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"Old School" Mule Deer

Brandon Ray


A two year quest comes down to 10 yards, adrenaline and instincts.

The sun was kissing the western horizon when I spied antlers bobbing over the distant ridge. It was him. The big-bodied 11-point mule deer buck I’d watched all summer was now headed down a beaten game trail right towards my ground blind.  I curled my fingers around the bowstring, praying the buck would make it within range before daylight was gone.

                For almost 30 years I’ve been addicted to bows and arrows. Compound, recurve or longbow, I love them all. These days, I’ve become a  I-can’t-shoot-just-one-bow kind of guy. For most of my hunting I’ve relied on a compound rigged with Star Wars technology. I use carbon riser bows, fiber optic sights, drop-away rest, laser rangefinder, release aid and sometimes mechanical broadheads. It’s a deadly machine, but sometimes I like to keep things simple and go old school.

                When switching from compound to traditional equipment, some rules apply. First, a drop in draw weight of 10-15 pounds is recommended. I comfortably pull 61-64 pounds on my compounds. My favorite stickbows pull 48-52 pounds. Likewise, draw length will shorten, usually 1-2 inches. My compounds are set at 28-inches with a release and string loop. On a fine longbow or recurve, I pull about 27-inches.

                Another important element to consider when making the switch is arrows. Forget the light arrows, compact broadheads and short fletching that work on a compound rig. A good traditional bow rule is arrows should weigh 10-12 grains per pound of draw weight for deer-sized game. For my 50 pound recurve, finished arrows including the point should weigh 500-600 grains. I use heavy 50 or 100 grain brass inserts plus plastic weight tubes inside the shaft to boost total weight. You’ll want feather fletching since there will be some contact between the shaft and the shelf of the bow. I prefer three, five inch Trueflight feathers. Broadheads should be solid designs with a proven 3 to 1 length to width ratio for deep penetration. I like extra weight up front for high front of center (F.O.C.) balance, so heavier broadheads from 125-150 grains work well to get me to 15-20 percent F.O.C.

                My high-tech, carbon riser Hoyt compound is capable of tack-driving accuracy at long distance. My favorite recurve is not. But that is the appeal. You have to get REAL close! I limit my shots with a traditional bow to less than 20 yards. And yes, 45-50 pound bows with proper arrow weight and scary-sharp broadheads are deadly on a broadside deer.

                According to data from the Pope & Young Club’s 26th Recording Period Statistical Summary Book, the vast majority of deer recently entered in the record book were taken with a compound. Only two percent of whitetails and four percent of mule deer were taken with either recurve or longbow. However, consult any custom bowyer and you’ll likely find a 6 month to one year waiting period for a custom bow. Business is good. Hoyt’s sales department reports orders for recurves such as the Buffalo, Gamemaster and Dorado are through the roof. Yes, even with technology everywhere, there is still plenty of interest in old school archery.

                I’ve shot small game, javelinas, hogs and the occasional deer with a stickbow, but never a monster. Taking a record-class buck with traditional tackle has been a goal of mine for a couple of years. So last fall, I spent a lot of time shooting a 50 pound Hoyt Buffalo recurve. I shot carbon arrows tipped with 125 grain 3-bladed NAP Razorcap broadheads. Finished arrow weight was 510 grains. I used a calf hair tab for a smooth release. With regular practice, I could rattle arrows into tight wads at 10-15 yards. I had extra MLDP (Managed Lands Deer Permit)tags for mule deer in Texas, soI had one specific old buck in mind.

                I set the ground blind along a beat-down trail. I knew from summer and early fall surveillance through a big Leupold spotting scope that the mule deer used that trail to exit the bedding cover of a steep canyon and cross a fence into a CRP field. Several bucks used that crossing most evenings. The one I wanted was a narrow, but deep-forked 10-point buck. His chocolate-colored rack sported a long extra point inside his left back fork.

                The old buck followed the script and walked down the trail in front of my pop-up blind as daylight was dying. At ten yards, my arrow smacked the ribs behind the right shoulder. He made it only 130 yards before tipping over. Death was swift as the broadhead sliced through both lungs.

The fine Texas Panhandle buck field-dressed 190 pounds.Tooth wear looks like he was 6 ½-years-old. His polished 11-point rack gross-scored 152 7/8 and netted 146 1/8-inches. He barely squeaked past the 145-inch Pope & Young (P&Y) typical minimum for mule deer. He’s my 51st P&Y animal, but my first-ever record-book buck with a recurve.

I love shooting all kinds of bows, but taking that handsome buck “old school” with a simple recurve was the highlight of last season.

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