Small Harvest. Big Memories.
by Dink Murphey
My 14 year old son, Bobby, and I have been after his first buck for a few years now. We have had a great time leading up to this: his first doe, a javelina and a few other Texas hill country critters along the way, but it was time now. It was time to complete the traditional father-son “rite of passage” of the whitetail hunting world.
Just after Christmas we would we would get an impromptu invitation from my friend, James that would be a game changer. It was time, and I knew Bobby was ready. All the years of practice on the range and in the field, all the hard work, the preparation and management would pay off. Bobby had paid his dues.
The last few years are filled with great memories. We have had a lot of fun making runs to our hill country lease that borders Bandera and Uvalde counties. While it may be later in life before they appreciate the hard work of driving t-posts all day in 104 degree heat I think that both of my boys have learned to appreciate the investment of time and elbow grease involved in loading protein, mixing mineral licks, loading corn and maintaining the feeders.
Throw in a six-hour drive between our house and the hunting lease and the anticipation for a payout grows.
For the last two seasons I have listened to Bobby talk about his hunting friends, his buddies from school who had not only shot their first buck, but a couple. Periodically he would show me pictures that these friends had posted on Instagram or sent him via text message.
Indeed they were nice deer, very nice in fact. Most of these deer he had showed me were cull bucks on the properties where they were taken, management deer. These were big eight pointers and even bigger nine pointers with solid antler mass, deer that would make any grown man proud to show his hunting compadres and these weren’t even the trophies that stalk those properties.
Our current hunting lease is great. It is the most beautiful Texas hill country that I have ever seen. The family who owns and runs the ranch settled the land in 1885 and they have been good stewards of what God has blessed them with.
While I have used the term “God’s country” to describe other locales in my life, this land might just be the land that the good Lord smiles on most. It is that magnificent.
Sitting within a few rifle shots of the town of Utopia the hills hold good solid eight and ten point hill country deer. The hogs and an occasional exotic typical of the Texas hill country are an added bonus.
The primary requirements of our lease are reasonable and conducive to good sound management with all the typical cull requirements, doe and buck alike. Shooter bucks preferably four and a half years old or older but no less than three and a half, eight points or better and antlers outside the ears.
Bobby continued to remind me how many seasons we have had void of a trophy, and have always quipped back that it hasn’t been for a lack of opportunity.
During the second rut, I gave my son the green light on a very nice 4 ½ year old eight pointer. Just before he was to pull the trigger my son paused and came up off the scope for a deep breath...apologizing and returning to the scope quickly, but not quick enough. It was his first bout with buck fever, but surely not his last. The doe that buck was chasing ran off, and so did he. I must accept responsibility for a second opportunity that went south as well. I really like this lease, and would rather not be asked to leave for a rookie mistake.
Mindful of that I hesitated to call a different eight point clear to take. By the time I decided it was alright, the nice eight-pointer decided to make himself invisible. Maybe he was chasing a doe; maybe he got a whiff of my coffee breath that morning. Whatever the reason he was gone, perhaps deciding to venture over the hill or worse over the old cedar and barbed wire fence separating our lease and a neighboring ranch. That fence divided hunters who, while unequal in management philosophy, sit equally eager to bag a buck for the season.
Little did I know that a similar inequality in deer management would be the catalyst for Bobby having a good opportunity at his first ever whitetail buck. As much as I would have liked this to have happened on our hill country lease, we were elated about the invitation from James.
My friend James had asked us to join him, his son and another family to his ranch near Shamrock, Texas. It took me all of about four seconds to accept.
I have never been known as a light or efficient packer, even less so when it comes to hunting and fishing trips. This trip was no exception. I had been intentional about using a Sako Forester chambered in 243 on previous hunts with my boys. I thought it would be extra special for them to shoot their first buck with the same rifle I used for my first buck in Bosque county years ago; a rifle that was used by their father, grandfather and great grandfather.
However, something made me turn to a different rifle for this trip: a no-frills blued and walnut-stocked Remington Model 700 chambered in 30-06. This was the first rifle that I was ever able to call my own; a gift from my father for my sixteenth birthday.
I never really used it much because I did not like its old Weaver fixed-power scope, but months prior I had purchased my first ever Burris scope and mounted it on this sentimental firearm. It gave the rifle new life while maintaining its character. I liked the updated look and even more, what I saw through the new glass. I took comfort knowing that it was recently sighted in and it had not traveled since.
I was excited to learn that our friend and host, James, was not only willing to put us in one of his blinds for a buck, but his requirements were very liberal to say the least.
His ranch is big. Straddling two different counties, it is big even by Texas standards. He has invested a lot of time and money practicing the best quality deer management, an investment that has been paying off, not only for him but the neighboring properties as well. Neighbors with little invested in deer management in the area.
James shared with us how a neighboring farmer had been putting day hunters along a fence line that they share who were shooting at just about anything that walked by. His very generous offer to Bobby and I continued with making it clear that even if a Boone & Crockett was to appear at that blind, we were to take him. Now those were guidelines we could get used to.
All bundled up for the 12 degree Panhandle chill; we headed out to the blind. It was not long before a nice little eight point approached our area, followed by two others. Bobby and I quickly agreed on the larger buck of the three, the one that was farthest back. He was about a 100-yard shot but not presenting himself as we would prefer for a cleaner shot. He suddenly got a little jumpy and wandered off in a slow trot.
I was quick to tell Bobby to take one of the two smaller ones still there. He kindly declined and said that he would wait for the bigger one to come back.
Was this my son who was exhibiting such patience?
I liked what I was hearing, and his patience paid off. Not long after, the buck came circling back and Bobby was at the ready.
I whispered to him, "I will not say another word. Take your time and shoot when you feel that it is right."
A few minutes later, a shot rang out.
While the buck did not drop where he stood, all of the telltale signs of a hit were there, even though he ran off with the others. I suggested that we should sit tight for fifteen minutes or so before we go looking, but Bobby could hardly sit still.
I finally agreed to exit the blind after about 10 minutes and we approached the area where his shot made impact.
Bobby was the first to pick up the blood trail. I jumped ahead a bit and picked it up further. Never rehearsed and certainly not anything we had ever studied for we were in synch and patiently took turns jumping ahead of each other as we continued to pick up the blood trail over and over again.
“Here it is”, I would say.
“Here it is again Dad”, Bobby would respond seconds later.
This would continue for what seemed like an eternity but probably only lasted 5 minutes until finally, while Bobby’s head was still down, I looked ahead and discovered the downed deer. I turned and stared back at him, his head was still down looking for that next spot of blood.
He looked up at me and saw me smiling. He must have known what that smile meant as he quickly changed direction and peered into the distance. He saw his buck, looked back at me and after a brief shout of excitement he broke down and wept.
Wiping his tears and before he looked at his buck again, he embraced me. A hug unlike any I have ever been on the receiving end of from either of my boys. We approached the deer up close and I just stood there as Bobby looked him over. Another bear hug ensued, followed by high-fives and dialogue that I honestly do not remember in enough detail to put to pen and paper.
He finally did it: a beautiful and respectable seven point.
My phone would capture the moment as Bobby posed for a picture he had probably rehearsed in his mind a hundred times; only this time it was for real.
During the drive home we planned a stop at Syracuse Meats. I was selfishly thinking about whether I wanted more “Buck Stick Jerky” or jalapeño cheese links. Bobby had other thoughts on his mind. He wanted a shoulder-mount. I had been thinking more along the lines of a home-made European mount but Bobby reminded me of my first buck, a Bosque county basket buck that sits on the wall of his room today: shoulder mount and all.
It caused me to reflect. There is so much emphasis on the animal harvest these days, often at the expense of the authentic and memorable hunting experiences. While the Wheeler county seven-point riding in our truck wasn’t the most impressive antler harvest, I wouldn’t trade him or the experience for anything in the world and neither would Bobby.
All of our time and hard work had finally paid off. In our family record book he was a trophy, a memory for a lifetime for father and son.