I'm in the Texas Hill Country, and it's hot. They tell you it is a dry heat here, but 96 degrees is still almost a hundred.
Early morning and late evening feels good, and sometimes we have a nice breeze — more than the guides want, actually, because they don't like too much wind for hunting. I just stay quiet and say a short prayer of thanks in my head for the breeze. Texas, ever the land of contrasts both beautiful and harsh, is doing her usual performance of showing me how wonderful and awful she can be.
I'm here in pursuit of the fabled axis deer, also known as the chital or cheetal. Native to India but since transplanted to other locales, the axis deer is known for a beautiful coat with white spots, very similar to the fawns of our native whitetails. The antlers on the male deer (they call them bucks in Texas) rise up and sweep to the rear much like an elk's antlers. I found the axis to be very different from the whitetails we saw every day — spooky and more wary. More on this later.
This whole rodeo was organized by Chase Rohlfsen, whose company RubLine Marketing has several clients in the outdoors industry world, including Scent Crusher (a complete scent-elimination system for your hunting clothes and gear), Xpediton Archery, TacTacam (a self-contained camera that attaches to gun or bow to film your hunt), ThermaSeat and many more.
Rohlfsen hosted me and six other outdoors writers for an axis deer hunt. Chase and his son, Keegan, were perfect hosts. I was very impressed with Keegan. Can you imagine being 18 years old and working in the outdoors industry? Filming hunts, editing video, working with photos and taking care of other chores in his dad's business, this kid has a bright future.
The daily routine: Before daylight, the hunters would leave with their guides to take a stand and watch for the elusive axis. The farms and ranches we hunted on were "low fence," and the deer and other animals here are free range — they come and go as they please and are not fenced in as they are in some "high fence" areas. Just to touch on that for a minute, in reality many of the "high fence" properties in Texas are so immense, they may as well be considered free range. When animals literally have tens of thousands of acres to roam, they can be very elusive.
Every morning and evening, our hunting group would go out in the coolest part of the day, which is when an axis buck might show himself. During the heat of midday, hunters and deer alike take it easy in the shade. After some grub and a siesta, hunters and guides would do it all over again for the evening hunt. So it was up early and hunt, back at the house for lunch and maybe a nap, out again in the evening and back in after dark for dinner and some time on the deck hearing stories from writers from around the country into the night.
Get up the next morning and repeat.
Whether it was good luck or bad, I had the opportunity on the very first night to get on a good axis buck. As I watched through the scope in the quickly failing light, I was faced with the quandary many of you have been in on the first day of a big-game hunt. Do I take this shot? Will I have another chance this week? I knew I would have only a few more seconds and he would be gone, so when the buck paused for a minute, I squeezed the trigger of the Tikka .25-06 I was shooting and he was down.
I had strange feelings I will never be able to explain when I walked up to this buck in the darkness. To me, the axis is the deer of Col. Jim Corbett, the late British hunter and naturalist who hunted down many man-eating tigers and leopards in India, thus saving countless lives. Corbett hunted the axis, as did the tigers, and he wrote about them often in such books as "Man-Eaters of Kumaon." I read Corbett's books at an early age and was captivated by them; if you are a hunter, you will be, too.
So when I bent to touch the spotted hide of this exotic deer, I felt I was a little bit closer to the fearless British gentleman in the jungles of India I had read about so many years ago. I know it sounds kind of crazy, but if you have read my sometimes aimless ramblings at all, you know this is not very unusual. My guide, Patrick, no doubt thought I lingered too long on this buck and that it was time to load up and get home. I wanted just a few more minutes to touch spots and antlers and think back over the years.
One benefit of tagging out early in the hunt: I got to take a side trip one day to San Antonio and the headquarters of Blaser USA, a division of the German firearms manufacturer. Along with fellow German companies Mauser and Sauer, Blaser produces some excellent shotguns and rifles, several of which were used on this hunt. Mauser owns John Rigby & Company, a very famous English enterprise that has been making firearms since 1775. This is the very company that made Corbett's fabled .275 Rigby, which he carried on countless hunts for man-eaters in the wilds of India.
During my visit to Blaser USA, I spoke for a few minutes with CEO Christian Socher. After talking about Rigby rifles and Corbett for a few minutes, he said, "Let me show you something." A heavy gun case was brought out, and a brand-new rifle from Rigby was revealed. Not just any rifle — it was an exact replica of the .275 carried by Corbett for so many years.
I held the rifle and pored over it for as long as I felt was polite (or maybe longer) and handed it back reluctantly. I may never get to see the genuine rifle Col. Corbett carried, but I held the replica. Will I shoot such a gun someday? We shall see.
The trip to Texas was all I thought it would be and more. I met some good people and saw a lot of new country. I touched a deer I have been tracking since I was kid. I held the gun connected to a quiet British hunter who is still a hero to many in the Indian countryside.
As a hunter, you can't ask for much more than that.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at email@example.com.