Not many hunters are fortunate enough to get a photo of a big, free-ranging white-tailed buck taken in close proximity to their deer lease just days before the hunting season. But if you were that fortunate, can you imagine the excitement leading up to opening day? Now, imagine if that big buck photo was published in the local paper. Buzzkill. That would ensure that LOTS of hunters would be taking to the field for a once-in-a-lifetime kind of buck. That kind of competition did not deter 15-year old deer hunter Makayla Hay.
She had her eye on the deer leading up to the gun season, like every other deer hunter in Madison County, Texas. In October, a photo in the local newspaper (above) featured the nontypical buck swimming across the Trinity River. Makayla and her father, Jim, knew the photograph was taken near their 1,600 acre deer lease, and they joked about the possibility of seeing the buck. Little did they know that opening day of the 2013 gun season would be one for the books, literally!
With Big Bucks, Patience is a Virtue
When Jim dropped 15-year-old Makayla off at her tree stand on November 2, she told him that she was going to wait for the “river rack” to show. “He said, ‘You’re not going to be able to be that patient,'” Makayla recalls. “I’ve never really waited a long time to kill a buck, but I said, ‘Oh, no, I’m waiting for the deer in the picture.'”
Sure enough, Makayla passed on a “pretty nice 8-pointer” that showed itself shortly after sunrise. But the 15-year old hunter did send her dad a text saying she had found a backup buck in case the big buck turned out to be a no-show. A few minutes later, less than one hour into the deer hunting season, the river rack buck did show! “I didn’t know for sure it was the buck from the photo, but I did know it was much bigger than any buck I’d ever killed,” Makayla says.
Makayla loaded her rifle and watched calmly as the big Madison County buck turned broadside, then touched the trigger and dropped it with a shoulder shot. When all of a sudden the big deer lunged to its feet, she shot it again, putting it down for the count. She sent a text to dad telling him to get over there, and quick.
Only after her father came and they walked over to the deer together did she know that she had in fact shot the buck from the newspaper. “My dad said, ‘You did it. You shot the buck from the river,'” Makayla said. “I couldn’t believe it, because it seemed to me like the deer in the picture wasn’t real. He said, ‘I told you it was a real deer.'” The 23 point buck green-scored 213 2/8 gross and 203 1/8 net.
It appears the buck will stand as the biggest free-ranging, nontypical buck ever taken by a youth hunter in Texas. It would also be the biggest Madison County buck in the last 46 years, second only to a 223 2/8 inch 24 point buck shot back in 1967. As for her dad saying that she would not be patient, Makayla said, “I told him I would wait,” Makayla says with a laugh. “I waited. It only took until 7:30 on opening day, but I waited.”
Big Madison County Buck Draws a Crowd
Source: They loaded the buck and headed for Madisonville and Jerrett’s Meat Services, which processes and packages deer taken by local hunters. Jim Hay called the business to make certain it was open and relayed that they were bringing in “the buck in the picture of the deer swimming the river.”
By the time they arrived, word had spread. “There were 20 trucks lined up along the road,” Makayla said. “There were guys climbing in the bed of the truck before we even stopped.”
“Everybody was congratulating Makayla,” Jim Hay said.Billy Lambert, wildlife biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s wildlife division, was spending opening day at Jerritt’s, collecting age, weight, antler dimensions of the deer successful hunters were dropping off at the business. He had already seen and collected data on several heavy-antlered bucks, but he was flabbergasted when he saw Makayla’s deer. “I’d seen the pictures of the buck in the river,” Lambert said. “This was that deer, without a doubt.”
Lambert pegged the buck as a 51/2-year-old. That’s an old deer for the area, where deer hunting pressure is heavy and most bucks are taken before they reach that age. “I’ve been here for 13 years,” Lambert said. “I can count on my hands and both feet the number of 5-year-old deer I’ve checked.” Neither Lambert nor any of the area’s hunters had ever seen a free-range Madison County buck with antlers so large. Some wondered if the buck was an escapee from a fenced, white-tailed deer ranch where deer are genetically manipulated to produce unnaturally large antlers.
“I looked all over that buck for ear tag holes or tattoos (required identifiers on pen-raised deer),” Lambert said. “There was nothing. It’s just a free-range deer.”