Anticipation is always something I have to deal with on the night before the opening day of the modern gun deer hunt in November. Though I deal with it on the eve of bow season and the early muzzleloader season the November gun deer hunt is the one that grips me the most. It may be the lifelong tradition of hunting with family and friends, unlike bow hunting that is always a solo event or the muzzleloader hunt which has been going on for decades but not as long as the family tradition of hunting rutting bucks in November.
Anticipation about all of the preparation in hanging and moving stands, trimming shooting lanes, sighting in the rifles, stuffing the back pack with good things to eat and drink, making sure the knives are sharp and in their proper places in the back pack, checking for gloves, gotta have the binos, range finder, surgical gloves for field dressing, grunt tube and doe in heat bleat, deer scent, extra warm cloths like balaclava and gloves, wool toboggan, plenty of fresh ammo, though I always plan to shoot one round and make it count, and anything else that I might need in the November deer woods.
The anticipation remains the same with the family deer hunt but the faces change with time. I have hunted with my Uncle David Garner most of my life but not this November. In the spring David left this life to experience much greater woods and streams and spend time with the Creator. Brings tears to my eyes as I recall some of the great experiences we enjoyed together in this life. The same with legendary deer hunter Hubert Howard, Uncle Beverley, Rambo (Uncle Jimmy), Crowbar and many others.
This hunt would begin with my favorite hunting and fishing buddy Wanda. It is kind of our time together that we set aside for us. After the first morning others will come and share in the hunt as it goes along, but first I have to try to sleep which is not coming easy. It already is early a.m., and I am still awake.
Long before it is time, it seems, my phone alarm blasts out an elk bugle and continues until I make it stop. No time to waste, daylight will be here soon so I wake my hunting partner who is not a morning person. I say often that sometimes I wake up grumpy and other times I let her sleep. Wanda doesn’t think that is funny but her night shirt says “All morning people slapped on sight!” so you get the picture.
I climb the quad pod stand on the steep, rough hillside as bright stars twinkle in the dark sky overhead. There is frost on everything I touch as November has brought a blast of arctic air to the Ozarks. I try to quietly get everything situated before morning’s first light but the cold wind in the Wind Tunnel is already wicked.
I am the only one in the family who likes to hunt this place called the Wind Tunnel because it can be a mild fifty degrees elsewhere but you will freeze here. It is kind of a perfect storm for a vortex to create a wind even when the wind is not blowing elsewhere. You have the Spring River basin with large fields flanked by steep ridges and the river running pretty much north and south and a wide major power line cutting it from east to west. If there is any air movement, which there always is in the river basin, from the south to anywhere to northwest it takes an east turn increasing in velocity right up the steep incline towards the ridge top. Like I say, a Wind Tunnel, but it is the only place that allows you to see what is otherwise a very steep, rough boulder-strewn, tangled mess of cedars, blackberry vines, blue briars, second growth brush and any thing else that will stick, tear and impede movement of most kind, especially humans.
The deer, bears, coyotes, bobcats and other critters love it but not the hunter. It’s a very bad place for us to be, and it is a heavy duty chore to retrieve a deer from that mess if they ever make it back to the woods line, but they often do. We have had some serious challenges blood trailing and dragging deer out of it. If it is dark we always have to deal with the bear and/or coyotes nearby voicing their displeasure with our presence, especially taking what they think is now their cache of food.
Daylight comes slowly to the frosted-over landscape with an occasional shot ringing out in the distance but nothing close for a while. Wanda sends me text messages about what is happening in her weed patch…I have a doe and 2 fawns in the weed patch…now there is a doe and a small buck…Oh there is a small-racked 7 point…he is small and young, gonna pass him this time….now the turkeys are here.. I mean it is like she is watching an animal parade, and I am sitting here in the Wind Tunnel freezing my butt off watching the crows fly and the black buzzards sitting in the trees spreading their ugly wings trying to absorb all of the weak rays of early morning sun that they can. I have faith that the magical November madness called the rut will motivate deer movement eventually.
I see movement across the big field near the river. I grab my binos and focus. It is a coyote trotting down the tree line on the river bank more than six hundred yards away. I watch and wish I was a bit closer because I would truly love to interrupt his morning for him. Oh well, that’s okay, maybe later. Then the flicker of an ear down the steep hillside…then a sleek small doe. She is skiddish and tiptoes out into the power line with her tail at half mast. She pauses and looks back over her shoulder. I slowly move my rifle and silently bump off the safety. The game is on! The little doe trots daintily through the weeds heading toward the other side of the power line. I am now ignoring her as I see white tall tines coming through the cedars. Wow! Those babies look like skyscrapers!
The buck pauses in the cedars where all I can see is his tall dagger-like tines. After the pause he bursts across the power line headed for the doe and the safety of the thick tangle of cedars and brush that has kept him safe for so long. I let out a loud bleat, but he doesn’t stop. I do a second and third bleat before he stops momentarily. When he hesitates slightly I squeeze the trigger. The blast of the .30-06 rips down the Wind Tunnel, across the big field and I hear it echo from the far away ridge on the other side of the river as the buck goes down then starts sliding down the steep incline much like a mountain goat in the Rockies. When he stops sliding he gets to his feet and I shoot him again.
Then all is still and quiet except my vibrating cell phone. “What did you kill?” Wanda ask softly in her hushed hunting voice. “A buck with tall tines! He is a good one. It looks like an eight pointer. I am gonna sit tight for a while, and you need to keep a sharp eye out. There maybe another buck close by. The little doe is still here waiting on her boyfriend to go with her. Love ya. Will come get you later in the morning,” I say to my hunting partner. I realize that I am shaking, partly from being cold but mostly from a serious whitetail buck-induced adrenaline rush.
I can’t visualize my world without hunting, fishing and living every moment possible outdoors. I had to spend parts of nine years in Los Angeles and the surrounding southern California area. I hated every minute of it. I was out of my element like a fish out of water. I only endured it out of necessity but my mind was here in the Ozarks thinking of the great beauty and thrilling experiences like the encounter with this buck which my neighbors named ‘Too Tall’ because his rack was too tall for his body. Their son was at the bottom of the hill below their cabin on our way out that morning so I gave him a ride. He looked at the buck and exclaimed “That’s Too Tall! We have pictures of him. He is not as tall or wide as he was last year or the year before but he still is tall!”
Too Tall is the type buck we target on our Spring River Ranch. Our deer management plan is to let the young bucks walk and hopefully they will reach maturity where they will be the best they are ever gonna be. We plant food plots and do supplemental feeding and selective harvest. It is good when your neighbors join in on the effort because the results are well worth the effort.
Too Tall was probably seven years old and one of the oldest bucks I have ever taken. He was small in body, stunk to high heaven with musky, black tarsal glands and according to my neighbors smaller in antler size than the previous two years. To me there is a sense of accomplishment when our whitetail bucks live out their lives while passing their genes along for future generations of good quality deer, and to harvest one in the twilight years of his life to me is a trophy of the highest rank regardless of the regal crown of antlers that adorns their heads. Good Hunting!
copyright permission granted to Hallmark Times by Steppin’ Wolf Media Productions 2021
Thomas A. "TomCat" Garner is an Award Winning Journalist, Television Producer, Editor, Videographer, Radio Host and Musician.
Guitarist for Harvey Jett, former Lead Guitarist of Legendary Souther Rock Band Black Oak Arkansas
Original Cast Member of The Discovery Channel Mini Series "Clash Of The Ozarks" that aired World Wide (the Discovery Channel has 1.8 billion subscribers in 224 around the world and Clash Of The Ozarks has aired and is still airing in many of these countries)
Host of the Ozarks #1 Live Outdoor Radio Show "Outdoors Live 2021 Addition with Tommy & Wanda (continuous for more than 19 years)
Senior Board Member of Legends Of The Outdoors National Hall Of Fame
Mr. Garner makes his home in north Arkansas on the Spring River along with Wanda L. Garner who is also a Television Producer, Outdoor Writer, Television and Radio Host and Mom to 8 wonderful children.