A thoughtful story of a memorable deer hunt on Thanksgiving Day in Texas many years ago
Anyone who has ever hunted in the Lone Star State has a story to tell. Many tales told around a camp fire prove to be tall ones indeed. But some are actually true. And while relaxing in front of a hunting cabin's blazing fireplace with his three young sons sitting on the floor around him, a hunter once recalled the tale of the big buck he let get away.
On that brisk Thanksgiving morning many years ago, the hunter watched the horizon ignite as the sun threatened to rise through the dense South Texas ground fog. A wintry northern wind cut through several layers of clothing like tissue paper, sending a hard shiver down his spine that ultimately smothered in his insulated boots.
But the hunter shook off the chill as a shot of adrenaline warmed his core. He knew that with the briskness of dawn, the game of strategy had just begun. And soon, the brush country's master of evasion, the Texas whitetail deer, would prove to be a worthy challenge.
The skillful tracker managed to steal only a glimpse of his majestic prey during each of the previous three days. Nothing else occupied the buck's mind than the playful doe he desperately tried to track down. After picking up her scent, the buck pursued her with the persistence of a adolescent in love for the first time.
Nevertheless, the buck's enthusiastic desire for courtship had enabled him to unknowingly elude his stalker.
As the holiday dawn of the hunt broke, though, the young outdoorsman sensed this day would be different. This time, he would be ready. Eve lured Adam to his demise, and this buck's taunting mate would lead him, one of the "muy grande" South Texas whitetail deer, to his fate.
The dewy-damp ground held in the chill as the hunter sat patiently in the brush. The rifle felt cold in his hands, death in waiting.
A twig snapped, and the hunter saw a blur of movement through the thick screen. A doe darted swiftly from the brush and halted briskly in front of a scrap the buck had left for her, his musky love letter. As she dropped her head to consider the proposal left by her admirer, the hunter's heart pounded loudly against his rib cage while he searched the surrounding brush for the slightest hint of movement.
Over there? No, nothing.
Then, the hunter's heart stopped as the buck walked firmly out from the cover with his head crowned with a magnificent rack fit for a king. Down on scent, the battle-tested knight stood determined to make a personal appeal to the hesitant lady of his desires. The doe, startled by his sudden appearance, whipped her head in his direction, then bounced off in the other. Swiftly, the buck moved into the territory she previously occupied, anxious to see if she had left him a response.
The marksman slowly raised his rifle and laid the crosshairs of the scope on the buck's shoulder, then moved it up toward the bull’s eye on his rut-thickened neck. The noble creature stood distracted in the hunter's sights, unaware of his dire predicament. The hunter's index finger slowly met with the trigger's resistance, and he began to firmly squeeze it into submission.
But with casual majesty, the whitetail buck swooped his head up from off the ground and stared straight down the barrel of the gun. Without a doubt, the buck sensed the danger he faced, and he knew the fatal mistake had been made. But rather than flee his deadliest predator in a fear-filled flight, the proud beast simply stood his ground and faced his fate.
In awe, the hunter continued to gently squeeze the trigger. But as the firing pin slammed him, he jerked the rifle high into the sky. The lead death sailed away into the heavens harmlessly.
As the explosion of the gun rattled through the brush, the buck remained standing there, frozen in an unflinching stare, as if in an attempt to fully grasp the meaning of the moment. Finally, the buck turned from the hunter and slowly trotted back into the brush, disappearing behind nature's veil.
Neither man nor beast really understood the experience, but something had been shared in their encounter, a connection had been made. In the game of death, the gift of life had been given. And strangely, as the hunter walked away without his sought-after prize, he felt more alive than any other time in his life.
Sitting in front of the fireplace recalling his tale to his sons, the hunter felt warmed by the understanding look in their eyes more than the blazing flames. And with that, he smiled thankfully for his role in the circle of life, in more ways than one.
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS, BRETT VOSS & courtesy of TEXAS PARKS & WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT
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