I had read articles over the years about melanistic deer in this part of Texas, and several years ago my wife and I saw a chocolate-colored doe on our own lease. But I'd never observed a whitetail as dark as this.
By Gordon Gouldin
My 2003-04 Texas whitetail season had been unproductive. After spending the better part of two weeks hunting my lease in the western Hill Country, I had yet to see a "shooter." It seemed they knew where I'd be hunting before I did. My two sons had shot good bucks, but all I could see were does, spikes, forkhorns and "Ol' Gimpy," a three-legged deer we'd observed often. Now even he was beginning to tempt me.
My wife and I have traditionally spent the New Year's holiday with lifelong friends in Kyle, which is just southwest of Austin, on the eastern edge of the Hill Country. Our friends have a lease near the Hays-Travis county line, and we usually make at least one hunt there each year.
Several years ago, I shot a great 13-pointer from my buddy's stand. In fact, it turned out to be the largest buck taken off the land. Although very proud of the deer, I've always felt a little guilty about taking such a trophy from my host's stand.
On the morning of Jan. 3, 2004, we decided to make one more hunt. We hoped to get a doe to take to a new meat market we'd found in nearby New Braunfels. As usual, my friend insisted I take his stand. And so, before daylight I was again in the stand, which is in a pasture of broken cover with quite a few open grassy areas.
It was a typical Hill Country morning, with a light fog but no wind and mild temperatures. At first light, I saw a dark shape move between clumps of cover. As this ranch has cattle, I assumed a calf was moving across the pasture. Thinking no more of it, I put my head down for a few minutes, trying to reduce the anxiety of waiting for shooting light.
When I looked up again, I saw that a buck and two does had moved into the pasture. I was watching them, trying to decide if I should shoot the buck or take a doe, when they grew alert and looked toward the clump of trees the calf had disappeared into. I followed their gaze and saw what I had thought was that calf walking toward the deer. My initial reaction was one of concern; I thought it might scare the deer away before I could get a shot.
That's when I saw the "calf" had antlers. Now it was binocular time for sure. Amazingly, the calf had turned into a very dark-coated whitetail with a nice rack!
The author's wife shows off the black 8-pointer he shot on Jan. 3 in Central Texas. The only white on the buck was under the tail. Photo courtesy of Gordon Gouldin.
I had read articles over the years about melanistic deer in this part of Texas, and several years ago my wife and I saw a chocolate-colored doe on our own lease. But I'd never observed a whitetail as dark as this, and there had been no rumors of one in the area. I decided this was the deer for me. Not only would I have sausage meat, but a nice trophy as well.
I was shooting a .22/250, so I took care to place the shot in the heart, rather than hit the shoulder. When I pulled the trigger, the buck went down almost in his tracks and disappeared into the tall grass.
The buck was almost pure black with a few dark brown hairs on his muzzle and the traditional white under the tail. Other than that, the hair was black with some dark gray on the belly. In addition to his magnificent color, he sported a nice 8-point rack with an 18-inch spread.
Where did he come from? My buddy hunts this ranch from early October bow season through the blackpowder season that ends in late January and is on the ranch year 'round, but neither he nor anyone he knows had ever seen the buck.
I already felt bad about getting the largest deer ever shot on this property. Now I feel doubly bad, because my melanistic 8-pointer is truly a once-in-several-lifetimes trophy. The buck is being mounted as a standard shoulder mount, with the rest of the hide made into a "rug" spreading onto the wall behind the head.
My host has been a good sport about my latest trophy whitetail shot from his stand, and we're still great friends. In fact, as I write this, he's invited me to hunt turkeys with him on the ranch. Still, I think I'll do all of the calling. I'll have a tree to my back that way.