Wildlife biologists and managers know the importance of managing the size of their deer herds. And one group of managers is trying to make it fun.
Los Cuernos Feo (The Ugly Horns) began 11 years ago with three South Texas wildlife biologists and ranch managers, and now involves 15 people from 10 ranches representing more than 200,000 Texas acres.
“It’s mundane and routine to manage the herd, shooting cull bucks,” said Jason Sekula, wildlife manager at Shiner Ranch in Frio County. “Now it makes it exciting. If you see something really bad, we get competitive about it.”
Contestants pay an entry fee and are required to keep the antlers and jawbones from the bucks they cull.
At the season’s end, a party is thrown, special t-shirts are worn and awards and gag gifts are given.
Themes of the parties have included “Taking out the Trash,” “Bagging the Basura” and “Banging the Ugly.”
The scoring isn’t too complicated.
“Awards go to the lowest score in each age class,” said Amy Dugosh, who works at the Rutherford Ranch and lives on the Mason Ranch, both participants in the contest. “There the lowest gross score wins.”
It doesn’t stop arguments about the age, though.
“The guys text each other back and forth during the season, claiming they have a winner,” Dugosh said. “At the party you have a bunch of wildlife biologists looking at teeth and arguing about the age of a deer to deny someone else a prize.”
“Yeah, there is some trash texting,” said Michael Hehman, wildlife biologist at the Hixon Ranch near Cotulla. “Early on, a guy dominated for the first three or four years. I had some stuff I thought would win and he beat me every year.
“He took some ribbing — some ranches have more junk than others.”
The tide turned a few years later.
“I took another job and right away I started winning,” Hehman said. “There were lots of texts and photos going back and forth.”
Another prize is for the shortest spike.
“I had a spike where the antlers were so small we had to measure it with calipers — it was 4/8 inches,” Sekula said. “I can’t tell you how nervous I was when I shot that deer. I was sure he would win, but I got beat by one that measured 3/8 inches.”
But another year set the record.
“We had a 7-year-old buck with nothing but hard pedicles,” Dugosh said.
The grand prize, The Mucho Feo, is awarded to the person with the “overall sorriest deer,” Sekula said.
The deer has to be at least 2 years old, and is scored by taking the gross score and dividing by the age. The lowest score wins.
“And if you have a 60-inch 8-year-old, it’s a pretty low score,” Dugosh said.