Steve and I were fortunate enough to be drawn for the 2014 Mason Mountain, Gun Deer Management hunt. For this hunt we would each be allowed to take two whitetail deer from the management area. Either one doe and a buck, or two bucks. All bucks harvested had to have six or less antler points. We have not yet had the opportunity to do one of these hunts and were eager to see yet another new public Texas hunt area. Mason Mountain is located roughly North West of Austin and North of San Antonio in the beautiful rolling Hill Country. One of our favorite areas to visit. The last time we hunted the Hill Country was many years ago at Enchanted Rock State Park. That hunt was a blast and we had high hopes for a repeat of the experience.
Weeks before the start of our upcoming hunt Steve received a call from Producer Abe Moore of Texas Parks and Wildlife TV. This is a half hour weekly television program which airs on PBS all across the Great State of Texas. Abe was doing a segment on the Mason Mountain WMA and wanted to know if we were up to having cameras follow us around a bit while we hunted. Steve said that as long as I was OK with it, it would be fine. Later that day Steve told me about the call and I didn’t see a problem. After all, Abe had said that he was calling several of the hunters who had also been drawn. It’s not like they were going to be in our faces that entire hunt, if at all. Right?
So the day came and with eager expectations and a very tightly packed truck, we headed out on yet another Texas hunting adventure. The drive to Mason Mountain was nice and, of course, we made a couple of stops along the way to do some rock hounding. A few small fossils and some interesting crystals which we tentatively identified as fluorite, or maybe calcite, were found. Things were already off to a great start
We arrived at Mason Mountain WMA after the usual amount of wrong turns and were overwhelmed with the scenery. Mason Mountain is a beautiful piece of Texas with rolling hills cloaked in a variety of oaks and interesting rock formations. Hunting and rocks? Two of my favorite things! Now if only there were some dragons…
The terrain around Mason Mountain sports steep canyons, massive granite outcrops and limestone formations as well as grassy plains and rolling hills. A person could get used to a view like that.
Mason Mountain WMA Entrance
The weather was overcast on our arrival and would pretty much stay that way for our entire hunt. Please excuse the lesser quality of the photos.
Some waterbucks greeted us at the entrance. If these are around while you are hunting whitetails you need to be careful not to shoot them. At a distance they can look very similar.
Mason Mountain is one of the few Public Hunt areas which not only allows camping on the area, but also has a bunk house available for the hunters use. You have to make reservations for a bunk ahead of time as it can fill up quickly.
If you do get a bunk, note that you must provide your own bedding. The Hunt Coordinators will bend over backwards to help you out and make your hunt as successful as possible but they will not do laundry!
If you elect to camp out in a tent or camper on the WMA instead of taking a bunk you are still welcome to use the bunkhouse amenities. Of which there are several. First off is a fully functional kitchen complete with a blast furnace for a stove, microwave, refrigerator and tons of pots and pans. Please, unless your mother was also drawn for the hunt, make sure you clean up after yourself! Everyone was very diligent about this on our hunt.
There are two full bathrooms in the bunkhouse as well. Each has its own water heater so running out of hot water during your shower is less likely even when several hunters use it in a row. Or together. I’m not judging.
The Small Bathroom
The Big Bathroom
But the luxuries don’t stop there. Not by a long shot. The bunkhouse has a large common area for eating as well as a fireplace, large screen TV and couches for lounging. Remember, before TPWD acquired this property it was a privately owned, high fence, exotic game ranch.
But wait. There’s more. Outside you will find benches, a fire pit, a brazier for smaller outdoor cooking projects and even a huge grill/pit for the grilling of massive amounts of meat and other edible items. If you accidentally forgot to cut up that half of steer you brought never fear. Just throw it on whole and close the lid.
Pretty cool, right?
Since we had arrived well before most of the other hunters we began the daunting task of unloading and unpacking a very heavily packed truck. Then we grabbed a snack and settled in to await the rest of the hunter’s arrival.
A few quick notes about sharing a bunkhouse with several other hunters. Most of which were male. The courtesy flush is a must. If you do not have this skill, LEARN IT. If you are female, get used to checking the position of the toilet seat before assuming the position. If you are easily wakened by loud or rhythmic noises I would suggest bringing a fan to cover over the inevitable snores and stirrings of restless hunters. If you fall asleep quickly and sleep heavily, I hate you.
As we waited on the other hunters to show we finally met with Abe and the other camera man Kyle of Texas Parks and Wildlife TV. They would both be videoing for the show so they could cover more area. They had just gotten back from looking over the hunt compartments to scout out scenic locations and get some background video for the show. They themselves were not hunters as we would shortly learn. After a quick meet and greet they began mingling amongst the arriving hunters to see which other ones would be OK with them tagging along. Many were reluctant to have their hunts possibly spoiled by the unknown quantity of a camera and unfamiliar cameraman. It was just a three day hunt after all. A hunter might only get one chance at a deer. It is understandable that they did not want to deal with the cameras and cameramen on top of an already difficult hunt.
The way we looked at it, we usually had opportunities available to hunt deer thanks to the Texas Public Hunt system. The chance to have someone video us hunting was not that common so we agreed. If anything, it would be an interesting adventure. Anyone who knows me knows how camera shy I am and may be quite surprised with this decision. There are not many photos of me out there for very good reason. I have a well honed talent for spotting cameras and getting the heck out of the way. The photos that do exist of me almost always have some sort of creature in them, deceased or otherwise. Now I had completely lost my mind and was willing to allow a camera within feet of me, ON PURPOSE. I know. I’m as shocked as you are.
All of the hunters finally arrived followed by orientation and the assigning of compartments. Abe and Kyle decided they would follow along with us first. Abe elected to shadow me and Steve was paired with Kyle.
This was going to be interesting. Remember, this is a normal public draw hunt and like most draw hunts it consisted of an afternoon hunt, a full day to hunt and then a morning hunt which ended at noon on the third day. In reality it is a two day hunt stretched over three days. That means a hunter has very little time to scout an area, decide on the best place to find their quarry and set up. No pressure there. Thankfully, the hunt coordinators know their areas intimately and can steer you in the right direction if you just take the time to ask the right questions. Still there is no replacement for good old fashioned ground pounding.
There was also a late rising full moon giving the deer plenty of light to feed by at night. Add to this the addition of a camera and operator and the need for stealth and concealment as well as the needs of a camera to get clear and well lit shots. Our work was more than cut out for us right from the start. The chances of actually seeing a deer and then successfully taking one were pretty slim. Especially since this was the very last hunt on this management area. Prior to our arrival, there had already been five gun deer hunts and one archery hunt. Simply put, there just were not as many deer to take and the ones which were still there had pretty much seen it all.
So we donned our camouflage and set out to our compartment with camera truck in tow and eager anticipation. It was time to get to business. I had warned the guys that if they were going to hunt with us they would have to put on cover scent just like us. Remember, they are not hunters. They did do their homework however and washed their clothes in scent free detergent and showered in scent free soap. They didn’t know about using a cover scent though. When I explained that cover scent was usually deer urine they weren’t thrilled but they were willing to do whatever we needed. If that’s what it took to get the shot then, by all means, we had their permission to cover them in pee.
What we didn’t tell them was that our cover scent is actually vanilla extract. Do you see where this is going? When we get to our area and prepared to start scouting I sprayed Steve down and then he sprayed me. Then it was Abe’s turn. He stood there and took it like a man, fully believing that I was blithely misting him head to toe in deer piddle. Kyle was still back at the truck readying cameras. Whether this was actually necessary or he was hoping to get overlooked and miss out on the whole urine application operation I can’t say. I then told Abe what he had actually been sprayed with. Abe laughed then told Kyle to come on over and get it over with. He stood back and watched as I sprayed Kyle liberally with the cover scent. While misting I explained to Kyle how you had to be sure and use the freshest pee and make sure it wasn’t stale. Then I sprayed a bit in my mouth and tasted it. “Yep, pretty fresh” I said. You should have seen the look on his face. He thought I had just tasted deer pee! I told him what it really was and we all had a good laugh. I do wish the cameras had been going for that one.
Steve and I always scout each others areas together. We each see things differently and help each other spot sign, places to bait, likely travel routes and overall animal activity. We have always done this and it has worked well for us. Except when we can only find one area that is any good and we have to figure out who gets to hunt it. This was not a problem at Mason Mountain. One quick look around our area and we agreed that there were several decent hunting spots.
The WMA has some box blinds and ground blinds available in the hunting compartments for the hunters use if they chose. Since this hunt was “by compartment” and not “by assigned blind” we didn’t have to use them if we didn’t want to. We have learned however, to trust the hunt coordinators judgment that the blinds were placed where they were for a very good reason. In the end we settled on two of the four blinds available to us. One was positioned at a major travel junction and had both a pop-up ground blind (think camouflaged tent) and an elevated box blind close by. Either could be used and both were within sight of each other. The other area we chose had a natural brushed in ground blind about 1/2 mile away from the first two blinds. That blind was snuggled up against a gently sloping embankment overlooking a water hole. One of the water holes was dry but the other still held a good amount of water. Steve settled on the pop-up blind with the elevated blind nearby and I took the natural brushed in blind further on. We may scout together but we seldom hunt together unless the weather is bad. Splitting up helps increase our chances of bringing home some meat.
Abe and Kyle followed us around and videoed the entire process of scouting and baiting with numerous interruptions to film this or that, sometimes repeatedly. This included the pouring of corn, lots of pouring of corn, over and over again. From many different angles and distances. Apparently, the cascading flow of golden kernels onto the barren Hill Country ground is an endlessly fascinating subject. We were very amused by this evident obsession of theirs to capture each and every kernel we placed. I’m sure archeologists in the distant future would be able to accurately re-create each and every pile we poured just by watching the videos. I will be sorely disappointed if the finished TV program does not include at least one of these shots.
In hunting we use corn as a tool. It is not to trick the animals into coming to dinner only to be shot. Indeed, with only three days to hunt there is no way that the deer could possibly become habituated to coming to the corn. No, in our case, corn is placed in likely travel routes to hopefully grab the deer’s attention long enough to judge the animal, decide if it is one that can be taken and then, hopefully, get a clear shot. By placing the corn in areas we determine to be ideal we just might stop the deer long enough to increase the chances of a quick ethical kill on the proper target animal. Remember this is a management hunt. Not every deer that walks out is a legal target.
After much walking and scouting of both areas, including more corn pouring, and videoing of such corn pouring, Abe and I were left at my blind while Kyle and Steve headed back toward theirs. Here is my blind tucked deep under this ancient oak tree.
Can’t see it? Good.
This is the view from my blind. As you can see I have a large area to cover.
Left side view.
And then there was this. This is my view out the right side of my blind.
Well that is different. I can honestly say I have never had that view before.
This is Abe. He and I settled in and set up for a long and hopefully productive afternoon hunt. He made me feel comfortable with his presence and the camera. He was not aware until later just how important that comfort level was for me but I won’t get into that.
We had arrived at our stands at around 1:30. It took some time to get situated, camera set and everything ready in the event our star made an appearance. Still, we didn’t see our first animal, a scimitar horned Oryx, until 4:20. Oryx, by the way, are off limits this hunt. Dangit!
The compartment we had chosen was populated by around seventy of these interesting animals. They were no where near as skittish as a whitetail and gave us a chance to test out filming and moving with an animal in front. It cooperated for the most part and I was satisfied that the blind was hidden enough and we might even have a chance to, if not take a deer, at least maybe see one.
Although Abe was not a hunter he was very conscious of the necessity for silence, concealment and slow easy movements. Unfortunately, the need to tell a story and show what was going on demanded a certain level of conversation. This however, I happily provided. I love hunting and nature and am more than willing to share my experiences. Abe gave me a bit of guidance but for the most part just let me run. Poor guy. He didn’t know what he was getting into as I droned on and on about hunting, the Texas Public hunt system, fishing and even how Steve and I met. I was still hunting however, so hushed voices and constant scanning of the area was necessary even while mid sentence.
Abe did some videoing from various places while I kept hunting. I don’t know what that camouflage pattern is but it works great for this area.
No other animals showed up for quite a while. Also, we hadn’t heard any shots from the other hunters which would have been a good indication that the deer were at least moving somewhere. We weren’t that worried though. It was not unusual to not see deer the first sitting even without the camera. There was just too much unusual movement in the woods with all of the unusual traffic on the roads and trails and hunters settling in for the deer to feel comfortable.
Still all hope was not lost and I kept watching and waiting. At about 5:00, after Abe got some of the filler shots he wanted and returned to the blind, I finally saw my first Mason Mountain whitetail. Two deer had magically appeared straight across from the blind on the other side of the dry water hole. One was a mature doe and the other was likely her fawn of the year. I whispered to Abe “DEER”! I think I whispered anyway. Then noticing the body positions of the deer I quickly followed up with “Don’t move!” Both deer were facing us and seemed to be on high alert. Heads were bobbing and ears were forward and alert. Had they seen us? Not good. They had us pinned but my gun was standing up next to me and not at all ready for the shot. Crap. I knew it was only a matter of one wrong move or small noise and they would be gone. The only thing that gave me even a glimmer of a chance of raising my rifle and settling down on them was that they would occasionally lower their heads for a second to eat. Remember that corn?
I knew Abe was not in a great position to see the deer and was likely dying to reposition a bit. An adamant “Don’t move” given by a woman wielding a high powered rifle did much to curb his eagerness. Besides, he told us from the beginning that this was our hunt. We had paid for our permits and neither of them, the camera crew, wanted to ruin any chance we might have to get a deer. If they were able to get it on film then fine but they would not purposely spoil a shot just for a better camera angle. For this I was thankful.
That spot right there in the upper middle. That is where the deer were standing, on that little rise with the grassy clearing. They were about one hundred and twenty five yards away. Now, do you see that limb right in front of the blind off to the right side? The one hanging down? Yeah, that is mostly what Abe saw from his position just two feet over.
I seldom took my eyes off the deer and moved a bit each time they lowered their heads. With slow and deliberate movements I worked the rifle up into shooting position. It took about five days to accomplish this feat. As I settled the gun for the shot I realized was having a hard time seeing the deer through the scope. For some reason the sight picture was jumping all over the place in time with my breathing and heartbeat. It is possible that I was just a bit excited. And in no way was I feeling any pressure from the presence of that camera over my right shoulder. It took me several calming breaths to steady the crosshairs and pick a spot. The deer were still facing us and, judging by their posture they were getting antsy. Something was just not right and they knew it. It was only a matter of a leaf falling wrong or a bird chirping loudly and they would be well into the next compartment before they stopped running.
But they didn’t bolt. I waited for the doe to turn a bit, breathed and squeezed the trigger. The 257 Roberts, which had thus far kept silent, finally got its chance to speak up. Abe was probably very glad of the headphones he was wearing because he was sitting just feet away from the gun when I fired. I understand that, to the one not behind the trigger, it can get a bit noisy. You hunters however know that the shooter is often so focused on the target that they seldom hear the shot.
I watched the doe kick out high from the impact, knew instantly that it was a good shot and was very happy when she only went twenty yards before crumpling up within sight. Later, during field dressing, I discovered that I had hit her mid heart. She was dead well before she hit the ground. Perfect. As a hunter, and believe it or not, a lover of animals, I practice diligently to make sure I make clean, quick shots. Anything else is an insult to the animal and myself. Sure, bad shots happen. Nobody wants them. But constant practice and an intimate familiarity with the weapon is a great way to minimize those occasions.
Suddenly I had a beautiful Hill Country doe down and I was elated. But this is where having a camera on you really changes things. At this point I would have walked up… OK, maybe ran up with a couple of happy skips thrown in along the way, to my deer assuming my feet were even touching the ground and basked in the blessing that I had just received. I always get excited when I am successful and this was certainly no exception. But no. Abe insists on getting out first, making me wait to get to my deer. This was very hard for me. I need to touch my deer. Badly. I exited the blind for the camera. Waited for him to jog ahead and get me walking toward the deer. I even allowed him to pass up the deer I had yet to put my hands on for that low down walking up on the deer angle. Then, just as I had finally gotten with touching distance of the big beautiful lady he says… “OK, go back and walk up again.” ARUGH! I take a deep breath and walk back for another take. I think Abe is sensing a bit of resistance from me and finally allows me to complete that sacred hunter/prey contract and finally touch my deer.
Hunting is so much more to me than the kill, but in the rare instance I do kill, I feel personally connected to the animal. I don’t know if I could hunt if such were not the case. When each kill gets to be just another dead animal then something inside me must have died as well. I have been hunting for nearly 20 years now and the final act, the taking of that life, is still a deeply moving moment.
Once the primal compulsion to lay hands upon my trophy was sated I was much more cooperative. And what a trophy she was. She was a big, mature, steel grey, Hill Country beauty and she was mine. All mine. I wish I had a photo of her. I usually do but, with one camera already there, it completely slipped my mind to take a photo for myself. Still I was so happy I didn’t really care.
After looking her over and basking in the sheer wonder that is this deer I grabbed her and drug her out onto the slope for ease of field dressing. I guess Abe was not aware of exactly what this process entailed. Like a trooper he set up to chronicle everything but I think he was a bit shaken when I began the coring out process. You hunters are smiling right now, aren’t you? Yep, I propped her up and began slicing away with the knife deep into her backside. Still, Abe stood his ground and videoed it all. I’m betting none of that makes it to the show. After that was done and I had opened and cleared the abdomen of entrails, including an unbroken and very full bladder, I repositioned her for the final process. Abe even got up and helped me by holding one of her front legs up while I went in to disconnect the heart and lungs from the inside. Sure he may have only used two fingers to hold up her leg by the tips of her hooves but I’m not faulting him. If you are not used to such carnage it can be a bit gruesome to the uninitiated. He did baulk however when I dipped my hand liberally in blood, and possibly other things, and went to shake his hand. Most mens’ natural reflex is the shake someone’s hand when it is offered. Abe started to lift his hand for the shake but then he saw the blood and withdrew it quickly. He settled for a fist bump from my opposite hand to seal the deal.
We did some more filming and waited for Steve and Kyle to either shoot a deer themselves or come and get us. The cell coverage out there was spotty at best. Even texts were not being delivered in the order sent making for some confusing conversations back and forth with answers arriving several questions later. I knew Steve had heard the shot and was anxious to know if I had gotten a deer. I finally slipped a call through the cell service desert and told him that it was indeed me that shot and that it was a nice big doe.
Around dark they finally drove up. At last I could show Steve my prize and give him a play-by-play of the encounter. He was almost as happy as I was. Almost. That done, we loaded her up and headed in to the check station to get her weighed, aged and tagged. The sunset put a beautiful cap on an already wonderful day.
Once again Mason Mountain shows just why it is one of the most sought after hunting areas in the Texas Public hunt system. The check station is covered, lighted and there is a walk in cooler. It even has electric hoists. Yes, I said electric hoists. This place will spoil you bad!
The walk in cooler is more of a freezer and it is roomy. I bet you could easily put thirty plus deer in there. Heck there is even a hanging rail and rollers for moving the deer around.
We pulled up to the check station and unloaded my doe. She weighed in at 68 pounds. Mark said that she was one of the heaviest they had ever checked. She aged at 4 ½ years old. Once she was tagged we placed her in the cooler with a couple of other deer that had already been checked. That is her hanging in the middle next to that smaller doe. Check out that slick, steel-grey coat compared to the other deer.
With the days hunt over it was time to settle in for the night, get some food and swap stories. We had brought some wild boar that had been previously brined, smoked and pressure cooked for everyone to enjoy. This boar came from another public hunt we had attended the week before. It seemed only fitting to serve it at this hunt. The pork was cubed, smothered in BBQ sauce and Monterey jack cheese before getting placed in the oven to melt the cheese. Steve also stuffed some of the jalapeno peppers he brought from our garden with cream cheese and spices before wrapping each one in bacon. That done they joined the pig the oven. Once cooked, these delicacies were shared out around the fire with everyone. Of course Abe and Kyle were on hand with cameras rolling to record it all.
Around 10:00 we all filtered back into the bunkhouse to seek out our respective beds. Morning would be on top of us soon and the deer should be moving. After a long and exciting day 5:00 am came way too early. By 5:30 we were dressed and heading out to do it all over again.
Unfortunately, neither of us saw any deer that morning. Steve and Kyle had a pack of Oryx camped out in front of them but alas, no whitetails. We gave it up near noon and went back to camp for some lunch.
Abe wanted to pull Steve and me aside and do an interview with us for the show. They chose a stunning location in the rocks of the mountain for this.
After the interview we went back out to our blinds to see if we could find another deer willing to become a movie star. You will notice however, in the above pictures that the clouds were rolling in and it was getting very overcast. Rain was in the forecast and it didn’t look like it was going to miss that appointment. Neither Abe nor I saw a deer that afternoon. Another Oryx came by but that was all. In fact we had just been talking about meeting up with Steve for some more interview stuff when I heard it. BOOM!
Lots of things were running through my mind. That came from Steve! He just shot. What did he shoot? Was it a buck? A Doe? If a doe it would have to be smaller than mine. Just sayin’.
That is the pop up blind that Steve and Kyle shared for their first hunt. The deer Steve shot was coming up that trail on the right from behind the blind. Thankfully they had switched to the elevated blind that afternoon. That is where this photo was taken from. Had they been in the pop up they might not have see the deer at all.
Kyle was the first to see the deer coming and was probably more excited than Steve at their appearance. Steve couldn’t see the deer from his position so Kyle flipped the camera display for Steve to see what he saw. Sure enough, two deer were slowly making their way towards them. Steve readied for the shot and Kyle kept the camera rolling. One of the deer was well ahead of the other and it was the first to present Steve with a shot.
It was a young doe but we were told at orientation it was OK to shoot a young deer. They had certain management goals for the area and a smaller doe was good to take. Only “button” or “nubbin” bucks were heavily frowned upon. That is, a fawn buck which had not yet grown a set of antlers but did have the characteristic bump or nub where the future antlers would grow. Except in very rare instances, these are always given a pass.
But these deer were not bucks and so legal targets on this management hunt. Kyle had a clear view of the deer for the camera and Steve took aim as soon as the lead deer became visible. He waited for Kyle to get some more video and then waited a bit more for the now broadside deer to move its front leg forward. It did. Boom. The deer made it about five feet after the shot.
So that was the shot I had heard. I figured it was Steve but I was not able to get a call through to verify that a deer had been killed. The texts were still being flaky and made no sense when they did get through. Still we loaded up and headed his way. Abe hurried on ahead to get a shot of me arriving and the reaction and congratulating. I got there to find out that Steve had indeed taken a deer. It was a doe and Kyle had gotten it all on camera. WooHoo! Mission complete. To top it off it was NOT bigger than my doe. No, we aren’t competitive or anything. Not at all.
Darkness fell quickly with the overcast sky and looming rain so we loaded things up and headed back to the check station victorious once again. Abe and Kyle stayed a little longer to pack up their gear.
That evening after the weighing and tagging as well as the inevitable ribbing of Steve for letting me get a deer bigger then him, we all sat in the bunkhouse common area eating homemade chili and sharing stories. Even though we still had one more hunt to go we could not talk Abe and Kyle into joining us. They felt they had enough to make the piece they wanted and they were tired. They said they would meet back up with us in the morning when we got back from the hunt. Wusses!
It turned out to be a good decision though (Don’t tell them that part though.) as the promised rain fell light and steady all morning while mist cloaked the ground. But you can’t get a deer while lying in your bunk asleep, (Abe, Kyle) so we stuck it out. Steve and I chose to hunt together in the elevated box blind if only to get out of the mist and rain. It was decided that, since it was Steve’s area, if a shooter came out he would get the chance at it. We did see two deer that morning. Both were bucks and both had well over the maximum number of six points allowed for this hunt so they were off limits. One was a ten point and the other was an eight. It was still really cool to see them. Someday I might get on a hunt where I can actually kill a nice buck like that.
The rain never really slacked up so we called it and began loading up before the road out got too slick to drive. We were not the desperate for another deer to chance getting stuck.
We headed back to the camp one last time. This time there was no deer to unload but that was OK. We had a blast. Abe and Kyle met us as promised and we told them about the morning hunt. They were a bit disappointed that we hadn’t gotten another deer but also relieved that they didn’t miss anything while they slept.
After packing up and saying goodbye to all the other hunters around we gathered for one last picture with the Mason Mountain TV team. It was one heck of an adventure.
Mason Mountain is a beautiful place and Mark and his crew run one heck of an operation. They were always ready to help any way they could. This will remain one of my most memorable hunts. Maybe someday we will get drawn for one of the exotic hunts there and return for another go.
A special thanks to Abe, Kyle, Mark, Jeff, Kelsey, Jim and two very special whitetail does.
For more stories of our Texas Public Hunt Adventures go HERE.