I thought the end of August would NEVER get here. Like everybody else, I've been looking forward to the end of this hellish summer. But I've especially been looking forward to a trip to the Bug Scuffle Ranch
with my dad and my son to chase those beautiful and tasty axis deer!
My favorite hunting trips are when I get to go with Dad and Zach, but this was going to be an extra-special trip. You see, Zach and I finally got ol' Grandad talked into buying a bow and going bowhunting with us. Dad got his bow a few months ago, and he spent as much time as he could this summer shooting and practicing. He has some health problems that get in the way some days, but he did a lot of backyard shooting all summer. We were geared up and ready when August 26th finally came around.
We pulled in to the Bug Scuffle on Friday morning, and Bryan Keeling, the ranch manager, met us at the hunters' cabin. After we unloaded our stuff, he drove us around the ranch. For those of you who have never been to the Vanderpool area, it is some of the most beautiful country in Texas.
There is no shortage of game animals on the ranch either. Axis, blackbuck, exotic rams, red stag, whitetail, fallow deer, sika, hogs, and other game roam the ranch. I was focused more on hunting than taking photos, honestly. But it would be a blast to spend a day or two there just taking pictures.
After seeing several LARGE axis bucks on our opening tour, we were ready to get back to the cabin to shower up and get in the stand. Bryan had three stands picked out for us that he thought would offer good chances at axis. He picked well.
I climbed up in the first one, and before I even had my release strapped on I had all kinds of animals coming in - one of which was a really nice axis buck with wide antlers. The buck came in and fed in one of my shooting lanes on the right side, but he was facing me the whole time and didn't offer a shot. I came to full draw a couple of times when it looked like he might offer a shot. But he never stayed broadside more than a split second. I quietly let down and waited each time. He spun and darted and chased does, sheep and blackbuck out of the way as he fed around behind some tree limbs for a while. Again, no shot.
He started moving to the center of "the zone", but he trotted right through the center shooting lane and went to the left side and fed behind some more tree limbs for what seemed like an hour. It was more like 5-10 minutes. He would get his nose into an open lane, and then he'd spin around and get back behind the limbs. Then he finally started moving again. But this time he went away from me. He got out about 40 yards and circled around the back side of the feeder, going around to the right where he started from. It looked like he was full and was headed back out the way he came from as he trotted around the perimeter. Fortunately, he decided to drop back into the spot where he started feeding originally - right in the last shooting lane on my right.
After checking the dozens of eyes all around me, I came to full draw again as he was moving behind the limbs into the small shooting lane. This time, when he cleared the limbs and came to a stop he was broadside at what I estimated to be 25 yards. (I didn't even have time to get my range finder out of the pack before I had animals coming in.) He had his front leg back toward his back leg, so I waited until he stepped forward. He raised his head and stepped forward. I thought he was probably about to dart through the exit door, so I followed with the sight pins and released.
The arrow went through the center of his shoulder and exited through the center of the back shoulder. He stumbled a little as he ran off down the trail. I watched him stumble into the creek bottom here before he disappeared from sight about 100 yards away.
I sat in the tree for 15 minutes, and then I decided to climb down and look for my arrow. As I was lowering my bow to the ground, Bryan came driving up with Zach in the passenger seat and a big axis buck on the front of the Bronco. I'll let Zach tell his story later. They saw my seat was empty, so they came on up to the stand. After some high fives all around, we followed the blood trail. When we got to the creek, Zach heard the buck rustling in the brush. His ears are much better than mine or Bryan's. When we got to the end of the blood trail, the buck was laying there next to a big pool of lung blood. Zach had heard his last movement.
We took some LDPs and then drug my buck out to where Bryan could drive up close. Then we took some double LDPs and some of Zach's buck...
Then we loaded them up to get them into the cooler and out of the 105 degree afternoon heat. We got back to the cabin about an hour after we'd left. Mission accomplished.
Zach and I hung out at the cabin, hoping that ol' Grandad was doing as well as we had. He was sitting in a ground blind in the canyon above the lake where Bryan has several game cam pics of some nice axis recently. Zach and I waited and just killed time.
I got some coals burning so we could cook some axis steaks I'd brought with us.
As the sun set, we were anxious to see if antlers would be in the truck when Dad rolled back into camp. I wanted Dad to get his first bow kill more than anything. The buzzards seemed to be aware that the Jennings men were in camp and stuff was going to die.
It was getting too dark to shoot, and our anticipation was growing. Come on, Grandad!!!
Well, he rolled into camp empty handed. He had black buck and axis at his feeder a few times, but the wind kept swirling and spoiling the setup. No shot opportunity. But it was only Friday evening. We had all weekend.
The next day, Bryan had Dad move to a different ground blind near where Zach had killed his buck. There were multiple big axis bucks in that area. Zach and I hunted up on top of the mountain in hopes of seeing some of the fallow deer and/or hogs that Bryan would like to get rid of. We didn't see any, but we saw some pretty country and had an awesome morning enjoying nature.
Now, you're not likely to kill much if you're walking around. But our feeder was stopped up and we didn't have any animals coming in anyway. But as we walked down the road, we did see one potential target.
I stepped up to the plate.
A swing and a miss. Zach had perfect timing with the camera though. See the dust by the rabbit and the blurr of my red nock bouncing away?
Meanwhile, Dad was sitting in a ground blind with lots of blackbuck and axis around him, including two LARGE axis bucks that were 32-35". He finally had one broadside in a window of the blind, so he slowly drew back. Another animal must have caught movement through the other window, because they spooked and it was over. Skunked again.
That evening, Dad decided that he was feeling good enough to climb a tree. He climbed up in the tree where I'd sat the evening before and killed my buck. Long story short.....skunked again.
On Sunday morning, Dad was going to hunt the 1st ground blind again. Trailcam pics seemed to show that mornings were the most active time there up the canyon. Well, the wind was supposed to be from the southeast all day, but it blew from the northwest. All he got was axis barking at him from the brush.
While he was there, I drove by the guest cabin and saw lots of animals at the feeder where I'd killed my buck. I pulled over and snuck up to the porch of the cabin and sat and took pics all morning.
Remember this big boy here. We'll come back to him soon....
I see a drawing in some of these...
We picked Dad up at 9:30 or so. Dang it, wind ruined it again. We met with Bryan, and he said we'd try one more spot. He sat Dad up on a quadpod near the base of the mountain on the west side of the creek. Before long, dad had some animals coming in. That big axis in the pic above came in. Unfortunately, he stayed behind a limb where dad didn't have a shot. The wind shifted again, and about half of the animals in front of dad got wind of him and spooked. Big boy was in that group. The animals on the other side didn't spook. Dad got a shot at the biggest one that was left and took it. Bryan came by later and they followed the trail. Dad's buck was laying in the brush a couple hundred yards away. After a liftetime of hunting, he had his first bow kill three weeks before his 65th birthday. Congrats, Pop!
And then one of the coolest pics of my hunting career.... three generations on a successful hunt. It don't get no better than that!
Zach and Dad and I would like to think Bryan for the whole experience. I've said it before, and I'll say it again....you won't find a better outfitter than Bryan Keeling. He works his butt off setting up stands, guiding, looking for lost Nocturnals in the dark, loading deer, cleaning, skinning, butchering, caping deer, visiting with hunters and making them feel welcome, and just being an all around great guy to be around. Thanks, Bryan. The Jennings men will remember this hunt for the rest of our lives.