Four

I got picked for another TYHP hunt the weekend before this one.  Then, my dad got sick, and then we all got sick.  That really sucked.  Since we were sick, we never unpacked the car, so when we got picked for another hunt, we were pretty much ready.  We all got better in time for the hunt, and before I knew it, we were on our way to Fredericksburg, Texas.

We got there before all the other kids and set up camp.  We were camping in a field near an old school that was built in the 1800s.  Everyone showed up eventually, and then the whole place was buzzing with activity.  After we ate dinner, the huntmaster in charge stood up and told us how everything was going to happen.  We would be on separate ranches.  I got put on a ranch with only one other kid on it, which was kinda cool.  On our ranch, we could each shoot two deer.  They could be does or spikes, or forkhorns.  If they were forkhorns, they couldn’t have any bumps or brow tines.  We could also shoot unlimited hogs.  Generally, in Texas, most ranchers will thank you for blowing up some of their hogs, since they’re such a pain in the butt.  As usual, we would hunt the next morning, that evening, and the morning after that.

Well, I was super excited, as I always am.  I made a few friends and threw a football for the rest of the evening until I had to go to sleep.

The next morning, I was woken up at 4:30 by my dad’s phone alarm.  I was so tired, I don’t even remember what the alarm sounded like.  I took a while to get ready, and I forgot my binoculars.  I went up to the place where they had the food.  Everyone was there already.  “What’s the problem, man?  You said you would be up here early and eat all the junk food before everyone else did,” my friend said.  I don’t remember what I said.  I was going to fall asleep if I closed my eyes to blink.

After I ate, I got in our guide’s truck and headed out to the ranch with the other kid.  They dropped us off in the stand, and I dozed off instantly.  Luckily, I was still awake enough to recognize a voice.  My dad whispered:

“There’s a deer out there.”

All of a sudden, I was wide awake.  I was starting to get my customary case of extreme deer fever.  A big part of deer fever is adrenaline, so I was not going to be sleeping any longer.  My dad said that we needed to wait for a little more light to make sure the deer wasn’t a buck.

Once it got a little brighter, we could see that there were two yearlings and a doe out there.  The doe was the biggest one, so that was obviously the one I would shoot.  I aimed behind the shoulder and squeezed the trigger slowly.  The gun exploded.  The last thing I saw through the scope was everything turning white in the burst of flame after the shot, and then I was reloading and watching the deer.  “Did I hit her?” I asked.  But I didn’t need an answer.  As I asked the question, she was running the 40 yards from the feeder back at us.  She ran right next to us and stopped.  She wobbled on the spot.

And then she was down!

Wow!!!  I had broken my morning hunting curse!  I had never shot anything in the morning before.  And on the first morning, too, and that early?  That was amazing.  What an area to hunt in!

The two little yearlings that the doe had with her just hung around.  They weren’t sure exactly what to do next.  FYI, though, yearlings are already independent, so they won’t be helpless.  I could’ve shot them, but as we were only allowed two deer, and these were pretty small, my dad said we should hold out for something bigger.

Later, we heard another shot.  My friend Carter, the other one on this ranch, had probably shot something, because the shot was too close to be another ranch.

When we got back to the ranch base, we found out that my friend had shot a deer.  They had thought it was a spike, but it turned out to be a forkhorn, even though the ranch owner had said he didn’t think there were any of those on the ranch.

Well, by the time we field dressed the deer, it was 11:30.  Then my dad realized we hadn’t brought our cooler.  So I went back to the school with the guide and got our cooler.  I noticed that while we were gutting out deer, the rest of the kids were lazing around and playing football.  Well, victory comes with a price, I guess.  When we got back to the ranch base, they were almost finished with my friend’s deer.  It took a long time to finish both of the deer.  We were finally done at 1:00.  All of us were wanting to sleep, worn out from standing up and skinning deer for hours, and STARVING.  None of us had eaten since 4:30 or 5.  When we got back to the school, finally, I ate a sandwich, most of a hamburger, a mini orange, and a bunch of brownie bites.  Then I thought, I’ll just go lie down for an hour or so.  I lay down in my tent, and in 20 minutes, I heard someone say:

“Alright, we’re ready to go.”

WHAT?!

So I dragged myself out of the tent, forgot my binoculars again, and then we were back in the stand.

It was the same blind that Carter and his dad had been in that morning.  They said that a couple more bucks had been with the one they shot.  The blind was really nice.  It was the tower blind.  It was an elevated stand, and we were shooting a hundred yards down into a ravine.  It had a lot of space.  It had sliding glass on the windows instead of the tattered bits of cloth on spare bits of wire we had that morning.  There was a radio, a few boxes of matches, a deck of cards, and a rattlebag.  The rattlebag was a bag with some long wooden pegs in it.  When you roll it around in your hands, it makes a sound like bucks whacking eachother with their antlers.  There was also an estrus bleater.

My dad told me that I conked out completely in that blind.  I remember waking up by coughing.  “Was that loud?” I asked my dad.  “Yeah, that was pretty loud.”  Oh well.  I had already shot one deer.  I didn’t really care all that badly.

So we just watched the ravens flying through the ravine.  There were some doves, too.  And then there was a deer.

“Dad, there’s a buck down there,” I whispered.  He looked up.  He raised his binoculars.  “Does it have brow tines?” I asked.  “I can’t tell.  He won’t show me his head.”  That deer was walking toward the feeder when it went off.  BBRRRRRRRRZZZzzz.  It was loud.  The deer bolted, straight up the side of the ravine.  But I knew that was only temporary.  From experience, I remembered that deer would often run at the startling sound of the feeder, but they would always come back.  So I took the opportunity of him being further away, and I put my Weatherby Vanguard in .270 onto the window sill.  As expected, the deer walked cautiously back down the hill after the feeder stopped spitting corn.  He kept walking around the feeder, never really going into the open.  Then, he lifted his head.  Pointing right at us.

He had no brow tines.  And he only had 4 points.

“OK, you can shoot him.”

I usually got bad deer fever.  But I had never experienced buck fever before.  Mixed with the cold, it concocted shakes so bad that they rattled the whole blind.

But I wasn’t about to miss out on this guy.  A forkhorn was the best thing I could shoot on that ranch.  And I was not going to screw up that shot.  I aimed at the point behind his shoulder.  He kept walking around.  So I just waited.  And waited.  And waited.  It didn’t seem that long, but later, I found out that it was actually 20 minutes until he finally gave me a shot opportunity.  I aimed very carefully.  Right behind the shoulder.  When I pulled the trigger, I didn’t have to wait to know that I had killed my first buck.

He staggered three steps to the right and died.

I was euphoric.  Two deer in one day!  And one of them was my first buck!!!  Wow.  Wow.  Best hunt ever.

I couldn’t shoot any more deer now.  What an awesome problem!  So the hunt was pretty much over.  We hadn’t seen any hogs, and I somehow doubted I would.

So we picked up Carter and took the deer back to the ranch base.  I still had that euphoria.  That’s the nice thing about buck fever.  If you shoot something, the buck fever turns into euphoria.  Not as much with regular deer fever.

At the base, the landowner and his brother were there.  They wanted fajitas back at the school, so they said they would help and get it done fast.  They had a power saw with them, and there were an awful lot of knives.  The deer was done a lot quicker than we had done it.

On my previous hunts, we had never kept the tenderloins because they’re kind of a pain to get to.  You have to take out all the guts and the lungs and all that, and that’s a pretty messy deal.  But this morning, we had decided to field dress the deer anyways, so we kept the tenderloins.  They’re the best cut of meat on a deer, in case you don’t know.  But they’re often very small, like hot dogs.

Well, the tenderloins on this buck were NOT hot dogs.  More like skinny bowling pins.  This guy had a HUGE body compared to the one I had shot that morning!  His hams were insanely massive.  Insane.  It was a nice buck.

But now we had a problem.  Where would we put all the meat?  We had tons.  My dad was going to have to go into town and buy another cooler, but then the huntmaster stepped in.  He was really nice.  He gave my dad one of his coolers to borrow.  My dad would return it after we dealt with all the meat back home in Austin.

Since it was my first antlered buck, I wanted to keep the skull.  But I wasn’t sure how.  Then the landowner’s brother, who was also very kind, stepped in and showed me how to skin the head.  Basically, you cut a straight line down the middle of the head in the skin.  Then cut circles around the bases of the antlers, and then cut diagonal lines from the antler bases to the line in the middle.  Then, peel and cut, peel and cut, peel and cut.  It wasn’t easy, but it was kind of fun.  Carter watched me.  I was poking around at the eye with the knife I was using.  Carter was like, “Dude, I’m gonna have nightmares tonight.”  I grinned and stabbed the eye to make his nightmares worse.

Then I cut off the ears.  Like I said, it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t too clean either.  But I didn’t mind.  It was my first buck.  It was worth it.  At the time of writing, all the meat is in coolers, along with that skull.  We’re going to boil the brains and eyes out, maybe tomorrow.  I’ll put another post once the skull is done, and maybe a photo, too.

Well, the skull was what took the most time.  Then we took all the stuff back to the school– and made it in time for fajitas!  The holy grail.  They were awesome.  Guacamole, beef, salsa, cheese.  Ahhhh.

After dinner, we all went around a big campfire and talked about what we like about TYHP.  I got there a little late, so when they said, “Next,” I said”

“OK, so… I got here a little late, what are we doing?”  People laughed, and they told me, and I actually don’t remember what I said next.  I was really tired.  But with the excitement of the evening, I didn’t realize I was tired until my dad woke me up.  The campfire thing was over.  So I went to bed, satisfied with my trip.

We got up at 4:30 again.  Maybe it was the cold, but I woke up better.  I actually got up to the food place before everyone else.  Maybe because I got a little extra sleep at the campfire.  Only one of the huntmasters was up there, Carol.

So I was like, morning hunt, schmorning schmunt.  I can only shoot hogs anyways, and we haven’t seen any of those.  Even in the “prime” hog spot.  And then Carol was like, “OK, who wants to switch ranches with Aidan here?”

A couple kids stuck their hands up.  My friend George was the fastest.  So I got put on another ranch.  Carter did too.  And now I could start over with my 2 deer!!!  How cool is that?

Well, we went into the stand, and it was pitch black, like it usually is.  I always find myself painting pictures of what it might look like, which are always pathetically far from the real thing.  When it got brighter, my dad pointed out the side window at a big granite hill.  “I think that’s Enchanted Rock,” he said.  He checked it with his binoculars.  “Yeah, I can see people up there with flashlights.”  That was pretty cool.  If you know where Enchanted Rock is, now you know roughly where we were.  It was a fair distance from there, though.

Well, I looked around at the feeder, and there still weren’t any deer.  It was getting later in the morning.  I craned my neck, just looking around.

There were four deer staring right at me.

“Dad… don’t move… there’s four deer right there,” I whispered.  He saw them.  We were very still and quiet, and eventually, the deer moved in to the feeder.

We spotted one that was distinctly bigger than the others, so we would take that one.  I carefully got my gun up.  I aimed at the deer.  But, since I had already shot two deer, I was like, Whatever.  It’s only 20 yards and I’ve already shot two deer.  If I miss, then we already have tons of meat.  But I won’t.  20 yards is an easy shot.  I just pulled the trigger, without being too careful.

The deer jumped at the shot, so my dad was like, “Oh, you got her, you got her.”  But she ran off.  So we gave her some time and went out to look.

There was no hair.  My dad hadn’t seen any from the shot either.  Usually, there’s hair all over the ground if you hit.  There was no blood either.  I thought I had seen her go down, with her legs kicking up, but there was nothing in the spot that we looked.  I must have just seen her running.  My dad decided that I had missed.  I was pretty torn up, but it made sense.  I hadn’t been being careful enough.

Well, now the hunt was done.  We had taken a shot, and gone out to the feeder and spread our scent round and round in circles, looking for blood.  But nobody would come to pick us up for a while anyways, so we might as well just sit in the stand and be quiet.

I knew nothing was going to come in.  Just as much as I now know that I didn’t shoot anything that weekend.  Because two more deer did come in.

They were two yearlings, like we had seen the morning before.  One of them was a bit scrawnier than the other.  My dad raised his binoculars.  I looked through my scope.  My dad said one of them was a buttonbuck, the scrawnier one.  I kept looking at him, and I could see the little nubs on top of his head, too.  But my dad verified the other one as OK to shoot.  So I aimed at her.  You can bet I was going to be WAY more careful that time.  She kept walking around, walking around.  Then she walked away from the feeder.  I thought she might be leaving.  She walked up the little dirt road to the right of the stand and feeder.  She looked up it.  She stamped her foot a couple times.  But eventually, she came back to the feeder.  She kept walking around, eating.  She wouldn’t give me broadside.  I just waited.  Every deer I have shot has been broadside, or slightly quartering.  She would turn eventually.

Finally, she turned.  I squeezed the trigger, bit by bit, very carefully.

The gun roared.  The deer both took off.  The doe was stumbling.  I knew I had hit her that time.  We went out to find her, and I saw her immediately.  She was dead.

While I looked at her, my dad went to see what she had been stamping her foot at.  Then I heard:

“Aidan!  Come up here, quickly!”

I scrambled up the rocks to see what it was.

And there she was.  The one we thought I had missed.  Dead as a doornail.

YES!!!

The little doe’s brother stuck around for a while.  Eventually, he circled around behind us and disappeared.  We went back to the new ranch base, ecstatic.  I had shot FOUR deer!  In, like, 25 or 26 hours!  And one of them was my first antlered buck.  Well, we had quite a bit more skinning to do.

Once we were done skinning both the deer, we went back to the school.  Everyone was already packing up.  I did my share of cleanup chores, ate some lunch, and we were outta there before I knew it.  It was over already?  What was happening to my sense of time?  The day before had seemed like two days, but the time from when we got there on Friday had seemed like about 30 seconds.  That’s how it is for me on hunts.

Well, I hope I get the skull done soon.  Like I said, I’ll post again when it’s done, and maybe put some photos in with it.  Happy Hunting y’all!  Check out this poll here below.

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