I got my first deer. In fact, I got two deer!
But the way I went about it was not what I expected.
As Mick Jagger once sang, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.” That certainly summed up the past week of my life.
Back in the summer a friend of mine got me in on a deer lease. For those that don’t know what this is, basically it’s an agreement with a private land owner to be able to hunt deer on his land. They get money, you get the ability to hunt. The project I was working on at work was due to wind up in the Fall so I figured Winter should be mellow and I could hunt. I signed on to the lease.
Then life changed. In August I got temporarily reassigned to help out another project. This project ran on a different schedule, with different demands and workflow. As soon as I got a handle on the project I figured my chances for deer hunting at my lease were shot. Great. *sigh* And to date, things have panned out that way. Opening day of deer season was a couple weeks ago. I was to take a 3 day weekend, but due to the needs of the project at work I had to cancel my trip and postpone the day off. Thankfully I was able to make some lemonade that weekend, but it was still a bummer I couldn’t hunt while the other 2 guys on the lease were out there. Work continued to be what it was and I was unable to get out. So on a whim I decided to make a phone call.
Some time ago while riding my motorcycle I drove by a sign saying “Storm Ranch Hunting.” I made a note to look the place up when I got home. Sounded like an interesting place, and the prices were pretty reasonable. Their hunts are “per day” with one morning and one evening hunt. My thinking was this place was only a 30 minute drive from my house. I could go hunt in the morning, come home and work mid-day, go hunt in the evening, come home and work late into the night. Sure it’d just be one day of hunting, but damnit I’ve got buck fever! I spent all that time and money on that lease (buying stands, buying feeders, buying corn, buying stuff for the camp, building stands, clearing land, etc.), I want to go use it because a lot was invested. The deer season is almost half way over, I didn’t want it to be a total bust. So hey, going to Storm Ranch? It’s better than nothing. If the place works out, great. If it doesn’t work out, then it wasn’t much skin off my nose. Why not?
So I gave them a call and the proprietor, Josh Storm, said they did have openings. I opted to have my “1 day” hunt be Thursday night and Friday morning. I got my gear together and headed out Thursday night.
My First Deer
Storm Ranch is about 6000 acres in the Texas Hill Country. Folks, it’s just gorgeous out there. I took some pictures in a vain attempt to capture the beauty of the place, but pictures fail to convey anything about the vastness and beauty of this property. And 6000 acres is huge. You go in the front gate and there’s a sign: “Main House, 2 miles” and boy that made my jaw drop — heck of a driveway. 🙂 The land’s been in the family for decades, cattle ranching, but there’s also hunting and a lot of interesting conservation projects going on too. It’s a neat place. Josh took me out to a stand with a feeder about 100 yards away. There I sat… and waited.
Feeder went off and maybe 15 minutes later 2 does came in and started to eat. I waited and waited, I couldn’t get a shot because they had hopped inside the fencing that was protecting the feeders from all the cattle that roam the ranch (I didn’t want to risk hitting the fence or the feeders). Besides, if they went inside the fencing, eventually they’d have to come out. A third doe appeared and she stayed mostly outside the fencing, but she was small and scrawny and I had my eye set on the big doe. Eventually the big doe jumped out, gave me a broadside shot, and I pressed the trigger.
As soon as the gun fired, all 3 deer ran. I saw them all circle behind a group of trees. One doe I saw head to the right up a small hill. One doe I saw head left towards a treeline. The third doe I had no idea where she went. I gave it a few minutes then went looking. I found where I shot her and sure enough a large blood trail. I followed the trail about 50 yards around the group of trees then saw her another 40-50 yards to my left. Looks like she ran 100 yards in total, in a large arc. Shot was good and clean through the vitals. And I had my first deer, ever.
I know the picture isn’t the best; iPhone and it was getting dark. I also put my hunting rifle in the picture for perspective.
We took her back, cleaned and quartered her. I told Josh it was my first deer ever. He asked if I was interested in a buck and of course I was. We’d try tomorrow morning.
Overnight the cold front blew through and the rain came with it. Dripping Springs (where the ranch is located) received about 2 inches of rain in about 6 hours. It was cold, wet, rainy, and good time for hunting. Josh set me in another stand closer to the “front” of the property. I sat, I waited.
Here came a buck.
Here came the start of many bigger lessons.
I opted to not shoot the buck? Why? Numerous reasons. First, I felt for the price that I wanted something “worth the money.” This was a 6 point buck but the antlers were all weird and small, and his body wasn’t that big either. I felt that spending that sort of money for something that wasn’t going to provide me with much meat vs. that doe for a lot more money? Just didn’t seem worth it. I had other things swirling in my head as well, but in the end I opted against shooting the buck.
He was the only deer I saw all morning.
When Josh picked me up I spoke with him about how the morning went. I don’t know why he offered, but he offered me the opportunity to keep coming back out to hunt until I got a buck, no hunt fee (tho of course, I’d pay for the deer). I jumped at the opportunity. The odd thing was, I had expected work to be terrible. I was planning on just the one day of hunting and having to all throughout the time. But work was surprisingly light; in fact, I was able to finally take my already accounted for PTO day for the Friday (which was the plan but at the start of the week I expected I’d have to work or yet again cancel the day). Furthermore, because I expected things to be so bad at work and then with family coming to visit on Sunday for the Thanksgiving week I opted to back out of the Force-on-Force training classes on Saturday. I just expected everything was going to be ugly and painful. Little did I know that with Josh’s offer started a chain of events that lead to what is now going to be a lifelong memory. 🙂
While at home on Friday mid-day, I did a lot of thinking about not taking the buck. I realized I was wrong. My goal was to “get a buck.” They say there are 4 stages of hunting. I am at stage 1, “just get something” but really since I had gotten the doe I was really at stage 1B: “get that first buck”. That’s the sole criterion I had: get a buck; just had to be a deer and not a doe. I was hand-delivered a buck, my goal was there, and I came up with a gazillion reasons not to shoot it. Looking back, some reasons were well-intended, like him being a young guy so let him grow another year. But on the whole I had a goal and I should have fulfilled it. Of course in hindsight, I believe things happened this way for a reason, because if it hadn’t I would not have learned all that I did.
With a refocused mind I went back out for Friday night.
As I went back to the ranch for Friday night’s hunt, another truck came up behind me. Seems a man and his son were coming to hunt, trying to get son his first deer (I believe it was first deer, maybe first buck, I forget). We talked for a while, very nice guy. We drive in to the cabin area, then I get taken out to my stand in another part of the ranch. Note folks, every time I go hunt I hunted in a different spot; 6000 acres provides for a lot of stands and feeders. This particular spot was at a 4-way intersection of 2 fencelines. I got up in the stand and waited. The feeder went off. Waited. I hear these noises, but they don’t sound like deer. I see movement…. but… white? Then I see 1 horse… 2 horses… 3 horses… 4 horses… 5 horses come out of the trees and park it at the feeder (the only feeder of all the places I hunted that did not have a fence around it). After eating, the horses opted to park it about 25 yards from my stand, between the feeder and the stand. They didn’t move. And so much for any deer that night.
Still, it wound up being a useful event. Daughter is taking horse riding lessons (Wife too) and Daughter is devouring anything to do with horses. The fact the hunt didn’t go as I wanted turned out to be a useful lesson for Daughter. See, that evening didn’t go as she had planned, but she still got a lot of neat things out of the night. Still, come bedtime she realized she didn’t get to do what she had planned thus much pouting ensued. I used my experience with the horses (easy way to get and keep her attention) to say how things didn’t go as planned for me either, but instead of focusing on what didn’t happen I focused on what did. I watched the horses, observing their herd behavior, trying to figure which one was the dominant horse, trying to snap some pictures in the low light to share with her. I made lemonade. So, while it wasn’t what I wanted, it turned out to be what I needed… in more than one way.
Yet another stand, and this one was at the top of a small hill looking down on a feeder. This morning was very cool. Before the sun rose I heard lots of coyotes howling far in front of me. Then I heard another pack of coyotes howling far to the right of me. Then to the left of me, lots and lots of turkeys, hens and toms calling back and forth. It was quite the cool symphony to listen to! I just sat and savored the moments.
The sun rose. The feeder went off. Two does came in. I remembered my goal: buck. So I watched the does and off they went. Not too far later, a small buck wandered in. Buck fever hit me hard. My heart was racing. My muscles were tense. My breathing was fast and short. I did everything I could to remind myself to slow down, breathe, relax… but as soon as I’d stop telling myself that and focusing on the buck, I’d tense right back up. I was so excited, so nervous. And due to that, I missed. 😦 I believe I yanked the trigger. I did watch him run off but the way he was running… I didn’t think I hit him. I watched where he ran and waited a bit. I went down to look. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a blood trail. I went back to the stand, fearing I ruined the spot for the morning (what with the gunfire and me tromping around). I texted and spoke with a few relatives that are experienced deer hunters and obtained their opinions. Yeah, I probably am done for the morning, but what’s the harm in staying? Another deer might come along. I figured to stay, and before I left to go ahead and check again because if the deer I shot at was dead well, he’d still be dead and waiting for me. Upon second look I found tracks where he jumped from, no blood anywhere, confirmed miss. *sigh*
Yes, I was getting dejected. Very dejected. I knew to keep trying tho. Patience. Determination. It’s not about losing, it’s about picking yourself back up and trying again. People that succeed are the people who keep trying long after others quit. And so, tho morale was fading, I wasn’t going to give up. Trouble was, in about 24 hours family would be arriving. I was running out of time.
Fun thing tho. On the drive back in, Casimero (ranch hand that was driving me around) saw 3 does up on a hill. He stopped and told me to get my rifle out. Trouble was, I couldn’t see them. By the time I did it was because they were running across the road in front of us. They stopped atop the opposing hill. I rested across the hood of the truck, and the doe was behind a bush. I waited a moment, no movement, then I moved to the roof of the cab. The deer took off. Oh well. Cool that we tried. In fact, later on in the drive back Casimero took a very off-road way back to the cabins. I don’t know why he did (he didn’t speak good English, I don’t speak much Spanish) but I suspect he was trying to find me more deer. Very cool of him.
Yet another spot. I figured this was a good location, since there was a tank nearby. Food AND water, good combination to attract animals, right? Well, not tonight. Lots of birds, including more turkey hens. But that’s about all. Well, that’s not entirely true.
I was getting ready to pack it in. But I thought no, it’s not dark enough yet. Sure it’s getting dark enough that I may not feel comfortable taking a shot, but hey… a close deer would be OK, maybe not 200 yards, but 100 yards? Yeah, still enough light for that. It will be truly dark eventually and you can pack it up then, but until that point just keep waiting… what’s the harm? Sure enough, it’s almost too dark for a shot but I see a deer head poke out of the trees straight in front of me. I freeze. He froze, staring right at me. Then he turned around and went back the way he came. *sigh* I can’t help but wonder if he saw me. I didn’t want to move but I was staring right at him… and I wonder if my glasses were reflecting or illuminated just enough that they looked like a set of predatory eyes. I figured that was it, but then I saw him come out from behind the trees at the other end of the line and head across the open ground to a larger clump of trees. This was about 45 degrees to my right. I raised my rifle and as I found him in my scope, he stops walking… behind a bush. Finally when he moves he kept moving off into the trees. I just didn’t feel right about taking the moving shot.
In the truck on the way back to the cabin area I decided that if I could come out again I was going to. Josh was fine with it. Wife was fine with it. While originally I decided to not come out Sunday morning because that would be cutting it close to family arrival, I had buck fever bad. My concession was to only stay out until 9:00 AM instead of 11:00 AM has I had been doing.
OK I couldn’t help myself. I told Casimero to pick me up at 10:00. 🙂 I figured to push it as far as I could. But I wanted to do something. That first buck on Friday morning? I guess I wanted some sort of redemption. Every time we went to hunt, Casimero took me to some new place. I actually wanted to go back to the Friday morning spot on Saturday morning, but with our language barrier I had no idea how to relay that to Casimero so I just went where he took me. That was OK as Saturday morning’s experience was good for me. On Saturday night’s phone call I told Josh to relay my wishes to hunt at the Friday morning stand again, and so that’s where I went.
I guess I got my redemption. 🙂
As I sat in the stand I just tried to calm myself. I spent time visualizing taking the buck, in fine detail. I took advice from Uncle Ted to remember that I need to think like a predator. Don’t be thinking “OMG! THE BUCK! DON’T MISS! DON’T SCREW UP!” instead think “I am the top of the food chain. I am the predator. I will see this buck. I will calmly take this buck. I will shoot with good fundamental skills, especially the follow-through. I will have a good trigger press. I will place the shot perfectly in the vitals. I will take this buck.” I just kept this up, being calm, being as relaxed as I could be, and trying not to dwell on things.
Before the feeder went off, a small buck wandered in. He came straight at me from the opening in the trees, stopped only to look to his right at the lack of corn on the ground, then turned left and walked off. I had no chance for a shot. But that’s OK as the experience made me realize. Given the lay of the land I figured out what paths the deer were most likely to take: either straight at me then turning left at the trees/feeder like he did, or coming from that way and turning right and going back into the trees. That is, the same L-shaped path, just coming from one way or the other. Given that I realized I was in a bind. All the things I had been reading about shot placement always spoke about the broadside shot. Of course many opinions on this, but the basic opinion seemed to be that broadside was best, especially for a first-time shooter. Trouble is, I would have little opportunity for a broadside shot because as that buck just showed me, when they turn to the left I have only a few seconds before they are behind brush and trees and I can’t take the shot. Of course if they hang out at the feeder eating that’s another story, but that may not happen. Then I remembered that my hunting/lease buddy, C, took a cull buck at our deer lease with a straight on chest shot. Hrm. That does break with conventional advice, but why not? As long as you know the vitals, why not? It’s legit, aiming low (e.g. “base of the neck”) will still put things where you want it. Plus it may be the only opportunity I get. So thank you C for making me think outside the box.
I’m glad I did.
I was looking at something on my iPhone when I looked up and I saw him. I put the phone down, right glove off, picked up and shouldered the rifle. Buck was doing the Texas Two-Step: he’d take a couple steps, then pause, then a couple steps, then pause. Head always up, ears perked. I was nervous he might be seeing me, but he didn’t take on an “alarmed” position so I just kept moving and got into position to shoot. I saw him through the scope: hrm… nice antlers on the right side but what’s with the left? Oh well, doesn’t matter. I got buck I’m taking him. He walked a bit more and got the point where he would be due to turn left. I kept a bead on his lower chest, he started to turn, pause, bang.
I was aiming for the lower chest, but I guess just as the shot went off he started walking again because as I saw him running I saw his right front leg wasn’t looking right. I figured I hit his leg/shoulder and thus had him. About 50 yards later he was on the ground, kicking a bit. I immediately exited the stand, taking my rifle with me because it was obvious he wasn’t dead. Yes I know I should have waited, but I was too excited. Finally! I approached and he gave a couple more kicks then expired. I had my first buck.
I was able to look at his antlers. The right one was 4 points. The left one had the “dog catcher” point but then the rest of the main beam had broken off. He had a lot of scars on his face, so it was obvious he’d been in a lot of fights. The break point was also very worn, so he lost it some time ago. But look at the size of him. According to Josh, that buck is pretty big, especially for a Texas Hill Country whitetail. Wow. So technically a 5 pointer but assuming symmetry he would have been 8 points, and while I didn’t measure with a ruler, his right ear was well within the right antlers and thus likely he was over the 13″ antler restriction. Wow. Neat! Heck of a first buck, eh?
Got him cleaned up. He had a lot of meat on him. The cooler was full and heavy. Wife is thrilled. And now, we are going to have to go buy that deep freezer, a bit sooner than we had planned. Who knows… there will probably be sales this Thanksgiving weekend.
I had one heck of a 3-day hunt. None of this was expected. I didn’t expect work to actually become sane. I didn’t want to cancel the FoF classes and I canceled due to family and potential work ugliness, but if I hadn’t backed out this hunt wouldn’t have happened. And the hunt itself… that Josh offered me to keep coming out was very nice; certainly good business for him in many respects too.
I learned a lot on this hunt. I’ll probably have another blog posting just listing and discussing more specific things I learned. But it was a good experience, a good growing experience. I had said I would mount the antlers of my first buck, and that continues to be my plan. I’ll see about going to Cabela’s this week and picking up a little antler mount kit. I will always look upon those antlers with a fondness, and a reminder to myself about what I learned these three days. Like I started this post with… you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. I didn’t get what I wanted, but I got what I needed. I did not plan any of this out; in fact, if you look at how I was planning the week to go, this was the last thing I expected. But you just go with the flow and sometimes things work out even better. 🙂
I want to thank Josh Storm, Casimero, and all the crew and people I met at Storm Ranch. Great people, great facility. I look forward to doing future business with them. I want to thank C for making me think differently; would likely not have bagged that buck if not for the different approach. I need to give huge thanx to Wife and Kiddos for dealing with Dad being in and out for 3 days, waking up early and tromping about the house disturbing everyone’s sleep, and just supporting me through all of this.