Young Buck

The low point of my thoughts coincided with 1) an elevated wind strength and 2) the appearance of the young buck. On previous hunts, I had only brought does back to our house at Elmdale. This had been fine with my Mom and Dad because, to quote my Father, “They eat better.”  However, I really wanted to accomplish what my older brother had. I wanted to take a buck. I wanted to be able to feel the bone-like antlers and to keep them as a trophy. I never expected to be able to shoot a deer like the one my Dad had hanging in the back room of our house. My Dad’s deer had been taken the year before. It possessed a beautiful seven-point rack complete with the graceful antlers characteristic of the Texas Hill Country. The rack carried by the deer in front of me was not that size.

In fact, “my” buck carried only a forkhorn on one side and a short spike on the other. My Dad pressed his arm against me as a signal to raise my rifle. The buck had his nose in one of the bushes that made up a hedge in front of the stand. As he nibbled unconcernedly at some of the remaining fresh growth, I placed the crosshairs of my .243 Winchester behind his shoulder. Just then the West Texas equivalent to a gentle breeze hit like a sledgehammer. My sights swung wildly past the tail of the deer. I swiveled my scope back to the aiming point for a lung shot just as the wind let up and the tree righted itself. The unbending of the tree caused my gun sight to pivot past the shoulder, neck and then jaw of my intended target. “Oh, Hell!”, I would have thought, if I had been allowed to swear. Again I corrected and again the wind hit. Again and again, I watched my crosshairs skim from one end of the deer to the other. I knew I was running out of time.

At last, the buck tired of the browse 20 yards in front of our hide and started meandering down the well-worn deer trail. For the final time I pulled my gun from the rear end of the buck to his shoulder. As the gust began to subside, I tried to keep the gun sights from sliding forward while simultaneously squeezing the trigger. At the report and kick of my gun, the buck disappeared from my view. I had hardly brought my gun down from its slight recoil induced elevation when my Dad began congratulating me on a great shot. He said, “You must have hit him in the spine to drop him so quickly”. I couldn’t believe my skill, but then what should I have expected from one of the greatest eight-year-old deer hunters in the country?  My brother would never hear the end of this exploit. I had not only collected my first buck, but I had done so under the most trying of conditions. I had placed the shot almost exactly where I was aiming, in spite of the gale-force wind. As I stepped down from the bottom rung of the ladder, I was already imagining and savoring the sight of the neat hole, a bit higher than intended maybe, but still just behind the shoulder. In fact, I was staring at the exact spot where my bullet must have hit as I drew near the buck. I was puzzled as I slowly knelt by the deer’s side. Where was the wound?  My Dad’s voice cut through my musings, “Michael, where were you aiming?”  “Just behind his shoulder”, was my reply. “Hmm, well you hit him in the head.”  My eyes slid up the buck’s neck to his head and it was then that I saw the evidence of the .243’s work. No wonder he had dropped like a rock.

To say that my brother was unmerciful, is the understatement of the past century. He glibly pointed out that I had only missed my target area by about three feet and from a distance of 20 yards. He also correctly surmised that I might just as easily have shot my buck in the butt. I think my response was that I would rather shoot him in the butt. I really didn’t mind the ribbing too much. I think my Dad summed it up pretty well when he said “Son, you will never lose the enjoyment of taking your first buck”. He was right. The memory of that gusty morning is as sweet 53 years later as it was the moment I carefully stepped from the last rung of my first treestand.

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