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Third Time’s the Charm
September 21, 2018

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The first time was coincidentally the weekend the once-in-a-century Texas Hill Country ice storm blanketed the landscape. So, when the Axis doe stepped out from the scrubby cedars, the recital of my scope was coated with an opaque layer of frost. That Axis slumped back into the thicket and lived another day. The second time was two weeks before I wrote this story.

I was hunting a famous Texas Hill Country game ranch. Though multiple thousands of acres were under a high-fenced management plan, and accompanied by a seasoned guide, I was unable to connect with a trophy Axis buck. Not for lack of trying, but for lack of shot opportunities. However, this story is about the third time, and as the Shakespearian saying goes, the "Third Time's the Charm."

I had the opportunity to work in San Antonio for a month during the spring of 2018. Obviously working in San Antonio meant playing in the hunting paradise of the Texas Hill Country. Therefore, I planned-ahead and partnered with SKB Cases as they provided the hard sided, wheeled, custom iSeries AR-10 case (www.skbcases.com) that housed my Midwest Industries AR-10 chambered in .308. My ammunition, rangefinder, magazines and other shooting paraphernalia were snuggly stowed away as the SKB case and I flew from Pittsburgh to San Antonio.

The second weekend of my San Antonio trip was consumed with my long-planned Axis hunt at the famous Texas Hill Country located in Mountain Home, Texas. Though the ranch was impressive and the food was phenomenal my black rifle was never fired. This was disappointing to say the least. This was the type of disappointment that left me feeling gut punched and staggering to understand why I was driving back to the hotel empty-handed after two days of hard hunting. Hunting is hunting and we have all gone home empty handed; however, it is particularly difficult for a boy from the woods of Ohio to rationalize the time and money spent chasing the elusive Axis deer with only fading memories to show for it.

Luckily my good friend and colleague LCDR Gery Duparc and his son Timothy DuParc, being avid Axis hunters and residents of San Antonio understood my pain. Within a matter of days, they navigated their connections and initiated a conversation between myself and Taylor Horton. Though Taylor is a husband, father, avid hunter, and professional big game guide,his passion is taxidermy. He is the owner of TnT Taxidermy in Ingram, Texas (www.tnttaxidermy.com) and offered to host me for a free-range Axis hunt on his family property in the Texas Hill Country. Taylor provided me with an education in Axis characteristics and assured me that if I shot an Axis buck in velvet that he has the capability to freeze-dry the antlers and make a stunning mount. I had never shot a deer in velvet so if the opportunity presented itself I would make the most of it.

Taylor's family property was bordered by a river on one side and a cedar thicket-lined hill side on the other. The field between these two boundaries was dotted with cedar stands and made a fantastic habit for the native Axis herd. I felt right at home as we eased Taylor's truck up to a shooting house positioned approximately 50 yards from an automated shelled corn feeder. I settled in and rested my AR-10 on the padded ledge. I was confident my Nosler Partition bullet would fly true if given the opportunity. The South Texas sun is oppressive even in May and that afternoon was no different. The mosquitoes were not too terrible but grew increasing irritating as the hours grinded on.

There they were, a herd of Axis began to transect the field in route to the water. I counted, 10, 20, 30 maybe 40 Axis. There were more heads than I cared to count. This was a good problem to have if you have-to-have a problem. I ranged them and they were nearly 300 yards out. This is within my comfortable shooting range but the thicket prevented an ethical unobscured shot. Now, I needed the herd to come to the feeder. The feeder jolted my attention as it sprang to life. The corn flew and peppered the ground. However, the Axis did not stop and continued their swift march to the water. I suppose the need for water overcame the need for protein. Suddenly, as fate had it, a group of four doe and two bucks separated themselves from the herd and bolted towards the corn.

These were deer on a mission and unknown to them I was about to finish my mission. The first buck broke through the cedar thicket and proceeded to eat. He was a scrawny yearling with only nubs for antlers. The does meandered in and circled the feeder with their heads down. After a few minutes the remaining Axis buck pushed through the cedars and presented himself. He stood broadside and his characteristic white spots blotted his copper hide. Axis are truly visually impressive animals and their venison is desired among venison connoisseurs. This Axis buck was not a record Axis nor was he what I would consider a large adult Axis; however, he was in velvet and was definitely respectable.

I had a sorted history with Axis deer so I did not hesitate nor did I roll the dice on the off-chance of a larger majestic buck appearing. Time was off the essence and I was out of time in Texas and would soon be out of sunlight. I aimed small so that I would miss small. The AR-10 broke the silence of the Texas Hill Country and the Axis spun in a half circle as the bullet collapsed his shoulder. The hunt was over because I heard the Axis crash through the cedar thicket and collapse on the ground. A smile emerged from my face and I said "thank you", as I exited the shooting box. I walked mere steps and touched the spongy velvet of the young Axis buck that made his resting place on the hard Texas ground. I called Taylor, called my son and called my wife. I was proud of my Axis and kept smiling as I took pictures. When I shared the text pictures the caption read "Third Time's the Charm."

I would like to express my gratitude to SKB Cases and Taylor Horton. SKB Cases for partnering with me once again as they provide the security for my bows and guns as I travel from Ohio to the far reaches of our great country to hunt. Secondly, I would like to acknowledge that hospitality is truly alive in Texas and Taylor Horton is the embodiment of that spirit. His professionalism and friendship are appreciated. I look forward to receiving my Axis in velvet mount and have a place for that special deer already picked out in my office.

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