It’s still half dark in the pop-up ground blind, with the first glint of a rising sun casting a soft, golden blanket over the oaks and surrounding brush of the Hill Country.
Bobby Parker, my host and guide on this hunt, has been sitting quietly to my right, huddled into his camouflage for warmth, dozing off from time to time, waking up to watch the deer that are milling around the blind, which has been in place for only four days, at the junction of half a dozen well-traveled trails.
It’s the second hunt on this trip. I spent the afternoon before alone in the blind, seeing only lesser bucks and a few hogs before going back to spend a night tossing and turning and wondering if the buck would show today.
Parker’s face brightens, and he begins pointing emphatically to our left, nodding and trying to convey some information he thinks is important. His mouth is opening and closing but no words are coming out.
I assume it’s the deer we’ve come to hunt, and so I whisper, “Is it him? Is it the buck?” Parker, who has been watching the deer coming up a trail from the southeast, is affirmative in his answer. “I think so,” he says, as he continues to focus on the buck.
Just then, the old deer, bigger and bulkier than I expected from the trail camera shots I’ve seen, walks into view from our left. He slows as he gets onto the caliche road in front of us and I take that moment to raise the bow and begin the draw I expect to launch an arrow at his rib cage.
I’m surprisingly NOT nervous as the bow comes to a full draw and I wait a moment to allow the buck to clear a smaller buck that’s stepped between us. When he does that, I pick a spot on his side and zero in on a single hair before releasing the arrow.
I’m waiting for the sound of the arrow hitting home and for the short burst of running from the buck, but that doesn’t happen. He does run off, but there’s no sign of the arrow on the buck’s side and we get a clear view of him as he sprints down the caliche road to the west and stops to look back in our direction.
“Where did that arrow go?” I ask Bobby. There’s a thick stand of brush and small live oaks directly behind the buck and we should have heard the arrow clatter through that if I missed him. But we heard nothing, and the buck is still walking around out there.
I missed. Somehow at 22 yards, I have completely missed a huge-bodied buck of a lifetime, one that Bobby offered me a chance to hunt as he works to control a mild overpopulation on his scenic ranch south of Kerrville. I later found the arrow lying on the ground beyond that thicket, which tells us I somehow brought the wrong pin down on the buck and shot over him with that arrow.
I’ve hunted turkeys here for years but only shot does and management bucks before this, and now I’ve blown my big chance. I’m feeling kind of sick while watching the buck through binoculars, when he has some second thoughts about leaving. The rut is going strong here, and he likes the female companionship he finds on this hillside.
Nocking another arrow, I watch as the buck, wide with long beams and 15 points, begins a slow parade back up the road to the exact spot where he’d been feeding. He came to 22 yards and stood facing the blind for 10 agonizing minutes before finally taking a step back and turning to his right, presumably to retrace his steps down the trail to the south.
I’m already drawn and ready to go when the buck stops momentarily, and I release another arrow. This one disappears into the space right behind the shoulder blade. He sprints an adrenaline-charged 75 yards down the very trail he took coming up and stops with his rear end toward us.
Bobby and I are stuck with our heads poking out the front window of the blind, trying not to lose sight of him, but we do at that point. As we sit, I check my phone and see that it’s 7:30 a.m., and I decide to wait half an hour at least before trailing the buck.
When we exit the blind and walk to the road, there is a noticeable and exciting blood trail angling off toward the brush but it stops at the edge of the road. I pick it up about 10 yards farther on and begin following the drips and drabs left by the running buck.
Finally, at the exact spot where we lost sight of him, the trail takes a sudden turn to the right and I spot the buck piled up in some brush 20 feet away. “There he is,” I say and turn to Bobby, who has a Christmas morning smile on his face. He lets out a whoop and grabs me up in a bear hug that feels pretty good in this cold air.
“I’m texting Steve to come up and help us get this deer back out of here,” he says.
Ranch manager Steve Ashenfelter arrives within 10 minutes with help, and we tote the buck to his truck for more photos and speeches filled with awe at this brute.
Back at the house, the buck turns out to be 7½ years old and scores a very respectable 171 inches. He’s 19½ inches wide with 15 points we counted toward his score. A monster, true Hill Country buck that will keep me happy for many years.