The Most Beautiful Deer In The World

By Craig Boddington

It was a warm June afternoon in the Texas Hill Country. A nice buck stepped out of the brush line, picked around for a bit, and then lay down in full view about 120 yards from our stand. He was an axis deer, in my view the most beautiful deer in the world. Certainly that axis buck was a beautiful deer, white spots on golden body, white throat patch and the way he was laying we could see that gorgeous and distinctive dark stripe along his spine. He carried a perfect three-point rack, nice barrel shape, good brow tines and caudal points, and reasonable main beams.

Had I been the hunter the decision would have been easy. He was a beautiful buck, but he wasn’t a monster, and I knew there were better. I wasn’t the hunter, so things were more…complicated. I was on stand with my 16-year-old-daughter, Caroline. We were on Tim Fallon’s FTW Ranch, and this was the third day we’d looked for a big axis buck. They had been long days.

May and June are ideal months to hunt axis deer. This is the primary rut for these tropical deer, so most of the bucks are in hard antler. On the other hand, it’s hot, with most of the daylight deer movement at dawn and dusk, when it’s cooler. Read: Early mornings and late evenings. Ideally (and most sensibly) you can catch up on your sleep during the heat of the day…but FTW also hosts the SAAM (Sportsmen’s All-Weather, All-Terrain Marksmanship) shooting courses, and we had a dual purpose. I wanted Caroline to get some of that great SAAM instruction and gain some confidence on their steel-target field ranges just as much as I wanted her to get a nice axis deer. So we’d had a couple of very long days. I was tired, and I know she was tired!

Boddington, Tim Fallon, and Caroline Boddington with Caroline’s first deer, a beautiful axis buck taken on Fallon’s FTW ranch. The rifle is a youth-model Ruger in 6.5mm Creedmoor with a very pink stock, her 16th birthday present…and she shoots it very well.

There was at least one more factor. This wasn’t Caroline’s first animal, and she’s a Safari Club member…but, if successful, this would be her first deer. This extremely arrogant—or foolish—buck was the best buck we’d seen so far. Having no point of comparison, she wanted to shoot him. This was because he was beautiful, but he was also right there…and he wasn’t just her ticket out of a hot blind; one well-placed shot and there would be no 3:30 a.m. alarm clock!

I understood all this. I also wanted out of that blind, and I was already dreading the alarm clock. So my mind had its sympathetic side, but I was mostly caught between thinking like a father and thinking like a hunter. For the former, she’d already worked pretty hard both on the ranges and in the field, not just without complaint but also with genuine enthusiasm. She was paying attention to the instructors and shooting very well, and the last thing I wanted to do was overdo it. Also, pragmatically, was any purpose served by having her first deer be the biggest deer on the ranch? But then my hunter’s mind kicked in: I knew there were bigger deer around. Unknown was if we’d see one or not, much less in such an optimum situation: Perfect light, short distance, good rest, and the buck totally oblivious. On the other hand, we had quite a bit more time if we needed it, so we weren’t in a rush and the odds were pretty good.

Fortunately the deer settled the issue when he lay down. I’m not generally opposed to taking a shot at a bedded animal, but the angle needs to be right and this was not. So I stayed non-committal, describing the buck to her as accurately as I could—there was nothing wrong with him; he just wasn’t huge. I knew it would be nerve-wracking for her to have to sit there and watch him, so I tried not to give any indication that we might shoot him. Bottom line: He was there; we’d keep an eye on him and see what happened.

The axis deer is a member of the cervidae group of round-antlered deer and, like many Asian deer (hog deer, sambar, rusa) has a typical three-point rack. There is just one species, Axis axis, and no subspecies or races have been generally accepted. He is native to the grasslands and scrub forests of the Indian subcontinent, including Sri Lanka, southeastern Pakistan, and southern Nepal. Although widely hunted in India in years gone by, for some years the axis deer has been unavailable on native range. Only just now, thanks to reintroductions along the Indus River, have a very few native-range axis deer become available in Pakistan. There is also potential for reopening in the terai forests of southern Nepal. As usual, if you want to do some fast research, our SCI Record Book is one of the best tools. It tells us that chital, the preferred name in Asia, comes from the Hindi word for spots; and that the name “axis” descends all the way from Roman scholar Pliny the Elder!

Although it’s a subjective judgment, I genuinely believe the axis deer to be the most beautiful deer in the world. I’d love to hunt one in his native range someday, but fortunately the axis deer has been introduced into numerous areas, so there’s a lot of opportunity elsewhere. I’ve hunted them in Argentina, where they occupy a wide range both free-roaming and estate, and I’ve hunted them in the South Pacific, where they’re pretty much restricted to one free-range population in Queensland. Europe holds isolated populations, with hunting possible in Croatia. North America holds several herds from Florida to Hawaii, but Texas probably holds the largest population of axis deer in the world. Axis deer have spread dramatically since the first introduction in 1932; they are probably the most common and widespread “exotic” on Texas ranches, and have established free-range populations in more than 30 counties.

Right then neither Caroline nor I cared about the thousands of other axis deer in Texas. Her concern was the one lying contentedly 120 yards from her rifle’s muzzle. Mine was other axis deer that might be nearby! A handful of fallow deer stepped out nearby and, as the afternoon progressed, we glassed a couple more axis bucks across the valley at the edge of a heavy brush line. Fortunately, they were small and, as I studied the ground, I started to rethink my position. That far brush line was the most likely place…but its nearest it was 300 yards away. I thought Caroline could probably handle that, but it was pushing her, and pushing the little Ruger 6.5mm Creedmoor she was carrying. Hmmm.

The afternoon waned and, an hour before sunset, the air was blessedly and noticeably starting to cool. I have no idea where they came from, but one, two, finally five axis bucks stepped into the small meadow where our buddy was bedded. Two were pretty good bucks, and now with a sea of antlers to compare I no longer had a leg to stand on. The buck we’d been watching was clearly the biggest, and I accepted that it was time to do business.

He got up and mixed with the group, and I had the panicky thought that I’d messed up by waiting too long. But with no females nearby they were more interested in feeding than fighting and they remained calm. We executed the drill we’d practiced: Caroline got the rifle out the window slowly and silently, and we got her elbow stabilized. She had no trouble picking “her” buck from the newcomers, and indeed she was probably steadier than her Dad. For long seconds he fed straight away. Then we got a broadside presentation with another buck right behind, and another with a buck walking in front. And then, almost three hours after we’d first seen him, he stood clear. She shot him perfectly just behind the shoulder with a little 140-grain Hornady bullet and he made about four steps and fell over. You don’t have to agree with my assessment of the axis deer but, after all, isn’t anyone’s first deer the “most beautiful deer in the world?”



Contender Carbine For Compact Travel

We continue to get responses from readers about what guns they’re using. Tim F. writes:

“I bought a Remington 700 in .270 caliber 45 years ago for my first hunting rifle. I still have it, but it sees very little use. I have a T/C Contender carbine in 7-30 Waters that breaks down for compact traveling. For severe weather conditions, I will borrow my wife’s Browning A-Bolt Stainless Stalker in .30-06.

SCI Member Tim F. uses a T/C Contender Carbine in 7-30 Waters for compact traveling.

“My personal favorite is a custom Mauser in .375 H&H–a bit of overkill for most situations, but still my favorite, and very effective on moose as well as African game. A Winchester Model 70 in 7mm Rem. Mag. is my go-to rifle for most North American stuff. I also purchased a Sabatti DR in .470 at the 2011 SCI Convention. It served me well on a tuskless elephant in the Zambezi Valley last month.”


Monterrey Sada Award

During the February 2012 Gala Dinner of the “SCI Rookie Chapter of the Year,” SCI Monterrery Chapter in Nueva León, Mexico, the Chapter-sponsored “Adrián Sada T. Award for Latin American Big Game Trophy Animals” was presented for the first time. It consists of three levels and to win all three levels you have to have hunted all indigenous big game animals of Latin America. The first recipient to win all three levels of the Award is Dr. Marciál Francisco Gòmez Sequeira from Madrid, Spain.

Shown in the photo are left to right: Sergio Jmenez, Chapter Secretary; Dr. Gòmez Sequeira, winner, and Dr. Jesús Viejo, Chapter President


Both Eyes Open When Shotgunning!

Paul James, General manager of Estancia Cortaderas, shot a shotgun for the first time with both eyes open. After coaching from Vicki he shot 11 of 25 with his first box. He was amazed at how slow the birds appeared when shot with both eyes and minimal gun movement.

Gil and Vicki Ash help a new shotgunner be a better shot by keeping both eyes open.

By Gil and Vicki Ash

Upon arrival we were stunned at the well-groomed front yard. The grass was manicured and the trees were pruned to form a canopy-like setting completely surrounding Estancia Cortaderas. The Parana River was the northwestern boundary of the Estancia and was larger than one would expect.

Paul met us with the excited smile of a new friend and a twinkle in his eye, which made us feel welcome immediately.

We were the only ones in the lodge and were shown the spa area, complete with shower, wet and dry sauna, message rooms and hot tub room all on the second floor.

First on the hunting list were pigeons. Tired from a day of travel to Buenos Aries, then change airports, then to Santa Fe and a ride with Omar for about an hour and a half to the lodge, we decided to not leave at 5:30 the next morning. We retired early, slept until 5:30 and started the day off slowly with coffee in the room. This put us a little late by most hunting standards. But the best shooting was going to be between 2:30 and 5 p.m., so Paul called it right.

The pigeon hunting was a blast and there were many lessons learned, especially for Gil. These birds are very large compared to the doves we normally shoot. They are hunted much like ducks, but not over water. Just a blind and decoys on the ground. No calling necessary.

One of the biggest takeaways for both of us was the fact that they appear to be moving fast, but actually are moving very slowly. It is easy to shoot in front of the birds. Why in front? It goes back to gun speed equaling bird speed, which is the basis for consistency in our system of shooting. Even though they are big birds they can put a move on a hunter who comes up too suddenly or too early.

We used our 20 gauge K-20s on this hunt and they performed flawlessly. With the Isis recoil systems there was little or no felt recoil. Omar who was our chief guide, made shot selection. We would be using #5 lead, which just happens to be my favorite shot size for large birds like the pigeon. With Modified over Modified chokes and those #5s, it was an unbeatable combination with clean kills even at 40 yards. We had many headshots as well as the usual misses behind because the gun stopped when we checked the lead or we mounted too fast and the accelerating muzzle caught our eye.

While at Estancia Cortaderas we had an occasion to take the General Manager, Paul James, and Hunting Guide and gunsmith, Omar Borghello, out on a dove hunt with us. Paul has shot rifles and done a little wingshooting, but was closing an eye and trying to aim.

One of the doves we shot and picked up had germinated soy beans in its crop. These birds have gotten to the point that they know where the beans are planted in the field and they scratch the soil with their feet until the bean is exposed and pull it out of the ground. This is the reason they are regarded as pests in Argentina.

The next morning we all went to a field near the lodge and began to shoot. They watched. When we pulled the trigger and the bird folded, they landed at our feet or just in front or just behind us.

Then it came their turn and Paul was first. Vicki put two shotgun shell boxes on the ground and showed Paul what he was supposed to see when shooting with two eyes and how it was different from shooting with only one eye. When he understood the difference she had him move on a few birds with an empty gun and then he loaded one shell and the next bird that passed he missed behind but he knew WHY! He immediately said he had looked down the gun while looking at the bird which made the gun come up on the bird and made the gun stop as he pulled the trigger. It was almost magical what happened on the next shot. As the trigger broke the bird folded and hit the ground dead.

Paul shot his first box of shells with two eyes for the first time. He killed 11/25 and on every shot he missed, he called the error correctly and CORRECTED THE MISS. His comment was that everything was moving in slow motion and he knew even before he pulled the trigger when he was going to hit the bird and not.

“In the beginning I was afraid of not being able to keep both eyes open. I got this habit from rifle shooting. Got over it easily as I was told not to look at the barrel but concentrate on the target and fine tune on the head,” he said. “I was surprised when I did this that I was able to keep both eyes open and when mounting the gun use short and gentle movements and you become very accurate.”

Will Paul be a great shot with two eyes from now on? Maybe, maybe not. That will depend on how much he practices, not on how much he understands the procedure.

Omar was fascinated with our guns and wanted to shoot to see what the recoil was like with the Isis recoil system. To his amazement, after the first shot, he said, “It’s like shooting a .410.” Well we couldn’t agree more. The combination of the K-20 with 32- inch barrels and the Isis recoil system is amazing in that the felt recoil is reduced dramatically. But because of the material it is made of, there is no change in the balance of the gun. In a hunting gun, balance and handling are everything. When you combine target gun handling with reduced recoil, you have just about the perfect high volume gun.

If we were going to set the record for most doves shot in a day we would go to 20 gauge gas guns and take the plug out to have three or four guns with two loaders so the guns could cool down a little in their rotation.

We must have made an impression on Omar and Paul because they both arranged to shoot with us in the afternoon. We worked with both Paul and Omar in the morning and they could not believe how their consistency improved. Runs of six to eight dead birds in a row were not uncommon.

On the afternoon hunt Gil decided to shoot long, high incoming shots so he put in two full chokes and went to work minimizing his move and shooting birds farther and farther out in front, with Omar and Paul looking over his shoulder. One of the birds Gil shot spilled some grain as he fell and hit the ground. Paul went out to pick it up to show Gil why these birds are seen as a pest in Argentina. As he picked the bird up, falling from its craw were “germinated soy beans” and on closer inspection we found several with the new root still intact. These birds have learned where in the field the seeds are planted and they scratch the ground with their feet until they expose the seed and then they eat it. Estimates of as much as 30 percent of the crop can be lost to doves between planting and germination.

Hard to believe that this little bird could be this destructive. But when you add to the equation the fact that there are as many as five hatches each year, you can begin to see why the dove is seen as a pest and the hunter is welcome. Capitalism baby, you gotta love it! We are looking forward to coming back to Estancia Cortaderas later this year to shoot a mixed bag of ducks, perdiz, pigeons and doves. Maybe even try some fishing.


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