When we purchased several sections of land in Terrell and Brewster counties between Dryden and Sanderson, Texas, in the mid 1960s, we have hunted diligently for that elusive trophy mule deer. We’ve seen them, all right, but they never seemed to stay around long enough in our scopes to shoot. But in 2007, everything came together and I finally had the chance to take a good desert mule deer that rough-scored in the high 150s. He was in prime condition—and all mine.
That particular country is rugged and beautiful, even though almost everything that grows there either bites or sticks thorns into sensitive places. There are some stunted cedar trees and lots of greasewood and acacia varieties, including remnants of larger trees that grew in times past when there might have been more rain. Yearly rainfall is usually measured in single digits. Cactus, especially “jumping” cactus, grows in abundance.
This year was different. Sage had bloomed several times, the frost-covered grass was over a foot tall, and the prayer plants were opened and green. The mule deer, cottontails, jackrabbits, collared peccary, and wild hogs are in the best physical shape they’ve been in decades. There’s been enough rain and our friend on the adjoining section managed to get the 800-foot windmill reactivated and pumping.
Regular mule deer season always opens the Saturday after Thanksgiving and lasts, at least for the past several years, through the second weekend after that, giving us 16 days to hunt. It’s been our standard routine to pack up, drive the 425 miles on the Friday after Thanksgiving, set up camp, and begin hunting on Saturday. This year, my husband and I even had a first-class comfortable bed that one of his friends had brought from Houston for us. I’ve probably walked on 80 percent of the four sections we have for hunting, and don’t have a problem striking out on my own. Usually, my husband and I walk in tandem; he walks the creek bottom and I walk on top along each finger and draw.
This year, he didn’t walk much, so I was on my own. I walked the top for three-quarters of a mile not seeing an animal, and decided to sit on a hill overlooking a good canyon I’ve hunted consistently for more than 40 years. People who hunt with us even call it “Joyce’s Canyon.”
Before getting comfortable, I spotted a medium-sized eight-point buck trotting along at about 350 yards down in the canyon. He would trot a few yards, stop, look back, wait, and repeat the sequence. I finally got smart and started looking back to where the eight-point looked, able to pick out his movement and saw what he saw. A wide, heavy-antlered buck followed the smaller buck, and I didn’t even think twice about it.
Moving down to a good, solid rest was impossible. I managed to slide down the rock I sat on and got a firm rest across my left knee. I looked through the scope—no deer. I grabbed my binocular and saw him—big and bold.
I set the binocular down, picked up my gun, but had no deer in sight. I picked up the binocular and saw him again. I picked up the gun, spotted him through the scope, and fired a shot. He stopped and stood broadside, wondering what the noise was.
I fired again, but this time he figured it out and started trotting away. He stopped and I fired; this time the buck jumped up and trotted off to my right. I took aim yet again, fired, and the buck disappeared. I couldn’t find him, but I saw the smaller buck going up the hillside.
After a few minutes, I gathered up all my stuff and started walking to where I’d seen the buck last, hoping for a blood trail. When I finally made it down the hill, across the canyon and up the other hill, I didn’t think I had a chance of finding him. I thought, “Lord, if I hit him and wounded him, please let me find him.” Sure enough, I did.
I called the others on the radio, and when I told them I had a big buck down, I don’t think they believed me. By the time my friends reached my location, I had the buck field dressed. They found a dozer operator who carved out some roadways into the more remote areas and were able to drive within 90 yards of where my buck lay. A smooth drag downhill to the road and we loaded him onto a basket carrier attached to the hitch.
Someone with a rangefinder measured my shot with my Sako .243 and 100-grain ammo at 353 yards. It’s not the usual caliber rifle for hunting mule deer in West Texas, but I’m small and the gun fits me. Lucky shot? Well, we do have our own gun range and I trusted the Sako to shoot where I aimed.
Being the only girl in camp isn’t a bad thing. I cook and keep things in order. We have lots of laughs and generally have a good time. But, it’s most fun when I can say, “Guys, eat your hearts out! See that deer? You have something to try to top!”