October 02, 2015
If you could relive any moment from your years as a hunter, which one would it be?
For me, a lifelong whitetail addict who's pursued the species in five countries, there are many great ones from which to pick. But I just might vote for the hunt on which I shot my first good buck. That moment is, by definition, singular, for there can only be one "first" of anything in life.
Of course, reflecting on such an event is one thing — actually getting to relive it is another. Even if we'd like to rewind the tape of life and once more visit the scene of a victory, most of us would have no way to do so. But amazingly, last November I actually had the chance, and acted upon it. As a result, the hunt for my first big buck has become two hunts for two of them; all woven into one.
Before dawn on opening day of the 1966 Texas gun season, Grandpa and I went to the outhouse. Together. Not a working outhouse, mind you, but one that had been repurposed into a wooden box blind back in the hills of our Central Texas ranch. I was a lad of 10 with two deer — a doe and a spike — to my credit. Grandpa had reached retirement age and enjoyed taking me hunting as often as I wanted to go, which was pretty much every day the season was open.
Just at first light on that morning 49 years ago, several deer approached our hideout. One was a fine 8-pointer with dark antlers. After overcoming a panic attack caused by my managing to get a cartridge jammed in my 6mm Rem. autoloader, I hoisted the rifle and took my first "real" buck. His mahogany-colored rack I still have on a plaque — a tangible keepsake from one of my favorite hunting days.
I hunted that pasture a fair bit up through the early '80s, when I moved to Georgia to join the staff of North American Whitetail. Soon after that my family began leasing out the hunting rights to that acreage, so even when I'd return to visit I didn't hunt that part of the ranch. Of course, being with NAW eased a lot of that pain, for a world of other fine deer-hunting opportunities beckoned. Yet, every so often, I'd reflect on that hunt from 1966 and wonder what it would be like to hunt that location again.
Another chance to do so finally came last November — for a reason I wish hadn't existed. My family had decided it was time to sell some land — and the consensus was that the pasture where the old "outhouse" once resided would be included in the listing. Sensing this probably would be my last chance to hunt the location, I asked cameraman Christian Hoffman to accompany there for one last hurrah.
We built a brush blind within easy rifle range of where the old outhouse had stood. To our left was that actual spot, with rough, juniper-choked hills beyond. To our right lay a deep draw filled with Spanish oaks in peak autumn splendor. It was still as pretty a spot as I'd remembered it being way back when.
And it was still as productive. At around sundown on our first afternoon of sitting there, a beautiful 9-pointer walked in on us from the east. He was suspicious of our ground blind and finally decided to retreat back in the direction from which he'd come — but he made the fatal mistake of stopping to take one more look. My 6.5 Creedmoor was up to the task of putting a Hornady bullet through his heart. Seconds later, the buck fell within view of where my 1966 trophy had. It was as if all of this was following some grand script we'd laid out — but as with all trophy whitetail hunts, the author ultimately was the buck himself.
Approaching the deer, I wrestled with all sorts of emotions. I'd returned to the scene of my 1966 triumph and had been blessed with a miraculous repeat. This new buck was even similar in size and overall look to that one. Of course, this exhilaration was interwoven with sadness. I knew this would be my last time ever to hunt that pasture. Then again, I think I can say I made the most of it.
So, what had long been one of my most epic hunting moments now is two of them. And yet, those two are also one; I'll never think of one of those bucks without also bringing to mind the other. They've become antlered bookends around a long and memorable career spent writing about, photographing, hunting and simply admiring the most popular big-game animal on the planet.
I, of course, hope there are more chapters to come — but if there aren't, I'll honestly have no complaints. The circle has been completed.