A McMullen County buck for the ages
By Hallie West Swope
It was a typical late November in Texas morning when I was getting ready to walk out of the house. My brother Stephen had called me at 7:30 and again at 8 a.m. I didn’t answer because I figured he was trying to get a hold of Mom or Dad, and I would call him back later. I was surprised to see a voicemail, so as I casually put the phone to my ear and I heard a shaky voice that I couldn’t fully understand. All I heard was, “Double dropper; he’s yours. Come and get him.” With that, I dropped everything and hit the road down to South Texas to give it my all to take this dream buck.
It’s a running joke in our family—or at least to me—that I always get the really cool, but total-freak deer. Stephen always gives me several days on end of his time every season and hunts hard with me, always putting me to the test. The guy doesn’t move a dang muscle, and never itches or flinches. But I know I drive him crazy sitting in the brush next to him, swatting and itching and drawing in the dirt, waiting for the perfect shot.
Looking for a “wall hanger”
He makes me hunt hard and I have grown to truly love and appreciate every aspect of hunting, especially when it’s not easy. Hard hunts make it so much more memorable, and I love the time Stephen and I get to spend together. It’s a pretty special bond we’ve built.
Over the years though, through all those days and hard hunts, somehow I always end up killing the weirdest—yet everyone else says “coolest”—deer on the ranch. As great as that was, this year, I kept telling Stephen and Dad, “I want a wall hanger. I want the prettiest deer on the ranch. I’ve been hunting for 20 years and it’s my turn.” I can promise you I never expected the deer that came my way.
Stephen has dedicated his whole life to hunting and conservation, and he takes incredible care and consideration into each and every kill on our family ranch. I couldn’t believe that after seeing this deer of a lifetime, he picked up the phone and called his little sister to give me a chance. Stephen has a TV show with my cousin Tito as the videographer. So as soon as I got down to Tilden, it truly became a family affair.
Tiptoe through the brush
One by one, we tiptoed through the brush and into the ground blind Stephen made. All three of us were a few yards away from the spot where Stephen had seen the double dropper that morning. We waited and waited. To be completely honest, Stephen definitely made it seem like this would be a pretty easy hunt.
He knew where this deer was hanging out. He had seen him earlier that morning and thought he had a routine. It was early in the rut and the double drop didn’t seem very concerned. I felt pretty good about my chances of getting him that first evening. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
He never came out and we never saw him. The sky got dark and we made our way to the ranch house. I was still excited though because that meant it would mean that much more to me when I got him the next morning. I can’t express how confident I was going into this.
I kept telling everyone, “I’m like Annie Oakley. I never miss. I’m going to drop him where he stands. That deer won’t take one step.”
Another early start
Five-thirty arrived quickly. I didn’t sleep a wink and I hopped out of bed like it was Christmas morning. It was all the more fun that Stephen, Tito, and me were in this together.
We sneaked into that same spot Stephen had built and we waited. Every time a deer would move in the fog, I would squeeze Stephen so hard and he would just look at me with eyes going east and west, meaning, “No, that’s not him. Be patient.”
The fog lifted and we sat motionless for hours. I prayed like crazy that the buck would step out, so with every sound I heard, I was on high alert. Right when I started to fade, I saw the truly largest set of antlers I have ever seen, making its way through the brush. Nothing could have prepared me for what it was like to see this buck.
The dark, heavy antlers were unmistakable. I was looking at the double dropper. He walked in, and just like that, before I could take it all in and stop hyperventilating, he disappeared.
We typically don’t sit out all day while hunting for a big buck. We usually sit out in the early mornings, go back in and maybe drive around during the day and then go back out for the evening hunt. This day though, we sat and sat. Waiting for at least one more glimpse of this deer, I started to question if I ever actually saw him.
The day started feeling really long, and I’ve got to say, my back was killing me and I had ants in my socks. I grew really impatient and pretty miserable, hated how I was situated, but I was too scared of Stephen’s reaction to changing position and making noise.
The combination of my discomfort, three too many layers of clothing in the damp heat of this not-so November day mixed with my itchy feet falling asleep and tingling, I had to get out of there. I started moving around to Stephen’s dismay. He knew I needed a little break. Tito had taken some great footage, sans the double dropper, and we headed back in for a bit.
My whole family had arrived at the ranch for Thanksgiving by this time, so we spent some great time together, laughing around the kitchen as my mom and grandmother cooked. I was anxious to get back out there and I was still telling everyone how “this deer was mine.”
Once again, Stephen, Tito and I crept back into our spot. At this point, this deer was obviously unpredictable so we figured we had no choice but to hang around where we had at least seen a glimpse of him.
Same ol’ spot
Thanksgiving morning, Tito had to go home to his wife and daughters. It was just Stephen and me back in that same old spot. We got there way before sunrise to make sure the spot settled, and give the deer time to get comfortable. By this day, Stephen swore that it was my makeup keeping the deer away. Makeup doesn’t smell.
I’m telling you, the first afternoon I was showered, with hair and makeup done, and maybe wore a dash of perfume, ready to make this buck mine and get some good photos. By day four, I was covered in scent blocker, no deodorant, trying to at least sneak on some mascara. I felt and looked like I had been camping in the woods for two weeks.
It was a really foggy morning again, and we waited for sunrise. There were lots of deer around us and I suddenly felt hopeful again. We waited for about an hour, watching some really nice young bucks and actually got side tracked by one of them when I heard something extra close to my side walking through the brush. I was still, I had my gun up and I just had this feeling.
Eye to eye with the double dropper
I saw one hoof come out of the brush line. In an instant I was eye to eye with the double dropper. It happened so fast I wasn’t ready. He wasn’t but 30 yards from us. Stephen’s eyes were huge, and I genuinely thought my heart would beat straight out of my chest.
I was shaking so much. I knew this deer was the biggest deer in the history of our ranch. I knew what this deer meant to Stephen and I sure knew I didn’t want to be the one to wound this deer. I took a deep breath.
Stephen made a grunt call and my scope was zoomed in too much for how close this deer actually was to us. I pulled the trigger, slow but not so steady, and I shot. I saw the deer jump. I knew I hit him, but I also knew it wasn’t my best shot.
“Did I get ’em?”
Stephen was filming with the camera focused on some brush in front of the deer, so we were looking at a blurry shot. We sat for a minute. Stephen was at a loss for words. We were confident but definitely nervous.
I must have said a thousand times, “Tell me I got him! Hurry; tell me!” Stephen was silent. We got up and walked towards the area where I shot. We found blood and we found bone.
Of course, finding bone is not the most encouraging thing in the world. That means I hit him partially in the leg or an area that has bone, and that’s not exactly ideal. We knew he was down but we wanted to give him time so we backed off. We halfway celebrated but then decided the best thing to do would be to call Roy Hindes.
Call for tracking dogs
It was Thanksgiving, and I didn’t think there was a chance he would be able to drive out to Tilden and help us find this monster of a buck somewhere deep in the South Texas brush. But he hopped in his truck with his two dogs and he arrived so quickly. We got back out to the spot where we last saw my buck, and we talked to Roy for a while. At this point, I was thinking this was the worst Thanksgiving ever. I didn’t think we would find my buck, and I didn’t know how they were just standing out here shooting the breeze.
He had released his dogs a few minutes earlier, and I was standing alone listening for them intensely. I heard dogs barking, but I wasn’t sure if they were the ranch dogs barking up at the house or if they were Roy’s dogs. After a few more minutes, Roy’s radars sounded, and we were off.
After 20 seconds of running to the sound of his dogs, there he was. My shot was better than we initially thought. He went down for the count.
I’ll remember this hunt forever, not because it’s the biggest deer I have ever, and will ever kill, but because it will always be such a testament to my family. We’re all in it together, all the time, every time. I started hunting as a little girl because I wanted to be with my dad and brother. I wanted to hang out with them and do what they were doing.
Looking back on my life, I realized the ranch is where we all come together. It’s where everyone does his or her own thing all day, and that typically looks pretty different from one person to the next. But at the end of the day, we all sit around the dinner table, laughing and telling stories about the Bar Fork, and I hope we do that forever.
I never got my wall hanger. This big guy will be on a pedestal mount. He’ll serve not only as an amazing addition to the family room at the ranch, but as a reminder of what hard work and family means.
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This article originally appears at Texas Trophy Hunters