September 22, 2010
As it turned out, the most unusual deer of my whitetail career was one I didn't even suspect until the smoke had cleared.
Over the 18 years I've served as editor of North American Whitetail magazine, I've had the opportunity to travel to some of the world's finest trophy areas. From Alberta to Nova Scotia to northeastern Mexico, I've logged many tens of thousands of miles in pursuit of big bucks. And while I haven't always returned from these far-flung hotspots with a big buck, I've enjoyed some measure of success in the process.
Yet as I look back on those many whitetail adventures all over North America, I realize that the rarest deer I've ever bagged was one of the closest to home, and it came from an area that isn't exactly famous for trophies. In fact, this particular deer didn't even carry a rack!
The place was Harris County, Georgia, and the time was early January 1989. My friend Gorman Riley had invited Randy Long, Duncan Dobie and me along on a late-season hunt on one of the properties he managed. Our assignment on this tail-of-the-season gun hunt was to cull as many surplus does as possible in an attempt to reduce browsing pressure on the woodland habitat.
Earlier in the season I'd been having trouble with the scope on my regular deer rifle, and I wasn't at all sure that it would perform well if I got a shot. But Randy came to the rescue.
"Why don't you just take my .300?" he offered. "I've got my .30-06 with me, and I'll just use it."
I'll freely admit that I had some trepidation about taking Randy up on his offer. After all, a .300 Win. Mag. is a lot of rifle for deer that don't weigh 120 pounds on the hoof. But what the heck? Better to be overgunned than to tote a rifle with a faulty scope. So I accepted the magnum and went on my way.
My hunting spot for the afternoon was on a grassy powerline that cut through hilly terrain. Several deer trails traversed the wide right of way, and Gorman knew it was a spot favored by feeding deer. I climbed onto a nearby ridge and plopped down on the ground to wait for a target to appear.
Nothing showed for a while; then, in late afternoon, I saw a doe below me, walking through the tall, orange broomsedge grass covering the right of way. As she stepped out near one of the metal utility poles, I estimated she was roughly 200 yards away. That was well within range of the rifle in my hands, so I figured it was my chance to eliminate a hungry mouth from the herd. I scooted over to a sturdy pine sapling, gripped the trunk just below eye level and laid the magnum across the makeshift gun rest offered by my left hand.
Duncan Dobie checks out the author's piebald doe, which was shot in Harris County, Georgia, on a late-season rifle hunt. Photo by Gordon Whittington.
Although I could tell the deer was a doe, I couldn't see much of her body; the tall grass came up to just below her back line. But the grass was so close to her that I knew a heavy .300 Win. Mag. bullet wouldn't be deflected noticeably on its way to the target. I put the cross hairs just below her spine and squeezed off a round.
When the rifle went off I rocked back, losing my sight picture. As I refocused on the spot, I was mildly surprised to see the doe standing in almost the same spot where she'd been when I'd fired.
Figuring I'd shot just over her back, I aimed a tad lower and squeezed off a second round. Again the recoil caused me to lose the sight picture, and when I regained it, the scene was much the same as before: The doe still was standing there, apparently none the worse for wear!
Having been assured by Randy that his rifle was properly sighted in, I was now quite convinced that my aim was the problem. Throwing another big cartridge into the chamber, I again found the doe in the cross hairs, aimed a bit lower still and pulled the trigger for the third time.
When I got the scope back onto the scene this time, the doe was nowhere to be seen. Despite the tall grass, I figured that if she'd suddenly run off I'd have been able to see her, so I assumed my last shot finally had connected. With the echoes of "cannon" fire still ringing through the valley - and through my head - I began walking down the powerline to assess the damage.
When I got down to the power pole, I looked around in the tall grass and soon saw the doe lying stone dead. Then, a few feet away, I noticed another dead doe . . . and then, a third! I'd taken out three hungry mouths instead of one!
This all was unlikely enough, for at no time in this episode had I seen more than a single doe. I honestly had felt that I was continuing to shoot at the same deer. They apparently had come out in single file, and as the one in front hit the ground, the next had happened to stop where I could see it through the grass.
But the most bizarre part of this hunt didn't become apparent to me until I walked up to the third doe. Incredibly, she was a piebald with several prominent splotches of white scattered across her body!
One of these white spots was on the left side of the doe's head, which should have been visible to me at some point before the shot. How I'd missed seeing this I'll never know; in fact, I'm not even certain which of my three bullets dispatched that deer. (I really don't think she was the first one to come out, but given my apparent confusion over this entire episode, perhaps I'm wrong about that, too.)
I hadn't shot a Georgia deer all season, so I had enough doe tags to cover all of the carcasses lying in the powerline. But it's easy to imagine how difficult a position I'd have been in had I been down to just one or two tags before those does came out. Quite unwittingly I could have exceeded my season limit, even as I was trying to make sure I put the first deer onto the ground.
Lacking any place big enough to display a full-body mount, I opted to skin out the piebald doe and make a hair-on rug of her hide. While the rug turned out well, I've often thought what a rare opportunity I let slip through my fingers by not at least getting a shoulder mount. What's more, for some reason I never even thought to pose for a photo of myself with her.
If I'm ever fortunate enough to shoot another piebald whitetail, I'll definitely have a better plan for preserving its uniqueness. But I guess the odds of getting a chance at another piebald are about like . . . well, about like the odds of mistaking three deer for one!