For the third consecutive year, I was hunting the historic Half Moon Ranch. This ranch, just like the great state of Texas, needs no introduction. Just driving through the gate of the 6,400 acre spread evokes visions of cattle drives and comanches.
Accompanying me on this late season quest was Zach Matthys: closing pitcher for Sam Houston State University. Zach has spent most of his life in the whitetail woods, and I was anxious to put him on a West Texas trophy.
As we watched Abilene in the rear view of my trusty Silverado, I thought about the score I had to settle with the Half Moon.
"The Buck", as my friends and family know him, had been a fixture of my life since 2011. This magnificent ten point bruiser had given me the slip two seasons in a row. I was going to make sure that if our paths crossed again, It would be the last time.
As we pulled up to the ranch gate, there was a feeling of determination. No pig or coyote would distract me from my pursuit of "The Buck."
I drove to the North end of the wheat and stopped for Zach. As he chambered the Weatherby .270, I told him one thing: "Make it Count Zach." He nodded his head as he disappeared into the darkness.
I drove to the south end of the same spread of wheat, and anxiously awaited first shooting light.
Sitting silent, under the shade of night: Visions of my trophy began to overtake my mind. I was drifting off into a dream world, when the distant howling of a coyote awoken my senses. Soon to follow were the routine sounds of song birds bringing in the New Year. It was light enough to make out the landscape, and at that point there was no turning back.
As I drew up my Nikon binoculars, my heart began pounding!!!
A group of hogs were within 200 yards of me. The lead boar was massive, and they were heading right to me. I was dying to let my .257 Weatherby Mag do it's job, but I held off. I had to remind myself what I came here for, and it wasn't a trophy boar.
The morning went on without a single whitetail spotting, so I eased up and made the long trek back to my Chevy.
When I went to pick up Zach, I saw a s*** eating grin on his face. At that point, I knew that he had a close encounter of the whitetail kind.
"What'd you see Zach?", as he slumped his head and told me about the Booner eight pointer that got away. It sounded like he did everything a hunter could have done, it just wasn't in the cards for him this morning. I knew exactly how he felt. The hunt was far from over though, and we still had thousands of acres to cover.
Late morning found us hiking across the ranch, stopping every few hundred yards to try and coax in a coyote. The wind began to scream out of the South, which sent our predator calling to a screeching halt. "Enough of this, let's go get some Dairy Queen."
With Zach still re-playing the morning hunt and memories of the past dancing in my head, we began to strategize our evening assault. One of us would walk away from the Half Moon with a filled tag.
As we returned from DQ on a full stomach, I had a strange sense of confidence. I knew memories would be made this evening, hoping the harvest would be plentiful for the both of us.
Zach was heading right back to the same spot, but I had something fresh up my sleeve. While I don't normally prefer deer blinds; There was a tower overlooking the wheat that just had to be hunted. I made the climb up into the blind and anxiously awaited my quarry.
The hours ticked by and the only thing moving was the tumbleweeds. The blind was swaying as the transmission lines rattled like a diamondback. These were miserable conditions and a shot over 200 yards would be extremely difficult. As the evening pressed on without any movement, my hopes began to fade.
All of a sudden, a whitetail in full sprint was headed toward the wheat. I fumbled for my Weatherby, and anxiously awaited to see if this would be "The Buck." Much to my disappointment, it was a young spike. Although he was not the deer I was looking for, it reassured me that there would be some movement this evening.
I watched the spike graze in the wheat, scanning for his larger cousins every few seconds. Dusk would soon be here, and the wind just kept on howling. Eventually, he gracefully disappeared into the mesquite and I was alone yet again. I decided to make a last scan of the wheat, When it happened!!!
The deer came pouring over the barbed wire fence in single file. Bucks and does alike. I shouldered my 257 and frantically laid the cross hairs in the group.
Like a big Bull Elk guarding his harem, this massive ten point whitetail raised up and looked over his group of does. His body built like a quarter horse, and his rack every bit of 150 inches. If I could pull off this 300 yard shot, I would have fulfilled a lifelong dream.
My heart was pounding out of control, as the North wind wreaked havoc on the blind. I drew down on him as he turned broadside. I had to take my finger off the trigger and try to re gain myself. It was now or never as the wind cut straight through me. In a last effort, I centered him in my reticle and gently squeezed the trigger.
Like a blade straight through my heart, I sunk in despair. He sprinted into the wheat with no intentions of giving me a second shot. I violently cycled the bolt and tried to redeem myself.
Just then, a mature six point turned to spot the danger from above. I did not hesitate as I knew he was well within my range. I honed in on his vitals and let the 257 Weatherby do the rest. The buck did not move an inch.
A mix of emotions was running through me. Excitement and heartache all at the same time. I proudly stepped off 281 paces to my harvest, all the while thinking about my wall hanger that got away. I kneeled down next to this big bodied West Texas whitetail and thanked the Lord for the clean harvest. He was a perfect management buck and would provide venison for months to come.
As Zach and I left the Half Moon, haunted by our missed opportunities: I stopped to reflect on how truly blessed we were. It is a gift to be raised as Texans, just like our fathers before us. And a successful harvest, regardless of size, is always a reason to give grace.