Most of my time is spent in the oil and gas exploration business. These days, our lives are consumed by one thing: the pursuit and extraction of fossil fuels hidden between unforgiving layers of fine-grained sedimentary rock known as shale. It seems as though time away from the job is more and more difficult to procure. It’s not to say I don’t enjoy what I do for a living, but everyone needs time away from the grind to recharge and refocus. When that time comes for me, it usually means time spent with gun in hand and eyes pressed against a binocular, glassing for big game.
This season, I chose to leave the drilling and dust of south Texas behind for the rolling hills of southern Missouri. My destination was Oak Creek Whitetail Ranch in Bland, MO. There awaited Donald and Angi Hill and the Hill family, my long-time guide Barry Hendrix, and what I have found to be some of the most incredible whitetail deer in the world.
I knew that with a hectic work and travel schedule, it would be best to send my bags and gun there by ground shipment, so I shipped my gun and gear to the ranch about a week before my arrival. Seven days later, I found myself on a plane, headed to St. Louis to meet my co-worker, Josh, for a much anticipated hunt.
As is typical at the ranch, we met with the owners for a pre-hunt planning meeting to make sure we had a strategy and to ensure we had everything we needed. I was trying to focus on what we were discussing, but my stomach was growling after a day of travel. Just in time, we wrapped-up our meeting to enjoy a great family-style supper in their lodge with a big fire crackling in the background. It felt very much like returning home.
Over dinner, we strategized further with Barry. We discussed what types of deer they had been seeing, what type of year they had been having, and what to expect on our three days of hunting.
Josh had his mind set on trying to take a deer in the 200-inch class. Both Josh and I love wide, heavy, typical, long-tined deer. Instinctively, Donald and Barry both knew the type of bruiser that I was after–a very wide and heavy typical buck, but not particularly looking for inches. They had scouted several bucks that met their approval, but locating a shooter and getting him in three days would not be an easy task.
Oak Creek Ranch is 1,800 acres of heavily timbered, hilly, rocky land with food plots and stands. Of all the deer I have killed at Oak Creek (seven total), not a single deer has been taken from a stand, all were taken by spot and stalk or walking in and positioning ourselves on a ridgeline where we had a pinch point or a funnel that the deer were likely to travel.
Barry has hunted the ranch since the Hills have owned Oak Creek. He is constantly aware of the wind direction, feeding cycles and the movement patterns of these deer. Even better, Barry is an SCI Master Measurer and his ability to gauge and judge these deer on their gross and net score is absolutely uncanny.
Unfortunately, we arrived too late at the ranch to sight-in our rifles, so that would have to wait until morning. Josh brought his tried and true .270. I sent my Remington .264 Winchester Magnum with Leupold 3-12 variable scope and 140-grain Winchester cartridges, which I have used on all of my Oak Creek hunts. At first light, we punched a couple of holes in some paper to verify our zero, then off we went. The sun was well up by the time we got into the pasture. We let the area settle as we watched turkeys and fox squirrels scamper around. As time progressed, the three of us slipped downwind, and in and out of a couple of food plots. We glassed for quite awhile, but didn’t see the deer we were looking for or any other large bucks. We then backtracked out and moved into a position on an inlet in the fence line. Below us, a steep ravine spread across a big valley divided by a moving creek.
Barry and I glassed for 15 to 20 minutes and progressively inched forward. The dry winter leaves were extremely noisy. We tried to stalk along and peer through the ravine and the adjacent valley. Barry stopped sharply and motioned for me to look toward the ravine, straight across rather than down. After a few moments of glassing, I was able to locate a buck bedded down 200 yards away, facing us from the far end of the ravine. We watched the deer for 15 to 20 minutes and Barry was confident it was the deer we would pursue.
Barry had been worried because several of the deer in the pasture had already shed their antlers and we found a large shed earlier that morning. Josh stayed about 25 yards back while Barry and I slipped into position, keeping a big hanging dead grapevine between the deer and us. We closed the gap between the deer to about 140 yards before the grapevine refused to provide cover any longer.
By then the buck was somewhat aware of us, but still not alarmed because of the distance and the cover. Barry encouraged me to get positioned. The deer was facing left and not providing a clear shot. Barry crawled directly behind me, looked over my shoulder and asked me if I saw a branch with a bright red leaf that hung down and across in front of the deer. I told him I did. He instructed me to go down to that red leaf and align the shot right into the deer’s vitals. Boom! The .264 barked and Barry jumped out of his skin, not realizing that I was already positioned for the shot. The shot was true. A quick second round in the chamber with the safety on, another glance at the deer to ensure he was still, and down the ravine we moved.
Sure enough it was the deer we were after! Even better, I felt it was going to be a “Book” deer. The deer absolutely just grew and grew as we got closer. The antlers looked like a bleached elk rib cage as we approached the animal. We exchanged handshakes, combined with some big smiles and back slapping all around before we headed back to retrieve the truck. We were all excited about the deer but knew we still had to get Josh’s hunt done in a very short time. We field dressed my deer and placed him in the cooler. The process of scoring would have to wait for now.
Barry had a deer in mind for Josh that he’d seen a couple of times, but he hadn’t seen the deer in several weeks and didn’t know if the deer was even alive at that point. Even worse, it appeared that antler shedding had begun early. We hunted the rest of that evening and saw lots of turkeys and other wildlife, but no luck with the deer, so we headed back to the lodge to measure my deer.
The deer netted 238 5/8 inches, surpassing the old typical world record whitetail by 13 inches. This buck would be the then-new Number 1 typical Midwestern Estate whitetail. I accomplished something that I never dreamed possible, and it wasn’t one of those things where it takes a minute for it to set in, either. It was immediate. Holy smoke. This deer is just magnificent.
Friday morning’s hunt began with about an inch of fresh snow on the ground. Cold, 28 to 30-degree temperatures with a light wind added to the briskness of our walk. Josh, Barry and I hunted hard all morning, sitting in stands, spot-stalking food plots and posting on vantage points. We scouted the fresh snow-covered forest for any signs of Josh’s deer or a deer that might be something Josh was looking for, but nothing. The weather had locked down the deer.
Later that afternoon, however, our luck changed. At about 3 p.m., Barry and Josh simultaneously spotted a buck in an old overgrown field. You could just see the back of the deer and the antlers moving along the far edge of the field, right at the tree line. We moved parallel with the buck, trying to get into a shooting position. Josh threw his gun up and got ready. Barry told him to hold steady. The deer was walking along, totally unaware of our presence, at approximately 150 yards, angling slightly toward an opening at the end of the field. There would only be a slight window of about five yards where the buck would be in the opening. There was a lot of high grass, but about half of the deer’s body and head were visible. At precisely the right moment, Josh let off a round and the deer disappeared on the ground behind the broom straw grass cover that had shielded him only a few moments before.
A quick slap on the back by Barry and the two of them were bolting down the slight incline and into the field to cut their way to the buck. Josh made a fantastic shot, absolutely taking out the top of the heart and dropping the buck dead in its tracks. Josh was plenty happy, having taken the largest whitetail deer that he had ever shot, and a deer that was everything that he’d hoped for. We let him savor the moment and enjoy the twisting of the antlers and the viewing the buck from a couple of paces back. Barry then asked Josh if he was happy with his buck, which Josh told him emphatically “Yes!” Barry said “Great, because the deer I had in mind for you–one of the other guides found one of his sheds this morning and sent me a photograph of it on my phone just now with a caption, “Would this be what you’re looking for?” Luckily, Josh and Barry had made the right call taking that deer.
Back at the lodge that night, we had a big meal to celebrate our hunt and enjoyed great camaraderie with the guides, staff and the owners of Oak Creek Whitetail Ranch. As it happened, my deer only remained the Number 1 whitetail in the world for 24 hours. The next day, a deer scoring in the mid-240s, net, eclipsed my deer and did so by, I believe, eight inches or more. So, easy come, easy go, for the record book, but the hunt, the adventure and the memories would be there forever. As the moon rose that evening, I stepped outside for a moment to take another look at the landscape and recall the events of our hunt. The snow glistened in the moonlight and the trees popped and cracked against the strain of the cold wind. I couldn’t have felt more satisfied or felt more at home.– Randy Allen (hunter) as relayed to Joe Beta