The author with his buck.
We were late arriving at Empire Ranch because the road had been blocked by an 18-wheeler for about an hour. When we finally arrived, we went straight to the rifle range, fired off a couple of rounds and headed for the hunting blind. Ryan Esrkine, the ranch foreman and an experienced guide, dropped me off at the blind. Ryan drove to the feeder to throw out some corn.
By the time he drove back past the blind, this big 10- point buck had walked out and started to feed. He had at least a 22-inch spread with three kickers on the right side. I thought he looked like a 170- to 180-class buck. This was by far the biggest deer I had ever seen at a feeder and my first instinct was to shoot.
Then I realized he might be a young deer, so I began to look at his head, neck, and abdomen. My heart sank because he didn’t look more than three or four years old. I knew Ryan was on his way back to the blind. He would probably spook the deer and that would be the end of that.
I heard a noise behind me. It was Ryan opening the door to the blind. I was surprised he made it back without disturbing the deer. Ryan said as soon as he got out of the truck he spotted the buck.
Ryan took a moment to look at the big buck and agreed that he might have at least a 22-inch spread and might be, at least, a 180-class buck. He added that he was probably 5 1/2 years old and said, “If that’s the deer you want, shoot him.” For a moment, I thought about last year when I shot a little low on the shoulder and we had to get the dog to find my deer. I put the crosshairs on the shoulder of the big buck and waited for him to turn broadside.
My good friend and hunting buddy Stan Grover and I decided to spend some time at the ranch in hope of taking a couple of trophy whitetails. Stan has shot a trophy mule deer and an elk, but never a trophy whitetail. We are both retired army combat veterans who love to hunt. Most years, we spend 45-50 days in the woods hunting.
Three years ago, we spent a week in West Virginia trophy hunting without any luck. The environment there is completely different from Texas. It snowed and was so beautiful. While it was snowing, deer would walk by within 25 feet and never smell or see you.
So there I was with my crosshairs on the biggest buck I had ever seen, which stood broadside 100 yards away. I pulled the trigger and the buck jumped straight into the air and fell backwards onto the tall grass. Ryan told me to put another shell in the chamber because his tail was still moving. I knew I had made a perfect shot and he wasn’t going anywhere.
Ben and Sheila Johnston own the ranch, and for the last couple of years they have invited some hunters from our company to help cull their herd. Stan and I decided to come early in hope of killing a couple of trophies before the other cull hunters arrived. The guys had been so excited about this trip and had been talking about it for weeks. Ryan was anxious for them to arrive because he wanted 20 does, and as many cull bucks as possible, taken.
Ryan and I loaded up my big buck and headed back to camp. We had been gone for less than 25 minutes. When we got back to the clubhouse, Ryan told me to go in and ask Valerie, his wife and an experienced guide, if she has seen any ammo. I had forgotten mine. Valerie frantically began looking until she realized she had been had. When she walked outside and saw the big 10 pointer she was so excited and happy for me.
The next morning Stan shot at a big buck, but his old 742 Woodmaster jammed, causing him to miss. He had been having trouble with the old rifle and had just replaced the scope. I told him it was time for a new rifle, but this old .308 was like one of his children and he was determined to continue using it. I came prepared with another rifle: a bolt-action .30-06 with an unbelievable 40-year-old Redfield scope. The next morning at about 8:30, Stan and his guide Clint returned with a big, beautiful old 11-pointer. I was so excited for my friend, who after 54 years of hunting had finally gotten a trophy whitetail.
We had such a great time and everyone took at least one deer. For most, it was an experience of a lifetime. The camaraderie, the 5-star accommodations, and a chef preparing three meals a day, was unbelievable. Hopefully, Ben and Sheila will invite us back next year.