T he Texas white-tailed deer season opened the fourth of November; but, as far as I was concerned, it might as well have been the Twelfth of Never.
Such were my chances of going on a hunt. During the fall of 1968, I had no connections, no keys to the private gates that have for generations dominated deer hunting across the Lone Star State.
That dismal prospect changed a week or so after the opener, when a school friend invited me to go with him to his family’s Hill Country lease near Junction. By “school” I mean college. I was 20 years old, a junior at the University of Houston.
I was ready to go deer hunting. I was equipped with a Sako Finnbear bolt-action .270 fitted with a Redfield Widefield 4X scope. Also in the duffel were an impressive green-and-yellow box of Remington 130-grain cartridges, a Gerber fixed-blade knife, a North Face down parka, a pair of El Cheapo binoculars, and a pair of dark green Browning lace-up boots with cool-looking heavy Vibram soles.
My resident hunting license had a whitetail buck tag ready to sign. With the possible exception of the fuzzy binoculars, I was, in the words of Big Foot Wallace, “armed and equipped as the law directs.”
We drove to the lease, arriving during the late afternoon. We had ample time to unpack in the weathered clapboard house, hop into a camp Jeep, and take a quick scouting drive. The day was cold and cloudy with occasional spittle of drizzle. We flushed a group of four or five deer. They scattered with quick leaps and bounding white flags though the scrub. Game!
I was enthralled by the country, the rugged terrain of cedars and oaks and mesquites that gives Central Texas that undeniable beckoning to the hunt.
As we returned against darkness to the camp, friendly smoke curled from the chimney. Two additional guys had arrived and, through the camaraderie of hunting, we quickly bonded. The simple camp had a warm glow that night as we talked and cooked and tipped a few ice cubes. I looked around. The whole setup felt great—just as I imagined a deer camp would be.
“I’m going to put you in a box blind down by a little creek,” my friend said. “It’s one of our best spots. Don’t shoot a doe, but any antlered buck you see is legal.”
I unfurled my sleeping bag on a bunk bed, but I knew that significant slumber would be hopeless. I was too excited.
I was awake when my friend prodded my bag, and the little camp stirred to life. We shared a quick breakfast and loaded into the Jeep and clattered into the dark pre-dawn chill. A fine mist continued to blow, and the wind was sharp from the north. My friend drove over a rocky ridge, down through a meandering valley and stopped near a sagging three-strand fence.
“Your box blind is several hundred yards that way,” he said, pointing at the fence. “I took the back way in, so you’ll have to walk. I didn’t want to drive through the prime area out front and bust any deer. Just follow the fence then start looking to your left. Good luck; I’ll pick you up about 10.”
I shouldered the rifle and started walking as the tiny red lights winked away and disappeared. Once alone, I felt a bit uneasy. The quiet, cold blackness “out there” became unnerving—and I’ll bet I’m not the only early hunter who has experienced that spooky sensation. I paced, figuring the odds were at least 50/50 that the bogeyman would grab me. But, after about five minutes, I spied the dark rectangle of the lonesome blind about 25 or 30 yards to the left.
I pulled, and the wooden door creaked open. I fumbled in the parka pockets and realized I had no flashlight—a rookie mistake. Scrabbling fingers did find a box of matches, a remnant from the porch cigar detail the night before. The fleeting flare revealed a folding chair and three open window ports. The boots felt heavy and a downward flick confirmed that the heavy “waffle” soles were caked in mud and grass straw—not the best choice for hunting in wet weather.
The change from black to gray came torturously slow, stalled by fog and drizzle. I shivered, wishing for an extra layer. The brisk walk was fine, but the motionless vigil allowed dank chill to creep in from all around. The icy breeze was against my right cheek, but at least the tin roof kept the mist away. Well, most of it.
After 30 or 40 minutes, the surroundings began defining: dark cedar clumps to the right and left, a heavy rim of oaks beyond, and the flat, rocky edge of the meandering creek bed in between. The creek looked mostly dry, with several narrow pools of holding water.
I spent the next hour “glassing” the available terrain. Within 15 minutes, it became obvious that the blurry binoculars were a piece of junk, a waste of money. A $25 pair might look more-or-less like a $250 pair (1968, remember), but you get what you pay for. Optics is no place to skimp in deer hunting.
I was looking left, cursing the miserable glasses, when I heard the distinct click of a tumbling rock. I turned slowly and saw a white-tailed buck mincing along the edge of the creek bed. The deer was about 50 or 60 yards away, and the antlers were instantly visible. They were brown and glistening in the mist.
With pounding heart and panting breath, I reached for the rifle. The good glass of the scope cleanly framed the shoulder as I released the safety and pressed the trigger. The flat “Boom!” of the .270 rebounded through the heavy air and across the creek draw. The buck dropped in its tracks.
Wow! No wonder the .270 is the most popular deer caliber in Texas! I just killed a buck! Just nailed him!
The deer was dead, no question. I climbed from the blind and walked to the creek and admired my moment. Then I unsheathed the Gerber and did a surprisingly good job of field dressing, using a nearby pool to clean the blade and wash my hands. A streak of blood was on one rolled-up sleeve of the flannel-hunting shirt, but you know what? It looked pretty damn good.
I stood and stretched and could not wait for the laboring sound of the Jeep as it nosed around the corner.
My friend is no longer with us, but I remain grateful that he recognized my keenness and included me in that long-ago deer hunt. Oh, yes—I forgot to mention the size of that first great buck.
The “Junction Monster” was a young fork-horn that weighed about 70 pounds.
The observant reader probably noted several facts about deer hunting woven into this account, but perhaps most significant is that, under the right circumstances, a small deer can be mighty big.
The size of a trophy and the value of the memory are not always judged by antler measurements. Sometimes we tend to forget that basic truth of deer hunting.
Email Joe Doggett at
Email Joe Doggett at [email protected]