by George Grey
I was shaking like a leaf. My tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth.. I was gasping, short of breath. My fingers and face were tingling. I could hardly see the Sika deer in the trees to my front, my eyes stinging from the sweat that ran down my face, steaming up my glasses.. The left one was a BIG buck, the same 5 point I had been after for the last two days. The one I wanted so badly. Now it was getting down to the wire. The plane was going to leave in just a few hours . It was either shoot now or shoot not at all. The pressure was on.
Mike Wills had hold of my jacket, holding it tight as if to hold me up. Maybe he was. My knees were shaking so badly that I thought I might fall down. I had a terrible urge to pee, my bladder felt big enough to burst. I leaned into the tree to my front, my face crushing against the rough bark, hiding behind it, hoping Mike wouldn’t notice what was happening to me. I was also grateful for the support.
The big Sika buck was staring at me, head on, about 60 yards away, just right for my 504 caliber White M97 Whitetail Hunter rifle. The red dot in my scope was centered on his chest, but every heartbeat sent it wobbling off in another direction.
Mike whispered, urgency in his voice, ‘Wait! Wait for him to turn sideways! Give ‘im time. He’ll turn.’ ‘He’ll turn. Wait’ I couldn’t wait. There was no time. There was no TIME!! The red dot wobbled across the deer’s chest. There, just right. My trigger finger twitched. I didn’t will it to, it did it all by itself. BLAM! The rifle went off. A big cloud of smoke obscured the deer. The rifle whacked me in the shoulder. My cheek stung from holding the rifle too tight to the face.
The deer disappeared. Damn! Did I miss? Maybe I shouldn’t have shot. Maybe I shot too quick. Maybe I should have waited. No TIME!! Why didn’t he turn? No TIME!! No TIME!! Something punched me in the shoulder. It was Mike’s fist. The other fist was pointing a finger up the rise to the right. ‘Reload!’ commanded Mike, with no attempt to whisper, ’He’s lying down. You must have hit him hard!’ ‘Reload quick!’
There, out front and up the hill a little, I could see the Sika going down, front end going down first and back end following, just like a cow. The back end flopped, as if he was tired. Yeah! I must have hit him hard. He was about 80 yards away.
I grabbed a QuickCharger out of my pocket and tried to put the bullet it the barrel. It wouldn’t go. The powder was in the way. Yeah! First the powder, then the ball! I flipped the cap off the charger and threw the powder at the muzzle. Most of the powder went in, at least I think it did. I turned the charger and rammed the bullet out of the charger, bouncing it off the muzzle and onto the ground. It disappeared in the leaves.
Mike jumped on it, like a cat on a mouse. He said something. Couldn’t tell what it was but I bet on expletive. He tossed it to me, pulling a wry face, his lips wide and his teeth clenched. He looked as if he was having a gut cramp or something. I suddenly felt sorry for him, having a cramp in the middle of a hunt.
I finally got the saboted bullet into the barrel, slamming it down with a quick shove. Well, almost, the ramrod bent almost double in my hand. God Bless Delrin! It didn’t break. I tried it with both hands, steadying the rod with one shaking hand and pushing with the other. Despite the tremor it went down this time.
Mike said something about waiting for the deer to stiffen up. Not to push him too fast. Don’t frighten him into running off. Give him time. THERE WAS NO TIME!!
Time was when there was lots of time. Time was when I looked at Doc White’s website and discovered there would be a Hunting School in Late September in Michigan, for hogs. Boy, did I ever want to go. Cheap, too. The price actually fit my budget. All I had to do was quit my smokes and booze for a while and I would have plenty of money. At least that’s what the wife told me, hands on hips. She had been wanting me to quit for years. She said I could put my habit money in a jar every day and see what it piled up to.
|Another time, same place, one BIG Hog with a pleased hunter and Doc|
Well, $6-8 a day piled up pretty quick. I about piled up too. Getting off that stuff about put me down. I twitched and shook for a month before I finally calmed down. Couldn’t sleep, had bad dreams. When the nightmares finally turned to dreams of big pigs and exotic deer I knew I had it made. All I had to do was stay off for 2 months and I would have the money. My wife was proud.
Then I remembered I had to get a rifle too. That doubled the cost, or nearly so, which also doubled the time before I could go back to the junk. I thought about begging a rifle off Doc White, but hesitated to do it. I had begged a Tominator shotgun off him, so I could write an article, and hadn’t ever given it back. I was hoping that he considered it a permanent loan, doing like all the other gun companies do when they want to buy a writer. I sure liked that Model 97 that he loaned me to shoot pigs with a few years back. I begged another one off him for a Caribou hunt in Canada later but he had me send it to another writer when the hunt was over. I felt grateful that he had forgotten about the Tominator. I had this strange feeling that this time I didn’t want to feel bought, either. What a change that was, getting rid of the habits must have affected my mind. I would have to find another one.
I called to schedule the hunt, talked with Doc. He had a used Whitetail, same as a 97 except for only one stock screw instead of two. He had refurbished it and accurized it. The price was attractive because it was used. I whined and bawled a little and the price came down even further. I guess he felt sorry for me. When I told him about how I was financing it, he laughed and invited me to church. He said if I was going to get rid of my sinner’s ways I might as well go all the way. Well, I wasn’t quite ready for that step but I was ready for the Whitetail. We made a deal and a couple of months later the gun showed up, sample PowerPunch slip-fit 460 grain bullets included.
Doc recommended that I work up a load. I started with 80 grains of Pyrodex P and stayed right there. It kicked hard and I figured the one lb. can of Pyrodex I bought at Wal-Mart would last 87 ½ shots, enough for years of hunting if I was careful. I shot the sample bullets Doc had sent with the rifle. The sights were right on, at least for me. I’ve never been much of a shot. I put up a 5 X 7 card at 50 yards and when I hit it with the first three shots in a row off a stump I was happy. It was so much fun that I got careless and frittered away all the sample bullets. Damn. Now I’d have to buy or beg some for the hunt
I called Doc again, hoping to weasel some bullets from him. Maybe it would help if I whined or maybe even promised to go to church. I discovered that he was going to be shooting his 435 grain PowerStar saboted hollow point in his rifle. That sounded good to me. It was a little lighter then the 50-460 PowerPunch and hollow pointed to boot. The bullet weight was close enough that I bet they would shoot to the same spot as the sample 50-460’s. After all, don’t all muzzleloading bullets shoot the same anyway?
I begged a few off him. Couldn’t help myself. It was so close to the hunt that there wasn’t time to send any. Doc said I’d have to get some from him at the ranch then sight in with them before hunting. I figured it wouldn’t take more than two or three. Then I got thinking about it. Why not a scope. Well, couldn’t afford one for another month or two, there wasn’t enough time. I went down to the pawn shop. They had a red dot scope, Chinese, cheap, and the price included the mounts. I put it on the rifle and sighted the dot in to match the notch and blade of the sights then took the rear sight off. It was the best sight in job I ever did with no bullets.
It was about a 2 hour flight to the ranch from my place. I threw the gun in an my old faithful rifle case and got through the airport search OK. I didn’t take any powder or caps with me this time and the dog left me alone, looking disappointed that he hadn’t sniffed anything. I took the bus to the nearest town and hitched a ride with an old farmer, got to the ranch before dark on Friday. Everyone else was already there. Doc had the PowerStar bullets and handed over the biggest part of a box. Man, almost 40 bullets in there, enough for better than ten years of hunting if I could keep the practice shots to a minimum.
Wonder of Wonders, there was a big old 6 point bull elk, must have scored 350 points, just inside the 8 foot high gate to Doug’s hunting land. He was snorting and huffing and whistling, his nose up in the air and his gut shaking with huffs after the whistle. Every time 400 lb. Doug would get close the 1000 lb. bull would charge the fence, one bull facing off the other, I thought. I had always dreamed about having a big bull elk close enough to hear that whistle, but him blowing snot and stomping about like that damn near scared me to death. He was obviously on the prod, full of piss and vinegar.
I wanted to re-sight in my rifle after it banging around in the airport, those airport people being none too careful. I asked about doing that. Doug pointed with his chin at a bench and target 100 yards away just inside the fence and right behind that sex-crazy bull elk. ‘There you go’, he said, ‘watch out for the elk’. ‘He gets nuts this time of year’. Nuts, indeed. I wasn’t nuts enough to go inside that enclosure with that animal cruising the fence line. The rifle didn’t get sighted in that evening.
Nor did it get sighted in the next morning either. The bull was still there in the pre-dawn darkness. I had never thought that I might get tired of listening to whistling elk but this one was getting close. It was broad daylight before Doug got that big animal lured away from the gate long enough for us to get into the hunting area and then he had to let it chase him to get it away. By then I had forgotten all about sighting in the rifle. Everyone else said their White rifle was right on the money after their trips. I decided mine was probably OK , too. I went hunting.
Everyone was after a hog. That was the original deal. Those Russians looked big and black and mean. You could see teeth sticking out above their upper lip if you got close enough. Doc, though, had his eye on a wide palmated Fallow deer with chocolate spots on a whitish coat. The antlers looked almost like a moose except they stuck up like an elk rather than flat like a moose. I decided to stick close to Doc.
We were into the herd of Fallow early on. We caught a few of them grazing out in the open, not far from tree cover. There were some pint sized elk with them, not huge suckers like that crazy eyed bull back at the gate, but small enough that a mounted head would fit on my garage wall. I knew the wife absolutely would not tolerate a head in the house, she was a nut about that. She felt like their eyes followed her around, and her naked. The biggest one had 5 points on each side and would weigh about 140 lbs.
“What’s that little elk”, I asked, “the one with the Fallow deer.
“That’s a Japanese Sika deer, the Doc answered”, “there are three kinds of Sika and the Japanese is the smallest. I hear they eat really well”
I felt lust growing in my belly. My heart thudded and I felt flushed. I licked my lips. I had to have that deer. “How much” I asked. My voice came out in a husky squeek. It surprised me.
Doc looked at me in a knowing way and smiled, ” about half again more then a hog, I think”
Ouch, another month off the stuff. That made damn near 6 months. Hell, maybe I should just give up and start going to church. I might save enough money I could hunt all the time, like Doc does.
Doc already had taken a big White fallow and a slightly smaller Chocolate fallow. He still wanted a spotted one to round out the collection.
We spent the morning trying to sneak up on those damned deer. There were so many eyes that it was nearly impossible. As soon as they realized that we were around, they headed into the cover of the trees. That made the hunt really hard. We tried sneaking up on them, using the trees for cover then crawling on our bellies. They caught on real quick and disappeared just as fast. We tried a drive, but all that got was bodies flashing past so fast that not even Wyatt Earp could have snapshot one. We spent the afternoon in treestands, but I think they had the locations of all of those memorized. Nothing showed up within decent range. Inevitably it got dark. Now only tomorrow was left.
I was pretty anxious after a poor night’s sleep. I woke up up fuzzy minded, sweaty faced and shaky. Maybe a little short of breath. I noticed my face and finger tips were numb and tingly. I asked Doc about it. He said I should slow down my breathing or maybe go put a paper sack over my face. He grinned slyly when he said that. I figured he was putting me on. He said something about ‘hyperventilation syndrome’. Geez!. Wasn’t that something that nervous teenagers got before their first date?
We were out at first light. Mike Wills had joined us. Doc counseled moving slowly through the trees until we spotted the Fallow and Sika, then waiting downwind for them to walk into us. Sure enough, after an hours slow stalking the Fallow deer appeared. They were moving out of the trees into the pastures.
“This is where I leave you” said Doc. “Take Mike here with you and see if you can find those Sika. They will be by themselves. Looks like. I’m going to try a sneak on that Fallow, by myself” He emphasized the ‘myself’ thing.
.Mike and I watched him go, then continued into the trees. We spent the morning sneaking along without seeing the Sika. We saw whitetail, European red deer, pigs and a young bull elk who was hiding from that monster down by the gate, but no Sika. We ran into Doug on our way back for lunch. He said that when the Sika get thoroughly spooked, they always head for the thickest and most miserable part of the ranch, a swampy area thick with brush and trees.
|This is Doc with a Dubouski Sika, the biggest of the Sika deer. He killed it with a 33 caliber Super-91, firing a 270 grain bullet over 60 grains Pyrodex-P. It’s about twice the size of the much smaller Japanese Sika.|
After lunch, we headed into the swamp. It was boggy and wet, water sloshing underfoot, with small drier hillocks here and there. There were so many trees and so much brush that seeing 50 yards was a chore. It took an hour to do 100 yards. But the stalk was successful. Suddenly, they were there, hearing something, standing up, looking at us blankly, knowing something was there but not seeing us because of the camo. My heart thumped. My face flushed and tingled again. This is where the story started.
The wounded buck was 80 yards away, lying down in the leaves, the others gathered around him. My heart was up in my throat, banging away. My fingers tingled so badly I could hardly feel the trigger. The red dot wobbled over his chest and the gun went off. BLAM, and a huge cloud of smoke washed out my vision. The deer jumped up and ran off, cutting around to the right, heading towards an open field. “Reload, reload!” came Mike’s hoarse whisper, “Fast, fast! You must have missed.”
I did better this time. Got all the powder down the barrel and used both hands on the ramrod. The PowerStar bullet went down easy enough. Mike was already moving off to the right, following the deer. I shakily snapped a cap on the nipple and followed.
The deer was down again, at the edge of the trees. We cut over to the edge. Mike grabbed my shoulder again. He said through gritted teeth, “Wait for him to stand up this time”. We snuck up behind some weeds. I had to stand up to see over them.
The Sika herd spotted me and spooked off to the right, running over the field and disappearing into some deep brush. The Sika buck got up slowly, it was obvious that he was hurt bad. He stood there broadside, as if offering himself a sacrifice to my shot. The red dot didn’t waver this time. It settled exactly over the heart area. The finger twitched and the rifle fired. Perfect! Got him! He ran out of the smoke to the right, following the other deer.
Mike screamed, “Missed! Missed again. Reload. Quick. Lets try to catch them before they get into the really thick stuff.”
Well, we did find them. Found the herd that is. We didn’t find the buck. He had split off and disappeared. Mike said he was probably down somewhere in the brush. We spent the rest of the day until I finally had to leave to catch the plane tromping through the brush looking for his body. We never did find it. Mike gave me a ride to the airport. He never said a word the whole way. He must have been upset that he couldn’t find the buck for me. Once again, I felt sorry for him.
Doug found the Sika buck three days later, way off in a corner that we never got to. The only shot that hit him was the first. It had hit low in front then opened his belly. The news about made me sick, I felt so bad for the deer. What a miserable way to die. Worse, I lost the cape and the meat, but I was exited to get the antlers for a skull mount.
In retrospect, I think that cheap Red Dot scope might have been shooting low when I made that sweaty first shot. It must have got jounced off center in the plane. I took it to the range to re-sight it in after getting home and it was shooting a foot high at 50 yards. It had moved centers again on the flight home. I figured that couldn’t have all been the fault of TSA or my shaky shooting. I took the cheap Red Dot off and threw it in the garbage. The good life will have to wait until I can afford a better scope.
I was really bugged by the way the hunt went. All that sacrifice and effort and money down the tubes. I spent a lot of time pondering over what had happened. Looking back at it all, I guess I made some pretty basic mistakes, first timer stuff that an old hand like me should never have suffered.
Getting the Buck Ague again makes me feel sort of sheepish, at least I guess that’s what all that hyperventilation stuff was about. Even the thought of it makes me feel like a foolish teenager.
I didn’t practice enough. Maybe I could have shot the rifle a few times more. Maybe I would have discovered that the Red Dot was a bad one if I had gone back to the range a time or two instead of just once. It occurred to me that the cheapest thing on the trip was the bullets. I shouldn’t have been so chintzy with them.
I borrowed bullets that I hadn’t ever shot in the rifle and presumed they would shoot just like the others when, come to find out, they don’t. Doc talks a lot about that, how each gun and each bullet are different than all the others. I figured he was blowing smoke, trying to sell more bullets by scaring folks into practicing more. Maybe he’s right.
I bought a bargain basement Red Dot scope and got just exactly what I paid for, a cheap scope that wouldn’t hold center. I would have been better off with the open sights the gun came with. They are at least sturdy. You’d have to whack them pretty hard to knock them off centers.
But the basic sin was that I didn’t re-sight in the rifle after an airline flight because of all the fuss over that damn bull elk.. Who knows how my gun case was handled in the airport. I was paying for the hunt, I should have insisted on a sight-in session. Doug is an accommodating sort of man, he makes his living making sure people are happy. He would have co-operated if I had pushed him.
Worst, I succumbed to the temptation of shooting too quick in the pressure of the moment. I wasn’t patient enough to wait until the buck turned sideways to me instead of facing me. And to compound the error, I pushed the wounded buck too hard, spooking him instead of letting him stiffen up so he couldn’t travel and then didn’t allow enough time to follow up on him, having to leave it to folks who were busy with their own lives.
Well, the skull looks pretty good in the garage. I cut off the skull cap, bleached it with Clorox in the sun and nailed it up where I could see it, just to remind me of my humanity. I look at it everyday, going and coming. My wife is perfectly happy with it in the garage. I haven’t gone back to the smokes and booze yet but then I haven’t gone to church either. I’ve had to hide my money jar from my wife, it’s getting pretty full and she’s talking like she wants something new for the house. If I can keep hold of it maybe I’ll get to go hunting again sometime. Maybe I’ll do better next time. Maybe I’ll do it right.
Mike Wills with the Spotted Fallow Doc wanted. Can’t say that Doc seemed to care much. He followed Mike around with a video camera for this one.