By Mike Handley
When my outfitter friend Jay Jack suggested I go to his personal spot that afternoon, where a trail camera had photographed a world-class Typical numerous times, I felt as if I’d been given the key to Buck City, Okla.
He’d placed a folding chair behind an uprooted and denuded mesquite tree about 120 yards from a stand of cedars where deer bedded. He hunted it at every opportunity. The one day he didn’t go is when the buck passed by the trail camera during daylight hours -- at least twice in the same hour.
Jay’s self esteem was as flat as a run-over cow patty after that.
Sitting behind the skeletal tree, I could see far beyond rifle range. I watched distant buffalo grazing on the slopes of the Wichita Mountains, the high-fenced national wildlife refuge flanking the 3,000-acre tract we were hunting. I also saw numerous wild hogs, but not the elk or deer that coaxed “Oh my gods” out of my breath while hunting the other side of the ranch.
“This place ... seeing all those great animals on the refuge side of the fence ... will make you cry,” Jay told me the first time we met. He was right.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Just keep walking toward that peak, and you’ll see the (low) fence. As soon as you see that, look to your left, and you’ll see the Oklahoma Sooner chair,” were the directions Jay gave me to his stand. He was going to climb a mountain of boulders -- no doubt a castle for dozens of denning rattlesnakes -- to glass the opposite side of the pasture.
I remembered that miniature mountain. He and I had frozen our butts off there while trying for elk a couple of years earlier.
I followed the twin paths of tire-smashed grass until I saw the fence after topping a small rise. I stopped and glassed the line of cedars carefully before proceeding, moving only when I was convinced nothing was afoot.
I’d taken maybe three steps to the left when I looked back and saw an enormous whitetail that had been hidden from view by the ONLY tree between me and the cedar grove, a squatty and leaf-covered oak. The buck was about to hop the fence and disappear back into thick cover.
I guess I panicked. There was no time to judge the rack properly, but one glance was enough for me to know I wanted it. There were three seconds to shoot, and I did. And I didn’t cut a hair. From the deer’s reaction, I knew there would be no blood, but I looked anyway.
Jay was beside me within 10 minutes. We huddled behind those mesquite bones for the rest of the afternoon -- me choking down bile, him holding Ruby, a puppy yet to grow into her long legs and feet.
To that point in early December, I’d logged 120 hours in deer stands with a bow. Most days, I’d been out from dark ‘til dark. I’d passed up 2 1/2-year-old bucks and broken-antlered 3-year-olds in Ohio, Nebraska and Kansas. What was supposed to be an “easy” rifle hunt wound up being the fourth ingredient for my tag soup.
“I know it won’t do any good for me to say this, but don’t beat yourself up,” Jay told me.
“You don’t understand,” I replied. “I don’t miss with a rifle. Hell, even all the deer I shoot with a bow (except this doe in Illinois a few years back) fall within sight.”
A half-hour later, Jay said, “Believe me, I know how you feel. I don’t miss either ... except for this year. I hadn’t told anybody about it before now.”
I might never forget the sight of that lucky buck with the kicker jutting off its left P-2, but my frayed nerves were soothed a few hours later when we drove to nearby Lawton for me to measure a buck that wound up being a new Oklahoma state compound bow record. Its composite score topped 253 inches. Bo Middleton of Elgin was one happy camper afterward, and I wasn’t even sure of the buck’s No. 1 status at the time.
I left southwest Oklahoma without a buck of my own-- probably the only hunter of Jay’s who didn’t get one this year -- but I drilled a gorgeous razorback on the first day. It rocketed 20 yards before running smack into and bouncing off a low-slung cedar. I also had three scoresheets in my briefcase: Bo’s big one from 2010, another he’d taken the previous season that tallied 193, and a great 186 4/8-incher taken by his buddy, Chizum Hale, also in ’09.
Bo’s tale will be in Rack magazine next fall. Jay’s number is (580) 591-1181. Tell him you can shoot better than I can.