For years, my twin boys have hunted with me. First they went to watch, then later they went to join in the hunt. Most of their deer hunts have been tests of patience, as Tennessee deer hunting can at times be more bird watching and squirrel barking than hunting and shooting. While they had seen several deer, mostly small does and occasional coyotes, they had not had the opportunity to shoot a mature buck. Our lease has a self-imposed 8-point rule, although the boys have never had the opportunity in the past three or four years to even challenge the rule.
By John Little
Trophy bucks had become mythical creatures to them and their enthusiasm for the hunt was quickly waning. I knew I had to improve their odds but obviously wanted to do so legally. My options were to take them more frequently to the same lease, move to a different lease, or try a hunt elsewhere. At least for this year, we chose the latter.
I killed my first trophy buck with a good friend and fellow physician, Ken, from Texas in 1997, two weeks before my twins were born – as my wife reminds me whenever I tell the story. Despite being a physician, it hadn’t dawned on me (nor did my wife’s obstetrician suggest) not to go on the hunt when there were still 6 weeks until the twins were due. I had killed some smaller bucks in Tennessee, but had experienced some of the same patience problems as a young man that my boys were experiencing now – so I knew the feeling all too well.
I had been talking to Ken several times throughout the fall, as he had gone through cancer surgery at a relatively young age last September. During our conversations, he had invited me and my boys to come hunting in Texas. Assuming he was just being polite the first couple of times he offered, I just said thanks and we talked about other things. But after several offers, I told Ken that if he kept inviting us, I might just take him up on it. Finally, my desire for the boys to have deer hunting success won out, and I called and asked if the invitation remained. I explained our frustration with relatively few deer sightings in Tennessee, and told him I just wanted them to have the chance to take a buck, whether it was a trophy or not. He said he’d check with his fellow lease-holders and get back to me.
The answer came back within a day or two, and within several hours, thanks to frequent flier miles, we were booked for a Texas deer hunt. With free flights and non-resident youth big game licenses in Texas being $7 each, I figured a $14 hunt in Texas sounded like a good fatherly decision. My accountant wife reminded me of the rental vehicle and motel costs, but those costs were nominal and were not going to be roadblocks to my boys’ first buck(s).
Off to Texas!
So we loaded up the Tahoe and headed to the airport for a grand Texas hunting adventure. We arrived in Dallas late Friday night and drove to rural northwest Texas near the Oklahoma border. The boys use .243 youth rifles and fortunately with the new luggage expenses they both fit in the same rifle hard case for the flight. We rented an SUV at the Dallas airport, set the GPS and headed west into the Texas hill country.
We arrived and checked into our motel that evening. After visiting with Ken and his sons we headed off to bed to dream about the big buck the next day would hopefully bring.
We arose well before dawn to head to the ranch for our morning hunt. The boys split up, with John Grant, the “oldest twin” as he reminds his brother, hunting with me and Matthew hunting with Ken. The shooting boxes were well placed and the Texas sunrise gave us a beautiful start to the day. Within 15 minutes of hunting, we had a huge 10-point buck, standing 20 yards in front of us. Unfortunately, the deal we made with Ken for their lease, since we weren’t paying members, was that the boys could shoot cull deer less than 8 points (i.e. smaller deer with atypical or asymmetrical racks).
So with all the willpower we could both muster, we let the awesome 10-pointer walk away unscathed. Our morning hunt ended without another buck sighting, but the itch to shoot couldn’t hold John Grant back from taking out his hunting drought on a large Texas jackrabbit. And by large, I mean it looked more like a small kangaroo than a rabbit. So, at least he didn’t come in from the morning hunt empty-handed.
Despite the size differential between Tennessee and Texas rabbits, rabbit hunting was not a new experience for the boys. They had just the prior year demonstrated their young surgical skills when they presented to their mother a fully skinned and dissected rabbit, much to her horror. The Dangerous Book for Boys has a section on rabbit skinning, and the boys’ affinity for reading paid off for them, but not for the rabbit. I still to this day am not sure how Matthew killed a full size cottontail rabbit with a Daisy BB gun.
Ken’s oldest boy, Kenneth, killed a great 10-point trophy buck that morning and we all got to celebrate with him as he field dressed it. His younger son, Matt, killed a coyote, and so two kills got my boys pumped up for what the afternoon hunt would hold for them. We came in for lunch, but knowing we had a limited amount of time in Texas and that we were still empty-handed except for a rabbit we headed back out to the ranch. Ken and his boys were going to rest awhile, so we decided that all three of us would hunt together that afternoon hoping the odds would turn in our favor.
A New Area
We went to a different shooting box in an area they called “The Triangle of Death” that afternoon with a more favorable position given the wind that was beginning to pick up as the day went on. Because both boys were hunting together, we divided the view from the shooting box in half. One boy could take anything that came from the right, and the other could have whatever came from the left.
As the afternoon went on, we still had not seen another deer when a good-sized 8-pointer walked in front of us and began to feed. As the sun began to set and the 8-pointer lingered, I became somewhat anxious knowing our hunt was coming close to an end. I texted Ken and asked if there might be a chance that the rules might relax a bit for the boys to take the 8-pointer. I couldn’t stand the thought of striking out in both Tennessee and Texas. However, as we texted back and forth trying to decide, another buck came out of the distant tree-line and began making his way toward us.
It was a perfect little 6-point cull buck and couldn’t have fit the bill for the boys any better. With the realization that we probably wouldn’t see anymore bucks that evening and our flight the next morning would preclude another morning hunt because of the long drive to Dallas and the long security check-in – especially for those with guns.
We decided that this buck was it. But my dilemma was deciding which son I would allow to take it. After pondering this for a few seconds, I told both boys to get ready to fire. I did have to remind them we were taking the 6-point, not the 8-pointer that was still in shooting range – reminding Matthew twice as he occasionally can intentionally misunderstand in these situations. I counted to 3 and the boys shot together.
The buck wheeled and took off in the direction it had come from – with no evidence of it slowing or falling. We had to text Ken’s cousin, aptly named “Cuz,” to not drive in on us before the shot as he was going to take us on a predator hunt at dusk. After about 5-10 minutes we texted him back to come on in as we climbed out of our shooting box. We went directly to the sight of the buck when we shot it. We found a small amount of blood. Cuz joined us, shaking his head as he found a small piece of bone. We were concerned the bone might suggest a rib or shoulder shot without fatal penetration. John Grant and I walked to the last spot we saw the buck while Matthew and Cuz began marking the small trail of blood.
As we approached the area where we last saw the buck just short of the tree line, our hopes were rewarded with the first sight of our 6-point buck. John Grant let out a big yell and Matthew came running. I’ve not seen too many smiles as big as the ones they shared at that moment.
Who Shot It?
Cuz’s question for the boys was “Who shot it?” He was amazed to hear that they both did, as from a distance it had sounded like one shot – when actually it was two shots simultaneously. Both boys hit the deer, one in the chest and one in the gut.
We loaded the deer in the truck and carried through with our predator hunt, hoping to add a coyote or bobcat to our weekend’s game bag. We saw a fair number of coyotes in response to Cuz’s wounded rabbit call, but they smartly circled downwind and picked up our scent before scurrying away.
All three of us field dressed the buck prior to participating in a youth jackrabbit slaying around the ranch, the concluding event to our hunting weekend.
All in all it was a great and memorable hunt for a father and his twin sons. As you might expect with teenage boys, they continue to argue over who gets the “real” credit for the kill. But this particular argument is one accompanied by smiles. Most importantly for these Tennessee twins, their first buck was claimed together.