Appreciating a whitetail buck should be easy, but . . . It’s funny how a hunter’s perspective can change.
When we begin hunting, we’re eager and happy to see a deer, let alone a buck, let alone a big buck. But with time and experience, we begin griping if we don’t see lots of big bucks and shoot one. Every year.
Spoiled? Perhaps. But only in North America. Where but the U.S. and Canada has any society not only stopped the market hunting of wildlife, but instituted management programs that restored most hunted species to abundance? And done it despite incessant, ongoing habitat destruction? If this is spoiled, I’ll take it, because I and other sport hunter/conservationists have earned it.
But. Still. To complain because we don’t get a monster buck every year?
That’s silly. Yet I’ve done it. Many of us have. And here’s a quick tale in which I didn’t get the big buck I saw, but managed to appreciate the “also ran” I did. And the more I think about it, the more I appreciate both the buck and the hunt.
Nothing (Much) to Complain About
Blake Barnett and I were filming for a TV show on a big Kansas ranch I’d been privileged to hunt many times. Knew it like my own backyard and loved it more. This was the kind of ranch environmentalists dream of. Rich in native forbs and grasses. Not overgrazed. Alive with native reptiles, mammals, and birds. Beautifully and conservatively managed by cattlemen who knew the land.
And it grew big whitetail bucks, too.
On this hunt, Blake and I spotted some better-than-just-good bucks in several places, including an isolated green wheat field. We crawled within about 300 yards of it one evening to discover a B&C candidate feeding in a low swale. I was shooting an uncommon rifle: a Blaser R93 straight-pull bolt action chambered in 6.5-284 Norma. Slick. Smooth. Fast. At 300 yards, it would cluster Norma’s 140-grain Partition loads inside 2½ inches, bing, bang, boom, just like that. That B&C buck was as good as in the pan. Except . . .
Whitetail Buck Challenges
We couldn’t get the camera on him. Sun flare. Then a doe in the way. Then it moved behind a big cedar. No problem. We’ll wait. He’ll emerge left or right. We’ll get the camera rolling and the Blaser would deliver that Norma load to victory. It was all over but the tagging.
“Where’d he go?” Blake didn’t know. I didn’t know. We hadn’t seen it emerge, hadn’t seen it sneak off. But the massively racked buck was gone. Best we could figure, it had walked the low swale to the fence, keeping the tree between us all the way, crawled under the fence, and dropped into the grassy draw.
Gone, gone, gone.
We hiked and glassed and poked and looked and returned to that field again and again, but Mr. Monster had slipped permanently out of our lives. In his place came this 140-class 6×6. Well, barely a 6×6. We estimated him at 4 years even though his rack didn’t reflect that. Body was plenty massive enough. Huge neck. A bit of a jowl developing. Probably just didn’t have the genetics for width and height.
At any rate, it was our last day, I had family to feed, a tag with which to legally do it, and a producer eager for a successful conclusion to an expensive hunt.
“If he comes off that field in this direction, that’s my sign to shoot him,” I whispered to Blake. “Stay on him.”
Ever the pro, Blake did just that, sliding out a bit from the cedar we sat beside to clear its lowest boughs. The buck jumped the fence, heading north, passing to the east of us. The rangefinder said 287 yards.
“You ready? On him?”
“Rolling,” Blake replied.
I had the Swarovski set to park the Partitions three inches high at 100 yards. That put them about dead-on at 275. This was a dead-center hold, and when the crisp Blaser trigger snapped, the buck collapsed.
That was the first game I’d ever taken with the 6.5-284 Norma, a delightfully mild-shooting, flat-shooting, accurate, outstanding cartridge for deer. And the buck was only the third 6×6 I’d ever bagged. Okay, the G5 on the left antler was broken and the one on the right wasn’t really long enough to count. But it was there. The genetic pattern was there. And that’s pretty special.
Thanks to my job, I get to hunt and take more game than most hunters. I try to remember that and appreciate all of it.