I’ve spent my fair share of nights sleeping in uncomfortable situations. Pickup beds, rotted out farm houses and dilapidated old travel trailers, and of course the cold hard ground. I can remember a deer hunt that was so cold and wet that my hunting partner and I zipped our sleeping bags together to fend off the frost bite. On another trip, I dumped the lump out of my pillow case. The lump was a field rat. I awoke one morning so stiff from the pickup bed I’d used for a mattress, that reaching down to tie my boots seemed impossible. I’d do it all again too!
Our passion for this hunting and fishing heritage that we live can lead to some tough places and times, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve also been spoiled with some fine lodging, dining and terrific hunting and fishing opportunities. Robin and I have spent the past week at one of the absolute finest resort hunt/fish destinations that I’ve ever, yes I used the ever word, visited. Joshua Creek Ranch has the credentials. Two Tridents from Beretta, ORVIS Endorsed, heck, George Strait even visits for a little wing shooting from time to time. Everything, and I mean every detail at JCR is tended too. Your mattress, your view, your meals, your linens, your lodging, your everything will be the finest offered. It’s flying first class, and it's good! This is our third trip to this wonderful ranch located about an hour northwest of San Antonio, Texas.
The same detail that’s woven into your lodge experience is applied to the habitat on this near 1,400 acre ranch as well...Two decades plus of back breaking work by the Kercheville family. Years of cedar removal, planting, pond building, etc have produced perfect habitat for the wildlife that love this place. IT'S LOW FENCE. The critters have a choice where they spend time browsing, loafing and raising babies. That’s the best testament to this conservation project-an endorsement from the wildlife on this free range ranch in the Texas Hill Country region.
I’m here to hunt my favorite protein-Axis deer. Axis are found free ranging in very few places across North America-Florida, Hawaii and here in the Hill Country of Texas primarily. They love it here; I guess the country is very similar to their original home in Sri Lanka. Everything about an Axis is good! They are beautiful critters with an orangish brown coat accented by snow white spots just like a whitetail fawn. God must have favored the Axis a little more than the whitetail, because He allows them to keep their spots for life. Axis are bigger than most whitetails too...Up to 250 pounds for the bigger bucks, or "bulls", your choice. They are more closely aligned to elk than whitetail deer. Typical males will grow three points on each side-main beam, a couple of impressive brow tines and secondary points about halfway up the main beam. Thirty inches and longer is considered trophy. They are gorgeous animals and fine, fine, fine dining! That’s 3 fines from the red neck that has consumed a lot of wild game. No wang, no wild taste, better than beef! Axis are a challenging hunt as well. They are spookier than whitetails. If you bang or booger something up in their neighborhood, you might as well move along. They did. Unlike the whitetail rut where single males cruise the country, axis stay in groups most all of the time. Lots of eyes to spot you. They will flock to feeders. If that is legal in your state, jump on it. One of the coolest reasons to hunt axis deer is non-typical hunting times. Axis are considered exotic game in Texas, and can be hunted year round. It's June, and it feels great to be in the deer blind!
My most regrettable miss with rifle came about five years ago right here on JCR. I had a nice 30 plus inch axis in my sights after three days of hard, HOT hunting...Shot right under his belly at 135 yards. The bullet made a cloud of dust, and I’ve watched him run off in my head over and over again...Again this week, three days of hard, not quite as hot hunting with no meat to show for the effort. There are probably 25 to 30 blind locations on this ranch. We have hunted daylight to dark most of the time and visited maybe 10-12 of those blinds. We have glassed a lot of Axis deer too. Several hundred I’d say, searching for the right buck. About 1:30 yesterday afternoon, we made a move to a blind that we’d not hunted yet on this trip. When we rounded the corner in the road, I knew instantly that this was the exact spot in my reoccurring nightmare miss. I had been here before in person and many more times in bad memory. We spotted a small herd of Axis back in the thick cedar brush and one of them was a hard horned buck. I was hunting with Billy Torkildson, JCR guide, who can take a 5 second look at an axis buck and tell you how long he is to within a half inch of antler.
At about 4pm, the herd made a move, and out he stepped. Five seconds of analysis, and Billy T said, “shoot him”. I was situated in the same blind, taking aim from the same window, with a 30 plus inch Axis standing about 30 yards behind the missed shot from five years ago. I put that old memory behind me and collected my breathing and focus. Does were milling about, and I had to hold my shot for a couple of minutes, waiting for them to clear. When the opportunity opened, I was ready, and he fell in his tracks. 30 inches on his right side, 31.5 on his left, heavy bodied and beautiful! The ghosts were gone. Billy T had no idea that I had missed from this exact location before, or that this was my birthday. When I finally had my hands on this magnificent animal, I shared the story with him. Back at the lodge, I would enjoy a hot shower, delicious pan seared Axis steaks prepared by Chef Holden and an incredible mattress for the first full eight hours of sleep in several days. This time though, the dream was different!
If you go...
Axis can shed, be hard horned or in velvet at any time of the year, however, late May to September are the most active rutting and hard horned times. Take plenty of gun. These animals are extremely tough, and probably bigger than the whitetails you’ve been hunting. My setup: Weatherby Vanguard in .270/Winchester ballistic silvertip 130 grain. If you normally hunt with something smaller (.243) I’d step up a bit. The 300’s are good choices. Dress cool! Talk to your outfitter before you go. Will you be stalking or blind hunting. Stalking these critters is very difficult since they run in herds. If you are still/blind hunting, shorts, t-shirts etc. Light, cool clothing. Stay in the blind. Yes, they are active at the most popular times, dawn and dusk, but, you will see them meandering mid-day as well. Patience has killed more critters than Tarzan. Range finder. Great tool. In the rolling terrain that Axis favor, depth can be deceptive. Naked eye would tell you that my shot would be 120-130 yards. The laser reported differently-169 yards. Depending on bullet rifle combo, that’s enough distance to affect trajectory.
June 9, 2017