The Life and Times of 'Heart Attack (An encore presentation of an incredible story)
As he glides across the South Texas sendero and turns that wide sweeping rack around to face Team Realtree's cameraman, little does the giant buck know that this dramatic footage may endanger the health of many deer lovers throughout the country!
Some bucks have a certain magic or quality to the look of their racks that is out of proportion to the actual Boone and Crockett score alone, and "Heart Attack" is a perfect example of this hard to explain allure. Although this great deer sported the largest known 10-point frame of any Texas whitetail in history with a gross typical score approaching 200, his "look" goes beyond the score. Truth be known, many a buck in the record books can match or exceed his score, but there is just something about this deer that sets him apart.
For starters, the outside spread of 36 inches is certainly one of his key attributes, but perhaps it is the outward lean of his long tines that makes him unique. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that this appropriately named whitetail has captured the attention of the hunting public in a way that puts him into the superstar category.
Bill Jordan and David Blanton have had so many questions about him that placing his image on a tee shirt was the logical next step, and the resulting sales at Wal-Mart have been even better than expected. With the continued interest, David asked me to write a short story on the interesting history of my relationship with this truly unique monster buck.
Many hours and days of work are put into the food-plot building process at the Tecomate Ranch. The benefits to the hard work are easy to see on the smiling faces of the hunters that visit the ranch.
What makes the story so special is that it is one that could have happened to any of you. Like most whitetail addicts, I grew up with visions of giant bucks dancing in my head, but distinctly missing from the places I hunted. I was not born into wealth and money, but I still dreamed of one day finding a way to buy my own place and then learning how to grow better bucks. America is indeed the land of opportunity, and with hard work, a little luck, and a lot of gracious help from above, our dreams are being realized.
The long hard years of study that were necessary to become an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon were largely fueled by this quest. Even my wife predicted that we would probably own a ranch before a house, and her fears were realized when I managed to put a group together to buy our first tract of 1000 acres in 1983, my first year out of residency. The partnership acreage would grow to 2,600 acres, and I would then purchase an additional 1,400 and lease 3,800 more of my own.
Although food plots were not accepted in Texas as a viable management option, I was not convinced. The biggest bucks in the Midwest and Canada were coming from farmland areas, especially where legumes were grown. I was determined to find a farming method and the right crops that would work, even here in dangerously dry South Texas. There were many setbacks along the way, but by 1989, I had found the way. The key was a group of sub-tropical legumes from Australia and Colombia, farmed the right way.
THE LEARNING PROCESS
Before 1990, our biggest deer had been a 145-grossing buck that dressed 140 pounds. After that, 160-plus bucks began showing up with regularity, and the dressed weights jumped to over 180. We started winning deer contests at unprecedented regularity, and this past year, my daughter Rebecca and I became the first father-child duo in history to both harvest B&C bucks in the same year. Hers was the heaviest B&C typical in Texas history, and mine was the biggest typical in the state last year at 184 5/8 net. She graced the cover of one of Realtree's hunting magazines with her buck. Many readers were in complete awe of her deer including David Morris.
Morris of North American Whitetail Magazine became so impressed with the program we'd developed that he bought a ranch next to mine, and his daughter just harvested a buck as I was preparing this story that just barely missed the B & C book. Grossing 177, it would have made it if not for one, three-inch non-typical point. Two years ago at the age of 8 1/2, his sheds were scored at only 138. This was right after David bought the place and before putting in our Tecomate Lablab fields. That a buck could add almost 40 inches of antler at such advanced age is unheard of! But as amazing as these turnarounds are, never in my wildest imagination did I ever dream an animal like "Heart Attack" would show up.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
I will never forget the feeling when my Dad and I rounded the corner of the red dirt road in February 1993. Standing broadside 200 yards ahead stood a buck unlike anything I'd ever seen. As he turned his head to look our way--much as you see him do in the Realtree video--I thought my heart would jump right out of my chest. First impressions of dramatic situations in life are telling. The logical assumption would be that I would immediately begin planning how to harvest the trophy the next year. I had always dreamed of taking a record deer, and here before my eyes was the obvious way to do it.
Although it was hard not to focus on the tremendous rack, I was struck by the deer's slender look in its neck and shoulders. His stature looked like that of a typical 3 Ω-year old. It didn't seem possible at such a young age to have grown so much antler, but I was certain that he was not fully mature. Although I'd spent many hours afield hunting that year, I had never seen him before. It was as if God had dropped him down directly from heaven at that moment.
The first words spoken after a stunned moment of silence were of my excited father exclaiming that I had to find a way to breed that buck. At the time, it was illegal in Texas to capture a wild buck for breeding purposes. Many were involved in permitted pen-breeding programs using deer purchased from other breeders. I instead chose to work with my own existing genetics through a culling program on the lower end, and by bringing out the fullest expression of what I had on the top end of the gene pool through nutritional enhancement. Like my dad however, my first thoughts were not how to kill this unbelievable deer but how to keep him alive as long as possible and how to improve his odds at producing as many sons and daughters with his traits as possible.
Heart Attack was located in a corner of a pasture where I had planned on developing another food plot anyway, so I immediately implemented the plan. In little time we had waist high Tecomate Lablab growing for him by early May. Countless scouting hours were spent during the following year. Ground recon missions and helicopter surveys both brought us to dead ends. It seemed as though the buck had vanished as magically as he appeared. Then as if on cue one year later in February '94, I got an call from my ranch foreman Rogelio. He had seen a monstrous deer that sounded a lot like Heart Attack. Every spare moment I had was spent looking for him, and three weeks later, it felt like deja vu inside my chest when I finally saw him again. His rack had grown considerably, and I was more determined than ever to keep him alive and find his sheds.
DOES THE BUCK EXIST?
No sheds were found that spring either, and once again, he went into his disappearing act. The following December, David Morris was hunting at the Tecomate with me, and the mysterious deer I had now appropriately named was a hot topic of conversation. Was he still alive? If so, why was he so hard to see? In the area where he lived, we were regularly seeing a big-bodied eight-point buck with a puny rack. Many consider deer like these as culls from a genetic standpoint. As the rut was fast approaching, I did not want this deer doing the lions share of the breeding, so I had one of my guides harvest the deer the next day. What happened next was amazing. Removing the more dominant eight from his territory had apparently liberated Heart Attack, and he was now all over the place, chasing does with a vengeance! We have since observed the bucks with 'junk yard dog' attitudes that dominate a certain breeding territory are often these smaller racked eight- pointers.
Heart Attack's rack had continued to stretch, and in the spring of 95, I found my first pair of his sheds. These amazing pieces of bone now grace the mantle above my fireplace, dressed in the cape of the management buck that had intimidated him so much.
After the season, he again went on a disappearing spree. In the meantime, I had the opportunity to purchase another ranch closer to my home. Although there were very few deer, this 1700-acre tract included prime farmland. Located in a county that had never produced any record deer, I was convinced that the soil would grow my legume seeds even better than the lower quality farm soils on the Tecomate. I had been looking for an opportunity to check my theories of growing big bucks on another tract that did not have a prior history of big deer, and this was the perfect place. What made it even more ideal was its sparse number of deer. Texas still did not allow pen breeding wild whitetails at the time, but it did allow restocking efforts. This was my opportunity to start a new herd heavily built on Heart Attack's genes, if I could find him during the restocking capture efforts.
CONTINUED MANAGEMENT EFFORTS
The biggest problem was convincing my wife (and banker) that I needed another ranch, and finding a way to afford it! By selling off all but 660 acres of the property for more than I paid for it, I managed to pull it off, and that fall found me on the Tecomate, capturing the deer for the restocking. I had been given permits to move up to 40 deer, so I planned on taking 38 does, Heart Attack, and one other buck.
The ups and downs of emotions I have been through with this buck as he has repeatedly pulled his vanishing acts have really been something. When the day finally came for the helicopter trapping and transfer, after spending almost all of the daylight hours at work, we had managed to capture all of our does and one of the two big bucks I had wanted to take, but "Heart Attack" was nowhere to be found. Research in South Texas had shown that helicopter census counts seldom reveal more than 60% of the herd, so it was not out of the ordinary to miss a given deer. But my permits were for this day only and I was rapidly running out of time. Again, I worried that he might have died from natural causes or, worse yet, been poached. My nerves at this time were ready to crack.
"Are you absolutely certain you have looked everywhere for him? Surely there is some place you missed," I questioned my top-notch 'copter pilot. He was sure of his thoroughness. Most of the helicopter jockeys take great pride in their ability to find a needle in a haystack, and this one was no different. The look in his eye showed his sympathy as well as his certainty that our buck was just not there.
We had built a reversible deer proof fence around a summer food plot of Lablab to improve the grazing efficiency by holding pressure off of the plants until they become established. Once this is done, the deer have trouble keeping up with forage production on the 15-acre food plot. There was a narrow strip of brush between it and our perimeter fence in the corner of the pasture where he lived. This narrow lane is used to move cattle to and from the next pasture, and Rogelio noted that it was the one area that had not been flown. None of us including the pilot thought he could possibly be over there given the minimal cover and cramped quarters. With light falling fast and nothing to lose, J.C. went up for one last look.
Stayed Tuned For Next Week When Realtree Continues The Life and Times of 'Heart Attack'
If you would like to download a copy of the all new Heart Attack computer wallpaper, click here now. Also, look for the Team Realtree Heart Attack t-shirts at your local Wal-Mart, Bass Pro Shop, outdoor retailer, or purchase it online here.