The Baboquivari Mountains lay shrouded in a dense fog as George and I glassed through the first rays of morning. Beams of sunlight shot through the misty clouds creating a hypnotizing array of color all around us. The Senora Desert was at its finest.
I had taken a week off for the hunt and was prepared to squeeze every bit of hunting, out of every minute I had. I wasn’t worried when we didn’t see any deer at our first glassing station.
The colors of dawn had given way to the soothing warmth of sunny November as we made our way up a ridge to our second station. I drifted back to my past coues whitetail hunts. Both of them had resulted in brutal beatings to my hunting ego. In fourteen days, not only did I not see a buck, but donated nearly half of my flesh to the native shrubbery. I shuttered at the thought and offered up a little prayer to the Good Luck God, that this year would be different.
Fifteen minutes later, it was.
“I’ve got a buck, a good buck”! George whispered.
My heart skipped a beat. Finally my drought was over. One look at the buck through my binoculars confirmed, that it was over in a big way.
It was hard, at a half mile, to get an exact count on him but there was no doubt that he was a whopper. As quickly as we had spotted him, he disappeared into a large patch of ocatillo.
We had to make a quick move to cut the monster off. We ran full throttle through the desert, stumbling over loose rock and dodging cactus. We dove under a barbed wire fence and headed up a ridge that would, hopefully, give us a view into where he had disappeared.
Suddenly, I heard something from a gully to our right, roll some rocks. We skidded to a stop and turned to see another buck jogging through the thick mesquite, 50 yards away. I could tell he was shooter, so I shouldered my trusty .270.
A quick survey of the situation revealed that my only hope was a small opening in the mesquite just ahead of him. He was in extremely thick cover, moving fast, and whitetail deer never stop once they get going. It looked grim.
All at once, it was like the hand of the Good Luck God himself reached down and pulled the buck to a stop in the center of the opening. I couldn’t believe it.
He didn’t even flinch.
“You missed,” George blurted.
The buck stood stone still. I jacked another shell in and just before I could get the crosshairs on him again, he was gone.
Desperately, I chased after him, hoping in vein, that I would see him running up the ridge. When George finally caught up with me I was walking in circles, kicking rocks and screaming obscenities. I was having a temper tantrum that would make any pre-schooler proud.
“He was 50 yards away.
“I could have hit him with a rock.
“ How in Gods name could I have missed a shot like that?” I yammered.
“I might as well give it all up right now.
“$#@& this trusty .270.”
George politely, didn’t say a word. There was nothing he could say that could make it better.
“How big was he?” I finally asked, after the twenty minute tizzy fit.
“I don’t know, it was fast, but I do know he was big enough to shoot on the first day,” George answered.
“I botched it, didn’t I.?”
“I’m pretty sure you botched it Ky.”
“ I must have knocked my scope off when I bumped it in the truck this morning,” I said. “There is no way that I could have pulled off of him at that distance.”
“Maybe we should go back to camp and sight your gun in and come back later for the that other buck we saw before you shot,” George replied. “I didn’t see where your bullet hit but he didn’t move a muscle when you shot.”
I agreed, and defeated, we began to hike back to the truck. As we walked, my mind churned. No matter how I replayed it, I could not convince myself that I could have missed. I had felt so steady when I squeezed the trigger. It finally got the best of me.
“Let’s go back,” I said, “just to make sure.”
“I think you missed but it’s definitely worth a look.”
We spent a good 45 minutes trying to relocate the spot where I had taken the shot, but because I had run so far up the hillside, we couldn’t.
“What are we doing,” I asked rhetorically.
“This stuff all looks the same.
“We’ll never be able to find my shell casing in this mesquite jungle.”
I was absolutely disgusted with myself. I would have to add yet another tale to my “Couse Deer Failure” book and this one was going to be embarrassing to tell the boys back home. 50 yards standing still, 50 yards standing still, 50 yards standing still, kept running through my mind.
“George we’re just wasting time here.
“ I blew it.
“Let’s go get a sandwich,” I groaned.
George agreed, and once again we were on our way back to the truck. This time it took a half-mile for the torrent in my brain to turn me around.
“I’m sorry I’m being so wishy washy George but if I don’t make absolutely sure that I missed, it’s going to drive me nuts.”
“I’m just a hitchhiker on this hunt.
“We have all the time in the world,” George replied reassuringly.
Another 45 minutes of searching went by and I still couldn’t find my shell casing. Just as I was about to give up for the third time, I saw the golden glitter of my brass shinning in the sun. It was a small victory, but was little consolation for missing the easiest opportunity I’d ever had, at any big game animal. I looked across the arroyo and immediately picked out the opening that the buck was standing in when I shot. All that remained was to confirm my miss.
It didn’t take long to find the deep hoof marks that were left behind when he jumped into the mesquite trees. My eyes scanned every crease of the rocky ground around the prints. First left, in the direction he had run; nothing. Then, I scoped back to where he was standing, no blood. Slowly, I focused on the dirt that lay beyond the hoof prints, and there it was, a small spot of pink, frothy blood.
Light headed with amazement I screamed to George, “I hit him, I hit him!”
“No way! Really?” George yelled and ran over to help me track.
The blood trail was sparse at first, and then pinched off completely. Once again my head swam with visions of failure. It wasn’t missing at 50 yards anymore, it was wounding at 50 yards, and it made me sick to my stomach.
“What an emotional roller coaster this has been,” I whined “ If I lose him now, it’ll haunt me forever.”
“Hey, look Ky,” George said smiling and pointed to a beaver tail cactus high on a ridge above us. It was saturated with blood.
The buck was lying dead under a cholla, 100 yards beyond it. Two dime-sized holes penetrated both sides of his rib cage. The 140-grain bullet had passed perfectly between two ribs on one side, ripped through both lungs, then passed perfectly between two ribs on the other side, not once, hitting bone. The bullet never expanded. I doubt that he even felt it hit him.
By noon, opening day, we were back at the truck with a buck that was more than I could have ever hoped for. In two hours I had been as high, low and back again, as a hunter could get. I was in complete ecstasy, not because of the size of the buck but because I had experienced and learned, something that I would never forget. I had almost let that beautiful 6×5 rot in desert and thankfully, listened to my inner voice. Or maybe it was the voice of the Good Luck God that I heard, who for once, decided to grant me one wish