By Ron Cole
Texas Parks and Wildlife’s draw system set the stage for one of the most memorable hunting years of my life—and I didn’t even fire a shot. But this year, however, was devoted to my 13-year-old daughter Calley. As usual, I put in for several draw hunts with the anticipation of being selected. She was privileged to hunt at several locations, but the one that stood out the most was our trip to Caprock Canyons State Park.
The trip started the day before New Year’s Eve 2011. We loaded the truck and headed out for an eight-hour trip. As we got closer, the Caprock bluffs grew larger and larger until we were amidst crimson and copper canyons. We were allowed to drive through the park to view the area where our hunt would take place.
I decided to check in with the main office to make sure we knew what to do the following morning. My heart sank when I realized we had left ALL of our paperwork at home, eight hours away! The park ranger was gracious enough to allow us to have it faxed. Calley was scared that we had traveled all that way for nothing.
The next day we officially checked in at 8:15 a.m. With a sigh of relief, our paperwork awaited us. The other hunters waited patiently for us to finish the paperwork so we could begin orientation. Out of chivalry, they let Calley draw first. I could see the excitement begin to grow as she reached into the canister to grab her color—her least favorite color—pink. I reassured her the color of the compartment meant nothing about the hunter. One at a time the others began drawing—blue, orange, and then green. Once we finished we headed out to the field.
We saw deer immediately, but Calley wouldn’t settle for just anything. Our drop off point was a small campground with nothing but small canyon walls and ridges surrounding us. I noticed a small hill that was perfect for glassing. As I set forth, Calley followed with a determined pace.
We found an almost perfect spot and looked for any sign of life for a couple hours. Finally, we spotted a doe under a mesquite tree. I had already briefed Calley on what we would do once we sighted something. Once our wayward points were set, we went off for one of many successful stalks.
The terrain proved rough as we walked up and down the draws and through mesquite and cactus before finally reaching the area I knew the deer was located. Peering around a small cedar bush, we found not only the one doe, but three other does and a small fork-antlered buck. I asked her if she wanted to shoot this one but she whispered, “It’s too soon on the first day, and he’s pretty young.” We backed away and watched them slowly disappear into the brush. We hiked on and found several other locations to glass from, but had very little success.
After lunch, we sat in a new spot overlooking another campground and small section of creek bed. The day was unusually warm for late December and the deer movement proved unusually slow as well. We finally spotted movement towards the campground. The quite sizeable deer was very elusive as it sneaked through the brush. We finally noticed antlers as it drifted into the canyon below.
We reached our spot before sunrise with high expectations for the day to come. The wind had other plans, however, as it blew around 30 mph. Calley was ready for action as we sat patiently waiting for the dawn to break. As the sun rose, we glassed over the opposing ridges, but this spot proved unproductive, so we moved on. I let Calley choose the next location, a small point on a ridge that overlooked two nice draws. As good a location as this was, the wind halted everything for the day. After lunch and a discussion with the park rangers, we decided to move.
After being dropped off, and a few last minute words of encouragement, we started for a ridge in the distance. Just as we had previously done the day before, we glassed for a while and then kept moving on to other locations. The wind and heat kept the deer movement to a minimum. The day was ending and the shadows were growing longer as we headed for a spot set aside for pickup.
With 30 minutes left in the hunt, one of the park rangers pulled up with some exciting news. Apparently he had spotted some does. Calley’s eyes glittered and a smile grew from ear to ear. We loaded up and headed towards her target. As we approached, the park ranger motioned to her which one to take. I then noticed what appeared to be a buck farther past the does and told Calley to wait.
The buck then became a moving target, making it difficult for her to get him in her scope. As she stood there with the wind blowing her back and forth, and the deer moving closer to the brush, I was afraid it wasn’t going to happen. The deer disappeared into the brush, but we weren’t going to give up that easily. I motioned for Calley to follow me.
Once we moved about 30 yards down the road I spotted the buck again. He was in a thick patch of mesquite, and no matter how precisely I pointed, she just couldn’t see him. Finally after I whistled as loud as I could, he lifted his head. That was his last movement, as Calley dropped him in his tracks.