“Whysoooon, where are you?” questioned Gary Roberson. Before I could reply to his phone query, “I’m about an hour away from the Ivy Ranch, so you’ll probably get there before I do. Save Steve and me a couple of bunks in the coolest of the rooms.” I assured my longtime friend and occasional hunting partner of many years I would indeed try to claim beds for us in a cool room, and, that I was only about five minutes from the ranch’s front gate. I looked at the outside temperature on my Hoffpauir Chevrolet pickup. It showed 98 degrees. It was still mid-morning.
Soon as I pulled up at the ranch’s bunkhouse I spotted Steve Jones with Back Country Hunts our guide and outfitter. Steve was unhooking a trailer, behind him putting up targets on the range right next to camp were Paul Pluff, Heath Putnam and Graham Rockwell, all with Ruger and much involved in some new handguns the company was working on.
Steve and I have known each other for years and have shared numerous fun-filled and successful hunting camps. Paul, I had known for years but we had never hunted together. Heath and Graham, I knew by name but had not yet spent any time around them, but was anxious to do so. Heath is working on a series of new competition and hunting handguns for Ruger which may soon be introduced to the public.
After proper “Howdys” and unloading gear, Paul led me to the living quarters area of the extremely comfortable camp and handed me a Ruger Redhawk in .44 Mag, complete with a Trijicon RMR sight, as well as couple boxes of Hornady 240-grain XTP ammo. Moments later I was at the range, shooting at twenty-five yards. My first shot was about an inch high and right. A quick adjustment and the second shot was dead in the bull. I decided I might later shoot at a longer range, but for the time being, knowing we would likely be sitting near a water source, thought the shots might be relatively, close. Later that afternoon, however, before going hunting I did shoot out to 50 yards and kept my shots within about a 3-inch circle.
For years I have hunted with handguns topped with long eye relief scopes. I had only on a very few occasions hunted with handguns topped with a red dot type sight, back when I occasionally followed a brace of hounds pursuing wild hogs.
After shooting at 50 yards, I decided I needed to keep my shots within that range or less with the existing gun, sight setup.
That first afternoon I essentially rode the ranch roads with Steve and Heath, wanting to get a feel of the property and hopefully get close enough for a shot, through spot and stalk. Later that afternoon I did make several stalks, but could never quite got within my self-imposed range limit. Late in the afternoon we spotted a really good buck in a motte of liveoak trees. It was Heath’s turn to attempt a stalk. We backed up, dropped Heath off where he could see the area and if needed change positions to get a shot. Steve and I backed out, then made a long circle to the top of the ridge where we could see the buck, and almost see Heath. We hoped too, we might make the buck a bit nervous so he would drift into range of Heath’s Ruger revolver.
Finally, we saw the buck move toward where we suspected Heath was hidden and waiting in ambush. A couple of minutes later we heard the first of three shots. About five minutes later we drove to where we had dropped Heath off and saw him walking out of the oaks with a broad smile on his face. “I think he’s down right at the top of the rise on the right side of the road. I thought I saw him go down.”
We walked in the direction of where Heath had last seen the buck. There he lay, an absolute gorgeous wide, over 30-inch main beam buck with really good second or caudal points. Heath’s excitement could not be hidden! After hearty congratulations and the appropriate photos, we loaded the buck and headed in the direction of camp.
Over a most delicious supper Heath told his story several times. There we learned Paul had seen some bucks but too distant for a shot. Graham had also seen distant bucks. Gary and his son Steve, who also serves as the primary cameraman for their “Carnivore” television show, had gotten almost close enough for a shot at what Gary described as a truly big Axis buck, which equated to a buck with likely 33 to 35-inches in main beam length.
Next morning Paul, Steve Jones, Nathan Richter, Ruger’s cameraman, and I put a stalk on three really nice Axis bucks. We got within about a hundred yards of the biggest, but could not get any closer. I turned down the shot.
Later that morning Paul, Nathan and I stalked to within less than fifty yards of two really good bucks in thick brush. Unfortunately, we could not see enough of them to put a shot in their vitals. The stalk, however, was extremely good fun.
Back at camp for lunch, we learned Graham had seen numerous bucks as had Gary and Steve. Paul that morning had only seen young bucks.
That afternoon Graham connected with an extremely handsome 32-inch main beam buck with great brow and caudal tines. Paul almost had a shot, and I watched bucks, numerous of them at long distance, including the best free-range Axis buck I had ever seen. My biggest Axis has 34-inches long main beams with a 32-inch spread, and tremendous tine length. The buck I saw at 100-yards that afternoon made that extremely good Axis buck look small! No doubt his main beams were well over 36-inches in length. I dearly wished I had been hunting with my scoped, .44 Mag, Super Blackhawk Hunter. Had I been doing so, I could have told you exactly how big he really was.
Next morning was Paul’s! After spotting a truly fine buck, Steve dropped Nathan and Paul off to complete a stalk on a buck that was tending a doe. Although some Axis deer breed throughout the year, the peak of the breeding season is nearly always in June in the Texas Hill Country.
Paul executed a perfect stalk, got within his “comfort zone” and put the Axis buck down with one well-placed shot.
Steve and I ended up going home without an Axis, but frankly we could have shot numerous younger bucks, but we had decided not to pull the trigger unless we could take an ancient, long beamed, long-tined buck.
In retrospect I wished I had taken an Axis buck regardless of size, because their venison is some of the most succulent and tasty in the world, even that from old rutting bucks. Good thing I have another Axis hunt planned in late June, early July. This time I’ll be carrying one of my Ruger revolvers topped with a long eye relief scope and I will be taking some some delicious venison!