Updated: Sep 16
The time of the year had arrived, my annual Christmas deer hunt at my wife’s grandmother’s ranch in Mertzon, TX was about a week away so I needed to start planning what supplies would be needed for the big hunt. While getting my gun out of the gun safe I noticed an old gun I hadn’t seen in a long time, my grandfather’s Winchester model 94 .30-30 sitting in the back corner. I pulled it out of the safe and began to look at the rifle. Other than some scuffs in the wood and a few scratches on the barrel the gun was in amazing shape.
I remember my dad telling me the story behind this rifle and how it was a birthday present for my grandfather back in the late 50’s. I also remember him telling me about how he got in trouble for spilling the news to my grandfather that he was getting the rifle for his birthday which we laugh about every time he tells the story. As I held that gun I realized that nobody has shot a deer with this rifle since my grandfather in the 60’s. I instantly knew that I had found my firearm for the upcoming trip to Mertzon, it was time to clean the .30-30 and get it ready for its first trip to the woods in a very long time.
Time seemed to stand still at work the day my wife and I were going to make the drive to Mertzon. I could tell from looking out my office window and the forecast that the weather was going to be perfect which made me even more anxious to hit the road. Finally, the time had come to leave work and pack up the truck so that we could make the 4 hour and 30-minute drive. The drive was very relaxing and we saw quite a bit of deer on the way down fueling the fire in me even more to get in the stand the next day.
We arrived in Mertzon around 8 pm that night. After getting settled in I found out we were not going to be able to hunt in the morning due to some errands we had to do in the morning. Since we were going to be down there for several days it didn’t bother me at all, it made me even more excited because the evening hunts on the ranch had always been the best.
After running our errands the next morning, the time had come to load up the gear in my father-in-law’s truck so we could head to the ranch. I remember looking in the back of the truck to make sure we had everything needed for tonight’s hunt and seeing the rifle in the case which gave me that feeling in the pit of your stomach of nervousness and excitement. As soon as we got out to the ranch I got out the .30-30 for some target practice. I found out quickly that it is not easy shooting with an open sight from over 70 yards but we got the rifle dialed in so we were ready to head to set up the blind.
We got to the pipeline spot about 2 PM so we had to hurry to set up the blind before the deer started moving. I spent some time determining wind direction and which way the deer came in from so that I could put the blind up in the best possible spot.
After setting up the blind I knew something didn’t look right, it did not blend in with surrounding brush very well. My father-in-law and I then took surrounding brush and stacked it around the blind to help it blend in better, which did the trick. I placed my backpack, my shooting stick, and my rifle in the blind. My father-in-law wished me luck and I watched him drive away down the pipeline road. When I finally got settled into the blind it was just after 3 PM, go time.
There is something special about late season whitetail hunting in West Texas. Those cold crisp sunsets paired with the vivid colors makes this time of year exciting for any hunter. While sitting in the blind I noticed some clouds had started to blow in causing it to cool down some and it began to mist a little. I knew the action would begin at any moment so I begin to prepare the inside of the blind in hopes of a shot at a nice mature buck. I got my shooting stick set up at the proper height and made sure the ground beneath my feet was free of leaves to prevent any noise that would cause the deer to possibly bust me.
While holding the .30-30 it was surreal to think that the last time this gun was being used for deer hunting it was by my grandfather. I thought to myself if this gun could talk it would be amazing the stories that it could tell. As I was holding the .30-30 I said, “Papaw I know you’re watching me right now. I just want you to know that I am going to need your help tonight.” Within 5 minutes, I had my first few deer come out just milling around. Then 10 minutes later a few more came out and 5 minutes after that a few more. In a matter of 20 minutes I had about 10 deer in front of me consisting of does and small bucks. I was enjoying myself watching the little bucks chase the does and the does chase each other. It was turning out to be a great night, but it was about to get a lot more exciting.
Around 3:30PM I caught movement out of my left eye so I slowly turned to see what it was and all I saw were antlers. I literally ducked down in my blind because I started getting the worst case of buck fever I have ever had and I didn’t want the buck to see me shaking. I stayed ducked under the windows of the blind for what felt like an eternity (probably only a minute or so) before I decided to sit up extremely slow to see where this bruiser was. When I sat up I saw him feeding right in front of the blind about 60 yards away. I knew this would be one of the biggest deer I had ever shot if I could get a crack at him.
The buck stood facing me head on while feeding for about 10 minutes, only to turn to chase away the smaller bucks when they came too close. As he began to turn broadside, several of the does started to feed around the old buck. Still not being allowed the shot due to the does around him so I began to fear I might not get a shot because I know how these older bucks do not like to stay in the open long.
Finally, after what seemed like forever the does feeding around him cleared just enough for me to get an opportunity to take my shot. I will never forget steadying that bead between notch on the rear sight while trying to slow my breathing. After several slow deep breaths, I took one large breath and on the exhale, I took my shot.
As soon as I squeezed that trigger I remember hearing the crack of the rifle and watching the buck drop right where he stood. The excitement, exhilaration and emotion that came after watching that old buck fall was indescribable. I had just connected with one of the biggest bucks in my life and I did it with my grandpa’s open sight .30-30 rifle. After I could breathe again from the excitement I picked up my phone and called my father to tell him what I just accomplished with his father’s gun.
As soon as he said hello I told him that I just shot a monster with Papaw’s gun. My dad replied with,” that’s awesome! How many points did he have?” It was then that I realized I never put up my binoculars on the buck so I didn’t know how many points he had. I told my dad I wasn’t sure how many points he had because he was big enough that I didn’t need to look at him through the binoculars to know he was a shooter. While on the phone, I was trying to unzip the blind to get out but I was shaking so bad I could barely get it open. My dad said to send him a pic once I got up to the buck and call him back.
While walking up to the buck the excitement started growing again, I could not wait to put my hands on this deer. Knowing the buck had expired it was hard for me not to sprint the 60 yards to him. I controlled my emotions, for the most part, and decided to walk up slowly to the buck while taking in the moment. The clouds were rolling in again causing a very fine mist in the air and the wind had died down to almost nothing, it was a picture-perfect afternoon hunt.
When I reached the old buck, I took a moment to thank my grandfather for his help because I know I was not alone on that hunt. I kneeled and lifted the head of the buck in amazement how great of a deer he was. His face was very light in color compared to other bucks I have seen in this same spot and the fur below his tarsal glands, which were jet black, was completely rubbed off. You could tell this was a very old buck which made me feel great knowing he was very mature. The buck had 13 points and my guess was that he would possibly score in the 150’s, truly an amazing hunt. I sent the pictures of the deer to my dad and he was in awe of the buck. The buck itself was truly a great trophy but considering that I was able to take this magnificent animal with my grandfather’s rifle which hasn’t been used to kill a deer since the 60’s made it a once in a lifetime hunt.
Before calling my father-in-law to tell him the news about the success of my hunt, I said a little prayer thanking the man upstairs and my grandfather once again. I know in my heart I was not alone that December afternoon in the blind. I’ve always wished that I could’ve been able to go on a hunt with my grandfather, now I can say that I have because I believe he was there sitting right beside me that afternoon.
By: Ben Stevens