Have you ever been in that moment after a long hike through tough terrains and FINALLY get set up on what you've been going after and question whether or not you should take that animal? I feel like almost every hunter can relate to that feeling of uncertainty in some way. I was recently put in this very same situation on an Axis buck hunt.
My husband and I finally had a chance to get away for a weekend this summer and we set out for a piece of family property to try and find my first Axis buck and fill our freezer. We were headed to a tiny town in South Texas known as Montell, the epitome of “the middle of nowhere”. This property has historically held large Axis deer, but since we hadn't set foot on this land in over five years, we kind of went into the hunt blind.
We finally arrived late that afternoon and decided to start scouting and hopefully get more of an idea of what the property held. Something you can always count on Texas for is terribly HOT summer days, so we knew these deer would be almost nocturnal. With that in mind, we began carefully walking through the woods. Within minutes we spooked a few whitetail does and fawns beaded up under a big pecan tree. The fact that we saw something, was exciting to us! The rest of our afternoon consisted of setting up a few trail cameras, glassing the river beds, and preparing for our more hopeful morning hunt.
The next morning, eagerly ready to hunt, we start walking through the woods at the break of daylight. Not long into our walk, I suggested to my husband to turn left into the small flat where we spooked the whitetail deer the day before. He agreed, and before we could even come around the turn, we spotted a heard of Axis deer grazing in that flat. I drop my backpack and as you could expect, my heart started to pound. Looking through my binoculars we counted around 18 does and 3 good bucks. My husband and I discuss our options and decide to sneak up to a thicket to get more cover and set up on the bigger of the three bucks. When we got to the thicket my husband explains, “Hanah, he's a pretty decent buck for your first Axis. I want you to look at him through your scope, and if you like him, then go ahead and take him”. I got set up, and as I'm fighting that bright morning sun in my face along with my heart about to beat out of my chest, I whisper to Hagen, “I can't tell which one he is, I can't tell which one is the shooter”! I clicked my gun back on safety and set it down to catch my breath. The deer had no idea we were there. I began telling Hagen that I wasn't sure if I should take this buck. He was a great buck but I just didn't think he was mature enough. Hagen supported my decision and we watched the deer for a few more minutes. As we were watching, a giant velvet whitetail came out of the brush and all the Axis ran off. At this point, we finally got to discuss what had just happened a little better. I knew that I could have ethically taken that buck if I wanted to, I just felt he wasn't as mature as I had set my standards for. That was such a risky decision for me because like I said before, we haven’t been on this property in years. What if that is the last buck we see?
Contemplating whether or not I made the right decision we continue on our hike. Not even 100 yards away from our last set up, we spot some more bucks! I got one look at a buck down at a water hole and immediately knew I was going to take this buck! We decided to drop everything and sneak around the corner about 20 yards to get a perfect broadside shot on this absolute giant. My heart was racing as I got set up on my sticks. The buck had shifted some from where I set up. His head was behind a tree trunk, but I was confident I had my crosshairs on the biggest buck. My husband whispers, “Aim two inches to the right of the tree and squeeze the trigger”. That's exactly what I did, and BAAM! Dropped him right in his tracks! At this point, so many things were rushing through my head but all I wanted to do is get my hands on him! I walked up to my buck which was around 180 yards away, and before I could even see his body all you could see were his horns coming up from the grass. As soon as I got my hands on him I knew I had made the right decision by passing up the previous buck!
Knowing this buck had reached his most mature state and that he had lived to his fullest potential, gave me such a sense of accomplishment. I had no way of knowing if we would see another buck on the property, or if I would even get another opportunity to fill our freezer. Taking that risk to keep going and do what you know is right really paid off for me. I think one of the most difficult things in the moment you are set up on an animal, is not to lower your standards despite buck fever. I have learned while hunting that perseverance through the hunt will give you the biggest trophy!