This one was an exotic hunt on a ranch near Dublin, TX called the Wendy Lou Classic Game Preserve. The ranch is 4750 acres, and there was game all over the place. They have tons of stuff you can hunt. Whitetails, of course, and red deer, blesbok, fallow deer, eland, blackbuck, axis deer, springbok, gemsbok, waterbuck, impala, turkey, quail, pheasant, zebra, and kudu. Picky kind of hunter? The Wendy Lou makes you look about as flexible as rubber.
Anyways, for those of you who don’t know, a red deer is a slightly smaller, reddish-brown colored, European elk subspecies. Other than those differences, red deer are mostly the same as elk. The only other things are that elk have a kind of dark “mane” on their neck, and red deer have different antlers (I like the ones on red deer better).
This was just a day hunt. We got up at 4:00 a.m. and drove for about two hours. It was still dark when we got there, but I could see a little bit.
Our guide, Mike Odell, came out once we were ready. We got in his truck and we headed off.
The ranch, as I said, was about 4750 acres all told. There were three sections of the ranch, separated by high fences. However, two of these sections were connected by a tunnel under a highway. Those two combined were about 2000 acres. The other section was about 750 acres.
As we drove, we saw blesbok and fallow deer. We saw a few red deer, too.
By the time the sun was up, we had come to a place where there were two gates in the high fences. We took the left one and headed into that section of the ranch.
One reason my dad wanted us to do this particular hunt is because he wanted to learn how to hunt himself, spot and stalk style. Also, he wanted this to be somewhat of a challenge. He didn’t want it to be our usual “sit at the blind and pull the trigger” hunt. He wanted to hunt for real.
Which is why I started having doubts when I saw this section. There were animals everywhere. We were literally surrounded by game– animals in every direction. It seemed like it might be too easy.
But I didn’t see any red deer.
We were trying to find a spike (a buck with only one point per side) because the bucks generally have more meat than the does, and also because it would be more of a challenge. So when we saw a herd of reds, we stopped the truck and looked through our binoculars.
There was a spike. I grabbed my gun and we got out.
We stalked through the trees in the direction we had seen them go. It was hard trying to see if there were deer staring at us, since the sun was right in our faces.
Then, suddenly, we saw them running. We took a hard right and got to a position with the deer moving between a gap in the brush.
The spike came out. He was moving, but Mr. Odell stopped him with a small noise. He stopped right at the edge of the brush, at about 200 yards, and stared at us. I tried to get steady, but he took off before I had time.
We got back in the truck and moved to another section.
This one was like prairie. There weren’t many trees. It was mostly tall, waving grass and small hills.
When we got in, we immediately saw about ten red deer at a pond ahead of us. But when we looked, they were all cows and calves– not a single spike.
We kept moving, and eventually, we saw four or five more red deer off in the distance. They were five or six hundred yards from us, so they didn’t care that we were there. We got our binoculars and had a look.
Three of them were trophy stags. One of them looked like a hind. But the last one seemed to be a spike.
We got out of the truck again and double-timed it to where they were. Since the ground was nowhere near flat, however, we couldn’t see the stags as we moved in their direction, relying on bearings instead of sight.
The only problem with that was that once we got to where they were, they were gone.
We walked the long distance back to the truck, more slowly this time, and kept driving.
We stayed in that same section, but moved to a different part of it where there were more trees. We stopped the truck and were looking at the surrounding hills when I saw something staring at us. At first, we thought it was just a whitetail, but when we took a closer look, we saw that it was a red hind.
It decided it didn’t like the stopped truck being so close. It started to move off. Three more followed it. Then there was a whole herd going in the same direction, and yes, there was a spike. But we were a little late. By the time we got out of the truck, they were gone.
When we stood still, we could hear them moving. Mr. Odell thought he knew where they might be headed, so we started another march.
We went downhill through the forest and into a small ditch as fast as we could, not paying so much attention to silence as much as to speed. Eventually, we got to the edge of a field. There were a couple of whitetails there. We stopped, set up the shooting sticks, and waited.
After a while, the whitetails left. A couple more came back, but then they left too. The red deer never showed up. So we moved out to another section.
This one was like the first part of the last one– hills, not many trees, lots of tall grass. This one, though, had fewer trees, a creek, and taller hills.
The animals were even more skittish here. The only red deer we saw were running. A couple times, we got out of the truck and tried to take a shot, but it was always too far or there wasn’t enough time.
We drove around some more and spotted a group of six red deer with a spike. They started running and crossed a creek. We found a shallow spot and tried to cross over as well, only to get stuck in the mud.
“Well,” Mr. Odell said, “we’re sure not going anywhere. Let’s go hunting.”
So we got out and stalked them on foot. But they had already been spooked too many times, and we had no chance of getting close enough. After several failed attempts, we went back to the truck.
My dad grabbed hold of a tow line and pulled as hard as he could, putting all his weight into it, while Mr. Odell gunned it in reverse. It took a lot of work, but they got it out.
We moved to another section. Once we entered, we took stock of the situation.
We were behind a bunch of trees. There was a large group of fallow deer on our left. Straight ahead of us was a group of red deer.
We moved carefully up to an old shack. The red deer didn’t care, but the fallow were a little more cautious. If the fallow spooked, the red deer might spook as well.
We made it to the shack, however. I edged out to where I could see the red deer, put up the shooting sticks, and took aim.
The sun was in my face and there was a lot of glare in the scope. I thought I could shoot, but I couldn’t see the spike from where I was. We waited, hoping the deer would come toward us, but they went away from us instead.
We drove back toward the first section to give it another shot, but we were running out of time.
As we were closing a gate, we looked at the field in front of us. That’s when we noticed the herd of reds, thirty or forty of them, grazing, unaware of us.
Mr. Odell and I got out of the truck. My dad stayed because there was more chance of spooking the deer with more people. So the two of us crawled forward on our hands and knees, trying to get to a small rise that would serve as a shooting position. Once we got really close to the rise, we had to crawl on our stomachs, completely flat on the ground. A few of the deer looked over at us once we reached the spot, but not for long.
We took a look and saw that there were three spikes. I would shoot whichever one gave us an opportunity first.
It was the one in the middle. The herd sort of split into two groups while they were grazing, but this one was right in the middle. I was lying flat still, holding my gun up with my elbows on the ground. I took a long, deep breath, held it for a second, and let most of it out slowly. I put the crosshairs in the middle, vertically, and right behind the shoulder. I pulled the trigger.
The gun roared and the herd took off. I worked the bolt as I had so many times before and looked up. I couldn’t see what had happened, but–
“You got him!” Mr. Odell said. I let out a sigh of relief. And then I saw the proof of what I’d just heard. One of the deer was running by himself away from the herd. I knew that would be the one. Sure enough, he slowed down, stopped, then collapsed, only about fifty yards away from where I had shot him.
I was really glad we had finally got him. I had been starting to worry we might not get anything. It was, after all, already about 3:30.
My dad came out of the truck and ranged it. 240 yards. That was a long shot for prone with no bag, shaking like crazy with adrenaline.
We took it back and skinned it, keeping every single thing except for the guts, the head, and the feet. We kept the heart, the liver, the shanks, the hide, everything.
It was a pretty great hunt. We’re hoping to be able to do it again sometime.