By Stephen Reed
The 2009 deer season will stand out in my memory till the day I die! Not only did I kill my biggest firearm buck to date, but I started several great friendships. One in particular will last as long as the memory of that great season. I hadn’t been hunting in a couple of years. I was really looking forward to being outdoors again and chasing my arch nemesis the elusive whitetail buck. I moved to Missouri the previous year and didn’t know many people or really where to hunt. I didn’t have any land. Public ground was not really an option, since I almost got shot as a young hunter on public ground in Illinois. My brother Scott still lived in Illinois the first year I was living in Missouri. But, he moved back to Missouri in early 2009. He was going to take me to the greatest hunting spot in southern Missouri and I couldn’t wait!
I wasn’t too happy when I found out this great hunting spot was on public ground. Later, when I heard it was 78,000 acres inside a 2,000,000 acre national forest, I felt a little better. It was pretty remote ground just outside of a small town in southeastern Missouri with a population of 427 people. It was about three hours south of where we lived. Scott hunted this area for years before he moved to Illinois, so he knew it well. Our base camp was the home of Scott’s best friend’s brother. Every year my brother and their entire family got together for opening weekend of firearm season. This year I was invited to join the deer camp.
Deer season started like it always does in Missouri with archery season opening on September 15th.We didn’t kill a deer during bow season that year. Not for lack of trying or opportunity, we just couldn’t seal the deal. Bow season did however give me plenty of opportunity to scout the area in preparation for the upcoming firearm season. I was even able to kill a Turkey in the fall firearm season. I was really starting to understand why my brother loved this area so much.
September soon passed and October was ending as we started making preparations for the upcoming firearm season. I had purchased a new Marlin.270 bolt action rifle, in fall 2008. We spent several weekends at our local gun range getting our guns sighted in for rifle season. I wasn’t used to hunting deer with the rifle. Most of my youth was spent hunting in southern Illinois, where you could only hunt deer with a shotgun and deer slugs. In Illinois, I was used to hunting fields. The ground in southern Missouri was all deep hardwoods with multiple ridges and ravines. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to the challenge.
We arrived at deer camp two days before opening day. I was eager to meet everyone at camp and put the names with faces as people arrived. For years, my brother had talked about all these people. This is when I met Jimmy for the first time. Jimmy and I are a lot alike. We are just two ole country boys that love the outdoors and chasing Whitetail bucks. He is a true country boy in the sense that he is a God-fearing man and would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He is a joy to have around any campfire with his never ending supply of hunting stories. The more we talked and swapped hunting stories, the more he told me that I needed to come over to where he hunted. He said he saw a lot of good signs and big tracks. I had already scouted out a different spot, so I declined, but told him I would hunt with him soon.
Opening day came and we were all up early. The smell of coffee and the rustle of gear filled the house. We made our bets on who was going to kill the biggest deer as we loaded the trucks. I had a good feeling as I headed down the road to my spot. I had seen a lot of signs. One of my new friends told me they had hunted that area before and seen several deer. I didn’t have a stand or a blind. I had cleared the leaves away in a big circle around a tree on the side of a small ridge, making sure I had some good shooting lanes in all directions. It didn’t take long to find my spot. I was sitting on my bucket with my back against the tree well before sun up.
It wasn’t long after sunrise when I heard a shot from behind me, across the logging road on the other side of the ridge. I sat there wondering which one of my new friends had taken the shot. The woods were alive with the sound of birds chirping and singing. The squirrels were rustling the leaves in search of the nuts they had hidden at summers end. A faint sound caught my attention. It was the sound of something running getting closer and closer. A huge mature doe topped the ridge off to my left in a dead run, down the hill next to me about 45 yards away. I raised my rifle and found her in my scope. I let out a sharp whistle which slowed her down to a slow trot. I placed her in my crosshairs and squeezed the trigger. My shot hit a little farther back than I wanted, but it knocked her down. I chambered another round firing one more time which dispatched her almost instantly. I could see where she was lying. I still had another tag and decided to stay on my bucket. I wanted to wait and see if I could bag another deer and hear if anyone else got one. About an hour later, I heard another shot a few ridges over in the area my brother was hunting. Shortly after that, the radio crackled with news that he’d shot a small doe. The rest of opening weekend was uneventful. My brother and I were the only two hunters at deer camp to kill a deer that weekend. He and I had to leave that Sunday, while everyone else was staying the entire week of rifle season. We wished them luck and started the three-hour journey north towards home.
I was excited at taking my first deer with a rifle. Scott and I spent the next week planning our trip back down for the last weekend of the first rifle season. Unfortunately Scott had to work that weekend and couldn’t go back. I almost didn’t go, but really wanted to hunt. I headed out Friday night on the long journey by myself, arriving at camp around 1:00 AM. I jumped in the sack for a couple hours of sleep. I woke up to the sound of people talking and the smell of coffee on the stove. I had no idea where I was going to hunt. But, I was up and getting my truck loaded when Jimmy came out. He asked where I was going to set up. I told him I figured I’d head back to where I was last weekend. He suggested I go with him so he could show me the area where he saw good signs last weekend. We jumped in my truck and headed out.
After a short drive, we pulled down a little logging road. We stopped at the gate, got out and got ready to head into the woods. We walked down the gravel path. As we came to an off shoot to the left, he told me that was my path. I went straight till I found the big trees down then turned left. I walked to the edge of the ravine and found a place to sit. I did as instructed and was soon watching the world come alive to a chorus of song birds and the rustling of squirrels all around me. It didn’t take long to see why this was a good spot. There was a long sloping hill covered with acorns both in the trees and on the ground. The ravine offered good cover all the way down to a small creek at the bottom. Across the ravine was some very thick cover and I had a clear field of fire for all of it. I hadn’t brought my bucket this time, so I was on the ground. It didn’t take long for the dew to soak my backside. I decided to stand up and lean against the tree, watching two squirrels chase each other around an old dead tree. They chattered, while chasing each other around and around that old dead tree for probably 10 minutes. I heard a twig snap RIGHT behind me! I slowly turned to look around the tree. My rifle was at my side also leaning against the tree. I reached down and grabbed the end of the barrel, peeking out around the oak tree. Less than 15 feet away, notice I said feet not yards, was a monster of a buck looking back over his shoulder away from me. He was looking in the direction he had just come from! I had just enough time to raise my rifle, before he turned back around. He started across the ravine toward the thickets on the other side. I lost him for a second while he crossed the ravine. But, I quickly found him in my scope again as he climbed the bank on the other side and started toward the cover. I had his vitals in my scope when I reached my thumb up and slid the safety off, “click”. At the sound of that faint click, he froze and snapped his head around and took his last breath. I squeezed the trigger, the moment he looked at me; he dropped in his tracks 15 yards away.
It wasn’t very long before Jimmy returned with a big grin on his face, “Was that you” he asked. “Yeah” I said. “Is it a buck”, he asked. “Yeah” I said again. He asked with increased excitement, “Is he a big buck?” “Well, yeah you could say that”, I laughed. As we walked to where the deer was laying he kept saying “I told you I knew where the big ones are! Those other boys THINK they know, but I KNOW where they are!” About that time, Jimmy saw him laying where I shot him. He erupted with the most childlike, most genuine laughter I had ever heard from a grown man. We danced and high fived as he shouted, “I told you! I told you there were big bucks in here!” It was one of the best memories I will ever have from the field. We gutted the buck and dragged him back to the truck. It was all we could do to lift him in the back and get him strapped down for the trip back to town.
The rest of the afternoon was filled with congratulations. For doubting him, Jimmy made sure everyone heard him say “I told you so!” I think half the town showed up to watch, as we caped the head for the trip home to the processor and the taxidermist. His rack was measured again and again as people laughed and tried to guess his score. Some were even a bit cross that an “out of Towner” got him and a local boy didn’t. But mostly everyone shared in the happiness. I made a lot of good friends that day, friends that I still have to this day.
It was a very cool night, so we loaded him in the back of the truck and packed him full of ice for the trip home. I shook hands with Jimmy one last time, before heading to the truck. I thanked him again for all his help and even gave him the backstraps. It was the least I could do for all he did.
I made many friends that day. But in Jimmy, I found a true hunting buddy! We have hunted together many times since then. He was even with me when I arrowed my biggest archery buck to date. He has moved to Indiana since then, but we still keep in touch. And he comes back to Missouri every year to hunt and tell the story of the time he put me on the big one. Because believe it or not, Jimmy know where the big bucks are!