This is opening weekend for general season (gun) whitetail deer hunting in Texas.
Of course, I was out in the field. 🙂
I had such a great experience at Storm Ranch last year, I opted to go there again. My goal? If I could bag a couple does, I’d be thrilled. Meat was the goal, didn’t feel like paying for a big rack of antlers since they don’t cook up very well. 🙂 However, if some awesome monster came along, I wasn’t opposed to taking him.
The cool thing about this go-round? I took the kids.
Oldest went with me Saturday morning. He’s hot and cold about hunting. Sometimes he’s all gung-ho, other times he groans when I talk about it. But he talks about wanting to go hunting enough that I figured he needed to go like it or not (tho I think he does like it). I also figured to take him out first, because I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time with him lately. The plan was to alternate: Oldest on Saturday morning and Sunday evening, Daughter on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Youngest isn’t ready to go (he doesn’t care, and would just be beyond bored). Thing is, Oldest only committed to going Saturday morning. *sigh* Oh well, I’ll take what I can get.
I got him up around 3:30 AM, then again at 3:45, then again at 4:00. 😉 We got dressed, a little breakfast, load the car, and off we went. We get in. Casimero the ranch hand, and his son, once again picked us up. He had a new truck, but only with a standard cab so 4 people were cramped up in the front. Good thing the kids can still sit on my lap. We went to a stand, got ourselves settled in, and waited. I remember this stand well — it’s where I had “redemption” last year.
Let me just say that I’m glad I planned ahead for Oldest. I made it clear to him a few days ago how cold it was going to be, so that he couldn’t ignore my telling him to dress in layers, wear gloves and a hat, and so on. The notion of freezing his buns off was obviously unappealing, which worried me that the day might flop. So while at the sporting goods store yesterday on a whim I picked up those dry pack “hand warmer” things as well as a small propane heater. Man, I’m so glad I did. There was a freeze warning out for the Hill Country, and I reckon it was around 32º that morning. We were layered well, but still it was cold. I recalled how last year was a bit miserable just sitting in the stand bored and cold, so yeah… I was happy for the warmth and Oldest was too. . The heater didn’t make it feel like we were indoors (the blind windows of course let all the heat out), but it did take the edge off and allow us a nice way to keep our hands toasty. The little hand warmer packets were so-so… didn’t live up to my expectations, but I will say my hands weren’t as numb as they could have been. I also bought Oldest a big insulated thermos so he could bring some coffee. In the end, good purchases… we were still a little cold, but the gadgets took the edge off.
But that’s all there was to write home about. We saw nothing. No deer. Just birds. Did see an owl, which was cool. Thankfully, Oldest has been fishing enough to know there’s “fishing” and then there’s “catching”, so he knows there are no guarantees. But he was very positive about everything and told me he still had a lot of fun. I asked if he wanted to go back out Sunday evening and he said yes. Frankly, I didn’t care so much about the lack of deer; just being out there with my son was satisfying enough. We got to talk a lot, fun around, make jokes at the other’s expense, I got schooled at Doodle Jump. Sure, bagging a deer would have been nice, but as cliché as it may be, time with my son was priceless.
I will say tho… while sitting and growing mildly impatient to even SEE a deer, I realized that while I want meat, I also want to finally bag something with that 6.8. I found myself itching not so much to bag a deer, but to bag a deer with that 6.8. If a warm gun is happiness, then I have a very unhappy gun. 😉
Came home, cleaned up, then got Daughter ready for the evening hunt. Drove back out to Storm Ranch with our hopes high. Got there about 3:00, loaded into the truck, and Casimero took me out to a stand that I remember well. This was the stand where last year the feeder went off, then a bunch of horses came out and never left… I spent the evening watching horses and wishing they would go away. I was fearing another repeat of the same for there were 5-6 cows parked right at the same fence juncture. Great…. But, I spoke up about it. When I was left the ranch that morning, I spoke on the phone to Josh about how the morning went and where I’d like to sit that afternoon. I actually wanted to sit in the same location as I did last year’s first night when I got the doe. So I mentioned that to Casimero and well… I don’t know if there was a mix up in the communication, if I didn’t describe it right, if another hunter was already there… don’t know. But, we did pack up from that horse-and-cow laden location and went somewhere else.
I don’t believe I ever sat in this spot. And to be honest, the picture cannot do the beauty of the location any sort of justice. That picture was taken from within the stand. The stand was up on a hillside looking down at a feeder 100 yards away (you can see the feeder as a little dot in the center of the picture). Behind the feeder the hills went up and it was just a gorgeous view from that stand. Thing is, the deer could have come from any direction since trees were everywhere and paths everywhere. So we just had to keep our eyes open.
4:00… 5:00… feeder goes off. We continue to wait. Last year my father-in-law gave me a deer grunt call as a Christmas stocking stuffer. I really don’t know how to use calls, but I studied some prior to going out so… what the hey, might as well try. Oldest and I tried in the morning, but had no luck. I tried a few calls and nothing. Nearing 6:00.
Now about this time I was changing my mind about going back out on Sunday. You can only get a deer if you’re in the field, but did I really want to be in the field another day? Yes, because I wanted some deer. Yes, because I wanted to share more of the experience with my kids. But no, because I’m dead tired. I haven’t been sleeping well lately and the lack of sleep has been affecting my performance. Furthermore, with Daylight Saving Time ending well… technically it’s “fall back” so you gain an hour of sleep, but not in my case because the sun and thus the deer still rise at the same relative time, so instead of waking up at 3:30 AM to get ready I’d have to get up at 2:30 AM and oye, that’s just even more lost sleep. I was giving serious contemplation to staying home on Sunday and resting. I can go hunt later, but I need to heal my body now.
I changed the deer call to a “tending/hyper grunt”… a buck mating call, used only during the rut. I gave it a whirl. Waited 5 minutes. Gave it another whirl. I looked down in my lap at my phone, and when I looked back up… I saw her.
“Here child… here!” and I shoved my phone and the deer call into Daughter’s hands. “Deer! Deer!” I excitedly whisper. “Where? What?”, Daughter replied. I’m working to get my rifle into position. “Down there, in front of the feeder”. It was actually hard to see her with the naked eye, she blended in with the terrain very well. I had the rifle up… but ugh… I was facing south, the sun was setting, and so my right eye was getting flooded with sunlight and I couldn’t see. Reposition. Sun gone. Got her in my crosshairs. Breathe… breathe… calm down… steady… deep breath……. breathe.
“There’s another!” Daughter whispers. Scan scan scan…. ah, there. Doe. Smaller. Switch back to the first one. Damnit… she jumped inside the low-fence around the feeder. Well, that’s OK. She’s hungry, she’ll be here a while. Wait.
Come on… jump out. Perfect broadside shot, but I’m not going to take her while she’s inside the fencing…. tempting tho it was. Finger went to the trigger a couple of times, but I wasn’t going to take it.
SHIT! They just flew the flag. “Dad, it’s a bird on the fence.” Doesn’t matter why, they got spooked well enough by something. Big doe jumped out of the fencing and was looking to bolt, but she paused. OK, now or never. Damnit, another almost front-on shot… why can’t I get a broadside? well, I know the anatomy, so here goes. “Daughter, plug your ears.”
I press off the shot. I follow through. I see the doe take off running towards me (to her 1 o’clock, my 11 o’clock). Her front left leg is moving funny so I know I got her and broke her shoulder. OK…. running behind that little group of trees, I can’t see her… I’m still following her though, my head turning to my left and oh! What’s this?
It’s the other doe.
She of course ran when she heard the shot, but only ran about 50 yards to the east, stopped, and looked back in the direction of where the loud sound came from (me). Gosh… the grass is tall, you’re down the hill and mostly hidden, but I have a perfect and clear shot on you.
I didn’t see anything. No idea if I got her due to the terrain… she could have run and I wouldn’t know where she went. Daughter and I gave a small celebration. Daughter reported she saw the first one crash on the ground, and the second was either dead or long gone. Yeah yeah… wait before you get out of the stand. I saw no reason to wait. But I tell you, I felt like a clumsy fool trying to get out of the stand. Trying to move the chairs, trying to get through the door… I was shaking so much from the excitement, from the aftermath. I strapped the gun over my shoulder and headed down the hill.
We found the first doe. about 25-30 yards from where she was shot.
But we didn’t stop to take pictures then. We flagged where she was, then went searching for the other one. I knew her general location, but with all the rain we had this past year, the grasses were pretty tall and plentiful… figured it would be a lot of scouring around. A little bit of searching and we found her. There was a splotch of blood on the ground, and from how the deer was laying, all twisted up, we deduced she was DRT and never took a step.
I talked with Daughter a bit about how she felt, what she experienced. She was excited, it was thrilling. I talked to her about being thankful, about giving respect and thanks to the deer for giving their lives to nourish ours… and Daughter finished the sentiment by saying then when we die, we go into the ground, feed the plants, which then feed the deer. And the circle of life continues. 🙂 While we waited to be picked up, I phoned Wife to tell her the news. Her take was that I placed my order (“I’d like two does, please”) and God served it up. And how.
Casimero came to pick me up. We loaded the deer, went back to the cabin area to clean them. Daughter was feeling tired so I asked if Casimero could clean them because he’s amazingly fast at it (I’d take twice as long, at least). While he did that, I got to talk with Josh and catch up with him. Another group of folks was in for the weekend to hunt and the had a campfire going. Daughter went over there to warm up. I admit, I was a little nervous about Daughter going over to a campfire with a group of strangers… not that they’d do anything, but I had no idea who was there, if they’d be nice and accepting of a little girl coming over or what. Turned out to be great tho, since Daughter got to meet Lauren who was so welcoming and kind to Daughter, as well as the other group in for the weekend. Everyone was so nice to her, they all talked for a while. I eventually wandered over myself and chatted with everyone. Seems this other group saw 8-10 bucks during the day, a dozen hogs…. so that’s where everything was! 🙂 We stayed and talked to everyone for a while. Makes me think that one of these times I need to just stay the weekend; sure it’s a 30-45 minute drive so it’s nice that I can sleep in my own bed, but gosh if the camp isn’t part of the fun of the experience.
Daughter was fading, so it was time to head home. Two deer in the cooler. Earlier I wasn’t sure if I was going to hunt on Sunday, but having 2 in the cooler? I figured I could rest on Sunday and head back out to hunt another day. I spoke with Oldest about it and he’s cool with it; we’ll go out again together, just him and me.
When I got home, I washed all the quarters and put them on ice and water. I’ll let them wet-age in the garage for a couple of days then take them to Johnny G’s for processing. The fun part? While I was cleaning things up, Wife came out to the driveway and brought Sasha. Oh… I guess a primal nerve got struck with her. She’s never smelled deer and so much fresh flesh and blood, but she was mightily interested. I had a couple chunks of the fresh venison flesh that I set aside, and when I was all done cleaning things up, gave Sasha the chunks. She wolfed them down. When the deer were cleaned, I had them keep all the organs they could (that which wasn’t blown all to hell). Got a heart, a liver, a couple kidneys. Going to cut them up today and make another “stew” for Sasha. She’ll love them. 🙂
Gun (and other) Geekery
What would this entry be without a little gun geekery.
I shot these two deer with my rifle chambered in 6.8 SPC. It’s a mild franken-gun, with the upper being a Wilson Combat 6.8 and the lower from a Bushmaster, and the trigger a Rock River Arms 2-stage match trigger.. The scope is a Burris Fullfield II 3-9x40mm with a standard Plex reticle on their P.E.P.R. mount. I used Silver State Armory 6.8 SPC 85 grain Barnes TSX tactical load for ammo.
Interesting on the ammo. On the second doe, the bullet passed through. Hit in the front shoulder, exited out the side. On the first doe tho… there was no exit wound. Now, her heart and lungs were sufficiently destroyed, the shoulder joint was blown… but where did the bullet come to rest? There’s a lot of deer it had to go through (remember, it was an almost front-on shot) so the bullet came to rest in her somewhere… just… where? Don’t know. We didn’t find it. It could still be in the meat somewhere (tho I didn’t find it), or in the carcass that is now buzzard and fox food somewhere on the Storm Ranch property. If the bullet is in the meat I have, I’d love to recover it. But the bottom line for me is… it shows the impressive performance of Barnes bullets.
I’m also happy that the 6.8 performed so well. This is my first kill with the 6.8 and it did great. I’m certainly looking forward to loading those 95 grain Tipped TSX bullets and using them exclusively for my Texas hunting needs.
The gun was zeroed to be 1.5″ high at 100 yards. That worked well. The first doe was at about 100 yards and the second I’m guessing 125-135 yards. There was only the occasional slight breeze (5-10 MPH at far most). Everything performed well and did what it was supposed to.
In other geeky stuff… notice in the picture I’m wearing a white shirt? There was no camo wearing in the afternoon. I know… wearing camo is the way things go. It’s part of the tribal aspect of the event. But come on. Siting in a box blind is all the camo needed. I might not wear white again since it’s kinda reflective and visible. Camo has a place, but I’m not going to get religious about it.
The deer call. Who’s to say. It was evident these does were hot, so did that “excited buck mating call” bring them in? Or were they just aware of the feeder and came out of habit? Who knows. I’ll continue to practice calling.
It’s evident from speaking with some long-time hunters that I’m in a different place than they are. They’ve been at it a while and generally only want to shoot “that big one”. They want something different from I want. I want experience: I’m now up to 4 whitetail deer in my lifetime, and the fact I got to shoot 2 in row? Wow! I want meat in the freezer. I am a little impatient. I am not picky. I want to give my kids an experience I never had growing up, and just like fishing vs. catching I know that it’s sometimes better to catch a little bluegill quickly than to sit all day and never catch Big Bubba Largemouth, if you want to capture their interest. Sure I’d love to bag that big buck of a lifetime, but why? For the stories, for the experience. Well folks, right now I’m having one heck of a fine experience as it is, so I’m good.
What made me most happy? My shooting. Yes as soon as I saw the doe my heart rate went up, my breathing went up, I started to shake. I calmed myself. The two shots I took? They were calm, steady, true. Bullet went right where I wanted. I had to make quick decisions, and decisive shots, especially on that second one. My mind was made up to take two deer if I had the opportunity, so when it arose I didn’t have to think if I wanted to do it, I just acknowledged the situation, assessed if I had the shot, and since I did I took it (had plan, executed it). To be able to make such a shot quickly, calmly, accurately, and decisively felt good and reassuring of my skillset. This has extrapolation into other areas.
I’m happy with how things turned out. The gun performed well. The weather was fantastic. I love how Storm Ranch is so close to home, but being buried in the middle of the ranch you have deep stars and absolute silence (other than someone else’s gunshots ringing out in the distance). I got to spend good time with my kids. I got to provide some true free-range organic meat for my family to be nourished by. Folks, life is good.
I again want to thank Josh Storm, Casimero and his son, and everyone at Storm Ranch for again making for a good time. I want to also give special thanks to Lauren for being so kind and friendly with my Daughter. We’ll be back.
And now… to rest. 🙂
Updated: I edited the post slightly to add in some details of things I forgot to add the first time around.
Updated 2: On the big doe, due to the “hit from the front” angle, there was no exit wound. Thus the bullet was somewhere inside that deer. I wanted to recover it but we couldn’t find it. Well, I just got an email from Josh Storm. He found the bullet! He said it was lying on the slab where the deer was cleaned. He emailed me a picture:
I reckon he took the picture with his iPhone, since it’s a little blurry. But you can still see that 85 grain .277″ Barnes TSX expanded perfectly! Petals all curled back. Looks like no loss of petals either. THAT is Barnes performance. THAT is why I love Barnes bullets.
I do wonder where it actually ended up inside the doe. That is, how far did it penetrate, especially after hitting the shoulder. I do know the heart and lungs were demolished. While trimming out the right backstrap, I saw a hole in the ribs right next to the spine and wondered if that might have been where the bullet ended up. We’ll never know exactly.
Josh is going to mail me the bullet. I expect no loss of weight (or negligible), and for it to look picture perfect…. as long as it makes it through the US Mail without a hitch.