Fog clung to the West Texas landscape, providing easy cover for the big mule deer to sneak to and from an alfalfa field.
And it was this fog Dec. 11 on the McGuire Ranch in Gaines County that kept hunter Rick Meritt from believing that a unique trophy had just disappeared in the mist.
Trail camera photos taken earlier and video footage from the morning hunt did not impress Rick — at first.
But the animal would ultimately score high enough to unseat the current top typical mule deer in the Texas Big Game Awards. Until now, that position had not changed in 15 years.
“You couldn’t see much,” Rick recalled of the soupy morning hunt. “He came out of the fog, then he stopped and thrashed a mesquite tree. Then he drifted back into the fog.”
Rick is an East Texas businessman, but he’s well schooled in West Texas mule deer.
In 2009, he downed a buck that netted 193 2/8 — the No. 2 all-time muley recognized by the Texas Big Game Awards. That deer was also taken from the McGuire Ranch.
He didn’t take one in 2010 because he couldn’t find one he liked.
But Rick, who operates Outback Wildlife Feeders in Gilmer, accelerated his mule deer quest in 2011.
Before the Gaines County hunt, he took three big bucks in Nevada, Idaho and New Mexico and two more in the Big Bend region of Far West Texas. The scores ranged from 187 to 218.
Before arriving on the McGuire Ranch, Rick hunted the Jicarilla Apache Reservation in New Mexico where he got a buck that scored 194.
Fog persisted when he returned for the afternoon hunt on the McGuire Ranch, but the big deer re-emerged from the haze.
This time was different. The five-by-five buck looked much bigger.
And there was no mistaking that this was the same deer. Rick identified it by one G3 being shorter than the other.
“He came out 45 minutes before dark and he was totally different coming to us instead of walking away,” Rick said. “There was no doubt then that we were going to shoot it.”
The trophy was taken at 411 yards with a 180-grain Nosler Accubond bullet fired from Rick’s .30-378 Weatherby Magnum.
The deer’s gross score was 209 7/8, and the net was 197 4/8; Rick hopes that will be enough to be the first-place record holder.
David Brimager of the Texas Wildlife Association, which oversees the big game awards program, said the score is high enough to be No. 1.
The current titleholder is the Potter County buck harvested during the 1996-1997 season by Mickey VanHuss. That deer’s net score was 196 5/8, according to TWA records.
Brimager said he was waiting for Meritt’s paperwork to arrive at the TWA office in San Antonio. But while Rick awaits word on that, he is faced with a downside.
His buck from 2009 will no longer hold second place.
“This one,” he said of his latest Gaines County trophy, “bumps it down to third.”