December 1969, Eason Lake Hunting Club, Angelina County, Texas. I was 13 years old; my 1st whitetail deer season to hunt alone.
Whitetail deer season in the piney woods of East Texas in 1969 was not just a family event, it was a community event and almost everyone hunted. Our family was typical and belonged to Eason Lake Hunting Club, bounded on the west side by the Neches River and owned by a local timber company. Almost the entire 2200 acres was considered in the Neches river bottom, a mixture of pine and hardwood. Deer season was king with squirrel a close second. There was a smattering of hogs, absolutely no turkey, but a ton of armadillo. If you have never eaten a young armadillo, you donâ€™t know what you are missing.
2200 acres and over 40 â€œstandsâ€. Everyone had his or her favorite. Mine was #39. Most everyone hunted out of ground blinds called â€œhousesâ€. They were built out of 2 X 4â€™s and corrugated tin. Great for keeping you dry and out of the wind, but a tad noisy. I was hunting out of # 39 that morning and saw a bunch of squirrels, several armadillo, and 2 doe. We had no doe season. A legal deer had to have a forked horn. By mid morning I was cold and bored, so I decided to get out and scout a bit. You really couldnâ€™t go too far as the stands were only a couple hundred yards apart in this area. About 40 yards away from the house, under a low hanging oakÂ limb I found what I only hoped to find,Â a 3ft by 4 ft oval shaped area cleared of most leaves and debris, a fresh scrape. I know it was fresh, cause I bent over and smelled it. Yep, fresh alright. The smell got me as excited as a big old buck in rut!
It was time for pick up, so I rushed out to the dirt road in time to meet my mom, dad and brother Rick in our old Willys jeep. I talked so fast they had to tell me to slow down. I quickly explained what I found and my plan to hunt the scrape that afternoon. Have I told you how excited I was!
Lunch at the clubhouse area was also a community event complete with squirrel stew. The squirrels cooked almost whole, head and all. Man was that good.
Early afternoon we all piled into the Willys, off to â€œbuildâ€ me a blind. (Have I told you how excited I was) After showing my folks the scrape, we found a great spot for a blind. Taking the old folding lawn chair out of the tin â€œhouseâ€ we placed it up against a small brush pile 30 yards from the scrape. We gathered up a bunch of fairly large size dead-fall limbs and built my new blind. Presto, perfecto, couldn’t be better.
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Just the thought of a big buck coming to the scrapeÂ got me excited. I crawled into the new blind, unfolded the lawn chair and began my wait. The next several hours seemed like years. Nothing but a few squirrels and a big armadillo. As the light started to fade, so did my hopes and my excitement.
The year before we found a pair of really nice sheds and made them into rattling horns. I had no idea how to use them. In fact, I was afraid to use them for fear I would scare away more deer than attract.
As the minutes ticked away, I knew I didnâ€™t have much longer to hunt. It was that time of afternoon where you could still see well in the areas not covered by the oak canopy, but in the shadowy areas you had to concentrate to see. It might have been better with a different rifle and maybe a scope, but I was 13 and committed to shooting a deer with â€œmyâ€ rifle, a 1903 A3 used military 30-06 circa WWII. You may have seen one, a mauser type rifle with the wood stock extending almost to the end of the barrel, a big stiff bolt with the safety you had to flip from one side of the bolt to the other and of course, peep sights. The thing was dang near as big as I was. (I wasnâ€™t very big at 13)
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On a rest I could hit a paper plate 4 out of 5 times at 100 yards. But this was different. I practiced a couple of times; lifting it up and trying to pretend shoot, once at a leaf and once at a big armadillo. Wow, was that thing heavy. Getting a good shot from that lawn chair was going to be a challenge.
As the light faded, I decided, â€œwhat the heck, let me rattle onceâ€. I tried to envision a big ole buck running up to the blind, all hot and bothered! Man would that be amazing!!
There were no YouTube videos in 1969 so I really had no idea how to rattle. I vaguely remembered reading in one of our bathroom magazines the proper technique- you tinkle the tips together like two bucks are feeling each other out, kinda like two guys pushing each other around after school just before they go at it. Then crash the horns together, grind them, crash again and make a bunch of rattling noises.
So thatâ€™s what I did, making one heck of a racket. This got me excited again, thinking that maybe this could work. Then the negative thoughts came, â€œwill a buck really come to that or did I just scare everything within 200 yards away?â€. I kept saying to myself, â€œNo, somethingâ€™s gonna come, somethingâ€™s gonna comeâ€, but as the seconds turned into minutes my hopes again dwindled.
From behind me I heard a rustling of leaves, not an uncommon sound. This time of year the squirrels and armadillos were looking for food under the leaves. I had heard this sound many times before and this sounded like the armadillo I had seen earlier. The next thing I know, I hear it right behind me and I thought, â€œthat armadillo is gonna come right in the blind with meâ€.
I slowly turned to my left, looking back and down trying to see exactly where he was. Boy did I get a surprise! Just underneath one of the limbs leaning against the tree was the nose of a deer. Just as I saw him he saw me. I think we both had such a rush of adrenaline that we each jumped out of our skin. He bolted away from me and I jumped up hoping I could see where he went. Not 15 yards away, he stopped broad side, looked at me and blew. His body was in the light but his head was in the shadow. All I can remember seeing was horns. My adrenaline level was now maxed out as I struggled with that behemoth of a rifle. It was all I could do to get it up through the tangled limbs of my blind. I remember shouldering the rifle and â€œboomâ€!! To this day I still donâ€™t really remember flipping the safety or finding the peep. Like a ghost he vanished through some tall grass and out of sight. My brain went into overdrive. â€œ Oh my goodness, I must have missed. Did I really see horns or was it an over hanging limb? Jiminy Crickets!! I must have missed!â€ I didnâ€™t have time before the shot to get â€œbuck feverâ€ but now I was experiencing it. I was shaking so hard I could barely move and my heart rate had to be 200.
I had always been told â€œwait 15 minutes before you go look. Give them time to lay downâ€. Remember, I was 13. I have a hard time waiting 15 minutes today at age 60 much less when I was 13.
Trying to get out of that blind I tripped and almost fell flat on my face. I rushed over to where I thought he was and there was nothing â€“ no blood, no nothing. Emotions are hard to explain but sudden disappointment seemed to overwhelm me. I had to keep looking. Slowly I checked the ground as I walked back to the tall grass. Just at the edge of the grass I saw it- bright red blood on the ground and on the sides of the grass! Blood, bright red blood, whoohoo â€“ I didnâ€™t miss!!Â Then my mind again started racing, â€œWhat do I do now? Do I keep looking? Do I go get Mom and Pop? Do I wait till they come get me? How big was he? I know I saw horns, or was it just a limb in the shadow? Oh my goodness, what if it’s a doe? Oh Lord, let it be a buckâ€ I prayed.
The light wasnâ€™t getting any better. I had to go for help as I really didnâ€™t know what to do next. Hurrying back to the blind, I left the gun on the ground and ran as fast as I could through the woods and down the road. Being fairly close, my mom and dad heard my shot and were already at the jeep when I got there.
â€œGet one Tommy?â€ my mom asked with a smile.
â€œI think so Mom. I found blood.â€
How big was he?â€ Pop asked as he was getting in the jeep.
â€œIâ€™m not sure Pop, all I saw were horns (Lord please let there be horns)â€.
We all piled into the Willys and I quickly told the story. Parking at the trail, I jumped out and rushed back into the woods with Mom and Pop close behind.
â€œWhere was he Tommy?â€ Mom asked as we got to the blind.
â€œOver here by this grassâ€ I said as I quickly walked over to where I had found the blood. We had our flashlights out now but it was still too light for them to help much, except when the light hit the blood.
Mom and Pop immediately saw the bright red blood on the ground and the grass.
â€œLung blood, Tommy. See how red it is. He shouldnâ€™t be farâ€ my dad said.
I started to trail the blood by flashlight looking at each spot on the ground and on the grass. My heart was galloping. â€œLord PLEEESE let it be a buck!â€ I prayed. I hadnâ€™t gone 30 yards when I just about tripped over the rump of a dead deer. The deer was facing away from me and at first I couldnâ€™t see the head. I AM REALLY DYING NOW!!Â Then I saw it, a beautiful big full rack of horns. A rack I really have not beaten to this day â€“ 21 total points. Not a wide rack but an incredible rack for me, my first deer. I was so happy and excited I thought I was going cry!!!
I know this is a blog series about why we hunt, so why do I tell this story? There are a lot of reasons to hunt and we will get to those in later blogs, but to many people, particularly if youâ€™re new to hunting, and especially if you are 13 years old and never killed a deer, reason number 1 is the thrill of a kill. Call it the harvest if you want to be PC, but we hunt to eventually kill. That 1st one for me was so exhilarating and satisfying that I am not sure I can explain all the emotions and feelings that went with it. I couldn’t stop talking about it. After that day, I was more addicted to hunting than ever. If you are a hunter, you know exactly what Iâ€™m talking about.
So, why do we hunt – #1, itâ€™s unbelievably exciting, itâ€™s a rush!!!