Doggett at Large

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Mighty Misses

Outdoor writers almost never miss big bucks. There’s a reason for this. It was explained by Texas scribe Tom Hayes in his classic1960 book, Hunting the Whitetail Deer.

The no-nonsense Hayes wrote:

“I honestly believe that a deer is, relative to size, the easiest creature to miss that God has yet created. Remember that, though many of our writers are poison on whitetails, it’s a damned sight easier to hit one with a typewriter than with a rifle.”

Remarkable technological advancements with the keyboard aside, not much has changed on the outdoor desk during the past half-century. Maybe what we need is a “Delete BS” button.

Trust me, outdoor writers muff great chances just like most other hunters. Put another way, if you haven’t blown at least one or two set-up shots it’s probably because you haven’t been deer hunting very long.

Here’s a couple of personal heartbreakers:

 

The first occurred on a desert mule deer in West Texas. The ranch owner and I were driving a rough trail that meandered around the base of a series of foothills. The old Bronco turned a corner, kicking rocks and sand, and we saw three mature bucks standing together midway up a ridge 200 yards away.

He cut the engine. Two of the deer were fine Texas mulies grossing in the mid-160s on the Boone & Crockett scoring system. The third was a superbuck—a monstrous typical 4×4 with heavy chocolate beams and soaring forks.

“Oh, my!” the grizzled rancher said (or words to that effect). “That’s the biggest buck I’ve ever seen around here.”

The great buck threatened the B&C record buck (190 net), a rare feat for the desert -strain mule deer native to arid West Texas. It dwarfed the other two which, to repeat, were very respectable bucks.

The three deer watched our stationary vehicle then bounded in the odd mulie “pogo” gait over the top of the ridge.

“They’re not really spooked,” the rancher said, smiling. “They should be just on the other side. Get your rifle and let’s go get him.”

I grabbed the Sako 7mm Remington Magnum and ran a cartridge softly into the chamber and slipped the safety into the “on” position. I checked that the Leupold variable scope was turned to about the midway point to provide an expanded field of view for quick target acquisition on a sudden chance.

Last, I grabbed a shooting stick—a professional drill going on here, if you’re bothering to take notes. Granted, a telescopic tripod would have been better but, well, they weren’t available on the commercial market back then. At least I had a decent single stick.

We paced quickly through the stubby grass along the edge of the road (to avoid unnecessary rock/gravel crunch, another pro-class tactic) and angled up the ridge. The wind was in our favor, funneling over the top.

We paused about 10 feet below the summit. I was panting from the climb and the excitement. The rancher raised an eyebrow. I took several deep breaths. I felt steady. I nodded.

We moved in a crouched shuffle over the top and paused.

“Down low in the draw at one O’clock,” the rancher whispered. “About 100 yards. Angling slightly away and looking over his shoulder. Take him!”

I gasped at the incredible magazine-cover image. I planted the stick and braced with my right knee on the ground. I thumbed the safety off and settled the bright crosshairs on the gray shoulder—and shot right under the buck.

I flinched the 160-grain bullet at least a foot low at popgun range. A gigantic plume of rock dust and sand exploded behind the unscathed deer. It made a huge leap and was swallowed forever by the tangled ravine.

I stared, thunderstruck. This was a braced shot at a pie-plate kill circle I could have made 10 out of 10 times while screwing around at a range. Or 100 out of 100 with the keyboard—but here you have the real story.

 

The second soul-deadening choke occurred several decades ago on a giant South Texas whitetail. We were riding “up top” in a high-rack hunting vehicle on a primo Webb County ranch. I was to be dropped off in a stand for the afternoon hunt, but the “green light” was on as we traversed the back pasture. The late-December rut was hot and big bucks could be moving at any time, at any place.

Ahead, a narrow field of green winter oaks framed the left side of the sendero. As we approached, the driver abruptly braked to a halt and cut the engine.

Four or five does were feeding in the open field. They all stood and stared.

And I made the classic rookie mistake. I deliberately looked at each and every boldly visible doe. I should have discounted them immediately. Unless we were auditioning for a Walt Disney cartoon they were of absolutely no significance.

When the rut is on and you surprise deer in the open when high racking or still hunting (opposed to leisurely glassing from a blind), promptly disregard the non-shooters and start scanning the thick perimeters for a trailing warlord.

Uh, oh!

There, several steps inside the thornbrush, stood the visible head and neck of an awesome 10 pointer. The buck was about 75 yards away. No question—a 180-class typical, way above the net 170 B&C minimum for white-tailed deer.

And this was an honest South Texas buck. This was before the proliferation of genetically tweaked, protein-jacked freaks. This was back when a legitimate 160 gross was a big deer in Leonel Garza’s original Freer-based Muy Grande contest.

“Shoot, shoot,” hissed the ranch hand riding topside with me.

I snatched the Ruger Model 77 from the gun rack. The rifle was approaching my shoulder and aiming in the general direction of Nuevo Laredo when the buck wheeled and bolted. The bounding white flag and magnificent crown disappeared. I was unable to shoot, and we never saw the deer again.

Well, that’s not quite true. They found two shed antlers near the field that spring and, based on a conservative inside spread of 20 inches, the rack did, indeed, net a bit over 180.

We later called it the “Eight Second Rule.” You have maybe eight seconds before an abruptly faced mature buck bolts. I would have had those precious seconds, not to mention a record-book buck, had I not frittered away the clock while trying to count each and every pair of cocked ears in the oat patch.

OK, I’ve owned up to two catastrophic missed opportunities on trophy deer. There were others. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I think I need to fill a glass with ice and “build one.”

 

 

 

Contact Joe Doggettl at
JDoggett@fishgame.com