Even though I grew up in Texas, at age 28 I found myself going deer hunting for the first time - in Oklahoma. Fort Sill, OK, to be exact.
I had just returned from a 36 month active duty tour in Germany, and was on my way for a second tour in Vietnam, with a 6 week layover at Ft Sill, to get current training on Vietnam artillery tactics and procedures.
So, deer season was going on, but by the time I got there the drawings had all been held, and all 50 hunting compartment slots had been allotted. But, I could hunt "standby" for any unclaimed slot on Friday evening, for the following Sat/Sun.
First, the only legal firearm was shotgun, only legal ammo was slugs. The only shotgun I owned at the time was a SXS 12 ga with a bird bead sight.
Secondly, I had NEVER gone deer hunting - only read about it since the age of 14, in Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, and Sports Afield.
So, starting on Monday before the weekend I would attempt a standby hunt, I went to the library in the basement of the building where I was attending classes, for my noon hour - of reading, not eating.
I got me a yellow legal pad and started scouring back issues of the noted magazines, and wrote down deer hunting tips from the deer hunting stories.
If I came across the same tip in another story, I would put a little hash mark in the margin of the note pad. By the time Friday arrived, I had about two dozen deer hunting tips, with many of them mentioned in a dozen or more stories.
Friday afternoon, at 1700 hours, I rushed to the outdoor recreation building to see what unclaimed hunting slot might be available. There, on a big portable bulletin board, was a 1:25,000 scale map of the entirety of Fort Sill - all 100,000 plus acres. With about 10 of the 50 hunt areas having open slots - 3 slots per area.
So, the first use of my new found "book smarts" was how to map spot bedding areas, feeding areas, and most likely trails connecting the two, as well as how to identify natural funnels to deer movements.
I picked an area with all 3 slots open, bordered on the north by a lake, with a little feeder drainage leading from the artillery impact area (where deer feed at night - under the glare of artillery illumination rounds), on the south boundary.
After choosing my area, I had about one hour of daylight remaining to drive out to the area and do some scouting. When I got there, with a copy of the 1:25,000 topo map in hand, I literally ran up and down that drainage from south (impact/feeding area) to north - where I found "bathtub size/shape impressions" in tall grass near the lake shore. Bedding area.
I then went back south along the drainage looking for a way to get elevation above the drainage. I found it, and it was about a 10 foot high embankment on the east (sunrise) side, overlooking the drainage where the west side was low and gently sloping.
I had learned (from reading) that having the sun rise behind you would make it harder for a deer to see you. Also, "deer seldom look up".
The prevailing wind was from the north (I read somewhere that a cross wind was OK, but a wind in your face was best).
"Situate yourself with some kind of backdrop to avoid being silhouetted." Found a big, thick cedar about 8 feet tall to fill that requirement.
The next morning I was up about 3 AM, taped a fishing rod guide to the rear of the raised rib on my SXS 12 ga, making a functional (if not crude) "ghost ring" rear sight. No chance to actually take it to a range and "check the zero". Oh well, I thought, if the range was 40 yards, or less, it would probably be OK.
Drove out to the drainage, parked the car half a mile down the paved road, and used my (Army issue) compass and a little "dead reckoning to find my 8 foot cedar tree. Sat down on my little Army issue folding stool, and waited with my adrenaline level so high I wondered if I was experiencing the "buck fever" I had read about.
From all I had read, I expected the direction of travel to be from feeding area (to my left), to the bedding area (to my right). So, I was surprised when the first deer I saw was going "the wrong way". Hadn't that big, barren doe read the book?
Half an hour later here HE came - looked just like the deer on the front covers of all the magazines, Booner rack, and all. Never dawned on me that some deer have small racks. What did I know?
He came at a slow walk, never looked up. When his head went behind a tree trunk, I raised the 12 ga and waited for an opening for a shot at his vitals.
Forty yards - or less!
When his vitals were exposed, I put the bird bead of my SXS on the notch at the rear of his front leg elbow, pulled the bead down to the 6 o'clock position in the rear "ghost ring" sight, and squeezed off the shot.
He reacted by humping up like a bucking horse. According to one article I had read, that reaction meant "low lung hit". He then trotted (limping) about 20 yards and laid down behind a fallen Post Oak tree. I could hardly see him, due to the fact that the Post Oak had not shed its leaves (this was early December).
We, the buck and I, then went into about a 15 minute standoff, neither of us moving. Actually, I saw him blink once, and he also licked one nostril.
Finally, I decided to break the stalemate. I slowly and quietly broke open my shotgun, replaced the one spent hull with an unfired one, quietly stood up, then snapped the shotgun shut and shouldered it simultaneously. He didn't move.
But now, from a standing position, I could see most of his left side, as he was laying on his right side. Couldn't see his hind quarters, or his front legs, neck, or head. Then, I took careful aim as far forward as I could see, and touched off another shot.
He jumped up and limped away, at about half speed.
"Never follow up quickly on a wounded deer. They will go a short distance, then lay up and watch their back trail. Leave them alone for 30 minutes to an hour. They will often stiffen up and die. If you chase after them too soon, they will get an adrenalin rush and sometimes run for miles."
So said "The Book", so shall it be.
An hour later, after I had gone for some coffee, I easily followed the blood trail from the Post Oak to his bed, about 50 yards away. He bled about a quart, laying there. Now the bed was empty, and the blood trail was sparse. I worked the trail for about an hour, again relying on book knowledge
"A wounded deer will:
go to water
stay in thick cover"
I had moved only about another 50 yards, when another hunter showed up. I told him the story and asked for his advice and help.
He went on a loop to the east and north, to the lake shore, and began to search the drainage bottom,moving south, toward me, while I worked the drainage bottom from the south, moving north. When we were in sight of each other, the other hunter shouted to me, "There's your trophy". I asked if he was dead (couldn't see the buck from where I was).
"No, but he's too weak to get up" said the other hunter. "Never assume a deer is dead or too weak to get up and run off. Many of them do", according to The Book.
As I started running in the direction the other hunter was pointing, I heard myself yelling - "SHOOT him, shoot HIM, SHOOT HIM'.
He didn't. I DID - right behind the left ear, from a foot, as he had gotten his back legs under himself, but still had not gotten the front ones straightened out. Five more seconds, and he could have been gone!
Didn't that other hunter ever read books!!??
Long story short, he was a 17 pointer, gross scored 175, netted 156. G2's were palmated into 3 points each. Left antler G3 was injured while in the velvet, resulting in 3 points where there should have been one. MASS!! Biologist said his teeth indicated 5 1/2 years old.
Low lung shot. "Double sucking chest wound" by Army parlance.
I still read a lot.