SHERMAN’S HOMEGROWN HAT RACK
By Mike Lambeth
Sherman Wyman, a Dallas, Texas CPA, became so obsessed with deer hunting that he jumped at the chance to buy a parcel of land in Clay County, located in north central Texas. The land wasn’t much to get excited about - a 1000-acre, over-grazed cattle ranch once hunted by nearly everyone in Clay County and littered with old rusted automobiles. But Sherman felt it had potential.
The ranch had several deer but most of the bucks carried strange-shaped, spindly racks. “The deer were weird looking,” Wyman opined. “Their racks were the results of terrible genetics, and I knew that I would need to start over to produce trophy bucks.”
Wyman’s new ranch looked pitiful – overgrazed with few waterholes and fences down everywhere. “Everywhere I looked I saw signs of neglect and abuse,” Wyman said. “I knew I had to roll up my sleeves and take some major steps if my ranch was going to amount to anything.”
Clay County, bordering Oklahoma, is divided by the Red River and was starting to gain a reputation of growing better bucks. The Oklahoma state-record non-typical was taken across the river from Wyman’s ranch and scored 248 6/8.
Still, after looking over the bucks on his property, Wyman wondered if his ranch could ever yield a trophy. He knew some serious changes were in order if he ever wanted to reap any future dividends.
The first step was to remove the cattle on his property so the land could recover for a few years. Wyman believes that cattle and whitetails can coexist, but only if the plant life can support them.
Next, Wyman along with his hunting buddies shot all the does and substandard bucks on the ranch. “Some people call mature deer with small racks management bucks” Wyman said, “I call them culls. They included spikes as well as pencil-horned 4- and 6-point bucks. It was unbelievable; we removed a lot of junky bucks.”
Growing older bucks became vitally important in Sherman‘s plan, so he and his friends stopped shooting young bucks, unless they were spikes. A buck was not considered a “shooter” unless it was at least 4 years-old. The bucks at Wyman’s ranch were now hunted strictly by age class, and many young bucks with trophy potential were passed.
GROWING BIG BUCKS
One of the keys to Wyman’s management plan was planting nutritional foods, and supplemental feeding of the whitetails with minerals. In an effort to let native vegetation flourish, Wyman fenced his river bottom pasture to keep the neighbors’ cattle out. “The bottoms are a great place for deer to travel, but a poor place for cattle to graze” said Wyman. When cattle were reintroduced they were grazed on a rotational grazing plan to allow the pastures to replenish themselves naturally.
Selective burns were used to remove the underbrush littering the pastures, and to facilitate the lush green areas that would follow. Wyman believes that deer love to browse in the new green areas.
Wyman says that deer love to eat “crab apples” and in an effort to produce more, he pruned the area’s Osage orange trees. Wild grapes and honeysuckle were planted throughout the property. To sustain the deer during warm weather, milo was planted; while wheat was planted as a cold-weather plot. Some plots were large and others small, but the availability of multiple food sources become vital to the herd’s health.
Before his supplemental feeding program, Wyman said his average buck weighed 84 to 87 pounds field dressed, but now weighs 116 to 125 pounds with some bucks weighing up to 134 pounds.
Fertile mast trees were trimmed in an effort to produce more, while some trees were removed to allow mature trees to receive more sunlight and moisture.
Another essential ingredient was the addition of nine ponds for more surface water. “To have a quality deer herd I believe you should have a pond for every 100 acres,” Wyman theorized. The ponds were stocked with bass and catfish for fishing.
SELECTIVE HARVEST OF DOES
Wyman believes that not all does have good genetics, so some does were harvested due to their coloration and age structure. Wyman explained, “I believe certain does have better genes and are more desirable as breeders. Before taking a doe I look at her size, number of fawns and her coloration, knowing that late born does are colored differently and not always the healthiest.
Another benefit Wyman used was enrolling his ranch in Texas’s Management Lands Deer Permit (MLDP) Program. Under the program, a Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist comes out and assesses a landowner’s property, and then assigns landowner deer tags based on a long-term management plan. Then tags are prescribed under a Type 1, Type 2 or Type 3 permit system and the criteria must be strictly adhered to in order to maintain MLDP status. Compliance can reward a landholder with an upgraded status, which sometimes allows more deer to be taken the following season.
TAKING A HOMEGROWN BUCK
A few seasons back, Wyman and girlfriend Melissa Caraway made the two hour drive to the ranch for a deer hunt. Upon arriving, Wyman reveled in his success achieved as a land steward. The weather was mild and windy, with a temperature near 58 degrees – not ideal, but Wyman believed Caraway could shoot a doe, and then the pair could head back home.
After parking the truck the pair headed towards a box blind and was stoked when Wyman found a fresh scrape nearby. The freshly pawed earth gave evidence of a buck leaving his calling card in hopes of attracting a late-season doe.
Now excited, the pair climbed into the blind though Wyman’s thoughts and eyes were fixed on the scrape 120 yards away at the edge of a woodlot. The buck’s dig could be easily seen from the couple’s ambush. The wait was short when movement indicated a doe coming out of the woods to feed.
As if scripted, the doe stood broadside offering Caraway a perfect shot when the plot thickened - a bobcat appeared and started chasing the doe in a whimsical manner.
Wyman and Caraway sat amused at the circus before them, when movement near the scrape alerted the hunters to another deer - a big buck with heavy antlers eyeing the situation. After losing interest, the buck turned to walk away. “I thought the hunt was over,” opined Wyman. “But the buck appeared again at the other end of the woodlot 175 yards away. Melissa knew she was not able to make that shot, so she handed me her rifle.”
Wyman looked through the scope and believed the buck was the one he had seen seconds earlier. All that was visible was the buck’s neck and antlers so Wyman tried to steady himself for a shot. Wyman squeezed the trigger and the buck dropped in his tracks.
Elation washed over the pair as they walked towards the downed monarch. “You’ve heard of ground shrinkage,” Wyman quipped, “this buck had ground swelling. He was even larger than I thought, with lots of mass and lots of tines.” The buck had 15 points on each antler!
Wyman realized that he had naturally grown the huge buck that lay before him. There were no super-genetics introduced from pen-raised hybrid whitetails, this buck was homegrown and would provide special memories for a lifetime.
After drying, the 30-point buck was officially scored at 227 5/8.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Wyman showed me a photo of a typical buck that should score nearly 200 points this season. The buck has all the ingredients - tall tines, good mass, long main beams, and wide spread.
But for now Wyman breathes a sigh of relief, he has taken the buck of his dreams. Now he can relax and enjoy hunting another homegrown buck.
More information on Texas whitetail deer management