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!”
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.
This barefoot buck was a moment that I would have never have imagined I would ever experienced in my lifetime.
(Not) Growing up in the outdoors
For people who know me, they know how unconventional my outdoor story is. Growing up, my parents did not raise me hunting or fishing, and being involved in the outdoors wasn’t something I knew much about. In fact, all my life I was classified as my family’s “girly girl.” I was a ballerina, then a cheerleader, and on the dance team in middle-school. Oh, and I absolutely loved fixing my hair and dabbling in makeup.
Luckily for my poor dad, who has a wife and FOUR daughters, I played basketball, mainly because, against my mom’s wishes, he convinced me to at the age of eight (fortunately, I truly loved it and stuck with it every year until I graduated).
Being called “girly” all my life and not being introduced to the outdoors definitely forced me to label myself as “unworthy” of ever trying to fish or hunt. So, I never did. I had several friends growing up that hunted, but most of them were pretty unethical and egotistical. There were many disheartening moments I had witnessed because of them, and unfortunately, it left me with a bitter taste in my mouth toward the outdoor industry. I started to hate seeing photos of successful hunts and fishing catches. I unfollowed people on social media that expressed their love for hunting. And, I even blocked hunting pages so Instagram’s algorithms would get the point.
But luckily for me, I met someone who was patient enough to challenge my reasoning for hating outdoor sports and the so-called conservationists. And after I realized that I did not have any solid answers for him, I figured out that the reason I did not “like” hunting was because I did not understand it… not even a little bit.
As time went on, Cody finally convinced me to at least try it. So, I did… and I have been hooked ever since!
And just when I thought hunting could not get any better than what I had experienced over the last year and a half, I got to experience this incredible N1 moment.
I had sat in this same spot for two weeks straight. I watched and passed over 100 deer in the thirteen days that I hunted this area. The majority of them were does, but I did have the opportunity to watch several small bucks chase during my hunts. I was starting to get discouraged. So, I mentioned to Cody that I may need to try a new spot if things didn’t start picking up.
Instead of encouraging me to try a different spot, Cody decided to come with me to the same spot, once again.
Big buck and barefoot stealth
We sat there, as usual, and watched several does graze and play, and then the occasional spike or young buck that would run them off. But shortly after we got settled, Cody said, “oh my gosh, big buck! Big buck, Alyssa!” He says this same phrase, A LOT. He loves to get me excited only to tell me that he was “just kidding.” So, naturally, I didn’t believe him. But when I was rolling my eyes at him, I spotted what he had already seen… a beautiful eight point that we had watched in this field the previous year. In fact, it was the same buck that Cody has missed in the previous year (just saying ?).
Anyway, the buck was well over 300 yards away. But that wasn’t going to discourage us from doing our best to get a shot on him. We quickly grabbed our guns, ditched out spot, and made our way to the wood line so that we could walk through the trees until we were close enough for an ethical shot. Cody insisted that we take our shoes off to be quiet, and I was too in shock to argue with him, so we made the 240-yard trek barefooted.
Once we got within 60 yards, Cody decided that we didn’t need to test our luck, so we didn’t go any further.
As both of us were trembling all over and praying to the Lord (not even exaggerating), Cody allowed me to prop my gun on his shoulder so I didn’t have to free-hand my shot. I swear, it didn’t make it any easier. The adrenaline was rushing through my body and I couldn’t quit shaking to save my life. It took me over ten minutes to shoot the deer, and because of the anxiety during the moment, it felt like it was taking a stinking hour for me to get steady and make the shot.
Finally, the buck forced me to pull the trigger. He looked up at a snorting doe that was down wind from us, and was just about to take off running when I got the guts to pull the trigger.
The N1 Moment – The Barefoot Buck Goes Down
He ran, which was super hard to watch because that left me wondering if my shot was accurate and fatal. But instead of worrying, I hit my knees and cried. I was so thankful, so excited, so anxious, and so completely overwhelmed. But mostly, I realized how rare and unforgettable this moment was and how lucky I was to experience it with my best friend.
We both sat there smiling, shaking, and laughing as we replayed the whole thing over and over. After we let some time pass, Cody decided it was okay for us to go look for some blood… which we never recovered. After frantically searching the area for just a single drop of blood or a strand of hair, and coming up with NOTHING, we decided to just move on to where we last saw him in the wood line.
Once we got there, there was no need to search any further… he was right there.
I can honestly say that moment was one of the best moments I have ever experienced; excitement, adrenaline, fear, and thankfulness… all N1.