T he first time I saw the buck was when I was hunting predators with my brother, David. We had sneaked into a wide canyon in the far east end of the Anacacho Mountains and set up to call.
At the first squeal of the dying rabbit call a huge buck burst from the brush in the bottom of the canyon and ran full speed over the rim, his big rack waving from side to side as he ran. We watched him through the scopes on our varmint rifles and what we saw made our mouths water.
We fought our way through the thick thorn brush and down into the bottom of the canyon where we discovered a tiny spring. It bubbled up from the rocks, ran a hundred yards down the canyon and disappeared. At the point where the spring rose there was a big patch of gray mud that showed where the deer licked the mud for the salt and minerals. It was a perfect nest for a big buck. Right then we decided that when deer season rolled around in a few weeks we were going to try for that big guy.
That deer season we hunted hard. We set up a camp in a secluded grove of oak trees near a creek a half-mile from the canyon where the buck lived, and for two weeks we hunted the surrounding area.
We saw the big guy a couple of times. Once four of us spread out across the bottom of the canyon and worked slowly up to the top, thinking we would push anything in the canyon out in front of us. We saw nothing.
Then as we stopped at the rimrock that was at the crest of the mountain and turned to look back the way we had come, we saw him. He was almost crawling out of the thick thorn brush in the bottom of the canyon, his antlers laid back and his neck stretched out. Then when he neared the opposite rim he jumped up and went over the side in a rush. He had stayed in his bed in the thick brush of the bottom and let us walk right by him. Only when we were too far away for a shot did he sneak out.
Another time David and I left camp very early. In the inky darkness we felt our way up the back side of the mountain and found a comfortable spot at the top of the canyon to sit and glass. Just as it was getting light and the deer were starting to move about in the golden glow of pre-dawn, a group of illegal aliens appeared. They stumbled down through the canyon, driving the deer out in front of them. I was tempted to shoot a rock near them to pay them back for ruining our hunt, but refrained. We ended the season taking other bucks.
The next season we took our vacation and again set up our camp in the oak grove. Again we hunted the big buck. Only once did we see him, and that was, again, too far away for a shot. This old buck was smart.
The third season rolled around, and we were still wanting to find the big buck, if he was still there. All of us, my brothers, David and Randy, and my sister-in-law, Becky, had taken good bucks in the past seasons, but nothing to compare to the big guy in the canyon.
Finally, one bitterly cold morning, David and I were still-hunting in the canyon with the spring. We were sneaking along at a snail’s pace with the sun at our backs and the wind in our faces. It was a perfect set up. We had moved about half-way up the canyon and had stopped to glass the country. I was about ready to start moving again when I saw movement at the very top of the rimrock. Through my binoculars I finally made out the head and neck of a very big buck. I watched until he turned his head and then I was certain. It was him.
The range was very long. This was before laser rangefinders and I still don’t know how far it was, but it was too far for an off-hand shot. I tried to sit but the brush was too high. At last I had David stand in front of me and I rested my old .270 over his shoulder. At a whispered word David held his breath, and I squeezed the trigger. At the roar of the rifle the buck disappeared, but I had no idea if I had hit him or not; the crosshairs were wobbling around a good bit. I held just over his head to allow for the drop, hoping to take him in the neck.
We marked the spot by a big Texas persimmon tree and began climbing the canyon. It took us about 15 minutes to crash through the brush and climb the rimrock. Then under the persimmon we saw something white. As we got nearer we could see that it was the white hair of the deer’s belly. I ran through the brush, oblivious to the thorns, and grabbed the antlers of the buck.
He was an old timer, at least seven and maybe even eight years old. His antlers were not as majestic as they had been two or three years before, but they were still the best I had ever seen on that ranch. They were wide and tall and heavy, and the tines were long. The bases were massive and knobby with the age of the buck.
I knelt there holding the antlers while emotion flooded though me. I felt elation at having finally collected the big buck, but also sadness that the hunt was over, and that the big guy would never again stand at the crest of the mountain to survey his domain. Only a hunter can understand, and I am sorry that my words fail to accurately describe what I felt.
It was a terrible job to get the big buck back to our camp, far below on the creek, but we finally managed. That night in camp, tired but content, we had fried backstrap, potatoes and beans, the accepted camp fare all across the state. Then as the stars came out and the cold deepened we crawled into our sleeping bags, where we lay and relived the years and the hunts that had finally resulted in the big buck hanging in the oak outside.
Even today, almost 40 years later, I still, at odd moments, stop and relive that hunt. I have forgotten many other bucks that I have taken over the years, but I will never forget that one. What a buck he was!
Email Steve LaMascus at [email protected]