I’d heard about Coues deer in passing growing up hunting in Nevada but had not given it much thought until my best friend called and asked “Can you go to Mexico next week!? We might have a spot open on a Coues hunt and need someone to fill in on short notice”. At the time, I’d just proposed to my now wife and was planning a wedding the following July. Suffice it to say my budget at that time was tight. I told the group I could not make it work this time but I was in if there were any openings in the future! I was worried that I had missed my shot at chasing the elusive Gray Ghost of the Southwest.
Fast forward a little less than one year. I was sitting in the Wild Horse Resort watching the Cubs make their historic run to end a century long drought when I received a text from Chuck, another friend in the hunting group. “Do you want to go to Mexico? We have a spot open and it’s yours if you want it!”
Luckily, I was hunting mule deer with my boss at the time and I turned to him with pleading eyes and asked, “Rob, what do you think!?”
His response was spot on as usual, “You can’t go, but don’t worry, I’ll take your spot”. After making me sweat a few innings, he slapped me on the shoulder and said, “Mexico is going to be a great trip. Let me know the dates and have fun.”
After catching my breath, I hammered out a text to Chuck and let him know I had the go-ahead and to send me the details. I was in.
The months leading up to the trip held a few hunts to keep me occupied. I had a cow elk tag and helped a couple of friends chase Desert Bighorns. Nonetheless, at work, driving home, hunting Chukar and spending time at home with my wife and dogs, I would find myself wondering what it would be like chasing those small whitetails through the cactus and scrub south of the border. Little did I know how special it would be!
The time came for us to begin our Journey. We began during one of the biggest weather events in a decade. The days leading up to our departure held massive flooding in the Reno/Sparks area with record setting snowfall in the Sierras. Luckily our flights were unaffected by the heavy precipitation. The night before our flight, I received a phone call from Chuck. He had 10 inches of snow at his house in the Sierra foothills and it wasn’t showing signs of letting up. Chuck worked through that evening battling the piling snow and called me back around 9pm to let us know that he had to push his flight out the following day to ensure his family safe access to the house while we were gone.
Brad and I woke up at 4am to rain that hadn’t let up all night. We quickly loaded our gear and headed for the airport to catch our 5:55am flight to Tucson. It was a slow and icy drive, as the precipitation was quickly transitioning to freezing rain. Despite nearly falling flat on my back as I stepped out of the truck, we made it, checked in and were on time to the gate. Our flight was originating from Reno and despite the heavy and now freezing rain, it was on time. We boarded our plane and patiently waited as the ground crew de-iced the aircraft. As we taxied down the runway my mind, again, began to wonder, thinking of what adventure Mexico had in store.
After touching down in Tucson, I quickly called Chuck to get an update. He was able to get his house dug out, and despite waiting over an hour for the snowplow and three other vehicles to get unstuck, he was still able to make it to the airport on time. He’d be getting in to Tucson a few hours later than planned but things were looking good from here on out. Once Brad and I deplaned, we headed for the car rental counter. We’d made prior reservations to secure a full size 4×4 to haul our gear and ourselves over the infamous roads between Nogales and our destination. To our surprise, the rental clerk informed us that full size vehicles were not permitted to cross the border. Only medium SUV’s were allowed. After searching the rental lot, physically walking up and down each isle, we settled on a midsized SUV that offered all-wheel drive and just enough room for three peoples gear. The ground clearance and stock passenger tires were not ideal but it was the best we could do. Once we loaded it to the gills, we set off for Green Valley, AZ to meet the rest of the “Coues Cartel”.
We met the rest of the group, Shon Marshall, Dusty Gilbertson, Brady Shippy, Dave Gowan and Lance Vezane, at a big box store to purchase the final supplies we would need for the week. We loaded up the final items and headed to the hotel to get settled for the evening. After unloading firearms, optics and other important gear, Brady and Brad headed back to Tucson to grab Chuck and meet us for dinner. Once the group was complete, we walked to a nearby Mexican restaurant to have some dinner and a much-needed cold beer.
When we walked in, it seemed as if the entire restaurant gave us the once-over. A group of eight men, each sporting at least a little camo and a few sporting substantial beards… we stood out in this retirement community like a sore thumb. A handful of retired men asked us what we were up to, assuming some sort of mining or construction work. When we told each of them we were hunters, their eyes would light up. “We used to hunt deer right near here!” Good luck, be careful, and shoot straight summarized their advice. After dinner, we walked home under a vast Arizona night sky. The air was cool enough to warrant an added layer, but just right for sparking off the rut.
Once back at the hotel, our outfitter Mario met us to take care of our paper work for the next day’s border crossing. Once each person checked, rechecked and signed paperwork verifying that numbers matched guns and tags matched names, we all turned in for a restless night tossing and turning in anticipation of what the next day would hold.
We were up before first light loading our firearms, optics and bags into vehicles. Finally, we set off to cross the border. As our caravan headed south along the Nogales highway, I couldn’t help but feel just a little uneasy. This was my first trip to Mexico, and my first hunting trip outside of the United States. An incident near the border in Texas had recently been in the news, and the political unrest in Mexico due to gas tax hikes had all of us a little nervous about our crossing. Upon reaching US Customs, we all prepared our firearms, paperwork and passports for the border patrol agents to check and verify. That was one check down. With our outfitter Mario leading and the US in the rearview mirror, we snaked our way through security and headed for the Mexican Military and Customs checkpoint.
Through interpreted instruction, we again unloaded our firearms and mimicked the check we’d completed just minutes previous without any issue or incident. With our visas stamped and paperwork secured, the only thing that sat between us and our destination was a few hundred kilometers of pot holed, winding Mexican highway. Zigzagging and bouncing over the rough road, we eventually made our way to the gate of Mario’s ten-thousand-acre ranch. To this point, the trip had been almost surreal. A combination of slow administrative and bureaucratic obligations and fast-paced hustle and bustle winding our way through foreign towns and villages had been a blur. Now, it was real. We were in country and as we all stretched and dugour optics out for the drive to the ranch house, it became obvious that it was time to get down to business. The Coues Cartel was home.
As I drove the rented SUV over the desert landscape I began to appreciate how big and varied this part of the country was. I had preconceived notions of a place void of much plant life, similar to that of the Moon or Mars. I could not have been more wrong. As we wound our way up and down the broken mesas, I did my best to focus on the task of getting our vehicle to the house in one piece, but I was in awe over the amount of vegetation choking the landscape. Giant dark green cactus stuck out across the huge mesas overlooking large Oaks in the bottoms of arroyos and canyons. Dense scrub oak and fanning ocotillo covered vast hillsides. Giant rock bluffs stood as monoliths overlooking one of the most beautiful places I’d ever laid eyes on. Before we left Reno, I asked Brad what the ranch was like. After some contemplation, his response was, “It’s a special place”. Words escaping me, I couldn’t argue with his sentiment. This, indeed, was a special place.
When we arrived at the ranch headquarters, it became clear that this week would be a step back in time. Centrally located on the ten-thousand-acres, a modest one-room brick house with a bathroom and shower sat next door to the vaquero’s living quarters. There was also an attached bunkhouse and a screened in cookhouse laden with an ancient wood burning cook stove that doubled as heat for those chilly Sonoran mornings. There were no modern niceties. No Wi-Fi, television, cell service or any sign of outside influence save for a well-worn ranch pickup parked out front. This week would be devoid of emails and conference calls. Those tasks would be replaced with game planning over a cup of coffee, or reflecting on the day’s events with a cold beer.
After hastily unloading the trucks and rental car, we took to the hills like moths to flame, drawn in anticipation towards the chance of spotting the elusive Gray Ghost. Chuck, Lance and I teamed up and set out towards a high point situated at the south end of the ranch. Once in place it didn’t take long for Chuck to scramble back to my side of the hill and whisper from a distance, “Wanna see your first Coues buck!?”
I grabbed my backpack, rifle and spotting scope and followed him back to his vantage. He walked me into where the buck was located and it took a moment for me to pick him up. I spotted movement in some scattered scrub oak and then caught site of a slight, lithe, gray body moving in quick bursts of motion. The picture finally took shape; the buck was pushing a small doe through the scrub oaks. The way they moved and how quickly they darted in and out of view was alarming. This was my first time laying eyes on Coues deer. The buck showed signs of injury, presumably fighting for a chance at courtship with the doe he pursued. The buck was a good one, marred only by a broken main beam just after his G3. I watched the rutting buck push the doe up and down the side of the mountain for a little longer then snuck back to my post on the other side of the hill.
I glassed for another hour or so without seeing any deer when Lance and Chuck made their way over to my side. Chuck sat down next to me and began glassing towards the west, into the setting sun shaded by some scattered clouds. It seemed as if almost immediately he whispered, “I’ve got a buck!”
A little discouraged at myself, I asked, “Where?”
Chuck tried to get a good location on where the buck was and finally put his binoculars down and said, “He’s right here in front of us!”
Quickly I looked down into the draw below us and sure enough, a mature Coues buck stood in front of a giant ocotillo raking and thrashing his horns. In the fading light, we strained to tell how many points the buck had. We were fairly certain that he was an average framed buck with what looked like four points on one side and three points on the other. As Chuck evaluated the buck, I quickly ranged him at 278 yards preparing myself, should he be a shooter buck. As we sat trying to evaluate the buck our minds were made for us as the sun set completely behind the horizon and shooting light faded to dark.
The next morning found the group up early, quickly drinking coffee, eating a small breakfast and making a lunch for the day to come. The group was divided up and Chuck and I headed for “The Basin”.
The Basin is perched high up between two ridges in the southeast portion of the ranch just above where we’d seen the injured buck the night before. We bounced our way up a dozer trail cut through the steep side hills, then down a windswept ridge to the point where we would take off on foot. We left the truck in the dark and struck out to get to our vantage before the first light began to show over the ridge behind us. We got into place just as it began to be light enough outside to start glassing. We both took up position with our backs to the rising sun looking into the Basin.
After about an hour Chuck got up to change position and moved to my left, south down the ridgeline. After what seemed like only minutes, I could hear Chuck making his way back to me. I looked over my shoulder straining to see him over the top of the ridge. Once he spotted me, he quickly gave me the wave, instructing me to get my tail over there.
I grabbed my gun and my spotting scope and quietly scrambled to his location. I sat down next to him and waited for him to guide me into the deer’s location. It took me a few minutes to locate the buck but I finally spotted him underneath the canopy of a huge oak tree. I strained to pick out details. The early morning light paired with the buck’s shady feeding spot made for tough glassing conditions. We watched him for about fifteen minutes until enough light and a change in the angle of the sun allowed us to see his rack in more detail. The buck was a nice representative of the Coues species; a three point frame with nice eye guards and average mass.
We watched him stand on his back legs and eat acorns from the oak tree for about another fifteen minutes before the thought finally struck me; I should consider taking this buck! As I retrieved the range finder, he fled to the north, out of sight into a thick stand of oaks. I ranged the buck’s last location and to my surprise, he was only 315 yards away. I sat next to Chuck, thinking I may have missed a good opportunity. After watching the area the buck walked into, Chuck and I decided that we could do better.
With that in mind, we headed back to the truck and made our way off the backside of the ridge overlooking a sprawling valley running north to south. We walked out to a point along the ridge road and glassed up a few does below us near a pond and on an adjacent ridge. After glassing for about twenty minutes, Chuck again spotted deer in the distance and quickly located a buck.
I grabbed his spotter and mine and hustled over to him. After briefly evaluating him, we agreed that this buck deserved a closer look. We made our way off the ridge road down to the bottom of the valley and killed the engine. From our parking spot, we were out of sight of the deer. Quietly we put on backpacks, grabbed our rifles and headed in the direction we last spotted them. It didn’t take long to relocate the group as the dominant buck was pushing a doe around the hillside and constantly darting up and down the hill to scare off some smaller bucks that were hanging around the periphery. Chuck and I both sat with our eyes locked into our scopes. He was great looking. A three point, larger in every way than the buck we had seen just hours before.
We sat whispering about 360 yards away from the rutting deer. Finally Chuck looked up from his scope and said, “What do you think dude?”
I told him I was unsure. He was undoubtedly a great deer, I just wasn’t sure he was the “one”. We watched the buck for a little while longer when Chuck again looked up and said, “Do you want that buck?”
“I don’t think I do.” I responded.
He gave me a measured look and said, “If you don’t shoot him, I’m going to.”
I told him that sounded good to me and we decided to get a little closer and make our final decision then. We backed off the small rise we were situated on and made our way up a winding wash, closing the distance between us and the deer. We slowly inched up beneath the cover of a scrub oak and began picking the hillside apart trying to locate the deer. To our surprise, we couldn’t find them.
Chuck whispered, “Do you think we spooked them?”
I didn’t have a good answer so I guessed “no.” After hastily scanning the hillside, I told myself to calm down, and slowly start picking apart the last place we’d seen them. Coues are known for “disappearing” in place and as if confirming my internal commentary, I spotted the flick of an ear. “Got’em” I whispered. Chuck asked where, and I directed him to the spot beneath the bright green Yucca we’d last seen them. “They bedded down right beneath it,” I said.
After looking at the buck a little longer Chuck asked again, “Do you want to shoot him?” Something inside me, for reasons unknown said not to shoot this buck. Call it hunter’s intuition, foresight, or fate. Something about the situation or maybe the buck… something just did not feel “right”.
I told Chuck, “No, he’s all yours”.
Chuck lay prone beneath a scrub oak situated on a small rise, 270 yards slightly below the bedded buck and his doe. I was sitting just back and on his right, glued to my spotting scope. Periodically I lifted my eye from my spotting scope to look at my partner, checking for signs of nervousness. As he lay prone, I watched the rise and fall of Chuck’s back; measured and even. His overall demeanor was calm and collected.
I asked him “How are you doing?”
“I’m good.” He replied.
I told him I had the buck and was ready to call his shot whenever the buck stood and offered it. After what seemed like an eternity, the buck finally stood. Chuck asked if I had him and I gave him the affirmative. I lifted my gaze out of the scope for one last quick glance at my partner to check on him. He was stock-still. I returned my focus to the target and watched as he turned his head back to the left, looking at a smaller satellite buck and obscuring his vitals. His attention shifted when his doe stood up, offering Chuck his chance.
The report of the .257 Weatherby broke the warm afternoon silence. I watched the bullet impact the buck and he toppled over. “A little back, but a solid shot.” I said. After watching the buck for a couple of moments Chuck got up to a kneeling positon and I slapped him a high-five. “Congrats man!”
“Thanks dude!” he grinned from ear to ear. As we quietly waited for the buck to expire, it became evident that the shot was lethal but might take some time to do its job. This is a situation that no hunter takes joy in. As ironic as it seems, our group of hunters love animals, and have tremendous compassion for our quarry. We quickly put a plan into action; I stayed put, keeping an eye on the buck while Chuck slipped in closer to deliver a clean finishing shot. I watched as my partner quietly moved to within a stone’s throw. In a scene only understood by a hunter, I watched as the buck’s head fell to the ground, as if the strings of a marionette were cut. Soon followed the distant report of a rifle.
I stood and stretched, looking out over the high valley drenched in an afternoon sun. I couldn’t help but smile in reverence. I was on a trip of a lifetime hunting Coues deer in Old Mexico. To say I was feeling fortunate would be an understatement. I gathered my things, put on my pack and headed up the hill to meet up with Chuck.
After taking ample photos, we took the buck down the hill and dressed him before loading him up in the truck. On our way back to the ranch house, we stopped on a good vantage and glassed for the remainder of the afternoon. Not seeing anything stirring, we decided to make our way down the hill in the remaining light in hopes of catching a buck moving around in search of a doe. As we bumped along, I spotted an odd shape in the distance beneath some scrub oaks. As we drew near, I could make out a couple of backpacks, spotting scopes and DEER! There were two bucks lying next to the abandoned gear.
Chuck quickly recognized the backpacks as Shon and Dusty’s. They had both taken great bucks on opening day as well. They had taken the rental SUV that day, and because of its limited capability, they had decided to leave their kills up on a ridge road and wait for a truck to return to camp to retrieve them. Chuck and I loaded their gear and bucks and headed back to the ranch.
When we pulled in, Shon and Dusty met us on the porch of the ranch house. Stretching and rubbing sleep from their eyes’ Shon yawned and asked, “Well, how’d you do?” We all walked over to the back of Brady’s truck and to their surprise, they saw that we’d picked up their bucks and gear and also had a nice buck of our own! As we relayed to each other the day’s events and began congratulating one another for three exceptional trophies, Dusty slipped away and came back with well-deserved celebratory beers.
That evening, under a fiery Mexican sunset, the rest of our hunting party rolled back into camp and listened to the successful hunters recount the day’s events. As I sat reflecting, watching Shon hang his buck in the tree, Dusty caping his deer and Chuck butchering his I couldn’t help but feel a small amount of regret for choosing not to take my chance today. Did I make a mistake? Had I just looked the proverbial gift horse in the mouth? Only time would tell.
The third morning on the ranch started with a strong cup of coffee and an even stronger wind blowing out of the south. Chuck and I planned to hunt together again and this time it was our turn to take the rental. We decided to try out the Mesa, a huge expanse that falls gradually to the south into a vast gorge that winds its way along the southwest border of the ranch. We made it to the top of the Mesa and took off on foot. We picked a location that offered a good view of the Mesa to the south, directly into the wind. Looking west and north from this point also offered good vantages into the broken beautiful landscape. I took my post facing into the wind and glassing to the south while Chuck looked west and north. After a good long look, I’d had enough of the wind and hopped over to Chuck’s side. We continued to glass through the morning and only turned up an average buck pushing a doe far off to the north.
We decided to make our way south on the Mesa, moving into the wind. Our plan was to still hunt the edge of the Mesa until we reached Coyote Point, where we planned to glass for the remainder of the morning. Once we made it to the point, the wind made holding our optics steady all but impossible.
After eating a quick snack, we decided to change plans and head north in search of a more sheltered location to glass from. We eased off the Mesa and back to our rented SUV, then made our way back to the Ranch. We’d hoped that we could catch a ride in one of the trucks to a vantage point just out of reach of the limited capabilities of the rental SUV. But the only inhabitants at the ranch were El Chapo the half coyote pup and his companion, an extra whiny cat.
We ate some lunch, drank a bottle of water and decided to head up into the meadow just above the ranch. We hopped in the SUV and made our way to the red gate about a mile and a half down the road. Once at the gate, we decided that instead of risking driving much further, we would walk up the drainage to a high spot near the area where we’d seen the buck earlier in the day. The buck had been average at best but with a doe in heat nearby we might see more bucks coming to check her out.
As we walked along, Chuck side stepped suddenly and pointed at the ground. “Check out the size of this track!” he exclaimed. As we set off again, I couldn’t help but wonder what the buck looked like that made that track. I hoped that this was a sign of good things to come.
After an hour and a half without seeing any activity in the immediate vicinity, I picked up a buck to the east a long way off. At this distance, I couldn’t tell how many points or even how big the buck was, just that he had a well-defined rack from about three miles away. After glassing a little longer, Chuck and I discussed our options. We could stay put until dark to see if the doe brought any bucks in, or we could pack up and try to get a better look at the buck I’d spotted off to the east. Again, for reasons I can’t articulate, I just had a “feeling” that we should abandon our vantage and go get a better look at the buck. With that in mind, I suggested to Chuck, “Let’s go check him out. It can’t be any slower than here.” He agreed and off we went.
Headed down the same way we came, we discussed the days unfavorable conditions and how wind seemed to really stifle the activity of these little desert deer. I expressed my distaste for the conditions and how it forced us to use tactics that were in my experience ineffective. I lamented to Chuck that I’d much prefer to be able to spot deer from a distance and then slip in to close the deal. Almost as if someone were trying to teach me a lesson, Chuck suddenly perked up. “Get ready, get ready!” he whispered loudly.
As we walked down the dry creek bed, Chuck and I had become separated a bit. When Chuck spotted movement, I was about two or three paces behind him. From my position a small cedar tree was blocking my view of the deer. As I tried to reposition, Chuck lifted his binoculars to get a better look. I glanced at Chuck just as he focused his vision. “It’s a big buck.” He said plainly. “It’s a really, big buck.” He repeated.
I turned my attention back in the buck’s direction and caught my first glimpse of the animal making his way up the side of the dry creek. At about 100 yards away I could see that he had a heavy frame and good tine length. Just close enough to tell he was a good buck but not much else. As I was evaluating the deer internally, Chuck rattled me back to reality. “Flip up your scope covers!” he blurted. I quickly flipped up my covers and mounted my gun, seemingly, in one fluid motion. Again, I could make out that the buck was indeed sporting a heavy frame and long tines but I dared not dwell too long as time was running short. As I looked him over my instincts kicked in, guiding my crosshairs towards his vitals. When the buck crested the edge of the dry creek, I squeezed the trigger.
The sound from my .300 Remington Ultra Mag was deafening. Through the recoil, I saw the buck give a bronco kick and disappear over the top. The nature of the situation did not allow me to put in earplugs and after the shot a complete silence hung in the dry creek. In my mind, the silence felt almost heavy. I can vividly recall the scene; large oaks, cedars and scrub oak lined the edges of a fifty-foot tall cut bank. A looming, gnarled dead cedar marked the location of the buck when I took my shot. The wind blew over the top of the creek bed, not touching us down in the secluded bottom.
Once again, Chuck brought me back to reality. “It looked like you hit him! How did your shot feel?”
“I’m not sure.” I said truthfully. It all happened within seconds and I was still trying to process the shot through my ringing ears. “I was steady and it looked like a good hit from the way he kicked but I was rushed.”
We made our way up the cut bank, taking the same route as the buck. Cautiously, we worked our way up to the crest and quietly glassed as our field of view opened with each step. Chuck broke off to my left to check for sign of a good hit while I kept an eye on the area in front of us, scanning the landscape for any sign of movement.
After a few minutes of searching the ground, Chuck quickly signaled for me to come over to his location. I quietly but quickly moved off to the left, still scanning our immediate surroundings looking for any sign of life. As I walked behind a small cedar tree, I caught the silhouette of a deer moving in the distance. Chuck whispered, “He’s hit hard but he’s still up.”
In my mind, I thought to myself, “These tiny deer are some of the toughest animals I’ve ever hunted!” I took a few steps to my right to reposition for a clear shooting lane. I was able to get a good view of the buck standing broadside, raised my rifle, took a calming breath and squeezed off another round. The sound of my rifle was thunderous, again causing a deafening silence after the report. I recall the buck being physically picked up and slammed backward as if hit by an invisible truck. To my dismay, as the buck lay on the ground, I could still see the rise and fall of his chest. I almost couldn’t believe it. I cannot express
how tough these animals are. Do not let the Coues’ slight build mislead you, it does not affect it’s heartiness. I’ve been fortunate enough to hunt a variety of big game, and my only comparison to this situation is that of a bull elk, seemingly unaffected by a large caliber rifle.
At this point, my ears ringing, frustration started to replace excitement. I took a seat next to a fallen scrub oak. I put earplugs in and chambered another round. I took aim, squeezed the trigger just like before, and watched with dismay as my bullet hit just above the prone animal. Not believing my eyes, I began to give in to emotion and frustration. With the storm growing inside my mind, I had to force myself to calmly assess what had went wrong. As if a light switched on, I suddenly realized we’d cut our distance to the buck nearly in half since my last shot, so my point of impact was significantly higher at this close range. Repeating my shot sequence one last time, I sent the fatal shot down range holding slightly lower than before. This last shot found its mark and finally put the buck to rest.
Sitting next to the dead cedar, I was finally able to see just how big the buck was. I turned to look at Chuck and he smiled, “He’s a giant!”
As we walked up on the buck, his size kept growing. With a smile permanently affixed on my face, I couldn’t help but hold the bucks horns and stare in awe. He was bigger than anything we’d seen thus far in every way. His eye guards jutted up like twin knife blades, his main beams seemed to carry on forever and had mass that would rival a mule deer… top all that off with a few extra points and you only begin to describe just how impressive this buck was. As if Mother Nature was somehow paying respect to a fallen monarch, the wind died down to a whisper. The clouds parted to show blue skies and a bright warm sun. During the break in weather, Chuck and I positioned the buck and took many photos, attempting to capture the essence of this deer, his domain, and the incredible character he possessed.
After the photos, we field dressed the buck, loaded our packs with meat, horns, gear, and set off to the car. On the way back I couldn’t help but swim in my own thoughts. What an afternoon. What a trip.
When we returned to the ranch house Victor the ranch vaquero, El Chapo and the whiny cat greeted us. In broken Spanish, I tried to relay to Victor that I’d been successful in taking a big buck. “Grande, Toro.” I said.
“Grande” Victor repeated. I walked to the front porch of the ranch house and as Victor followed, he peaked over the edge wall. “Grande!” Victor exclaimed. Bridging the language barrier, Chuck, Victor and I stood pointing and handling the impressive rack. After a few minutes of going back and forth, Chuck and I decided to get started caping our bucks to prepare them for boiling. Victor stuck around and watched as I worked, holding the horns for me, helping to steady the rack and skull. After watching for a while, he motioned and took charge. I watched the Mexican vaquero as he deftly maneuvered his knife around my trophy. His hands and fingers showed signs of many years’ hard work, yet he moved with the skill and grace of a surgeon. He made quick work of the cape and was soon complete in his task, handing it back to me with a huge smile on his face. “Listo!” he said.
I smiled. “Listo.” I repeated.
It wasn’t long before the ranch dogs began to bark, signaling that someone was nearing the ranch. Soon you could hear the sound of an engine. Shon, Dusty, Dave and Lance came rolling into view. Shon backed the truck up underneath a big oak signaling that they’d been successful as well. They all got out and walked over to see how we’d fared. As they collectively laid eyes on my buck, their eyes lit up and smiles spread through the group. Congratulations, words of disbelief, and a few expletives were shared. After some good natured and well-deserved ribbing, at my expense, a round of cold beers was retrieved and we set off to look at Dave’s buck. A light rain began to fall in the fading light as we tended to the two bucks, taking care to field dress and hang our day’s haul. Off to the south, a growing storm loomed ominously, as if it was waiting for the day to end.
The group reconvened in the cookhouse after chores were completed. As we sat and exchanged stories, recounting the day’s action, the rain outside grew louder and more intense. Over the din of heavy rain falling on the tin roof, the ranch dogs began to bark signaling the approach of the remainder of our group. Brad and Brady had paired up that day, taking to the northern expanse of the ranch. Prior to their arrival, I’d put my buck outside next to the cookhouse. As the two hunters walked in and shook off wet coats, a cool, calm silence hung in the air. “Well?” Brad asked. “How’d everyone do?” Everyone exchanged glances and I caught Brad’s eye with a nod. “You got one?” “Where is it!” he asked with a smile.
“It’s sitting right outside” I said. He and Brady exchanged questioning looks, clearly suspecting foul play. They both walked outside and after a moment of silence began to shout, “NO WAY!” Brad said walking in the door. He and Brady couldn’t believe the size, mass and age of the buck they held in their hands.
Laughing in disbelief, my best friend walked over and gave me a high-five quickly followed by a bear hug. “I can’t believe it, you killed a giant!”
We spent the rest of that rainy evening recounting the day’s events, measuring the buck’s impressive rack, and contemplating in awe where this big buck had been over the past several years. It was hard to believe he could have gone undetected by this group of very capable hunters over the past 7 years. I sat quietly and listened to the seasoned hunters talk about how special this was. Shon, Dusty, Brady and Chuck had been hunting this ranch for a combined total of nearly two decades and had taken some very impressive bucks during that time. By their estimation, the buck I’d been fortunate enough to take that day was by far larger than anything they had ever been aware of.
Listening to them, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the events leading up to my success. Had I taken any of those smaller deer, or even chose to draw down on the impressive buck that Chuck took; I would not have been sitting there holding such an extraordinary trophy in my hands. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.
That night, as the commotion of our day’s success dwindled, I lay in bed in the bunkhouse warm and content. I found myself once again reflecting on how fortunate I was. I was fortunate to have taken the buck of a lifetime, on the hunt of a lifetime, with a group of hunters who would be successful anywhere in the world. I was fortunate to have the means to do so, and the support of a great wife at home. I was fortunate to have learned everything I know from great hunters and even better men; my Dad and Godfather. I was fortunate to have grown up in a place with freedom and opportunity to make all of this possible.
As I lay deep in thought, sleep beginning to pull at me, I had one last fleeting thought. ”This is a special place.”