By Mike Handley
Clay and his dad, Mark White, pose with the 14-year-old's 2007 trophy, his fourth whitetail destined for the taxidermist. Photo Courtesy of Mark White
Deer hunting in Texas can be like going to a chili cook-off when all you've ever tasted has come from a can. It'll leave eyes bulging, mouths spitless and fry the circuitry between brain and trigger finger.
That's why folks who book hunts in the Lone Star State had better be prepared to share their stands with a guide. You tell 'em up front what sort of buck trips your trigger, or say how thin you expect your wallet to be afterward, and they'll do whatever it takes to oblige.
This usually means dissuading you from shooting the dozens of bucks that any sane hunter back home would be proud to drop off at a taxidermist's.
Fourteen-year-old Clay White wasn't alone in his elevated stand on the afternoon of Nov. 7, 2007. A cameraman sat beside him, and three more faces pressed in from behind: Clay's dad, Mark, guide Koby Howell, and the ranch's owner. They were all studying the deer entering and exiting the vast green field, but the buck they wanted - a deer that had been videotaped when its enormous rack was still in velvet - didn't stroll out of the mesquite flat until dusk.
Clay was the last to see it. And when he did, the effect was akin to swallowing a heaping spoonful of five-alarm chili.
It was the second day of the Alabama boy's hunt, the last evening. And the late-arriving buck dwarfed all others among the 50 or so whitetails that had fed since the hunters arrived. There was no doubt that this dude was the same long-tined buck they'd seen on the video.
The buck was in range of Clay's .270 as soon as it appeared. But there was no point in taking the shot because the deer was coming closer. Of course, it took everyone there to convince Clay that the buck wasn't going anywhere.
"There were four people in the stand with me, telling me when and when NOT to shoot," Clay said. "I actually took my safety off five different times as I watched the deer for 15 to 20 minutes."
The entourage was crowded into the 20-foot-high box stand by 4 p.m. When the group arrived at the food plot, four mature bucks were already feeding, which set the pace for a deer-filled afternoon. Toward the end of their vigil, a couple of the guys said, "There's a really big buck over there."
Photo Courtesy of Mark White
Heads turned. Fingers pointed. Hearts skipped a beat.
Clay didn't see the buck step out of the mesquite grove at 250 yards - the far end of the field - until the men pointed it out to him. And then someone said, "That's him," the buck they'd been hoping would show.
The boy's heart began racing. He'd seen video footage of the buck in velvet. What detail was hidden by the distance had already been burned into the young hunter's mind.
Age 14 might be young, barely legal to pick up and hunt with a gun in many states, but Clay was introduced to the sport when he was 5. He started off accompanying his dad to duck blinds. He shot his first deer, a 12-pointer, at age 9, while hunting near Montgomery, Ala., on property owned by a friend of his dad's. That was the first of three mounts to bear the boy's name. Now he was clearly looking at No. 4, the biggest of the bunch.
The Texas ranch might've been surrounded by high fence - somewhere out there among the rocks and scrub the Apaches once roamed. But except for the crowd at his elbows, Clay might as well have been hunting private land in Alabama or Mississippi. If someone could bottle the high that this young hunter experienced, drug lords would find themselves in the unemployment line.
"I don't mind the waiting for deer," Clay said. "However long it takes doesn't matter. My heart's always beating like crazy ... just knowing a big buck could step out at any moment.
"I probably deer hunt a solid month and a half each year," he added. "That's not all at once, but in total. I go out as often as I can in Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. I love it."
But then hunting elsewhere, under very different circumstances, couldn't compete with the chemical imbalance induced by the added stress of being filmed. Even without the camera, Clay had an audience: a group of men that seemed content to let him flick his safety on and off and go cross-eyed from peering into a riflescope while daylight was slipping away.
When the enormous buck stopped at about 175 yards, Clay received five thumbs up and a chorus of, "Okay, Clay, you can shoot." They just as well could've said, "Okay, Clay, you can stop turning blue now ..."
The kid thought he'd never hear those words. But except for the breathing part, he was ready.
"I found its shoulder, counted to 10, held my breath (on purpose) and squeezed the trigger," he said. "The deer bucked and then ran for about 50 yards before collapsing in the field."
In a matter of seconds, the hunting party boiled out of the shooting house like hornets - make that four big hornets and a little one with a great big grin.
"Thanks, Dad," he said.
Editor's Note: Clay's hunt will be included in a video entitled "Five Star Bucks," to be released by his outfitter, Koby Howell. Log on to www.5staroutfitters.com for booking information.
Hunter: Mark White
Official Score: 205 1/8"
Composite Score: 228
-- Reprinted from the September 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine