Young Texan’s patience pays off in drop tines.
Hardworking farmers usually just grin and shrug their shoulders when someone suggests they play hooky for a day or take a vacation. They say things like, “The animals don’t know it’s Sunday,” or “Got to make hay while the sun shines.”
So maybe that’s where Ryan Hays gets his perseverance and determination. It’s hard not to have those qualities if you’re growing up on a Texas farm, raising and training horses. Still, few people could have equaled his grit in 2005, when his goals focused on the harvest of one particular buck.
By conservative estimates, Ryan spent 150 hours in a treestand, waiting for the big buck his family had photographed on a trail camera. He passed up several big bucks (including a 130-class 10-pointer), at least 40 wild hogs and a dozen coyotes. And that’s really hard to do when you’re 12 years old.
Ryan’s dad, Jody, has at least 15 years worth of hunting journals. After each day in the field, he records the animals he’s seen, when they were seen and the weather conditions. He’s hunted the same leased property, about 30 minutes from his farm, during that time.
“I can tell you every deer I’ve seen on the place for the past 15 years,” Jody said. “I work my butt off 10 months a year so I can have free time during hunting season.”
Jody had seen a big typical 10-pointer in 2004. After the season ended, he put out a trail camera to find out if that buck and any others had survived. He got some bad news.
“I saw that the buck had gotten some sort of injury to its jaw,” Jody said. “Its teeth were broken and its lower lip was hanging down,” Jody said. “I don’t know whether it ran into something or was hit by a car. Whatever happened, it was pretty severe.”
In July, with his camera positioned on a game trail, Jody got another picture of the buck. It had the same hanging lower lip and busted teeth, and its rack had changed dramatically.
“It’d gone from being a typical 10 to being a non-typical with a mess of points and drop tines,” he said. “But he was as poor as a snake — very thin.”
Jody supplemented the deer’s diet by dumping 100 pounds of corn on the ground along the game trail. The state’s youth season opened the last weekend in October, and he and Ryan eagerly manned a two-person elevated box blind Jody had constructed.
“Along an existing pipeline right-of-way, there’s a spot where two creeks come together, and the “Y” between the two creeks is open,” Jody said, explaining how he picked the location. “About 150 yards to the right is a fence line. Anything that passes through comes into that area. It’s a natural funnel.”
The vigil began on opening morning of the youth hunt. Father and son didn’t know they’d be hunting that buck for 30 straight days after school and on weekends.
“I’d seen the trail camera pictures and decided I was going to wait for the biggest one,” Ryan said. “I could have shot many different bucks, even a real big 10-pointer, but I knew the other one was there, even if it was taking forever for him to come out.” Nevertheless, time began to wear on the young hunter. “I really like hunting, but I was getting kind of burned out,” he admitted.
On the first day of December, Jody was ready for a break, too. “Ryan got off the school bus and came into the house wanting to go hunting, and I told him, ‘Not today. I have a headache.’ But he got ready to go, so I relented and we left the house at 4 p.m.”
The two were only in the stand a short time before the buck Ryan wanted finally made an appearance.
“He came out in a bunch of briars, and we couldn’t tell if it was him for sure,” Ryan said. “Then he stepped out and there were antlers shooting all over the place.”
The buck, facing straight at the stand, began a leisurely walk toward the hunters, “stopping a lot and smelling, just taking his time,” Ryan said. “He seemed like a real smart deer, and as he got closer, he started to get a little spooked.”
The hunters were getting a little nervous, too, and Ryan lifted his lever action .30-30, which had been a Christmas present from his parents the previous year.
“When that deer stepped out and the sunlight hit its rack, I could hear Ryan breathing erratically, and his knees started shaking,” Jody said. “The buck was coming straight at us, but when something spooked him, he turned left and started to walk back toward the creek.
“I told Ryan he’d better shoot,” Jody continued. “And when he did, the deer jumped, spun 180 degrees and took off. Ryan fired two more shots after that. I didn’t know if he’d hit him or not. I was panicked.”
The deer went out of sight behind a big cedar tree. Ryan and his dad were both shaking from head to toe, so much so that they were rattling the boards in their stand. But was the deer down?
Ryan kept looking through the scope at where they’d last seen the deer. Not having any clues about the buck’s fate, it didn’t take long for both hunters to decide it was time to get out of the stand and take a look. Ryan quickly slipped down the ladder and took off running toward the cedar tree and the largest non-typical taken in that part of Texas in 2005.
“By the time I got over there, I knew he’d gotten the deer,” Jody said. “We did lots of hand-shaking and high-fiving.”
Ryan has had plenty of success since then. He and his brother, Sam, finished second in the team roping finals of the North Texas High School Rodeo Association. He’s shot several big hogs, including one weighing almost 500 pounds, and a bunch of coyotes and bobcats. And a photo of Ryan and the big buck was used in scent product advertisements.
Sam harvested a 150-class buck, and now dad is ready to pick up his rifle again. “Now they both have shot bigger deer than I have,” Jody said. “It’s time for me to get serious.”
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This article was published in the Winter 2009 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.