Omens for a successful hunt abounded last Saturday. A cold front swept in from the Texas panhandle dropping five inches of snow in Amarillo. While the snow didn't come anywhere near my lease in the Hill Country of Texas, the chilled air did, making me thankful for my two layers of fleece.
The moon was but a quarter - another promising sign. Deer probably had not been out all night feeding, especially with the strong northwest winds. I rose at 3 A.M. without benefit of an alarm, and in my haste to leave the house, forgot the camera. This too I took as a good sign, hoping the hunting gods would take the omission as as a sign of humility.
After the hour long drive to the ranch, I hiked to the live oak grove that hid my two tree stands. I noted the wind direction and climbed sixteen feet into the tree stand that took best advantage of the strong wind. I settled in and pulled my bow up on the parachute cord to which it was tethered. I nocked an arrow and wished for a seatbelt as the breeze caused my platform to sway just a little more than comfort allowed.
Soon the gale abated, and I readied myself for the chariot of Helios to light the eastern horizon on his arc across the sky. My eyes strained at any movement, real or imagined, hoping for a chance at my first deer.
Thirty minutes after sunrise I caught a glimpse of a ten point buck headed straight for my stand. He was so close that I had only seconds to draw and shoot before he was beneath me. I put the pin of my sight behind his shoulder and at twelve yards touched the release. I heard the arrow smack home.
The buck turned and walked casually away, cautious but not spooked. Could I have missed at that distance? Indeed, the arrow stood mocking me, stuck in the ground, with no blood to be seen on it. As I replayed the shot in my mind, I realized that I failed to use the peep sight at all, so intent was I on the buck. To say I was crestfallen is quite an understatement
I decided to continue to hunt. Shortly after a yearling doe ambled toward the feeder with no fear. I had no intent of taking this young deer, but I practiced drawing silently as she grazed. As I let the arrow down, she caught a noise or movement and walked quickly away.
It was now 8:37, and more movement to my right caught my eye. A seven point buck came toward the grove.This time, I told myself, be slow and deliberate. Use the peep and get a good sight picture before releasing the arrow. Breathe.
The buck meandered to a perfect spot and turned broadside as if on cue. I drew the bow without a tremor of buck fever. In a moment the arrow was away, its flight straight, its mark true. The deer ran like it had been shot from a cannon into the oak and cedar woods. My watch read 8:39, and I was oddly calm.
Thirty minutes labored by, and I climbed down from the stand. The blood trail betrayed the buck's escape route. Now my knees began to tremble inexplicably. I began to fear that I would not recover him in the tangle of living and dead juniper.
I tracked slowly, catching a few drops of blood on bluestem grass here, a bit more on the flat limestone there. Forty yards later, I saw the buck. I stood for several minutes looking at its motionless form, taking in what I had done. Even in death his powerful form and graceful lines gave honor to the Creator.
There was no fist-pumping or shouting - rather a humbled whisper of prayer in apology and thanks. Solemnity in a cathedral of oaks and cedars on land that once was the domain of Comanches. This buck, descended from the herds that fed those warriors, would this night feed my family.