It looked like a Photoshopped scenic portrait. Rolling, dense fog draped the west Texas brush like a wet blanket.
Something between rain and mist accented the color of every rock, bush and tree, creating a deep contrast. Visibility was only 40 yards, reminding me of the chill I get when I look into the dark depths of the Pacific Ocean.
The thick fog was mesmerizing, but problematic for hunting desert mule deer. It didn’t matter. We were fixated on a set of antlers teasing just above the sage 25 yards away. I couldn’t see much more than the tips of the antlers, but he looked big—big enough for me to unholster the Dan Wesson 10mm semi-auto pistol on my hip.
All I could hear were the sound of hoofs stepping on rocks and water slowly dripping off our blind. As the deer walked closer to an opening of sagebrush, My pounding heart overwhelmed me.
I looked over at Ty, and he looked back at me. We had hunted lots of whitetailed deer together, but the intensity this morning was thicker than the fog outside. A mule deer with my 10mm? From all appearances, it was happening.
Hunting is what brought Ty Montgomery and me together seven years ago. I booked a whitetail hunt with him at their Montgomery Properties Ranch near Jacksboro, Texas. Since that first hunt together, I have become good friends with him, his brother Mitch, and father Don. In Texas terms, “they’re just good people.”
Real Texans, ranching, hunting, serving their community, and loving life, that’s the Montgomerys. Even though we had become good friends, or should I say they tolerated me, I was shocked when Mitch phoned and invited me to come hunt mule deer with them at their Muley Mesa Ranch in West Texas.
At the time, their Muley Mesa Ranch was for family only—no paid hunters, and for sure no ponytailed TV guys allowed. Maybe it was a friendly invite or maybe it was a test? I didn’t know for sure, but I would be on my best behavior anyway. I would try to contain my excitement in camp at tolerable levels, just in case.
For those who are not familiar with mule deer, there are many differences between them and whitetailed deer other than appearance. According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, these include food habits, behavior, habitat preferences, and population dynamics.
For many years some ranchers used management techniques more suited to whitetailed deer than mule deer. Needless to say, the outcome was far from optimal.
Now, thanks to years of research from Texas Parks & Wildlife and independent wildlife biologists across the state, have created specialized mule deer management plans. When implemented by landowners, these plans have had positive effects.
In many areas, herds are growing in healthy numbers. However, in many ways, mysteries still abound about the mule deer. This may be one of the reasons so many hunters are fascinated by them—as I was with this big buck at the Montgomerys’ Muley Mesa Ranch.
He was merely inches away from walking into the opening, but then he stopped and did the mule deer stare off into the dense fog. It seemed as if he felt a disturbance in the force.
I thought at any second he would bolt. I held my breath, thinking somehow it would change the situation. He kept staring, still as a rock. I didn’t like it, but at least he was not staring at us. We still had a chance.
Then, he shook his head and took a step forward, his shoulder nearly clearing the sagebrush. Another step forward and I would have a clear shot into his vitals.
I inched my handgun up onto the shooting sticks anticipating him taking another step. More staring into the fog. I held my breath again. It was dead quiet. All I could hear was the video camera recording and my heart thumping. Pure madness, but God, so much fun.
I began to walk myself through the shot. I visualized putting the sight on the deer’s heart, squeezing the trigger, and following through.
Not following through is one of my worst habits. What I mean by “following through” is like keeping your head down when you hit a golf ball. When you swing at a golf ball and you immediately look up to see where the ball is going, the shot usually turns out to be horrible.
The same is true with shooting. Keep your head down and follow through. I’ve had some success managing this bad shooting habit, but my golf game is still in the weeds… literally.
The buck leaned his body forward, paused, then took a step and then another. He was in the clear. I now had the shot. I took a deep breath as I placed the red dot sight a third of the way up the buck’s shoulder.
I started to exhale, pressing the trigger until the gun fired. The bullet hit the buck perfectly, and he raced off until the fog swallowed him in the mist.
Ty and I did our best to whisper, but our excitement was overwhelming, and we couldn’t hold back any longer. We talked over one another at full volume in colorful language that I would never use in front of my mother.
We rambled on for ten minutes, then left the blind to look for the buck. The sun peeked over the hillside casting a golden sheen. Within minutes the fog and mist was gone, and we could see the antlers of my dead mule deer buck next to a prickly pear cactus.
He’s not the biggest mule deer we saw on this trip, but I don’t care. He’s just what I wanted.
—story by Razor Dobbs