Keep reading to learn about my first trophy whitetail buck.
Today is a re-post of the very first blog entry I ever posted on this blog: the story of my first trophy whitetail. Some of you, especially those who have began following the blog more recently, may not have had the opportunity to read this story and I’d like to share it with you all. I hope you enjoy it!
As I grow older and more experienced as a hunter, one specific trait seems to become more important to success than any other: patience. I have missed many an opportunity while hunting due to lack of patience and a desire to rapidly accomplish something. However, there have been several events where I have been very successful due to slowing down and waiting. The story of my first trophy whitetail buck is a key example of how patience can pay off.
My family owns a small parcel of land in east Texas where we have camped and hunted for years now. We built a small wooden cabin there where I have spent many days with my father and grandfather. It was there that I shot my first deer as well as my first feral hog. As I grew older, other obligations reduced the amount of time I was able to spend hunting and camping there. However, my father and I were usually able to sneak out to the woods to hunt during the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays.
On one of my trips home for Thanksgiving while I was in college, my father and I left on our hunting trip right after Thanksgiving dinner Thursday night. Friday morning we were both sitting in our respective stands when the sun came up. I was set up in a ground blind just inside the woods on the southern edge of a small clearing with a tripod feeder about 40 yards to the north. Some of the land just to the west of the clearing had been cut a few years earlier and had started to grow back. Deer would regularly travel along the edge of the old growth woods and the recently cut area on a west-east direction and stop at the feeder along the way. Due to this, the area had been a proven producer over many years and we would regularly see deer there. The weather was sunny and in the mid 40s-50s with a light breeze blowing out of the north, absolutely perfect weather for hunting that stand.
Throughout my life, I have shared an interest in unique and slightly unusual rifles with my father. On this particular day, I was hunting with a Remington Model 8 chambered in .32 Remington. The Model 8 was designed by John Browning and patented in the early 1900s. It was the first commercially successful sporting rifle produced in the United States. The rifle was popular in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s among hunters as well as law enforcement. In fact, legendary Texas Ranger Frank Hamer used a Model 8 chambered in .35 Remington in the famous ambush of Bonnie and Clyde in 1934.
Shortly after daybreak, the feeder went off. I noticed some movement in the trees on the north side of the clearing perhaps 30 minutes later. Shortly after that, two does stepped into the clearing moving from my west to east. One of them was acting perfectly normal and was very interested in the corn on the ground. However, the second doe was acting very strange. She paid almost no attention to the corn, but was very interested in an evergreen tree located near the edge of the clearing. She kept standing up on her hind legs and appeared to be rubbing her head on some of the branches. She did this several times and then started smelling the ground directly beneath the branches she was so interested in. Since I had never seen a deer do this before, I was very curious. Instead of shooting either of the two does, which I was initially tempted to do, I decided to wait and see what happened.
After a few minutes, both does moved off to the east. About 10 minutes after they left, I noticed more movement to the north, almost exactly where I first noticed the does moving. This time however, it was a significantly larger animal moving through the woods and was moving much faster, almost at a trot. Hoping it was a buck; I slowly brought up my rifle and rested it on the edge of the blind. Almost immediately after I readied my rifle, the largest buck that I’d ever seen in person stepped out into the clearing. Excitement very rapidly built up in me. I felt my heart rate very rapidly accelerate and I started to breathe deeply and slowly to keep from getting too excited.
He was following exactly in the footsteps of the two does and was moving with his head down to the ground, attracted by the scent the does had left. He stopped briefly at the evergreen tree and investigated the ground and the branches that the doe had been so interested in (I later confirmed that this was a scrape, probably the buck’s, that both the deer were checking), then continued moving towards the feeder. He was standing broadside, slightly quartering away, with his right side facing me. I carefully took aim on his right shoulder and started to squeeze the trigger.
Unfortunately, he continued to move and was soon underneath the feeder with one of the legs obstructing the shot. Not wanting to miss the chance at such a nice deer by accidentally shooting the feeder, I paused until I could get a clear shot. As he stepped forward and his shoulder cleared the leg of the feeder, my stomach was in a knot. I was so excited I could barely contain myself. I kept picturing him suddenly bounding away, lost forever, and it was all I could do to keep from rushing the shot.
Several years earlier, I was sitting in a ladder stand overlooking another clearing with a feeder on my family’s land. I was hunting in the evening and just before the end of shooting light, I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye; I looked and it was a doe moving through the woods towards the clearing. I continued to observe and she was followed by three more does, one of them significantly larger than the rest. They moved quickly into the clearing and started eating the corn on the ground, paying little attention to anything around them. I was about 30 yards away and started to get very excited at the prospect of shooting such a nice, fat doe.
However, it was getting dark fast and I had to make my shot quickly before it became too dark to see my sights (I was shooting with iron sights). Quickly, but quietly I raised my rifle and took aim at the large doe. They were so intent on eating the corn, none of the deer took any notice of me. In the rapidly failing light I fired a shot. At the report of the rifle, all four does jerked their heads up and looked around, trying to find the source of the noise. Surprised and frustrated at my apparent miss, I quickly fired another shot and got the same reaction from the does. I fired one more time, this time barely taking the time to aim. I missed yet again and the does finally ran off, more confused than anything else.
My father and I looked all over the ground in the clearing and for several hundred yards around that night and again the following morning looking for blood and for a possible dead deer. We did not find anything that indicated that I had done anything but miss three embarrassingly easy shots that night. We checked the zero of the rifle that day and it was dead on. The only possible explanation for the miss was me. Since I was excited and pressed for time, I rushed my shots and did not utilize the basic fundamentals of marksmanship. There really was nothing difficult about the shots that I took, but I blew them all the same. However, sometimes lessons learned the hard way are the ones best remembered.
Remembering the painful lesson learned from missing the doe years earlier, I forced myself to be patient and make a good, solid shot on this deer. I slowly applied pressure to the trigger as I looked through the rear aperture of the peep sight and focused on keeping the front bead on his shoulder. I managed to control my breathing and keep a slow, methodical rhythm while I blocked out all other distractions; focusing entirely on keeping the front sight on the buck’s shoulder until the rifle fired. After what seemed like an eternity, the trigger finally broke and the rifle sent a 170 grain soft point straight into the buck’s shoulder. My spirits soared as I saw the buck kick out his hind legs and take a small bound forward, his white tail only halfway raised. He then ran out of the clearing to the northeast, obviously seriously injured.
After the shot I started trembling with excitement. I had seen the biggest deer of my life and just nailed the shot. I walked over to the feeder and to my great confusion; I could not find a single drop of blood. I knew I had made a good shot and the buck gave every indication that I had hit him. I could very clearly see in the sandy ground the tracks of the two does and the much bigger tracks of the buck. I could also see the disturbed ground that indicated where he had made his leap after I shot him. I fought back panic at the thought that I had somehow missed the deer. I decided to wait a few minutes before following the buck in the direction I had last seen him move.
After about 10 minutes, I started slowly following in his tracks to the east. The tracks quickly disappeared in the woods as leaves and pine needles covered the ground. In the woods, the ground quickly sloped downward to a creek. I moved about 100 yards downhill to the creek. Still not seeing any sign on the buck, I walked up and down the creek about 50 yards each direction and I could not find a spot where he had crossed. Dismayed, I walked back up to the clearing and began to follow his trail again. This time, I walked along the slope of the hill moving to the north instead of straight down to the east. After a short distance, a patch of white ahead of me caught my eye. My hopes soared when I saw that the white was on the belly of the buck lying on the ground, stone dead.
After ensuring that he was indeed dead, I started to count the points on his rack. To my great satisfaction, he was a very nice 10 pointer, bigger than I had dared hope when I initially saw him. His antlers were very thick with long G2 and G3 points. They were scarred and covered in dirt. He had evidently been fighting and scraping with them very recently. The tarsal glands on his rear legs were swollen and I could very clearly smell his musk. These things, combined with the fact that he was so obviously following those two does, indicated to me that I had caught him during the rut. With his mind so focused on women, he had gotten himself in trouble and bought the farm!
Now that I had found him, I had to get his body back to the clearing where my dad and I could pick him up and take him back to the cabin. We later weighed the deer and he weighed in at 188 pounds, which was more than I weighed at the time. I only had to move him about 100 yards, but it took a great deal of effort for me to accomplish this. After getting him back to the cabin, I had a chance to examine him in more detail. When I made the shot, he was actually quartering slightly away from me at a greater angle than I thought when I shot. The bullet entered just behind his right shoulder about an inch higher than I would have liked. It hit obliterated the right lung and clipped the forward edge of the left lung before exiting the front of the left shoulder. While it was not a perfect shot, it got the job done and was not a bad shot considering the fact that I shot him while he was moving.
I eventually got a chance to get his rack measured by an SCI certified scorer. He scored 129 4/8 (typical) on the SCI scale. Though not a “trophy” by some people’s standards, he will always be one to me. A 120 class buck is a very respectable trophy for the piney woods of east Texas. That, combined with the fact that I shot him on a completely unguided hunt on my family’s land, makes that deer all the more of an accomplishment in my mind.
Though this particular hunt ended up being a very happy experience for me, it could have very easily turned out differently at several different points. Had I not exercised the patience to pass on the two does, I likely would have shot one of them and never known such a nice trophy whitetail buck was following. Had I not waited for the buck to clear the feeder leg, I could have hit the leg and missed; or worse, merely wounded and lost the buck. If I not exercised the patience to make a slow and deliberate shot on a buck that obviously did not intend to stick around for long, I could have flat out missed him, just like I did with the doe several years before.
All of those things together contributed to me successfully taking my first trophy whitetail buck instead of wasting a great opportunity that many people wait years to receive. When hunting any animal, it is important to realize that you haven’t closed the deal until the animal is dead at your feet. Patience and attention to detail must be exercised at every step of the way. Otherwise, you risk wasting time, money and tears at a blown chance at a potentially great trophy and memory.