This article was first published in the June 2018 issue of North American Whitetail magazine.
I’ve killed some nice bucks through the years, every one of them a trophy to me, but none that would ever grace the cover of a magazine, none that would even garner more than a ‘good deer’ from my fellow hunters. Which is strange to me because I’m regularly stopped dead in my tracks by the buck mounted above my fireplace.
Opening morning of the 2010 rifle season broke eternal, bright and fair, and I’d just settled into my stand when the deer of my dreams stepped out of the timber, trailing a doe.
The buck’s profiled picture had popped up on my trail camera two days earlier and though I hadn’t been able to count all his points, his deep chest and chocolate rack had driven me straight back to my tree stand where I’d sat till dark, mentally calculating mass measurements and tine length until I’d convinced myself I was hunting the next state record.
And then, suddenly, there he stood.
Looking like he’d been painted into the wood line, framed in brown oak and matted in green pine, the buck was mature and majestic and he met his end when my shot took him on the point of the shoulder, perfectly placed. The doe he’d been dogging ran back the way she came, but this time, he didn’t follow.
After fifteen miserable minutes, I eased out of my tree stand and snuck across the sixty yards of open ground that separated us. I lifted his head out of the leaves and found myself looking into the eyes of a sixteen point, seven and a half year old monarch of the Oklahoma hardwoods.
That buck now presides from his post above the fireplace in my living room.
While dusting him off this winter, I decided on a whim to once again score his rack. I’d put the tape to him before shipping him off to the taxidermist but I’d given him every benefit of the doubt then, stretching 7/8 to a full inch whenever I could. This time I was much more conservative.
The buck’s right main beam measures three decades’ worth of waiting on a whitetail worthy enough to mount and his left who knows how many good luck kisses from my wife. Stretched between them are a thousand empty afternoon sits. Every fractioned inch of his beaded brow tine is another trail camera picture, pored over and picked apart. The G-2 on his right side is fifteen minutes long, the time it took for me to share the details of his harvest with my father, my hunting mentor and so much more, and the G-3 next to it comes out to countless cups of coffee, greedy gulps of comfort to guard against the cold. The rack’s crab-clawed G-4 is dozens of Opening Days long. His six nontypical points, and this buck is anything but typical, add up to endless hours of daydreaming and there’s an untold amount of strategy sessions with hunting buddies mixed up in his mass measurements.
I haven’t even gotten to his left side yet, but it’s already clear that this buck’s rack nets more than it grosses, that it holds more memories than any one man has a right to relive. Every time I run my hands along his antlers the climate cools and I exhale a cloud of autumn air. Every time I smooth his cape I’m transported back to that crisp November morning, the crack of a rifle shot still echoing through the timber.
No deductions here.