By Eric Liu
“I see antlers moving between the trees” whispered my friend Bret as he gripped my arm seeming to make absolutely sure I was listening. Those very words bookend both the culmination and the beginning of my hunting journey. It was after all, my first deer hunt, ever, and most importantly, my very first buck harvest. Let’s start the story somewhere appropriate . . .
It was the third opportunity out of three to bag a trophy Texas whitetail buck over a two day hunt. The date was November 30th, 2013 at approximately 4PM in Comanche County on Bret’s in-laws’ family ranch. The sun was up and the clouds moved quickly bringing about moments of brightness followed by moments of dancing shadows and overcast hues.
Bret and I had been looking out of our blind for about six cumulative hours during the evening before as well as the morning of. My own eyes had grown accustomed to the scenery but Bret’s decades of experience noticed something standing out from between the main trunks of the tree to the right of the feeder about a hundred yards off.
Good binoculars are priceless and at about that time, mine were immediately up and focused on the terrain Bret pointed out. After a little focus adjustment I could see what appeared to be a pair of antlers, but no deer, floating along and approaching the area cautiously. I say no deer because that buck was actually coming up a small hill below our line of sight. However, those antlers were clear as crystal, and within a moment, the buck’s head appeared moving from our right to left. Those alert ears, common to a buck who has survived this long, were well inside the spread of the antlers and gave us confidence we could legally take this particular buck. I whispered back to Bret, “Those antlers are HUGE!” And as any first-time hunter can attest my heart was pumping loud and hard.
Now, before I get to the harvest itself – you need to know what happened the day before. For it tells a much greater and impactful story than the actual kill itself. On Friday morning we drove up to Comanche and our first hunting opportunity was the afternoon of November 29th. We planned to give it a shot on the 29th followed by a morning and an afternoon opportunity on Saturday the 30th of November.
The goal was simple. Priority one was to bag a legal buck when I could if it presented itself. Priority two was take home a doe and have venison in the freezer. Seems easy enough right? Well, if you’re a hunter you know that it isn’t. Deer move where they want to move and sometimes where they are is where you’re not. For the first-timer in particular just SEEING deer is quite an accomplishment and I’ve been led to believe that you have to pay your dues by sitting through at a least a season or two of either not seeing any deer or just seeing non-legal bucks, before you can actually harvest your first deer.
Leading up to this first deer hunt, I had been praying for good weather, for a great interaction between Bret and I, and finally to be able to take at least some meat home. But secretly, very secretly, and quite deeply rooted, my plea was to bag an exceptional buck, a trophy to brag about and keep, and to get it sooner rather than later. I didn’t want to go home empty handed. I didn’t want to see nothing. I didn’t want to get just an OK specimen – I wanted a keeper. And by God’s grace I got exactly what I wished for.
That first opportunity was the afternoon of the day we arrived. Our shooting position was through a wire gate of a corrugated sheet metal barn that had been rigged with a blanket to act as concealment. With a shooting lane that centered on a corn feeder one hundred yards downrange and about 40-50 yards field of view we had a comfortable yet effective blind. We set up our spot then sat down to wait.
My Remington Model 700 Light Tactical Rifle in .308 Winchester was of a late 90’s build and of an all-black finish with a synthetic stock. It was topped with a Leupold Vari-X III scope and had Remington CoreLokt Express 150 grain pointed soft point hunting loads. The shorter barrel of the LTR, the fluted full profile barrel, and the trusty 3-rings of steel on the Model 700 gave me great confidence to deliver 1” groups at 100 yards consistently.
At 4:30PM on Friday the 29th with no audible warning our first group of does walked toward the feeder into plain view coming from the left and behind a dense thicket of brush and trees. Three total does showed up; 2 mature and 1 juvenile. All 3 deer were quite comfortable and spent 15-20 minutes in the feeder area before very slowly moving to our left and away from the stand.
To say I was excited would be an understatement. Seeing these naturally curious, yet cautious, but beautiful animals gracefully grazing and being part of the scenery was mesmerizing. I could sit there perfectly happy just watching if they would have stayed longer. I decided not to take a doe. I didn’t want to end the hunt that quickly. I had hoped perhaps a buck would chase the does but that didn’t happen. The night came quickly and the light faded so we closed shop and headed to the hotel. I thanked God for the visiting does and asked Him to bless our Saturday effort.
On Saturday the 30th we set up in the barn blind again by 6AM. It was cold, windy, and not the time I wanted to learn the reality of not being dressed adequately for the environment. My feet were cold. My camo ball cap was too thin. My 4 layers of upper wear were acceptable but not ideal. My 2 layers of lower wear were also a bit light.
Despite that it was a great start. At approximately 7:45AM I glassed a buck coming again from our right side. This buck hopped a wire fence and was inside 40 yards from our position. Unfortunately, this buck was a symmetrical 4-point non-legal buck with his rack being well inside the spread of his ears. This particular buck was very wary of the feeder and constantly looked up. It probably never spent more than 5 seconds eating with its head down before looking up and around.
As you can imagine, I was totally enthralled by seeing my very first buck in the wild. It was mesmerizing. It was disappointing for sure to not see a monster buck but I was confident we would harvest a buck by Saturday evening. One thing I knew for sure was that Bret was a very good friend since he got up very early to brave the cold and he really didn’t even plan to take a deer. He was really there for me.
By 3 PM Central Standard Time, we were rested up and ready for our last opportunity. I had continued praying and we settled into our blind early. This was it. Go big or go home. Well, it was about only 45 or so minutes into the hunt when all of a sudden Bret tells me there are antlers moving in the tree line. This buck is clearly a legal buck. I estimate it’s about 150 plus pounds on the hoof and it just needs to present me a quartering-away shot long enough for me to take this one down. The LTR is loaded and ready. My scope is set up for a 100 yard zero, dialed in at about 8x, and I’m confident in my shooting abilities. I hand the binos to Bret and shoulder the LTR – my heart still racing.
This buck comes in cautiously and carefully. In fact it approaches the feeder slowly and constantly looks at the mechanism – as if it knows it’ll be spraying the corn soon – and doesn’t wish to be caught off-guard. It moves around the feeder and changes position but never fully stops long enough to present me the ideal quartering-away shot. It spends a good time feeding but facing directly toward our position and I’m simply not comfortable shooting through the frontal chest area. At one point, it does stand broadside facing left under the feeder, but I hesitate, not confident I can deliver the round ideally through the opposite side should from where I am. From there on it seems all opportunity is lost and I may have squandered the chance.
Something spooks the buck and it scampers away from the feeder about 20 feet to the right. My heart sinks as I suspect it may not come back. However, it regains its confidence, and wanders to the left and in front of the feeder very slowly, acting like the corn will disperse and it just wants to stay clear. During this time, my heartbeat has settled down completely from the initial rush, my safety is off, and I’m holding on him through my scope the entire time, looking for an ideal shot.
The buck walks left about 15 yards and looks like it may be ready to depart. However, at the last moment, it turns abruptly full right, like God Himself was telling this deer to go back and eat at the feeder. It present completely broadside and quartering away ever so slightly. I can see the left front leg just left of the right front leg so I know the bullet will cross through the right lung, possibly disrupt the heart, and exit the left front shoulder. The buck stops completely in its tracks looking up and time stands still. Trigger finger touches trigger. Slow pressure. Hold steady. Surprise break. Boom!
The visible impact – a dark “spot” – is captured on video that I have running. The buck kicks up its hind legs and takes off at a full sprint to our right passing the feeder toward the way it came in. About 10 seconds post-shot he’s down. Through the binos we can see the buck on the ground and the left rack up in the air sideways. This buck has run about 40-plus yards from when it was hit and has ended up on the dirt on its right side on the grass in a perfect spot. I have just taken my first deer – a legal 12-point buck!
We wait about 10 minutes and slowly begin our approach from the back of animal. I give it a kick on the butt. Nothing. I move closer to the head and give the head a few kicks. Still nothing. The buck is motionless, no breathing, no visible activity. The Remington CoreLokt Express entered on the right side about 2 inches behind and 2 inches above the crook in the front right shoulder. The entry wound is clearly visible and bright red arterial blood fringes the wound.
As we reposition the body, air and some blood exit from the entry hole. The exit wound on the left side is small. In fact, if it weren’t for the blood spot on the hide it wouldn’t be that visible. The exit wound appears to be on the left upper leg – still on the body but just before it extends down below the chest. My assumption is that both right and left lungs, as well as part of the heart, were damaged.
Now begins the task of field dressing my first buck. Bret walks me through the process step by step and I find it’s not that bad. Especially if you have surgical gloves, a very sharp knife, a pick-up truck tail gate, a hose with water, and a hoist to access the frontal carcass cavity. All in all the experience is what I wanted to learn. The carcass was then washed and delivered for processing. I can still remember Bret’s big smile and how ecstatic he was for my success.
All in all this was a life-renewing experience. I know that one of my spiritual brothers truly invested his time, money, and energy into helping me enjoy my first deer hunt. He had NOTHING to gain other than my friendship and the joint-experience of time in the field together. For that I’m truly humbled and forever in his debt. I also appreciated the beauty, solace, and tranquility of our natural environment. Being in the country, in its open space, and breathing in that air…is just good for the soul.
I also appreciate how harvesting your own meat is a rewarding and satisfying process. The sausage, steaks, and chili have filled my freezer and will provide a healthy protein source for a few months easily. Seeing the circle of life sounds cliché but it’s so true and it is good for the soul. Hunters know that game is to be managed conscientiously, and carefully, so that we can continue to enjoy sport hunting for all generations.
Most of all I appreciated how God delivered a wonderful outdoor experience and answered my prayer EXACTLY the way I had hoped for and then some! The antlers have since been mounted on a shield and will go up on my office wall. Long after the venison is consumed, the story of this hunt will provide a good source of conversation about God’s goodness and His answering my prayers, just the way I asked.