By Lisa L. Price
Photo by: Hotshots Photography
Mark Purcell of Border, Texas, knows all the nooks and crannies of his hunting lease, and he waited until around rut time in 2004 to hunt a particular area he considers perfect for rattling. The weather conditions that day made the spot even more special, because a lingering morning fog would keep the deer guessing as they responded.
He settled his son, Mark, off to one side and began whacking his set of rattling antlers together, the sound thudding and hanging heavy in the fogginess.
Suddenly, like a ghost, a buck materialized over a sand dune and stood, confused and motionless.
Mark waited in happy anticipation for his son to shoot, but the seconds clicked by and nothing happened. Then he heard words that were not happy at all.
"Dang!" His son was saying ... "Dang!"
While getting to his knees, 12-year-old Mark had lost his balance and shoved the muzzle of the .30-06 deep into the soft sandy dirt. Moving as little as possible, he was trying to dislodge the stuff, but it was soon too much for the buck, which vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
Young Mark Purcell's buck is yet another example of the caliber of whitetails the Texas Panhandle is growing these days. The brush country of South Texas no longer has the monopoly on world-class antlers and body weights. Photo Courtesy of Mark Purcell II.
"Something comical always happens while we're hunting," his dad said. "At least, we think it's best to look at it that way."
It was their third year on the Texas Panhandle lease, and their third year of deer hunting together. The two had spent many happy days chasing doves and feral hogs, but didn't go after deer as a team until they got on the lease, which they share with friend Mike Williams.
Young Mark had taken a 4-pointer his first year and a doe the second. After the dirt incident, he figured he'd blown his chance at a buck for '04.
But he was wrong.
And the comical moments weren't over either.
On Nov. 6, the two started their hunt in a 12-foot-high tripod stand. It was a clear day and unseasonably hot, even for Texas, with the temperature at 80 degrees.
The stand has only one swivel chair, and the two share it. It's not the most comfortable setup, they agree, but because of the vegetation and tree size in the area, their tripod is the best choice.
A group of wild turkeys approached and lingered around the stand, and Mark wanted his son to be completely still, so the turkeys wouldn't blow their cover.
But young Mark kept twitching his foot. Unbeknownst to his dad, he was trying to dislodge the giant spider that was crawling over his boot and headed for the inside of his pants leg. The turkeys, of course, bolted, making their dreaded alarm putts, which signaled lunchtime for father and son.
They went to a small bunkhouse on the lease, but didn't get to relax there. First, they had to kill two rattlesnakes that had taken up residence in the cabin. One of the serpents was 7 feet long. Then, relieved, the two settled into chairs, only to torpedo out the door seconds later as they were attacked by a swarm of yellow jackets.
"We were miserable by then, so we decided we might as well go back to the stand," Mark said. "At least we'd had some excitement."
The two returned to the stand at about 3:30, settling side by side in the lone chair of the tripod, the Remington .30-06 between them. About two hours later, they saw a big deer weaving through the mesquite.
Father and son grabbed the rifle with both hands at the same time.
"We were wrasslin' for the gun and we both looked at each other," big Mark said. "I could tell he was not going to give it up."
Young Mark said he didn't let himself think about how big the deer looked.
"We were both shaking, and I was too busy looking at it, trying to figure out when to shoot, so I didn't really think about it," he said. "It wasn't hard to keep the scope on the buck, and my dad was telling me what to do and when to shoot.
"My dad had always told me never to look at the antlers," he added. "He said just to keep thinking about a spot to shoot."
But when his dad said shoot, nothing happened. And then, he heard the dreaded word again.
"Dang!" his son was saying ... "Dang!"
The safety was still engaged.
"The buck had gotten into a clear area, and it seemed like he sensed something was wrong," big Mark said. "I knew Mark didn't have much time to shoot, but he was pulling the trigger and nothing was happening."
At the click of the safety, the big deer's ears stood straight up. Young Mark pulled the trigger, and immediately said more words a father doesn't like to hear ... "I missed! I missed!"
But they saw the deer go down, crashing into the mesquite.
"We were jumping up and down and high-fiving each other," his dad said. "We came real close to falling out of the stand."
They were amazed as they approached the buck.
"I had always grabbed my bucks and dragged them with one hand, but this one I couldn't budge," Mark said. "It weighed 305 pounds dressed."
The 22-point buck was at least 7 years old.
Mark has since given the .30-06 to his son, and he's purchased a new rifle for himself. His son said that deal is fine with him.
"Now he needs to shoot a big buck," young Mark said. "He needs to get one that he can hang right next to mine."
Official Score: 184 2/8"
Compound Score: 203 7/8"