by Stephanie Wottrich
My husband, Jerry, and I took our son and daughter-in-law (Ken & Valerie) for a December deer hunt. This was to be a girl’s hunt, with the guys being relegated to observer status. Valerie began hunting when she and Ken started dating, she had shot several does, and our main goal was to get her a buck on the wall. As we prepared our gear, the weather was being forecasted to get downright cold with possible ice storms. I gathered up lots of warm camo, and we loaded up the truck.
En route to AC Hunting Ranches, near Fort McKavett, the weather began to deteriorate. As we passed Fredericksburg, the roads were quite bad. The trip that should have taken about three hours took nearly six. Unfortunately, this was a prequel of things to come. Everything was coated in at least an inch of ice. Walking was precarious, especially on hard surfaces.
Upon arrival, we shot our rifles, had a late lunch, and then geared up for the hunt. I vacillated between gearing up super warm or not, since it was evening hunt, and not as cold as morning. I thought about it, and the “better too warm than too cold” theory won out. I layered up in my thermals and Prois Xtreme jacket and Eliminator (waterproof) pants. As we headed out to the stands, the craziness ensued. Our guide and friend, Phillip, slipped on the ice and when we got over to him, his foot was pointing in an unnatural position. It was obvious he had broken both his tibia and fibula. I quickly, but carefully, walked back into the lodge to get help while my husband assisted Phillip. We got him loaded into the truck for Alan, the ranch manager, to drive him to the hospital. Jerel and I then had another gentleman drive us out to our stand.
When there is ice on the ground, stealth is something you just can’t have. Every step made a loud “crunch.” As we walked, about 25 turkeys went flying off in a cacophony of clucks with wings flapping. It was our first good news of the day; cover sound! We got up into the stand and settled in. Within about 30 minutes, we could hear deer approaching. I looked through my binoculars and was excited. It was a very nice, wide, 8-point buck. After carefully studying the buck, we decided this was a good buck to take. I reached up to slowly slide the window open…it was completely frozen shut. The ice was so smooth, you could see right through it. There was no way to get it open (and believe me, we tried everything).
I decided I would sneak down from the stand and attempt to find a location I could shoot from on the ground. The guys were watching the buck and communicating with me by hand signals through the window. I could only take steps when the wind would whip through the icy branches, so it was exceptionally slow-going. The deer spooked, and I heard them go crashing through the brush. At that point I found myself a vantage point and sat on the icy ground, hoping they would return.
Fortune was my friend. Less than 10 minutes later, I heard animals approaching through the trees. It appeared to be the same buck and doe; however, from the angle they approached, I was totally exposed, and unable to bring my binoculars up to check. I studied him with my naked eye for several minutes, and then made the decision to take the shot. I waited for an opportunity, and then raised my gun to my knee, shooting from a sitting position. Success, the old buck fell! The guys came down from the blind, and we began to approach the downed buck. We were about 15 feet from him when he got up and ran into the woods, with no clear shooting lane. With dusk approaching, we followed the blood trail, and found him crumpled about 45 yards away.
So many things were passing through my head, not the least of which was how happy I was that I decided to wear my warm gear and waterproof pants, as I am certain that if I had been in my jeans, I would have been miserable with a wet bottom!
We returned to the lodge for dinner and drinks, and learned that my friend Valerie had not yet seen anything worthy of harvesting. It was decided that Jerel would join her on the next day’s hunt, while I hunted for a cull buck.
The weather had warmed up a good bit and most of the ice had melted. All in all, it was a beautiful day. Valerie had no luck on the morning hunt and neither did I. We all hoped for good luck for the evening.
As I sat in my stand, I watched (and photographed) numerous whitetail bucks that would have been perfect for Valerie. I watched, wishing she were in my stand. Jerel was texting me, and they hadn’t really seen anything worthy. There was still ice on the ground in many places. I heard something approaching from my left. I looked through the brush and was able to ascertain that it was an old, mature buck. It was genetically deficient and needed to be culled from the herd. As he cleared the brush, I was ready, and made a clean kill. This old buck was the coolest cull I have ever seen. Less than an inch separates his G2’s. His spread was less than 10 inches, but he was heavy-horned and beautiful in my eyes.
While we were preparing to take pictures, my phone began lighting up. It was Valerie and she had taken her first buck! It was getting close to dusk. After looking at many inferior and immature bucks, she was able to harvest a beautiful 8-point buck. There was a huge celebration back at the lodge for the two “deadly ladies,” and especially in celebration of Valerie’s first buck ever. It was a weekend none of us would ever forget, a special bonding time for the family, and success in filling the freezers.