As the sun begins to warm the South Texas wildlands, a distant deer is silhouetted in the rising yellow-orange orb.
The general season for whitetail deer in South Texas wrapped up mid January, and there are some beautiful bucks that managed to elude hunters.
The challenge for these survivors now is to endure extremely dry conditions, and find food to replenish their depleted reserves.
The annual dance of doe and buck has wound down, and with the end of the rut there are plenty of tired and injured bucks wandering the ranch country.
Chasing does and fighting for dominance takes its toll.
This buck has broken a brow tine and others have snapped various pieces of antlers while fighting.
Their coats bear the scars of recent battle, and some have suffered more than gouges in their sides.
A buck gingerly holds his leg up, unwilling to place any weight on the injured limb.
Predators are quick to notice any infirmity, and this deer's days may be numbered if his weakness is spotted by a pack of opportunistic coyotes or a hungry mountain lion.
When this buck swivels his head, an empty socket is revealed. He has lost an eye, probably poked out by a rival's sharp antler while fighting.
Being blind on one side is a serious liability, and he must constantly turn his head to scan for danger.
Despite his injury, he appears in good health. If he can avoid infection he may survive.
While battling between mature deer has ended, a pair of young bucks continues to playfully spar.
They are testing their strength and honing fighting skills, perhaps unaware of the life threatening struggles that await them.