As mentioned in previous posts and stories, I started hunting at a fairly young age, probably around 7-8 years old, with my Grandfather. At that age, I was more of his rabbit dog than anything else, but none-the-less I was still “hunting” and learning with “Grandpa”. I didn’t get to start shooting until I was 10 and eventually Grandpa bought me my first shotgun for my 13th birthday. After moving back to Florida and away from my only hunting partner, I switched my primary focus from hunting to bass fishing basically due to the lack of available hunting opportunities. Between those circumstances and the fact that I left for the Navy at the age of 17, I really didn’t have much experience hunting big game, sans a couple of short whitetail hunts with Grandpa and one solo trip to a friend’s ranch in South Carolina.
After moving around during my first tour in the Navy, I eventually settled down in San Diego. I always kept in touch with Grandpa and, inevitably, our conversations would at some point include the subject of hunting. At some point he asked me why I didn’t try hunting the local mountains where I lived and my only reply was that I didn’t know where to begin. During one of these conversations I learned that he, while also in the Navy and stationed in San Diego many years ago, used to hunt deer in the very mountains that I lived so close to. That was enough information to get my curiosity really churning! I started asking people about hunting and always got the same replies of “not around here” or “yeah, I hunt in Colorado or Montana, etc.” but no one had any information about our local mountains. (Man! Where was Google when I needed it most?!!) So the years passed on and I continued to ask. Finally, while assigned as a technician at a specialty S.E.A.L. team, I was fortunate enough to participate in a land navigation course on the vary mountain that my Grandfather had mentioned! I remember calling him with my good news and then listening to the subsequent stories, again, of where and when he hunted.
Well, with the biggest hurdle behind me, I now had to find out the legalities of hunting in this newfound area. Sounds easy, right? Not so. I made a couple of scouting trips and ran into a couple of what I thought were rangers and started asking them questions about hunting. What I didn’t know was that the people I was talking to at the time were actually just employees that worked for the forest service and none of them approved of hunting. So, needless to say, their biased information led me astray and put off my hunting for another couple of years. In 1997, I FINALLY met a fellow shipmate that hunted and more importantly, he hunted the exact mountain that I had been looking to hunt all along! I told him what the “rangers” had told me and he filled me in on why they had misled me. They were actually what I now consider “tree huggers”. I soon learned that I could in fact hunt where I wanted to but I had to do it with a bow. Having never really had any experience archery hunting, I ordered a bow and arrows and started getting familiar with my new-found passion. I flung arrows like they were going out of style! Eventually, before the season came in, I got comfortable and confident enough to go afield with my bow and started counting down the days. That first season found me in the woods as often as possible and I had many opportunities on young bucks and many more on a doe but, I was holding out for the “big one”. My first season ended up with a good bowl of tag soup but I was a little wiser and more experienced none-the-less. My new hunting partner had led me to water and I started to drink with a BIG cup! Soon after the season, I found out that was my first and only season with Gary because he was retiring from the Navy and was moving back to his home state of Michigan.
There was no way that I was going to give up on my new addiction so I started my search for a new hunting partner. As the new season got closer and closer I eventually surmised to the fact that if I was going to hunt that new season, it was going to be on my own! So, on opening morning, I found myself pulling into a parking area well before gray light with the anticipation of going after the elusive California mule deer….solo. As I was changing into my hunting clothes, another truck pulled into the same parking area and a guy and his son get out and start getting ready to go in themselves. At first, I started rushing to get my gear together so I could be the first to head down the trail so as to stake claim to “my” area. But then I caught myself and decided to introduce myself and ask where they were going. I’m sure glad I did! That turned out to be the best question I ever asked. In a matter of moments and because of that one question, I found a new hunting partner! And this guy had been hunting these woods all his life! We hit it off like two lost friends and started practicing and hunting all the time together. He had me shooting at much farther distances that I ever thought were possible. Eventually, I got to where I could consistently hit a 4 inch group at 80 yards (this will be important later in the story). He showed me places all over the mountain that he had been successful, where the deer traveled, where they bedded, and more importantly, where the water was. I helped him drag a few deer out of the woods for the next couple of years and although I only had a few close calls, I never lost hope.
So, one cool morning in October of 2003, he and I made the close to 1 ½ mile walk into one of our honey holes and sat down with anticipation. [He had the luxury of owning his own business, which therefore let him make his own schedule that allowed him to hunt almost every morning.] He had been telling me of a couple of sightings of a buck rubbing on a small cedar close to where we were sitting so we were hoping that he would repeat his ritual while we were there. Since my partner knew that I hadn’t killed deer with my bow yet, it was decided that I would get the first shot. So, there we sat not two feet apart, in the gray light of the early morning. It wasn’t long before we caught movement across the open meadow that was positioned at about 10:00 to our position. It was a buck, and he was heading straight towards us! My mind started racing but somehow, I wasn’t nervous at all. We watched the buck cautiously make his way towards the creek bed that was 45 yards in front of us and I slowly picked up my range finder and started ranging trees, stumps, and rocks that were on the path that he would eventually, and lethally, take. After ranging an appropriate amount of spots, I slowly put the range finder down and positioned my bow in a shooting position. My buddy slowly leaned over and quietly whispered that the buck was going to make a hard right when he got to the creek bed and would eventually take a trail that would put him broadside at 45 yards directly in front of us. Well, the buck stayed his course but when he got to the creek bed, he promptly dropped right in and disappeared! The creek bed is probably about six or seven feet deep and from our vantage point, we could no longer see him. We just sat there knowing that at any time, the buck was going to pop out and present an even closer shot that we had anticipated. Time stood still! What was probably only five or so minutes felt like an eternity! I couldn’t take it anymore so I whispered to my buddy that I was going to slowly stand up and see if the buck was still there. He replied that he was going to stand with me but we had to be in super-slow motion! As we were getting up, the fever started to hit me! I didn’t think it was possible to get that nervous with a lethal weapon in your hand!
I then told my buddy that if the buck presented a shot, I thought it would be cool if we both flung an arrow at him in order to REALLY share the experience. At first we didn’t see the buck and quickly the nerves and excitement were replaced with the ever so familiar feeling of disappointment. And just then, I saw movement through the saplings that lined the creek bed! Only, he was where he was supposed to be!!! He had gone down in the creek and made a right and was therefore heading away from us. There we were, standing there with our bows ready and the buck was not doing what he was “supposed” to do! I hadn’t obtained any ranges for where he was going so I slowly bent down and started shooting along the creek bed. Just after I shot a rock and the reading said 82 yards, I whispered to my buddy that if the buck didn’t come out by that point, we were going to have to hope another one came by. And then it happened! I don’t know if the buck somehow heard me whisper or something else spooked him, but he lit out of that creek bed like someone had put a firecracker under his butt! For some reason he made a couple of bounds and then stopped and looked back in our direction. My buddy and I were both already at full draw and were just waiting for this opportunity. Right under the buck’s chest was the very rock that I had just ranged at 82 yards!!! I whispered 1, 2, and on 3 two arrows were on their way! I saw a puff of loose dirt kick up behind the deer and off he went! We looked at each other in disbelief as we watched our prize sprint back through the open meadow from which he came. Then, all of a sudden, he stopped about 100 yards away. What I witnessed next is a memory that will never be erased from my mind. After the buck stopped, he looked back in our direction and then promptly did a complete back flip and died! I have never been so excited in my life (don’t tell my wife)!!! We high-fived and hooted and hollered all the way over to the buck and quickly realized that he didn’t have an arrow sticking in him. So, we retraced the path the deer had taken after we shot and low and behold, we found my arrow and it was covered with blood almost to the fletching. (We also found my buddy’s arrow and it was clean) I had just killed my first big game animal and was on cloud nine! After a couple of pictures from an old-school box camera, we field dressed it and it was then that I found out that my arrow had punctured the center of the deer’s heart and ended up bouncing off of the offside leg bone. Somehow neither of us saw the arrow fly out while he was running.
Now, I have to say, that bow was like another arm to me. I knew exactly what it would do and what it was capable of doing. I know a lot of guys are going to get upset when they read this and believe me; I’ve been chastised a lot for taking that long shot. But, I have to tell you now, I wouldn’t do it again. Although I still practice out to 80 yards with my new bow, I don’t hit my mark as consistently as I need to in order to be as confident as I was with that other bow.
You can't imagine how big of a trophy this "liitle" forked horn buck is to me!