Back in the day, before I was of legal age to drink, I used to spend my post turkey, tryptophan-induced coma in the woods. I’d always tell my family that I was off to do some “hunting” but in reality, I’d find a comfortable tree to lean up against, and take a snooze for a few. Now that Thanksgiving in the Kee house includes liberal dashes of Jameson and orange juice, my afternoon hunting excursions have been called off in the name of safety and UT football . . .
Fresh off the Leghorn calamity a few weeks back, I wanted to get out in the wild and hunt around by myself a bit before the bird had to go in the oven. So instead of making our way from Austin to the ranch on Thursday morning, wifey and I braved Wednesday evening traffic after work. Advice to you single guys out there — find a partner who understand your hunting needs.
I got out to my new tower blind on Thursday morning, ready to finally get some hunting done. I was alone so I didn’t need to worry about anyone else’s needs. The weather was right with overnight lows in the 40’s and a gentle breeze in my face. We’d had a quarter moon overnight, but it had set early so I was really expecting to see some good activity during the morning.
Sometimes I put corn out, though it’s mostly to get the deer to stop long enough for me to shoot. I’m well aware that most of my neighbors feed protein and corn year round, but I just haven’t gotten there yet. In any case, I’d forgotten to pick up a couple bags on the way out, so I went without, and strangely, I felt better about it. Legal shooting hours on Thanksgiving morning began at 6:41 AM and around 6:55 AM is when I heard a very distinctive noise that means my hunting is ruined in that spot.
This is Stella and she’s one of the ten or so rescue horses that call the ranch home. As you can see, Stella is a big girl, and about every minute or so, Stella lets out a long, low, lip flapping exhale that sounds exactly like a Jake Brake from a big rig. Naturally, the deer do not like this sound, and hearing her means I am assured a bust of a hunting day.
So I went to plan B which was to walk around quietly and see what I could see. If anything needed shooting, I’d be ready, but in most cases, I’m too bad at stalking to get very close. In any case, Nick’s two bucks have filled the freezer for the year, so I can afford to be judicious with my killing.
I started my way down through an area that my dad calls the “savanna” for its flat land, and tall grass that waves with the wind. Dan killed his buck here a few years ago and it’s a popular area for deer traffic. This time of year, the grass is the color of wheat, and tall enough that you can only see the chest and head of a deer when they pass through. Luckily, they stand out like a sore thumb due to the contrasting color between their coat and the wheat colored grass. I haven’t really hunted this area much over the last decade, but I’ve always seen deer here, and after what I saw Thanksgiving morning, maybe I should make it a more regular hunting place.
So there I am, walking along, when I spot a spike at a touch over 200 yards. Figuring that our spike problem might need some attention, I dropped my binocs, water, and gloves behind and made plans to start a slow stalk forward to get within a comfortable shooting distance. With a freezer full of meat, and a meaty buck in front of me, there was no need to risk an unsupported shot from distance and my stalking skills are certainly rusty. But before I moved forward, I spent some time glassing the area around him. I can’t speak for all hunters, but if you’ve spent much time in the field, you’ve “not seen” the big one. Normally, it happens after you shoot a doe or a cull buck as you watch ass and antlers disappear before you.
Luckily, I glassed around a bit and saw an absolutely rock solid monster of a buck. He was every bit of ten points, fully developed in the body, and looking in the other direction. I’ve been hunting for a long time, and I still get buck fever seeing a deer like him. Having slowed my breathing, and shaken off the involuntary spasm, I put together a plan to get closer. I couldn’t believe my eyes either. He was an absolute gem. I knew in that moment that if I got close enough, I’d put a one of those fancy Barnes TTSX bullets right through the boiler room. But first, closing the 100 or so yards through a stand of trees to let me get a good shot.
I’d already shucked any unnecessary gear and I started moving forward slowly looking out for sticks, dry leaves, and anything else that might give away my position. I felt a gentle breeze kiss my face as the rising sun warmed the back of my neck and I gave thanks for even getting to experience the moment. I couldn’t have asked for a better stalk, but I knew that being zen in the woods wasn’t getting me any closer so I pushed further.
I started a slow walk forward, keeping some scrubby oaks between him and me. I’d stop every few steps to put some eyes on him and I was pleased each time to see that he hadn’t moved. He sat there stoically, broadside, and facing away from me. I couldn’t see the doe he must have intently been watching, and honestly, I didn’t care. I kept my stalk up until I was about 150 yards away. I’m deadly from a seated position at this distance. But my kneeling and standing are not so great. I took up a seated position, but due to the tall grass, I didn’t have a clear shot. I sighed deeply, and resolved that getting closer was my only option. I spotted a low Y shaped oak tree at 125 yards that would be perfect as a rest, and started to make a beeline for it. I took three steps and heard that sound that every hunter dreads.
Chalk it up to my rusty stalking skills, but I had completely missed a young doe in the grass about 10 yards to the side of the buck I’d been stalking. Just like the deer in the video above, she hopped straight up in the air, wheezed, and took off running. She was followed closely by the spike, several other does, and most heartbreaking, that big buck. They ran up a ridgeline and out of sight.
At this point, I certainly had the option to search harder, and I’m sure I would have caught up to them eventually, but I was so dejected that I packed my gear and headed back for home. I sat down and relayed the story to my dad over coffee before he headed off to work and we shared a laugh at my expense.
There’s a reason they call it hunting and not killing. I certainly would have liked to take that buck, especially after stalking up on him in the open a bit. But man, watching him in the open, just being a buck, was particularly gratifying as well. I saw him again the next morning. More to come….