Hunters took advantage of the special youth-only season and the archery season to post a pair of bucks on the leader board of the Tyler Morning Telegraph's 33rd annual Big Buck Contest.
The Martins, including Mike's father, Mike Sr., have been hunting the lease 24 years longer than Will has been alive. The ranch has traditionally produced good deer, so it was only natural that Will would eventually get a shot at a good buck.
After taking his first deer last season, the young hunter had been practicing with his .223-caliber rifle for this year. He started the weekend's hunt with a pig Friday evening, but after a slow Saturday he was forced to wait until Sunday for his deer.
That morning Will, his dad and grandfather shared a hunting rig in search of a buck for the youngster to shoot.
“The wait paid off. On Sunday morning it was cold, 28 degrees,” his dad said. “We drove to the back corner of the ranch and at light began the slow drive to an area where there had been activity.”
They spotted an 11-pointer with a doe, but it was deemed too young. Then the bigger 12 came out following another doe. When the deer turned broadside, Will made the 70-yard shot.
The buck had a 14 5/8-inch inside spread and a longest main beam length of 19 6/8. The longest tine measured 8 4/8 inches and the largest base circumference was 4 2/8 inches.
Ruark was bow hunting 125 acres along the Neches River when he crossed paths with his buck.
The buck came down toward Ruark's stand from a bedding area on a hill.
“The first time I saw him he was about 50 yards away. He took a few steps and started thrashing some sassafras trees and made a new scrape. As he left that scrape and was headed to the next one, which happened to be the size of a Volkswagon, he paused for what was the last 30 seconds of his life,” the hunter said.
After calming himself by watching raccoons eating corn, Ruark dropped the buck with a 44-yard shot.
The buck had an inside spread of 15 1/8 inches and a longest main beam of 20 7/8. The longest tine measured 7 5/8 and both circumferences at the base measured 4 inches.
Lonnie Lippert, Euless, continues to lead the division with a 10-point Henderson County buck taken opening weekend. The 4½-year-old deer scored 129 5/8.
Registration continues and is free at any of the contest sponsors: The Tire Barn, 13687 FM 206 at Spur 364; Army/Navy Store of Tyler, 1201 E.SE. Loop 323; East Texas Seed, Cotton Belt Rail Yard; Lynch's Food Store, 3400 E. Fifth; Mac's Gun Shop, 213 E. Elm; Noonday Gun Trader, 14674 Texas 155 South; and Still Life Taxidermy, 1415 E. Tyler St., Athens.
Hunters must register at least 24 hours before taking their deer.
There are two youth divisions — North and South. The winners in each division will receive a mount of their buck. Second- and third-place winners receive gift certificates.
No deer taken within a high-fence property may be entered in the contest.
There are two rule changes this season. Only bucks with hardened antlers may be entered in the contest. This eliminates so-called velvet-horned deer from the competition. The change was made not because velvet-horned deer aren't bucks, but because the velvet covering provides a scoring advantage.
Also beginning this season all deer must be taken to either Still Life Taxidermy or Lynch's Food Store within 10 days of being harvested to be entered in the contest.
The contest runs through Jan. 27, one week after the regular season closes in South Texas.