It is always a strange feeling to return home after a long time away. The city has new buildings, different restaurants, and more people. But out in the wheat fields where I hunt, it is as if time stood still. I moved away from Oklahoma with the intent of only returning to visit family and friends and was off to bigger and better things in the state of Washington. When I first moved to the Pacific Northwest, I thought hunting wouldn’t be that hard, and with enough research, I would be getting into all sorts of animals! Boy, was I mistaken. I have been here for 3 years now and have yet to take a big game animal. Don’t get me wrong, I have had amazing experiences with animals and nature since moving here. But I now know my actions need to be specific and calculated instead of wandering around the mountains hoping to run into some clueless bear. I am still learning when to be patient and sit and wait or when I need to make a move. It has been a very humbling experience, to say the least.
I make it a point to go hunting with my dad when I make trips home.
This trip was no different, although the main reason to visit was to introduce my now fiance to friends and family. Before I moved, we hunted pigs year round and deer in the fall. On this trip home, I would be catching the very end of muzzleloader season and prime archery season. I knew I could take everything I had learned out west, apply it on my home turf, and be lethal. I had never been more confident in myself on a hunt and knew I would not leave empty-handed. That being said, I owe a huge part of my home hunts to my dad. While I am off on the other side of the country chasing adventure through the mountains and rivers, he is back at home gathering data, setting game cameras, and setting up stands. Doing the actual work to make sure we have good hunts there. Due to working on her degree, my fiance was only able to stay a couple days. That left me with a week and a half to focus on hunting when I was not working. Sunday morning, I dropped her off at the airport, then met my dad and headed down to the farm.
The general area we hunt is southwest Oklahoma, just outside of Lawton in a small town with no stoplights. My grandparents have a lot of farmland out there, so typically, we come down and hunt and help with the cotton harvest or whatever else they might need help with at the time. We get to the fields in the early afternoon, and I make my way out to a treestand where I will be sitting for the night. My spot was right on the edge of freshly planted wheat fields with a thick run of timber, tall grasses, and a creek running through its middle. Once I quietly got to my stand, I took a moment to look around. I knew this area like the back of my hand. It struck me that a few weeks before, I had been sitting on the edge of a drainage, looking down into a valley at a herd of elk, searching for some big muley bucks in eastern Washington. Southwest Oklahoma and the Wichita Mountains are very similar in climate and vegetation. What SW Oklahoma lacks in tall peaks and broad valleys, it makes up for in vast landscapes. I always forget just how beautiful it is out there.
That evening resulted in little dear action, but I had managed to take a pig with my bow in the dark that I had stalked and called in with a predator call. That was a wild experience, but a story for another day. My dad and I had some time on the drive back home to talk about the strategy for the following weekend that we would be back. He was surprised I didn’t see any deer out there, as he had regularly seen a few big shooter bucks in the area. I am no stranger to not seeing anything while I am out hunting, so I was just glad to be able to get out there, relax, and enjoy a beautiful sunset. I also knew the following weekend we would be there for three days, with nothing to do but hunt. I couldn’t wait.
Fast forward to the following Friday, and we are headed back to my grandparents. We are geared up with rifles, muzzleloaders, and bows. The thing about hunting out there is that you never know whether you will get into deer, pigs, or coyotes. So it is always best to bring the arsenal for any situation. My spot was in the same area as before, but I would be sitting in a tripod on the edge of a pond, facing a grass clearing in the timber. There were 3 funnels cut through the tall grass that acted as a centralized chokepoint that anything coming through the area would have to pass through. Tonight my weapons of choice were a muzzleloader for deer and my bow so silently shoot pigs if they came through.
During what I call prime time, the hour or so before the sun is officially down, I noticed 2 does in the central clearing about 40 yards in front of me. I watched them for a few minutes, then heard the grunting and stumbling of a large boar that would soon pass right under my tripod. As silently as I could, I sat down the muzzleloader and picked up my bow. The boar passed under me and was about 15 yards at my 9 o’clock. I drew back my Mathews, picked a point of aim, taking into account the steep angle down I would be shooting at, waited for the perfect shot, and released. Just as I had practiced so many times, with a clear head, and going through my process. He was about 25 yards, quartered slightly away by the time I shot the boar.
I heard the THUMP of impact, saw the arrow had passed through high up behind the shoulder, and went through, out the other side. Due to the sharp angle I was at, this was a perfect shot. I watched him hobble his way out of the tall grass into the wheat field and started exiting the tripod to go after him. I had forgotten about the deer in the clearing in all the excitement! By the time I remembered to look at them, I was halfway down the tripod ladder. I looked over, and there they were, oblivious to what had just occurred just 40 yards away. I knew I couldn’t get out of the stand entirely to chase the pig, as the deer would certainly hear me and pinpoint me right at the stand, ruining the spot for future hunts. I was stuck. All I could do was watch the pig hobble 400 yards into the timber. I was amazed he made it that far but not surprised, knowing how tough wild pigs are.
I looked back at the clearing and noticed something was off, something was different.
There was a buck standing there with them feeding. So I decided to attempt a shot at the buck with the muzzleloader. I stood on the ladder, and was able to rest the muzzleloader at the floor of the tripod where you would normally stand at the top. I was perfectly steady, no different than benchrest shooting one of my long range rifles. I waited for the perfect broadside shot, exhaled smoothly, and pressed the trigger. BOOM. The muzzleloader went off. The deer scattered, and I stood there confident in my shot. It felt perfect, and I fully expected to find a nice buck piled up in the clearing.
I texted my dad and let him know what had gone down, and by the time I got out of the tripod, it was dark. I took out my headlamp, grabbed my bow, and started to look for blood from the pig to give time for the deer to hopefully lay down and die. I found my arrow, covered in bright red blood, and a small trail of blood exiting the grass into the field. By then, my dad had shown up with his headlamp, and we went to look for the buck. To my surprise, we got to the clearing, and there wasn’t a single drop of blood. No dead deer. Nothing. My dad asked about the shot, and I explained everything. I told him I would bet a million dollars it was the perfect shot, and I had zero explanation for how I could have missed. I was then informed the muzzleloader belonged to his friend, and his friend had barely ever shot it, which is funny to think about now. My dad is so dialed in and meticulous with his own equipment that I would never second guess anything he hands me. Turns out I should never trust Justin’s guns without shooting them first. We went off into the dark to look for the pig and found it the next day, piled up back in the timber. His skull now rests on top of my whiskey collection.
With everything that had happened the night before, I figured there was no way the deer would return to the location the following day. But we decided to try anyway. I was bitter cold that morning. I was layered up with just about everything I had. The plan was for me to sit in the tall grass with my bow, about 15 yards from the clearing where the deer liked to eat. My dad would sit in the tripod above and behind me and look for anything in my blind spots. I sat there freezing and shivering as the sun came up, confident that morning would be a bust, when I got a signal from my dad. On my right there were 3 does and the same 8pt from the night before, making their way into the clearing through the furthest right cut funnel. I let the deer settle in the clearing and began the process of drawing my bow, seated in a stool. Turns out a 32-inch backcountry bow is pretty wieldy to handle in a situation like this. I sit in the grass, draw my bow, and look up. The deer had heard something and were looking in my direction. I sat there at full draw for what felt like an eternity. Eventually, they put their heads back down and began feeding again. I stood up quickly, still at full draw, and all the deer bolted.
This moment in time could not have spanned more than 1 or 2 seconds, but I had a random thought pop up in my head. I remembered hearing something about how mule deer always stop and look back for a split second. Many people have taken them due to that fatal mistake. Although I was hunting whitetail, that thought went through my head, and on impulse, I waited. Sure enough, the buck stopped about 5 yards from where it began, slightly quartered away, and looked back at me. I was ready for it and released an arrow. I heard the hollow thump of impact, and the buck bolted off into the scrub trees. I was baffled at how many things just occurred in what couldn’t have been more than 4 seconds. How many thoughts and instinctual impulses had just pumped out of my brain and turned into a smooth, fluid result. In hindsight, I could have probably shot through the grass, but everything was still executed perfectly considering.
I sat there with adrenaline coursing through my body while my dad watched the deers’ movements from the tripod. After about 10 minutes, he came out and told me the general direction the buck headed and said he saw it lay down twice, which was a good sign he was hurting real bad. I went over to where the buck was standing during impact and found a large spray of blood on the far side and a decent amount on the side I was on. I followed the blood trail as best as possible, losing it occasionally, so we split up. We walk around for about 10 minutes, trying to figure out where I lost the blood trail, then I see a large brown body piled up in blood next to a small scrub oak. He was down. He had not run more than 50 yards before he laid down and took his last breath. I had finally done it. I had finally taken a deer with my bow after 4 years of trying. My dad ran over, just as excited as me, gave me a fist bump, and congratulated me. I couldn’t believe it. I took some time to admire the beautiful 8 pt and thank him for his life. It was a crisp, clear, sunny morning out. I had my first archery big game animal down, and my dad was there to experience it with me. What more can you ask for?