About a week ago, I experienced a range of emotions unlike anything else I’ve ever felt whilst hunting. Frustration at watching a guy I respect a lot miss some shots that appeared to be well within his skill level. Happiness at finally getting to sit in my new blind. Relief at watching my coworker and friend emerge under his own power from a mangled wreck of machinery. And utter contempt for the same friend several hours later when he locked me out of my own truck . . .
It all started last Monday when Nick and I met up with Kevin Brittingham (formerly of AAC) of SIG SAUER fame for a couple days of hunting. Kevin had come down to the Hill Country for the Texas International Firearms Festival and I’d convinced him (with a lot of arm twisting) to extend his visit to hunt four-legged critters at the family ranch. Nick and I both took time off from work, and still wound tight from the stress of running the safety operations for the TIFF, we headed out. Kevin had his Ford Raptor loaded with goodies including some machine guns, thermal night vision, and silencers galore.
As an aside, looking through some of Kevin’s guns with him is a walk through a vertiable who’s who of the gun industry. A Rem 700 built by John Noveske as a gift years ago. A very low serial number Knight’s SR 25 from his work with them on the push to put that gun in SOCOM’s hands in the early 2000’s. An original .300 BLK upper and silencers that date back to the early AAC days, most of them pink.
The first order of business upon arrival at the ranch was to take the SIG MCX out for a spin, pitting it against the MP5 SD that Kevin also trucked out. Assuming that the giggling and clanging steel must have been indicative of fun, my mother joined us for a bit and got her first taste of the full-auto giggle. She’s hit me up nearly every day since asking if I can get one of those MCX rifles for her so she can mow down feral hogs on sight. She’s never been a big fan of big government and the NFA keeping her from owning the perfect pig killing rig has got her down.
Once we’d gotten the giggles out, we confirmed zero on some of Kevin’s boomsticks. He turned to me and asked, “What are the odds we’re going to go two days and not see anything?” I laughed, told him to get in the Polaris Ranger, and assured him he’d get opportunities to shoot. Then we commenced taking some laps around the family place to look for things that needed shooting. As a Georgia native, Kevin was quite familiar with the concept “Redneck Hunting.” Within minutes we were rewarded with a perfect shot at a nice Black Buck antelope. Kevin braced himself and squeezed off a shot that didn’t connect. He shook his head, looked at his gun, and asked if we could go back to the range to confirm zero. We went. The gun performed flawlessly for all three of us. Kevin mumbled something under his breath.
We found the Black Buck again and Kevin squeezed off a shot, this time with the Knights SR 25. Yet again, a puff of dust, and the antelope was on the move. Kevin was crestfallen. I assured him that those things are a bitch to hit. He agreed that they were pretty small and he might have been off on his range estimate. The sun was starting to get low in the sky and I figured it’d be best to get everyone in their blinds. We put Kevin in the Cadillac blind, a two-person box blind I built last year that sees some pretty regular action. I put Nick in the trailer blind, named for the trailer it sits on. Nick killed his first animal out of that blind. I took a tower blind near an open field with a view of the area that showed so much promise in my game cam article.
If you follow the TTAG Facebook page, you’ll recognize the view above from the opening weekend. Nick killed a little management buck out of it on opening weekend. I still hadn’t gotten a chance to hunt out of that blind and I was REALLY looking forward to getting up in the tower and clearing out the cobwebs. Work has been a bit crazy lately both professionally and off-the-clock for TTAG so I was looking forward to a few hours of quiet time in the woods to get back to center. I’d also seen the ludicrous amount of activity from the game camera and I was fully expecting to see some great deer and maybe a pig or two. Either way, I had my trusty Ruger M77 in .243 WIN loaded with some Barnes TTSX factory ammo.
Shortly after the sun hid behind the hills to my right, I let out a little gasp. It wasn’t an animal that made me do it. I was just awestruck at the wonderful sunset taking place. It had been windy all day, but once the sun went down, the wind just dropped. The temperature came down a few degrees and I got that tingle that every hunter knows.
I’d seen some bucks pushing does around when we were driving around earlier that day so I knew the rut was picking up steam. With the sun lighting up my target area perfectly, the wind calmly in my face, and the temperature plunging, I started giggling in anticipation. All the waiting had been worth it. The perfect day of hunting had finally arrived. I just knew a big 10-point was about to walk out of the woods. I’d line him up and take him down. Just then, I heard that distinctive wet fart inside a trash can noise that let me know that Nick’s .300 BLK gun was barking.
Two minutes later, my phone rang. Normally, Nick and I text while we’re hunting different parts of the ranch so I figured some emergency must be upon us. I answered with a firm, “What.”
Nick: “I shot a buck”
Nick: “I need your help with it.”
Tyler: “Is it dead?”
Tyler: “Then you don’t need my help.”
Nick: “Please come help me man. I’m worried a predator is going to come get this thing.”
Tyler: “What? Predator? Does your gun still have bullets?”
Tyler: “Then shoot anything that messes with it. This is the most perfect day of hunting God ever made. It’ll be done in 45 minutes. I’ll come get you.”
Nick: “Please man. Come help me get this thing out of here.”
Tyler: “Is it huge?”
Tyler: “FUCK! I’ll be there in a few minutes”
I angrily descended my blind cursing Nick the whole way. “Predators? Yankee noob shithead.”, I kept muttering to myself while I kicked rocks. I got in the Ranger and headed uphill to go find Nick, making a promise to myself that if this was another management buck I was going to make him walk back to the house.
It was quite frankly, a monster. One of the biggest deer I’d ever seen on our ranch. I was pretty sure he was the buck my high school hunting buddy spotted the day prior. He’d excitedly told me about this MASSIVE 8-pointer. He couldn’t get the damn thing to stop, but he’d wished us good luck on getting him. I was just blown away looking at this deer. An absolute beast and further validation of my feelings that the springtime rain we’d gotten had borne fruit for our whitetail population. Begrudgingly, I helped load this big, smelly deer in the bed of the Ranger, all the while telling Nick to wipe that shit-eating grin off his face as it was my perfect day of hunting had been ruined.
We normally gut deer in a big field as it keeps the gut piles far away from any of the areas we hunt and makes for easy pickings for the vultures. Circle of life and all that. The road to that field goes straight past the tower blind I’d occupied a short 20 minutes prior. At that point, I really laid into Nick. And yes, I got out of the blind on my own. Nobody forced me. But sometimes, you gotta rib on your hunting buddy a bit.
“I bet we’re going to drive by that stand of trees and a bunch of huge deer are going to run out. It’s probably going to be an orgy of animals. I bet there’s whitetail, Axis, Black Buck, and some hogs back there. All just hanging out standing broadside in the open….”
“SHIT!”, Nick screamed at me. I pulled my attention away from giving him his due ration of grief to watch two ENORMOUS bucks run out from the stand of trees I’d been set up to hunt just a little earlier. Easily the size of the dead buck in the bed of the Ranger, they sprinted out across the big open field we used for gutting duties in hot pursuit of a not-too-willing female.
I parked Nick in the Ranger and took off on foot. They happened to be running through the area we normally use as a shooting range, and I’d ranged various points of interest many times over the years. My .243 was zeroed for 200 yards and the wind was still dead. I ran full sprint for the nearest opening, plopped into a seated position and made due with the crappy off brand “sling” I use to haul that gun around with. I watched as the bigger of the two bucks stopped within a few feet of the tile I use to mark 250 yards, and turned broadside. Due to a small rise, I wasn’t able to get a clear shot on him from a forward leaning seated position. Sitting more upright, I could see his entire body, but I couldn’t get my breathing under control enough to get a steady sight picture. How I wished for a Turner sling in that moment as I’d made a similar shot a few weeks prior at the Pecos Run n Gun.
I decided the high ground would be most advantageous as it would allow me to shoot prone. I sprinted to the top of an earthen dam that makes up my range backstop, and settled in. I managed to plant the top of my foot squarely in a cactus, but I couldn’t be bothered by it. I had my breathing under control and a very stable prone position. Unfortunately, the doe had fled, my bucks followed, and they were now at what I guessed to be 450+ yards. That’s a far poke by any stretch of the imagination, and it only gets harder using a 10 year old gun that’s approaching truck gun/wall hanger status. Carlos Hathcock could have made that shot, but I don’t have a white feather stuck in my cap so I took a pass and spent the rest of legal daylight watching the bucks headbutt each other and attempt to win their doe over.
Once I was satisfied that they weren’t coming back closer, I rolled over, picked the cactus spines out of my foot, and headed back to the Ranger. Leghorn asked why I hadn’t taken what appeared to be a very easy shot and got shot a glare in return. We headed off to gut out Nick’s deer in a big open field.
Wrist deep in gore, I realized that I’d promised a family friend that I’d bring her a liver if we got a deer that weekend so I sent Leghorn back to the house to get some gallon-sized plastic bags and a bigger light while I finished up my work of getting the heart and lungs removed from the chest cavity.
He took off at great speed and I made a mental note to tell him to slow down next time while I went back to extricating a bladder without piercing it. A few minutes later, bladder outside the deer and staring down at some blood on my shoes, I heard the Ranger coming down the hill towards me. I looked back at the blood noticing that I was starting to look like Christian Bale in “American Psycho” when I heard a loud THUNK in time to look up and watch the normally horizontal headlights of the Ranger go vertical.