quality bucks every chance to breed will result in better and better deer (both bucks and does) with every new fawn crop.
RHR is already growing some mighty big deer. Many 130 to 150 bucks currently roam RHR. The Alexanders have harvested 2 over 170, one giant was just short of 184! The ranch has produced other 170-plus bucks that were never harvested. A number of 160s have been taken. I took a 150-plus on my first trip to RHR! Those are big bucks anywhere! In short, there are some fine bucks on RHR now, but by pushing the envelope a little farther along, even more and bigger bucks could roam the valleys and hills of RHR.
Keep it fun
Before closing our discussion on intensive trophy management, a word about the need to maintain some “BALANCE” and perspective. Programs with extremely strict criteria and stinging punitive measures for violations can take the fun out of the experience. Yes, harvest discipline is needed to consistently grow trophy bucks, but we also need room to enjoy the hunt, a place for a little serendipity and latitude for the young and inexperienced to come into the sport without threat and fear hanging over their heads. Even a serious management program needs a place for flexibility, mistakes and grace! Bill Alexander knows that, as evidenced by his legacy of growing big bucks while sharing the ranch year after year with family, friends and underprivileged or ill kids, all of which left with a smile and dreams of returning. Hats off to Bill!
The whitetail is king on RHR, and the ranch is, of course, well setup for hunting.
Approximately 32 stand sites, nearly all with have comfortable enclosed blinds, are well-distributed throughout the ranch. Each one has a nearby corn feeder and some are on food plots as well. In the fertile lowlands on the north, five large food plots are hubs of area deer activity in the hunting season. The large acreage of tillable land is not something often seen in the Hill Country.
RHR is loaded with deer. Bill Alexander and family have had a sound management program in place for 18 years, when they first put the high fence up. Today, many very good Hill Country bucks call RHR home thanks to excellent management. A limited annual buck harvest and emphasis on harvesting 4½-year old and older bucks assure a good age structure. Over the last 5 years, an annual average of 47 bucks and 73 does were harvested. About half of the bucks taken were mature 125-plus bucks, with many in the 130s and 140s and few topping 150. A handful even bested 160!
About half of the annual harvest could be considered “management bucks,” taken both for management purposes as well as for the joy of the hunt. The goal, of course, is to remove the more inferior bucks to allow the better bucks to do the breeding. A handful of the annual buck harvest could be termed “nonselective.” You see, the Alexanders host a few hunts for orphans and seriously ill kids each year, and the harvest rules are understandably relaxed to provide maximum opportunity for success. In an effort to further enhance the already good genetics, Bill brought in 50 bred does that were full sisters to quality bucks in early 2016 from Dos Hermanos Ranch in San Angelo, Texas, a ranch known to produce 200+ B&C bucks.
The most important key to RHR’s management success lies in a greatly elevated nutrition plane that began with the removal of the goats, sheep and cattle that overgrazed the place prior to Bill’s ownership. Removing livestock allowed the habitat to return to its natural productive state. Then Bill further enhanced nutrition with supplemental feeding of high-protein pellets. All this was overlaid with a harvest strategy aimed at keeping the herd in reasonable balance with food availability.
Today, along with excellent native habitat, high-protein pellets are fed at 13 supplemental feed stations (1/300 acres) to bolster protein levels and overall nutrition. About 40 acres of cool-season food plots are planted in cereal grains that both attract and nourish deer, helping them come through the rigors of the rut and winter in better shape. This management strategy has worked to significantly increase deer size and numbers over Bill’s tenure. The effectiveness of this program can be seen in the shed antlers Bill and family have meticulously collected and grouped by year in an impressive display. Since the program began in 1999, the year-to-year progression in the number of good bucks and the size of those bucks is remarkable.
There is no “right” or “wrong” management strategy. It’s all a matter of the wishes and goals of the owner. In the case of RHR, Bill’s goals are twofold: 1) to support a large healthy deer herd producing plenty of big mature bucks and 2) to share his ranch and its great hunting with family, friends, business associates and, importantly, with the less fortunate. The management plan Bill has in place perfectly fulfills his goals!