At six in the morning, I arrived at LiveOak Forks Ranch, entered through the gate and parked at the barn, as owner Marion Pringle had instructed. I texted Mr. Pringle, a retired NASA engineer, to let him know I had arrived, and stepped out to take in the beautiful morning. The stars were exploding. A thumbnail moon sat atop the trees on the horizon, with the dark side standing out beautifully and clearly. There was barely a breeze.
I heard his truck in the distance, but then I heard something more disconcerting … his two dogs were racing straight at me from down the gravel road.
Not knowing these sprinting dogs, I quickly weighed my options. As they got closer, I firmly called, “Hey you guys, be nice. Nice.” And thankfully, they were very sweet and loving. One was a chocolate lab named Rowdy, and the other, a stocky older girl whose name I missed.
After getting some love from Rowdy, Mr. Pringle showed up in his Chevy truck. We made sure we had everything prepared (rifles, waiver, corn and a sack breakfast prepared by Mrs. Pringle).
We set off in his truck through the 470 acres of fields.
He explained that the ranch is set up in multiple zones, and that wild turkeys will sometimes scare the deer away. Also, any hogs were to be considered a nuisance and to be shot if possible.
I hoped this wouldn’t happen … this was the first day that I would be hunting at LiveOak Forks Ranch, and I was hoping to get a deer in the morning and be home in time to pick up my second-grade son from school. A hog would be great, but it would significantly reduce the likelihood of my taking a deer that morning. Mr. Pringle said it would be best for his program to take one of the culls and a doe from the herd. My hunt was expected to be for more than one day, which took away some pressure. And the dates were flexible, since I live nearly and we could arrange that.
We laced through the oak trees and over dry creek beds, slowly pouring out corn before he pulled into a perfectly-trimmed parking spot, carved into the foliage.
A brisk, quiet walk brought us to the blind. It was still dark. A meteor flashed overhead shortly before we got there. It was set on the south side of a long stretch of field. From where we sat, the thick creek bed of Live Oak Creek gave us trees about 50 yards in front of us; and the meadow stretched endlessly in either direction. We had markers set at 100 yards to our left and right. It was like being set on the sidelines at the 50-yard line of some extremely long stadium.
After some nice whispering conversation, I realized the increasing light allowed me to distinguish between the trees and the brush line. It was still pretty dark, though.
Scanning the meadow, about 75-80 yards away along the treeline, there seemed to be a large black mass (would probably be the 20-yard-line to the right, if using the 50-yard-line description). We pulled out the binoculars and saw there were four hogs, silently chomping away at the corn we had poured out. I was surprised how stealthily they had come in … I’d expected hogs to be noisier.
The blood was starting to pump as Mr. Pringle suggested we try to do a “Two-Fer” — each of us would try to get a hog at the same time, on the count of three.
I lined up the decent-sized porker on the right, barely able to see his outline. However, Mr. Pringle’s scope on his “critter rifle” wasn’t cooperating, so we decided to give it a few minutes to get more light, and give it a try if they were still there. But after about five minutes, they started mulling around, and then sunk back into the brush along the creek.
I turned to my left and saw a tremendous Axis buck striding across the meadow at about 200 yards away. Flashes of white ran down his side and the light shined off his big rack. He seemed to be on a mission, though, and continued his steady pace away from us. Then a doe. A quick glimpse of another doe, and a large buck in the distance. Another doe to the left. And finally, my cull buck stepped out.
I lined up through the right window of the blind, and immediately found him, walking around and grazing. Safety off. I focused on my breathing … but I could hear myself rasp a lot stronger than I wanted to. The adrenaline was pumping. Nice, easy breaths, come on … wait for his right foot to step forward for the perfect shot … THERE … stay …
… squeeze …
The .30-06 had a decent kick, and smoke filled my view as the rifle surprised me with its blast. I knew it was a good shot, and as soon as the smoke cleared, I saw him on the ground where he had stood. No kick. No jump. No pirouette. Just knocked straight down. My heart was thumping in my chest and in my head.
We waited about 15 minutes before stepping out of the blind, during which time Mr. Pringle shared a story which convinced me that it is indeed best to wait to make sure the animal is dead before approaching it. Besides – an extra 15 minutes in the blind … there are worse ways to spend my time. He was a nice 7-pointer who could have been considered an 8 if his top left tine had been another quarter-inch.
An adrenaline-filled way to enjoy a crisp fall morning.