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Doggin' For Sheds
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Texas Sportsman
The Gift Deer
When the biggest buck you've ever had a chance to shoot steps out unexpectedly, don't ask questions. (December 2008)

No matter how skilled a hunter you are, luck often plays a major role in taking a deer. That was certainly the case the day after Christmas 2007.

Soon after, deer began to arrive from the open field at my back. I caught a glimpse of antlers and turned to get a better look -- and bumped the side of the blind. The group of deer exploded, flushing like a covey of quail. A tall 8-pointer cleared a bush and was gone. I figured my chance at a buck had just left.

The author (right) and Mike Cooper pose with Larry's best buck ever -- a fine Christmas present from two friends.
Photo by Larry D. Hodge.

Nick Gilmore, the editor of this magazine, had set up a hunt on the 400-acre ranch owned by the Cooper brothers. Our hunting grounds are located in Hamilton County, on the northern edge of the Hill Country. It was to be a special hunt for me, because the last time I'd seen my old friend the late Russell Tinsley was during a hunt there several years before. The Cooper boys are Tinsley's nephews.

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Our host for both those hunts was Mike Cooper, and if I could choose my host for a hunt, it would be Mike. Mike keeps the old ranch house, blinds and barbecue pit just the way his father left them. He drives you to your blind in a 1940s-era military jeep and picks up harvested deer with the jeep and army trailer. Hunting with Mike is like stepping back in time to the good old days of Texas deer hunting, when being with family and friends was more important than what you shot.

Fifty yards inside the brushline, I found him, and knew immediately that he was my best buck ever.

But as I said earlier, sometimes luck steps in, and when it does, the experience becomes just that much sweeter.

Actually, luck is a two-sided thing. One person's good luck sometimes is someone else's bad luck. This time I was on the good side, and Nick was on the bad. I have to say that it was his own fault: When deciding who would hunt which blind the first afternoon, Nick insisted that I choose. It really didn't matter to me, but Nick kept insisting until I finally gave in. "OK," I said, "I'll take the oat patch."

The oat patch is small, less than a hundred yards long and maybe half that wide, and it's bordered by a heavy growth of oaks, mesquites and junipers to the south and an open field bordering a creek to the north and west. A narrow band of trees runs down its center, and a corn feeder sits at the northeast corner.

Mike dropped us off at our blinds, and I settled in. Mike had given us permission to shoot the deer of our choice, and I knew the oat patch attracted lots of does and yearlings, so I figured sausage meat was a cinch. Not half an hour after I arrived, the deer parade began. A group of five came in, and one old doe in the group attracted my attention. She was considerably bigger than the others, and she was easily identifiable by the dark, almost black stripe down her back. She never presented a clear shot before they moved off, but I knew she was at least as large as two previous does I'd taken on the place, the biggest of which weighed 94 pounds on the hoof.

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