My family has always been really close. Major holidays are always spent together and cherished to the fullest as we never know what tomorrow might bring.
Being an avid hunter and outdoor enthusiast, every hunting season is naturally a major holiday for me! However, there is one particular hunting season that I look forward to more than the rest… blacktail deer hunting at my grandparents ranch in Northern California.
You could say it’s the big bucks or the beautiful scenery that takes your breath away, but for me it runs much deeper.
More than just hunting
My Papa John has always been strict, but nothing less than a role model to me and someone I look up to. His perspective on life is well thought out and nothing shy of amazing. I look forward to hearing his many stories and tales of how life was growing up “back then.”
For me, driving around “looking” for blacktail bucks isn’t necessarily my type of hunting, but reminiscing as we drive the ranch and hearing his amazing stories of life is well worth the truck time. And, you never know what’s just around the corner.
“Decent” blacktail buck
It was the fourth weekend of rifle season for blacktail and my third day out hunting on the ranch. Earlier in the day, we had spotted a few smaller bucks, but nothing that would make me pull the trigger this early in the hunt.
My Papa and I decided we would go out after lunch and drive to the back of the ranch. Apparently, he had spotted some “nice” bucks there before season. “Decent” to my grandpa, as I have learned in the past, really means, nice, big, giant bucks!
As we made our way to the back of the ranch I made several small hunts with no luck, which was okay. I still had plenty of time to hunt before we headed home. And, I was enjoying the company and time spent, just me and my Papa.
Just as the sun was starting to go down, and as we were heading back home, my Papa spotted three “decent” bucks across the ridge. He looked at me and said, “Well, that one to the right is ‘decent.’ Want to put a stock on him?”
Crawling toward an unforgettable moment
As I belly crawled for what seemed like forever, I finally got to a spot on top of a rock that gave me a great view, and an even better shot. My heart was pumping as it always does right before I’m about to take a shot. The buck stood broadside at 80 yards. I quietly got set, placing my cross hairs right behind the front shoulder and gave the trigger a nice slow press. “Bang!”
I quickly chambered another shell, just in case. But the buck didn’t move. He didn’t even take a step before dropping right there in his tracks. Right then I called my Papa on the radio, “I got him!!”
I waited for Papa to make his way down the ridge. I wanted us both to see the buck up close for the first time, together. As we approached the buck, without missing a beat my Papa said, “Man he sure is a decent buck!”
Hunting is something that I grew up doing. When I was little, I was the one in the family who wanted to be a veterinarian and save the animals (Although when you are little, it seems that is everyone’s dream job.) I was always out in the woods with my father and sister tagging along in their hunts because I loved the outdoors and the adventures it brought. I was there when they harvested some of their amazing whitetail deer. And, I began to want to do the same.
Become a vet or be a hunter?
As I entered high school, I began to have a bigger interest in hunting and less interest in being a vet. I studied and finally got my hunting license. Soon after I got it, I harvested my first doe with the bow. Then, not too long after that, I was able to harvest my first whitetail buck. It was only a 5-pointer but it is something I will never forget.
Why I love hunting
That feeling when you release the arrow and hear that wack on the deer that you were waiting to harvest is unforgettable. You watch it run, and then instantly, you get the shakes and excitement knowing you just harvested a nice deer.
Still to this day, once I release that arrow or pull the trigger, I’m shaking like a leaf in my tree stand. Then comes the waiting period until we go look for the deer. For me, the waiting is by far the hardest part of hunting!
Big 9 on my mind
So, let’s forward a couple years. It was late into bow season, November 1, 2017, when it all happened. That’s when I harvested my biggest buck yet; my 9-pointer. In August, before the season began, we had trail cameras out to see what was in the area. We saw a lot of small bucks and a bunch of does.
A couple weeks later, the big boys started to show up. We caught a nice 9-pointer on camera, several 8 pointers and some non-typical bucks. I had my eye set on that mature 9-pointer. He came around the same time every day and I was looking forward to opening day.
I sat opening day morning and evening and all I saw were some does and some smaller bucks. I sat almost every day I could and he never came out.
Finally, I checked my camera again to see if he was still in the area, and on October 30, he showed up again. But, this time there was no velvet and he was bigger then ever. I knew I had to get this buck before he moved somewhere else. I sat that following day and saw nothing.
Luckily, I was able to get out of work early on November 1st and rushed to my tree stand. I got into my stand around 2 PM, and I was prepared to sit a while to wait and hope he would make an appearance.
Turkeys and squirrels and bucks… oh my!
In the distance I could see two does walking around. In addition to the does, a small button buck came in behind me. They hung out for a while but there was still no sign of the big 9-pointer. Around 3 o’clock, 20 turkeys came in and stayed in the area for a while, but moved on quickly. Usually in the past when I have seen turkeys come in, shortly thereafter I usually see another deer. And, just like that, another small one was walking around to my left.
While sitting in the woods, in the peace and quiet, every hunter always hears that “deer” walking noise and their heart starts to beat. That’s what happened to me, but realized it was just a squirrel messing with me. What hunter hasn’t had a squirrel fool them into thinking a nice deer was walking in? I checked my phone and saw that my dad had texted me asking if I saw anything and I replied with, “nothing yet.” Then I texted my boyfriend, saying the same thing. Then, all of a sudden, I heard that “squirrel” walking noise and told myself I shouldn’t even look up because I knew what it was. I looked up to my right and there he was. Walking with his head down smelling right where the two does had been walking.
When I spotted the big 9-pointer that I had been after, I knew I didn’t have much time because he was on a mission and didn’t care who was around him. I got my bow up quickly and now I had to shoot all the way to my right side, over a tree limb where I never shoot from. I put my crossbow up over the top of the limb that was directly next to my stand. And, I was trying to hold myself off of the seat.
As I looked through the scope, the strap for my bow moved and hit the tree limb and made a small “bang” noise. That quickly, the buck stopped in his tracks and looked directly toward me. I knew that this was my only chance that I would have to get this buck. He was completely broadside and I had the cross hairs right on his vitals.
I pulled the trigger and saw him jump high in the air, land, and make a small circle and ran back on an angle. I saw him through some laurels and then lost him but heard loud noises coming from that area. All I could think about was if I had made a good shot. “Did I rush it,” I thought. “Would my shot be fatal?”
The N1 Moment
The smile I had on my face was ear to ear. I was shaking. And, then the tears came. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I was overwhelmed with joy and relief. As I was shaking, I texted my dad to tell him, “I shot the big boy”. He said he was on his way to say where I was and to give him some time before we go look. It felt like the longest wait of my life. He finally arrived, and I was pumped to go look and was just praying we would find blood.
When my dad got there, we started looking and quickly found a pile of blood and knew that was a great sign. After following the blood trail for only about 15 yards, my dad said, “Okay let’s go, I don’t see it” which he always says when were tracking a deer and he see’s it before me.
So, that quickly, I knew he had found him, I just didn’t know where. I remember asking “where, where, I don’t see it?” He pointed down, and there he was laying underneath a small tree that he had hidden under. I jumped up and down in the air and hugged my dad with tears in my eyes! All I could say after I picked my head up and said, “I can’t believe I finally got him”.
I can honestly say that this was one of the best moments that I have ever experienced while hunting. The combination of excitement, nerves, adrenaline and thankfulness for being able to harvest such an amazing deer.
Deer dogging has been around for many years, and deer hunting with dogs is a tradition in my family that has been passed down from generation to generation.
From a passion to a business
I started White Water Kennels, in Elba, Alabama, in 2014. In the beginning, it was simply a name for my personal hunting dogs kennel. But, over the next several years, it grew into a well-organized group with several members in several states. We take our love for hunting with hounds very personal. We try to develop a dog through a process of training techniques, with very strict guidelines.
A dog is born with a natural instinct to use its nose and to hunt. We simply help the dog reach it’s full potential. And, while there is no perfect dog, we train deer dogs to be the very best they can be. We take pride in what we do and pour countless hours, days, weeks and months into training dogs to become well-developed and experienced hunting and running machines.
Our decision making is based on careful studying of our packs. We have what we call brood males and females that we breed according to what we are wanting to gain in the packs. For instance, if we are wanting to add more trail dogs, then we have certain dogs we breed for that. The same holds true for running dogs.
When puppies are born and ready to train, we put them through a series of training techniques that we developed to see what each dog has to offer. In addition, we determine what areas we need to spend the most time in correcting shortcomings.
The way we look at is, a dog is only as good as it’s owner. The time you spend training a dog will show, as well as the time that is not spent. Because laws are getting very strict in our area on dog hunters, we collar break, whistle break and horn break every dog we produce to a guarantee.
Investing in the dogs = memories waiting to be made
I enjoy watching how well all the guys work together for the benefit of the kennel and the work each one puts in to make White Water Kennels the best it can be. We love each other, the hours spent together, the memories made, and watching young hounds develop and progress through our training techniques.
I strongly encourage anyone who has never hunted with hounds to try it. And, when you do, I believe you’ll feel the thrill that we do every time we dump the boxes. To us, it isn’t about the kill. It’s about the sound of the hound and the race between the dogs and the game. Its’ in our blood, and we’ll love hunting with dogs till the day we die.