Don Vinson might have been the happiest deer hunter in Georgia on Nov. 10, 2011, but he hated to share the news with his wife, Paula, who was sure to be the unhappiest.
“We found him,” he stammered. “It’s Airplane.”
Don had shot her buck.
He hadn’t set out to shoot that deer, the one Paula had claimed for herself. He was hunting half a mile from where it was last photographed by one of their half-dozen trail cameras. Steering clear of that area, he’d gone to the 21-foot-high ladder stand behind their house, the same stand where he’d shot a nearly 200-inch whitetail the previous season.
Paula, who was inside the house, had just sent Don a good-morning text message when she heard the shot. And she knew in her bones that the buck of her dreams had been in the crosshairs.
When he called her later that afternoon, the confirmation was met with a cold silence. When she finally spoke, she said, “I’ve got tears in my eyes right now, and they’re not from happiness.”
Don never had time to ogle the buck before he shot it. He knew only that it was a great animal, its mind on another zip code.
The 53-year-old father of five was aloft an hour before daylight that day. Before sunrise, he heard the distinct sound of antlers grinding a tree. He then heard the footfalls of an approaching deer, which passed underneath his stand.
At daybreak, the cell phone in Don’s pocket buzzed — much to his relief, since he didn’t remember setting it on vibrate. It was Paula’s “Good morning” text.
Moments later, he happened to glance down and saw a buck bedded in front of his stand, probably the one he’d heard walk past in the dark. Shortly after man and deer locked gazes, the latter jumped up and ran.
Almost reflexively, Don grunted. He was surprised when the buck stopped, but his finger was already caressing the rifle’s trigger. The shot was automatic.
Paula called immediately.
“Please tell me you didn’t shoot my deer,” she said.
He had no clue.
As soon as Don found the first drop of blood, rain started falling. Concerned over the faint and vanishing trail, he put his beagle on the track. When that didn’t work, he called Randy Vick, a deer tracker, in nearby Thomasville.
Three hours later, Randy put his dog on the track.
The dog soon disappeared into a pine plantation, and then stopped on a hill about 650 yards distant. The men went to it, but there was no dead deer. The dog simply appeared to have run out of steam.
“I was feeling kind of sick,” Don said. “I’d expected to find it within 100 or 150 yards. We’d gone 650, and there was no sign of it.”
And then he looked down and, by happenstance, spotted one drop of blood. They were already putting the dog on a leash.
They led the dog to the blood, and, from there, it went straight to the dead deer.
When he got up to it, Don recognized the buck. It was indeed the one to which Paula had staked a claim. It was Airplane, a buck he’d passed up twice the previous season.
Airplane’s rack had grown substantially in a year. They had photos of him up until two days before Don shot him. In those couple of days, Airplane had managed to break off a point.
This is the second giant felled on the Vinsons’ 560 acres in Brooks County. They and their neighbors have been managing the herd for nearly 20 years now, growing ever pickier about the bucks they shoot.
“It’s almost funny,” he said. “We didn’t used to have many deer around here. If someone happened to stumble across a deer track, people would load up in the back of a truck to go see it.”
Hunter: Donald Vinson
BTR Score: 192
This article was published in the August 2013 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.
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