By Jeff Johnston, NRA’s American Hunter
“Looks like Pat got lucky,” said Billy Bob as we rounded the corner and spied a camouflaged man in the middle of the two-track. It’s not like you really need camo while hunting in a box blind over a feeder, but try showing up in a West Texas deer camp wearing chartreuse. Billy Bob had deduced that if Pat wasn’t in the blind, he must’ve had one down; and if he had one down, obviously it could only be due to luck. By now we all knew the rules.
The gate was solar-powered so I kept right on yapping as we wheeled on through in the dingy Chevy. Three days prior Billy Bob didn’t say a word as I hustled to get the first gate only to have it nearly bowl me over as I reached for it. No doubt he was laughing on the inside when I slunk back to my seat. If I was embarrassed it faded with my naivete as I realized just how many gates a 9,000-acre Texas horse ranch can harbor.
It’s with the same humility that I admit Billy Bob—of course his name was Billy Bob—was my guide. To this day I honestly believe I’d be fine in a blind alone for a couple hours, but then again I may very well have fallen asleep, knocked over my gun and shot the feeder, or—I hate to even think—shot the wrong deer. Fully guided is often how they do it in Texas, and I’ve learned to appreciate the level of convenience offered there. Besides, I can’t blame them for not trusting foreigners. After all, I know it’s a rifle—in this case a Model 700 in .30-06—and not a gun, but they don’t know that I know, and they darn sure don’t know if I can tell a 4-year-old deer from a 5-year-old horse. So I just go with the flow by shooting when someone tells me to shoot and by eating a lot of barbeque.
Just a few hours before, Billy Bob had nudged me awake when an elderly 8-point hobbled out to gum some corn. We watched him for over an hour, scrutinizing him with the finest binoculars money can buy before Billy Bob finally gave me the nod. Brilliantly—and something that would likely go unnoticed by lesser hunters—he waited until the buck ambled to the two-track so it’d be easier to load. If you think these boys don’t have it down, I’ve got some ocean front I’ll sell you for a song.
At any rate, my old and wise 8-point buck, that turned out to be not that old and not that wise, was now in the back of the Chevy, and I was chatty for a change as we continued our pivotal discussion concerning the attitudes of American hunters on Texas deer hunting, and why this outsider’s thinking on it had evolved over the years. Like most Texans, however, Billy Bob didn’t seem to care. Like most clients, I told him anyway.
“Maybe it irked me a little when my buddy came skipping back home to Virginia three days after leaving for Texas with his best buck ever,” I said. “This was a long time ago, when big deer didn’t grow on trees. Deep down I was happy he got a good one of course, but God knows Tim’s worse at hunting than he is at cards, and so I sure didn’t let him know it. Truth is, it was bigger than anything I’d taken, and I guess at first something about it being so easy just didn’t sit that well with me. Heck, you don’t even have to sit still. Tim kept on and on about how he saw more bucks in one day than he’d seen in five seasons. But to me, what it amounted to was that he’d paid his money and bought a nice deer. Whoopty-doo. But corn feeders? C’mon. And who needs a tripod stand in the woods? It sounded more like deer shopping to me. I’m not a shopper.”
Billy Bob rolled his eyes and stared at me for an uncomfortable amount of time, especially considering he was driving.
“Well, at least I wasn’t a shopper,” I said. “You know if I had my druthers I’d prefer to freeze all day long in the crotch of an oak tree, waiting for the acorns to fall so the deer come in close. Of course acorns rarely fall, and so neither do any deer. But that doesn’t matter. It’s hunting, it’s how we do it back home and by gosh we like it.”
Billy Bob mumbled an uh-huh or two, and by now I knew that meant he was enjoying my company. So I continued my unique story of evolution.