Haunted Antlers By Mark Wengler
I first saw the haunting image of this buck as the fog lifted on the main county road about a mile southwest of my ranch one late-morning in early October. I happened to be driving west at the time and saw him darting off and on to the road numerous times from about 400 yards north of the intersection that leads to my place. I figured out what he was trying to do, as I knew the ranch he was attempting to jump into. I decided to get a better look at him in the truck, hoping he would head into a 200-acre ranch across the road that borders my little 50 acres. I thought that if he did go that direction I might have a chance at him at some point. I eased the truck up the road until I got about 40 yards from him and he took off across the road into the ranch that borders mine at a high rate of speed. I could tell he was a good buck as he ran in front of the truck and noticed his mass, beam length and a mismatch of tines and frame shape. He was not a monster, but I thought he was mature and his rack was unmistakable. That buck just had character about him. His image was forever burned into my mind that day and he haunted my thoughts and consumed my daydreams with scenarios about seeing him while hunting. All of archery season I hunted hard but never saw him. Finally, on Halloween morning no less, he showed. It was 40 degrees and there were five small bucks taking turns sparring right in front of my feeder. He appeared out of nowhere and came posturing in, walking sideways with his ears laid back. When I was getting ready to reach down and turn on the camcorder, a light gust of wind swirled over my left shoulder and he instantly did a 180 and looked directly at my feet where I had the camcorder on a small tripod. He lowered his head and darted into the brush with his tail down. I started shaking after he jumped the fence and could see him slowly walk out of sight. I stayed in my bow stand for a couple of hours after that, making sure nothing I did would spook him any further. I noticed earlier that morning as the young bucks tested the wind repeatedly but never spooked. I felt confident since he did not raise his tail, it was the smell of the tape that told him something wasn’t right. Needless to say those antlers kept haunting me for the whole month of November, as I never got so much as a glimpse of them. As the haunting continued I decided to take off the first Thursday and Friday of December in anticipation of the pre-rut in South Texas, and hunted until noon each day. All day Friday brought high winds. But, I got into the blind for the afternoon hunt and the winds calmed about five o’clock. Within a few minutes a couple of does showed. About 5:45, I looked across my field of re-growth, and again from out of nowhere, he appeared! He was about 275 yards out to my southeast, moving slowly west as he noticed the does and began heading their way. As light faded I tried to hold off so he could move into close-enough range to video the shot, but he stalled, nibbling on some forbs no doubt from the recent rains. I could not get him in the frame of the camcorder without having to open another window of the blind, so I decided it was too risky and getting too late to worry about filming. I eased my gun out the window and leveled off a hair high on his shoulder as he was in some tall grass and I didn’t want any chance of the shot deflecting. I squeezed the trigger and he dropped in his tracks. I couldn’t believe I actually had my ghost of a buck on the ground and immediately got out of the blind with my gun, camera and camcorder to head his direction. When I got to him I finally felt the relief of over two months of anxiousness. He was a gorgeous mature deer with a big body, big head and big horns. He had long beams, good tine length and mass that carried out. He was a main frame eight with a small crab claw to make him a nine-pointer. He wasn’t wide, only having a 17 1/2-inch spread, but his beams were 22 1/2 inches, his bases were 4 5/8 inches, and his second circumference was 4 inches. My taxidermist aged him at 6 1/2 years old. I have killed bigger deer, but there is just something about encountering a big old buck multiple times without being able to get on him that sticks with you.