I’ve watched him. We all have.
For years now, his sightings have been topics of conversation. If a neighbor passed him on the dirt road, they’d be sure to stop and tell you, “I saw that big buck running toward your south field yesterday.” Or, “I saw him down by the headwaters, chasing a doe.”
He was always running. And he was always chasing a doe.
His impressive antlers made him easy to identify. Over more than 800 acres, there’s not a single high fence or feeder. The deer on our ranch come for a quiet place to lay down and a good amount of acorns, and usually, I leave them to both.
But not him. Him, I marked. And waited.
A couple more Falls and he was fully mature. By then, I could tell which bucks were his offspring as well. Solid bucks, with big bodies and wide, tall antlers even at a young age.
The next September I recognized the old buck in him was a lot like the old man in me. He still ran, but not so lightly anymore. Each step looked like it took work. His neck and chest were bigger than in his youth, but so was his belly, and his back sagged a bit with the weight. His body was on the decline.
I told myself, “next year.”
I saw him once that next year. As I walked up the top of the hill overlooking our south field, bow in hand, he was already there, and running away. He snorted and blew as he ran, but he never so much as stopped to look back. And he was gone.
Nobody saw him the next fall, and that winter was the coldest on record, with a shocking ice storm that made international headlines. Nobody had ever seen anything like it.
Scores of birds lay dead in the snow, frozen to death. Hundreds of oaks on our ranch burst and died. I suspected the old buck had succumbed to the elements, his age, or another buck. I prayed it wasn’t the indignity of a windshield.
He showed up early the next August.
Unlike previous years, his sightings now came several times a week, and aways around that same south field. Ever since the ice storm, the does had been there every morning. It was ringed by heavy brush, and still had a bunch of old, relatively unharmed oaks. The does followed the acorns, and the big buck followed the does.
People wondered if it was the same deer. He looked mostly the same, with the same shape of the antlers. He clearly outclassed the other deer around. And yet, he was somehow “less than” the deer they remembered. He looked tired. And was he limping?
Just about every day in October, I’d do my best to sneak into the south field, hoping to get within bow range of the old buck. I could have taken a dozen does and even a couple younger bucks all that month, doing nothing more than sitting still behind some junipers.
But not him. A few times I got within 50 yards, but he was always moving, and wary. I never saw him eat. He seemed focused on nothing but pushing the younger bucks out, and the does, But if I so much as raised my bow, he bolted.
As November approached I was seeing him less and less. I had resigned myself to the fact that one old man had beaten the other, but I had no misperceptions that this would almost certainly be his last Winter. The buck’s that is.
The next day would be the first day of rifle season. As I went to bed, I considered trying to take him with the M48 Nosler Custom Handgun I had used on a black bear in Idaho earlier that year. The considerable range advantage it offered would be appreciated. That next morning I woke up extra early, intending to be under the junipers by four. I grabbed the Nosler and headed out the door.
At the bottom of the porch I turned around, went back in the house, set the gun down, and picked up my longbow. There had been a cold snap that night and with so little moon and so few acorns left on the ground relative to other years, this morning would likely be the best day to hunt in a decade. If there was ever a morning to get in close, this was it.
By five I walked to the edge of the field. Instead of sticking to the junipers, I crawled out a bit further, another 30 yards or so, and hid behind an old pile of junk metal.
I waited quietly, but the deer didn’t.
Long before the sun’s glow touched the grass, I could hear them stomping, running, and sparring. By the time it was fully sunrise that hilltop field was absolute bedlam. I was completely engrossed in the scene in front of me. Two eight-point bucks were chasing any doe that came around. They would run her off, only to return empty-handed to fight it out amongst themselves. More excited does and curious bucks would arrive, and the scene would play out all over again.
And then, all at once, everyone picked up their head, me included. Sure enough, here he came, out of the brush, running hard, furious for the younger bucks. The herd scattered, gone.
But one doe came back. As the boys worked out their differences, she browsed nervously. His previous business attended to, the old buck came rushing back as well. Now within 50 yards, but still running, he chased that lone doe out of the field.
It was a good while later when she returned out of the brush. This time, she barely got enough time to put her head down when the old buck showed again, nose down and huffing. Wide-eyed, she fled. He followed.
I stifled a chuckle when she showed up a third time. She would have had a moment’s pause, but those heavy hooves betrayed him. She ran again, this time within feet of my impromptu blind.
He thundered in and covered 50 yards fast. His neck was fully forward, lip curled back, focused on nothing but her scent.
He passed, and not 30 yards in front of me, slowed to a trot. My arrow flew.
I don’t remember drawing the bow. I don’t remember releasing the string. I do remember seeing the shallow line of muscle in his shoulder, and I remember the audible “thump” of the broadhead as it struck.
If he felt the arrow sink, he didn’t show it. His posture never changed, and I watched him continue to chase his quarry into the brush, the feathers of my cedar arrow sticking from his shoulder.
As I sat there, I realized that, after primarily hunting with firearms for so long, I had shot him a little far forward, through the edge of the shoulder itself, as I would with a rifle, instead of just behind it. I hoped that, given the 55-pound draw weight of my longbow, the arrow still had enough momentum to punch through the shoulder and do the job.
Preparing my mind — and my knees — for what I feared would be a long blood trail, I stood.
He lay not 50 yards away, piled up under an oak. The arrow had indeed passed through his shoulder, right through his heart.
Evidence of a hard life, and a harder last few years, marred the monarch’s body. Antler points were broken, either at the base or the tips. He had two long scars down his chest, and a hole in his belly skin that went all the way to an exposed bowel, likely from not quite clearing a barbed wire fence, and more than once.
Fresh gouges adorned his face and neck from fighting with the younger bucks. Some previous injury, perhaps from a gunshot, showed as deep scarring and deformation in the lower part of his sternum and rib cage.
When I looked at all he’d been through and kept going, I couldn’t help but feel proud of the old man.
I’ll be living with him, or part of him, for a while yet. I’ll remember him, his drive, and his determination every time I look at his antlered skull. But that’s not the part of him I mean. The peak of the rut is over, but a few younger bucks with wide, tall antlers and big bodies are still showing up in that south field. In a couple more years, my sons will be up there, too.
“But not him. Him, I marked. And waited.”
Nah, that’s not creepy serial killer like at all.
That’s why we do it.
I’m not in any way a hunter nor do I intend to be but this was a beautiful story. The fact you let him live out his best days in peace before taking him was quite admirable.
I get to know the wildlife around here. They become characters of the ranch and land as much as any of the people.
Cant eat horns
Porcupines do. They gnaw the heck out of them. My dog also chews the heck out of a piece of antler.
Don’t recommend antler’s either.
Wonderful story. Reminds me of some of the old bucks I remember seeing back when I lived in Wisconsin or Minnesota. Big, battle scared old deer that I respected for what they were. Survivors. Always hunted either a young buck or doe for meat. Never wanted to shoot the big mature bucks that did most of the breeding. Not the best eating and didn’t want to remove them from the gene pool.
Same here. I might shoot a buck every year, but usually it’s just a call something from the gene pool we don’t like. But within a week of shooting that buck, I shot seven doe at a different spot.
It would have been enough for me to know that I had succeeded in getting into a position where I could have gotten him, then maybe taken his photo.
I am now confronted by the sentimental quandary resulting from awakening one morning to find a young elk calf, curiously and mischievously, peeking at me through my window with just the nubbins of his antlers to confirm that he was a bull half a year old. I’m now fearful that that trophy bull that I find a few years from now will be him.
That is quite the quandary Elmer. The only solace I could offer would be, he won’t remember you and you aren’t anything to him, so it’s not like a betrayal. But, I quite take your point.
Thank you for sharing your very well told hunting story. I wish there were more stories out there that would give inspiration to our young hunters in respecting nature and demonstrating that skills like scouting and weapon practice are necessary.
“Scores of birds lay dead in the snow, frozen to death. Hundreds of oaks on our ranch burst and died.”
Do oak much further north and exposed to even deeper cold winters do the same?
Or did Texas oak evolve to be less cold tolerant?
Anyway, as usual, thanks for taking me along on the hunt… 😉
There are plenty of oak trees in our nation’s northern tier of states which do very well in their cold winters with substantial sub-zero temperatures.
I am perplexed as to why so many oak trees split on Taylor’s property.
I can tell you that I was out hunting one year on a VERY cold morning and heard what had to be a large tree splitting down the middle. That was an eerie sound in an otherwise silent forest which made it an even eerier experience. I attribute that to a tree which had internal material missing (from mammals, birds, and/or insects removing/eating it) that filled with rainwater–which then froze, expanded, and burst the tree. I imagine the same thing happened to Taylor’s oak trees.
Geoff, these are our semi evergreen Live Oak trees. They are warm weather adapted and they do not drop most of their leaves during the winter.
They can get quite large, and it’s pretty crazy to see them break. The trees in the background of the first photo are examples of fairly young ones.
We have temperature data going back 135 years and this was an ice storm, snowstorm and low temperature record for that entire time. And by a good bit.
Still full of sap, seen it happen to sycamores. Old timers call it wind shake. Wind come up and the young sycamores was popping like fire crackers.
For us, it’s from the massive amount of ice. It builds up on the leaves and then the wind comes and snaps the trees.
It could have been both sap (freezing) and ice on the limbs.
We had a pretty big ice storm in my neck of the woods several years ago. I went outside in the morning when it was still and silent. Something like every one to two minutes a large branch somewhere would suddenly snap under the extra weight of the ice–it literally sounded like shotgun blasts. (The first few times that I heard it I thought it was shotgun blasts until a limb broke close enough to me that I could clearly tell it was a tree limb breaking.)
Uncommon, exactly that sound for days. It was nuts.
Jon Wayne Taylor, I’ll bet you read the two best outdoor magazines as a kid Outdoor Life and Sports Afield. They had story tellers of the same class. Just my opinion but I could read a book of these kind of stories from this kind of a writer, thank you sir.
Arthur L. Brown Sr.
Thank you. Often read Sports Afield. Our school library carried it.
Perfect article! More this, less politics!
This was a great story, like the ones that I used to read in Sports Afield or Field & Stream when I was a boy. Growing up in the big city, I could only dream about outdoor adventures., or read about them. So I read a lot.
I’ve noticed that the best hunting stories are adventure allegories tinged with sadness. Not to go all metaphysical, but JWT has this whole business down pat. His writing is straightforward, lean and unpretentious, and his hunting stories are always moving.
JWT, for god’s sake write a book already.
Thank you sir.
ONCE ABOUT A TIME YOUNGER DAYS USE TA HUNT . JUST WATCH AND ADMIRE THE DEER NOW . GOOD STORY OF DEER HUNT .
Thanks, enjoyed the story.
I enjoyed the story as well.
I envy Mr. Taylor’s access to such a large and nice area of habitat. I am relegated to eeking out access to small, disconnected properties close to my home which are less than ideal habitat or parcels. And there is a LOT of hunting pressure and human activity around which makes it even harder to succeed. I am glad that Mr. Taylor was successful.
By the way it sounds like Mr. Taylor shot his arrow at a moving target. If that is true, he is fortunate that his arrow did not hit way farther back toward that buck’s hind quarters (and thus likely a gut shot which is awful).
As for his concern that his arrow would not penetrate adequately: a recurve bow with a 55 pound draw weight (assuming he was at full draw and thus the full 55 pounds of force) has ample force for adequate arrow penetration. To be honest, I am somewhat surprised that his arrow did not pass completely through that buck. (My compound bow’s draw weight is around 63 pounds and every shot that I have ever put on a deer–even quartering shots–have been complete passthroughs.)
And yes: if you put an accurate shot on a deer with an arrow (and a razor-sharp broadhead tip), that deer will rarely go more than 50 yards. I have put marginal shots on deer (back edge of lungs or liver shot) and those deer managed to run about 125 yards before keeling over. Interesting fact: all of those deer took off on a flat-out (full speed) run which means they covered that 125 yards in about 8 seconds–which also means that they died within 8 seconds even with “marginal” arrow placement.
Yeah, they can *run*… :
Yes, I did shoot him moving. And I was very confident in the shot. I hit exactly where I was aiming, I should have just aimed a little farther back.
I’ve seen deer perfectly shot through the heart, either with a bow or a bullet, run 300 yards. And I’ve seen them drop dead where they are. Never figured out why.
“Yes, I did shoot him moving.”
Nice shootin’ Tex!
(I could not resist!)
Seriously though, that was an excellent shot on a moving deer. I am deadly accurate with my archery equipment on stationary targets. (I shoot all arrows into a 1.5-inch square at 25 yards all day long.) I have no idea if I could put arrows on target on a moving deer. Again, kudos to Mr. Taylor.
At 25 yards I’m happy with a 6-in circle. But I need to do that standing, kneeling, sitting, and at a walk.
Yes sir, your ability to shoot instinctively (and accurately enough) in various real-world positions is an excellent learned skill (through hard work) and a significant asset.
If I ever manage to get any significant amount of free time, I will be tempted to pull out that recurve bow that someone gave me 30 years ago and start developing similar skills.
By the way your ability to put your arrows into a 6-inch circle at distances up to 25 yards is all that you should be concerned about. Once you start trying to shoot deer at 30 yards and beyond with typical recurve bows, you are at serious risk of your deer jumping your arrow–or moving so much before the arrow arrives that you end up with poor shot placement (even though you aimed and released correctly).
In case anyone does not understand that last concept, it is simple physics and deer reaction time. Real-world arrow speeds translate to a fairly significant amount of elapsed time between releasing the arrow and the arrow arriving at its target. That elapsed time is approaching half a second at 30 yards–ample time for a deer to begin its process of springing away. You can actually see it if you are able to watch a slow-motion video of someone shooting an arrow at a deer at 30+ yards. (The sound of the of bow limbs and string pushing the arrow startles deer which often start to launch themselves away.)
Thus, both worst-case accuracy and your arrow’s transit-time-to-target limit your maximum range. With respect to typical recurve bows (and even some compound bows), the limit will usually be transit time which translates to about 25 yards, maybe 30 yards at the most.
Uncommon, I’ve seen a deer duck an arrow before on a hunt I guided. It’s one of those things I would never have believed could be possible if I hadn’t seen it.
Just talked to a guy fishing the river, didnt know him, just visiting. He was telling me about the deer he got yesterday with a bow and the gunms he had.
He said he will never use a rifle anymore, strictly bow hunting. Turkey, Bobcat, deer, everything.
Better man than I.
BTW, that’s a hell of a nice buck and a good story to go along with it .
I have no conclusive explanation for why deer sometimes run unbelievable distances after taking perfect shots.
I am seeing a bit of a trend for which I have formulated an interesting hypothesis. Here goes:
All of my deer which sustain excellent double lung shots seem to drop within 40 yards.
Multiple deer with heart shots run 125+ yards.
My hypothesis to explain this:
Lungs have few (if any) nerve endings and deer do not feel any significant amount of pain when a bullet or arrow shreds its lungs. The only sensation that a deer would perceive is the impact of the bullet/arrow on its side/ribs. The relatively low-level pain signal reduces a deer’s perception of danger/attack and reduces its conclusion on how fast/far it should run. Now here is the really compelling part–with a heart still working properly, the deer’s heart promptly drains its brain and muscles of its significant reserve of oxygen-rich blood into the deer’s body cavity (since its lungs are shredded) and the deer’s brain and muscles shut down quickly.
Humans and presumably deer feel significant pain when something damages/destroys their heart. That huge pain signal would lead deer to conclude that a significant danger/attack is present and it should run as fast/far as possible. Even more importantly, with the heart no longer pumping blood, the deer’s brain and muscles are filled with a significant reserve of oxygen-rich blood which sustains bodily function a relatively long time until the deer consumes all of the oxygen in its (no longer circulating) blood.
That is the best that I can come up with. Lung shots create less pain and the brain and muscles rapidly lose their oxygen reserve–and thus deer shut down relatively quickly. Heart shots create a lot of pain and the brain and muscles, no longer losing their blood and therefore oxygen-reserve, result in deer moving a lot faster/farther than lung shots.
Deer cross our property and come close to the house as do all sorts of critters especially squirrels that stare at the door and use telepathty to make me feed them.
Great story, almost like being there. However for those readers who assume hunting is for people who like to kill stuff *note where and how the vinison was distributed. Leave no stones unturned.
I do all my own butchery and charcuterie. It feeds me and mine. We never have to buy meat.
“…especially squirrels that stare at the door and use telepathty to make me feed them.”
They’ve developed that talent over thousands of years, just like dogs and cats have.
The big round pleading eyes that get them fed a tasty snack… 🙂
Tree rats are tasty.
Well done, waiting for the correct time to take him.
“…did not hit way farther back…”
I see no sights on JWT’s bow, so he shoots instinctively. Feather fletched cedar arrows, another clue. He likely has logged many hours with that bow, in deliberate practice. I used to hunt with an old timer who shot running cottontails with a Black Widow takedown recurve. It really isn’t any more complicated than wingshooting birds, or throwing a football, a matter of muscle memory and letting your brain subconsciously make the calculations. Just takes practice, and trust in your gear and abilities.
Again, well done, and well written.
Your assumptions are correct. I used to be very serious about archery. 50 arrows a day every day no matter what, and for years. I even made my own stone tools and then made my bow with those stone tools and then took deer with that bow and my knapped arrowheads. After meeting the folks from Pnuma Outdoors last spring, I took it up again in earnest early this summer. I was really surprised to find my skills were still adequate.
Oh! Good catch. I did not even notice/think about his bow having no sights.
Okay, that is downright incredible shooting Mr. Taylor. I tip my hat to you sir.
(I mentioned above how accurate I am–that is with sights on stationary targets. My accuracy would suck royally without a peep in my bow string and pin sights on my riser!)
I learned first how to shoot instinctively. Oddly enough, I’m not much better with a compound that I am with a longbow. And I’m not really a very good shot with either. I just practice under the conditions I’m going to shoot. And I generally have the luxury of taking pretty close shots, which is more responsible for my success than anything else.
By the way I would have been incredibly reluctant to use that scrap metal/junk pile as an impromptu blind–I would have figured it was nearly guaranteed to have at least one rattlesnake or a nasty bee/wasp/hornet nest in it.
Upon further introspection, I believe that I would have taken the shot at that buck. His best days were behind him, yet he remained vital and virile. Better for him to die while pursuing yet another doe than simply waste away.
This is why I still read TTAG, even though it is not the animal it used to be (a lot like they beautiful buck).
Amazing story JWT, haven’t gotten to deer hunt in the past 4 years due to losing the spot we had and everything else being stuoid expensive. Tried Public land but it’s kind of a crapshoot in NE TX versus other states.
With respect to hunting on public land, I will use a very general word “quality” for lack of a better term. Hunting “quality” on public land can vary wildly from one state to another, and even within a state.
I live in a state with a ginormous amount of hunting pressure on both private and public land. To put that in perspective, many public schools in the northern half of my state (where many families struggle financially) are closed on the opening day of the white-tailed deer hunting firearm season because 1/3 to 1/2 of the students will be out hunting. That being the case, hunting on public land in my state is a mixed bag: it can be pretty good or pretty awful.
Given my lackluster success on private land in recent years, I am seriously considering hunting public land in the future. I know people who have had terrible experiences and others who have had excellent experiences on public land. Like almost everything else in life, I believe it all boils down to hard work: scouting public land in the off-season and then good old fashioned trial-and-error.
If you lack public land (or “quality” public land) in your immediate location, consider making your hunting a short (or maybe even long) vacation at more distant public land. In my case “quality” public land is about a three-hour drive away. Many people make the first week of the firearm deer season a vacation where they camp and hunt for the entire week. It can actually be a very enjoyable experience–a highlight of your year–especially if you can find two or three other people to camp and hunt with you.
Most people are not as blessed at Mr. Taylor or others who own (or have exclusive access to) 200+ acres of excellent deer habitat. All that means is that we have to work a bit harder to find and access quality habitat.
I spend about a month a year hunting public land, and most of it is a 20+ hour drive away. That is one serious issue with hunting Texas. It’s not just that there’s relatively little public hunting land, it’s that it’s often quite far away. If Taylor_Tx above wanted to hunt public land mule deer, it’s a solid 8+ hour drive for him, and the season is less than a month long. It’s almost impossible to scout that way.
Yeah, long drives would definitely make pre-season scouting very difficult if not impossible. That narrows down your options to simple trial-and-error.
Make your best guess as to where to hunt public land and then dive-in. Perhaps if you arrive at your location two days before the season, you could spend two days scouting to choose two or three specific hunting spots, and then hunt those spots over the next few days. If it turns out that your chosen spots suck, then try a different general location for next year.
wasn’t sure misperception was a word. thanks.
another benefit of the bow, it allows smiles.
That was beautiful.
JW, best thing you have ever wrote.
That’s what I call dedicated land husbandry (not to be confused with eco-sex. It’s a thing. Yes, it is. I swear it, just lookit up!)
You Sir John, are the real thing! And an always enjoyable read, regardless of the specific topic.
I never made ss and me,!
*never miss a story, I mean!
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