From Midwest to Southwest: First Texas Whitetail Buck
As a young boy, I can always remember being fascinated with hunting. A local store with a small hunting section used to captivate me every time we went there. I didn’t know much about deer hunting, except that I really wanted to do it. In being the very motivated and inquisitive 13 year old that I was, I did the best thing you can do when you want to learn about something new; I bought a book. This was of course before the days where a 3 second Google search would turn up more information than a person could even read in a day about whatever topic was typed into the single text box search engine. Nope, we had to do it the “old fashioned” way, you either got first-hand knowledge from someone you knew, or you read about how to do something in a book. The television could also be relied on to provide some tips and tricks used by the best. Many Saturday mornings were spent watching Jackie Bushman, Bill Dance, and Larry Csonka soaking up as much information as I could about bagging a beautiful whitetail. These shows were helpful of course, but were not geared towards someone who did not really know how to hunt in the first place.
So the book I pur
chased talked a
ll about deer hunting beginning with scouting out locations, what gear to bring, driving deer, and finally field dressing the animal once you’ve harvested one. I would study this book constantly, taking notes and making lists of all the things I had and needed for my first hunting trip. Rope, gloves, toilet paper…of course! An “X” next to the item meant less money I’d have to spend from my meager savings to get started. Hunting license? Obviously, how did I expect to go hunting without getting a hunting license? I grabbed one of the booklets at my local store that had all the Pennsylvania hunting seasons, license requirements and regulations listed. In Pennsylvania, a hunter’s safety course was required before you could obtain a hunting license, and the minimum age for hunting was 12. Perfect! I was already old enough, and I thought the hunter’s safety course would be a perfect opportunity for my dad and me to spend some time together. With both of us knocking the safety course finally out of the way, we were ready to go!
Dad, who was trying to be a bigger part of my life after my parents separated, bought me a shotgun for my 14th birthday. It had a rifled slug and a smoothbore barrel and would be perfect for both small game and deer hunting. All of my other friends had fancy deer rifles that had been passed down to them from their fathers or grandfathers, but my father, who was very cautious with his spending, thought a shotgun would be the most versatile and economical way to go.
Throughout high school I tried to convince dad to take me out, but since he didn’t really have any hunting experience, I had to get help from every teenage boy’s best resource: their friends. Once we were old enough to drive, my friends would take me up to their cabins with them, and I would finally get to go deer hunting! My first time out in the woods, we were freezing cold and decided to walk around and try to kick up any deer that may have bedded down during the early morning. I ended up accidentally flushing a buck right out in front of my friend who promptly shot it, making it his 4th buck ever. I couldn’t believe it. The following year, I was sitting in my spot anxiously awaiting a buck to cross my path. After a couple hours I had fallen asleep only to awaken to a 6 point staring me in the face at 50 yards. I raised my gun for a shot and he promptly bolted away into thick brush behind him.
The next eight years were spent working hard in college and then even harder to make it through Navy pilot training. Marria
ge soon followed, and before I knew it, I was moving to Texas to start a new chapter in my life and my career. I was now 28 years old having still never shot a deer.
Without knowing anywhere to hunt, I finally decided that I would pay a guide service to help me finally get my first deer. It was a fairly cool Friday in Texas as I finished work early and began to set out for Escondido Ranch
Texas hill country. Friday was supposed to be the first day of hunting, and I was eager to get out into the field. I quickly threw all of my supplies that I had acquired over the last 16 years and began the four hour drive to the ranch.
Being a military man, and having grown up with a father who was always late to everything, I was already in a bad mood since I was slightly behind timeline. The first two hours of the drive were pretty boring as the landscape is very flat and lifeless. After I left the far reaches of the San Antonio suburbs, the vast rolling hills of the hill country began to surround me as I daydreamed about the coming hunt. The air was cool and crisp but still very different from the dry, cold air associated with deer hunting in Pennsylvania. There were no barren trees or snow on the ground that generally signals the beginning of the Pennsylvania rifle season. Instead the mesquite trees were quite big even though they were only 20’ or so high. The road to the ranch was unpaved and very dusty and the earth was unfrozen. It was unlike any other hunting I had done before.
My tardy arrival placed me at the ranch just after 5 o’clock with only a couple hours of daylight remaining. I no longer had the shotgun my father bought for me to use for the hunt and still had not purchased a new deer rifle. I would have to borrow a gun from the ranch, and with the quickly setting sun, there would be no time for any practice shots. Having shot rifles competitively in school, I knew how to shoot, but only with open sights. I had never even shot a rifle with a scope. My first time, I was hoping, would be with my cross hairs on the vital area of my first buck.
The sun was quickly retreating to the west as my guide Chad and I made our way to our blind. I was finally going to do this. At least I hoped anyway. I had done everything I could to get a deer, now it was up to the deer to cooperate. We had about an hour of daylight remaining before we would have to retreat back to the lodge. We got situated in the blind and pulled out our binoculars to try and pick out any incoming deer. The blind was just on the edge of some mesquite trees and other brush overlooking an open peninsula of land with some shrubs and mesquite trees scattered throughout the opening. A wall of trees and brush ended the clearing with a couple very defined trails about 150 yards away from our blind. Chad told me these trails would bring the deer right to us. After five minutes of getting situated, we saw our first deer. It was a doe with two other does behind her. They calmly walked into the center of the open spot and began to graze for their evening meal.
Then out of the furthest trail to the left of our blind came the biggest buck I have ever seen. A 10-point might get a pass from someone looking to shoot a giant trophy buck, but for me, he was more than adequate. Chad asked if I wanted to take him or wait for a bigger buck. I already had the rifle in my shoulder and was clicking off the safety as I responded with “oh he’ll do just fine.” I’ve always heard my friends and other people talk about getting buck fever, and I used to laugh because it seemed so funny to me. I failed to see what all the hype was about…until today. I told myself it was just like target shooting back home. I immediately began to doubt my ability to deal a kill shot. I hope this rifle is sighted in. I’ve never used a scope before. It can’t be that hard, just put the crosshairs right behind his shoulder blade…just like in the book. I flashbacked to my rifle coach telling me not to hold my breath as it would increase my heart rate. Too late for that! Just breathe, I kept telling myself. Let the rifle move ever so slightly up and down with each breath and then squeeze the trigger just before the end of the breath. CRACK! The rifle jumped up, and immediately I lost sight of the buck as the recoil of the shot echoed through my body. I had absolutely no idea where the shot went. “Did I hit him?” I asked Chad. “Great shot!” he yelled. Chad knew I had hit my mark, and we immediately started to leave the blind to search for my deer. We found him just beyond a mesquite tree about 40 yards from where I shot him.
I instantly felt a tremendous amount of respect and gratitude towards my kill. I immediately wished that my father were there with me so he too could have enjoyed this tremendous experience. Chad and I returned back to the lodge with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I had finally shot my first deer, much later than I had anticipated, but the wait was worth it.
I never thought I would shoot my first whitetail deer
in the Texas hill country. I knew hunting was a huge business in Texas, but I never really saw myself taking part in it. Having very little experience, my options were pretty limited. Even though the hunt was a short one, it still provided with me a tremendous amount of knowledge and lessons learned to use in other hunting endeavors as well as tips to one day pass onto my son when I take him hunting. I look forward to seeing him experience the peace and excitement of his first hunt. I am very grateful for the experience I had that day, and my heart still starts to beat a little faster when I think about getting the chance to do it again.