KIOMATIA — Every deer hunter has a ghost deer in their life.
One of those bucks where you just get a glimpse of its antlers as it steps into the brush or trots over a hill. Maybe he makes an appearance at a feeder at last light, and instantly the obsession begins.
I now have mine for this season.
It was a cold morning last week on the Graff Ranch in Red River County. For the first time this year the thermometer reached the freezing point, but it didn't stop there. On the ranch just south of the Red River the temperature dipped into the lower 20s. Ice crystals formed on my pants as I sat atop a tripod stand looking for any deer up and moving at daylight
That is the problem, though, on a cold morning. The deer never seem to move early.
I was in the tripod because of a massive scrape I had found under a low-hanging limb of an old oak in a field and another just beyond it outside the barbed wire fence. Both had been worked recently, but I didn't know by what.
It was a wasted effort, and it didn't take much prodding to come down and go rattling with my hunting partner Mike Leggett.
There were scrapes everywhere on the ranch. We had scouted our plan the afternoon before, but as Leggett is prone to do he came up with a plan B. He wanted to walk out a bottom first before hitting some of the uplands sights.
The area had looked good enough we had put three ladder stands up in the adjacent woods before the season, but none of them gave us a view of an old logging road Leggett wanted to travel.
After walking through a large wheat field we turned the corner and started down into the bottom. It was like someone had opened a gate and deer were everywhere.
Immediately we saw a buck attacking the limbs of tree over a scrape, no doubt leaving his scent for a hot doe. Leggett quickly identified it as a mature buck and suggested I get ready for a shot.
I mounted my rifle on the shooting sticks, but there was an immediate problem, the morning sun was shooting straight into the scope tube. I could see the crosshairs, but everything else was blitzed by the bright light.
Attempting to adjust our location was difficult because of the other deer in the lane. Leggett was finally able to get a good view of the buck through his binoculars.
"That is a shooter," was all he said.
After the deer crossed the lane, I finally picked it up, but it was on the move behind a hot doe. I considered a shot and actually pulled the trigger, but the rifle only went click.
In the name of safety I had unloaded my rifle getting out of the tripod and forgot to reload. It was that simple.
Looking back it may have been fortunate. A quick shot at the buck could have been disastrous. And the buck was on the move, chasing the doe as she ran off into the woods. Eight other bucks that had also picked up her scent followed close behind.
We immediately decided to back out, eat an early lunch and then return to set up a ground blind. We found a spot next to an old culvert. Black willow saplings were growing up in the stagnant water, making perfect cover.
By 2:30 I was sitting there. Over the next two days I would sit there a total of 13 hours. I got a glimpse of what I think was the buck's butt twice. I saw him once in the woods crossing paths with two younger bucks. I still can't say much for certain about the buck other than it appears to be a 10-point. It never stood still long enough for a good look.
I sat in the hole on another 20-degree morning. The biggest excitement was three different coyotes moving through, one with a squirrel for breakfast, and the other two going home hungry.
By the afternoon the temperature was in the 60s. It would be even warmer the next day. The only good news for me was that the wind shifted to the southeast, blowing my scent away from the road.
By the end of my fourth time in the hole I was disgusted, dejected and most importantly, defeated. Each time I went I saw a lot of deer, both bucks and does, but never the one I was looking for.
Who knows where a rutting buck might go. On the trail of one doe, he might run across the path of another and disappear for days.
My only hope is the bottom is his home range and when the rut calms down he will return.
I know I will.
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