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Holiday Hunts and Dream Deer

John Phillips | December 13, 2010

“Can I shoot him? Can I shoot him now?” my niece Shannon pleaded. We’d been waiting for what seemed to be two lifetimes for the 40 deer between us and the buck we’d picked-out for Shannon to take to move out from in front of that big 8 point. “Not yet. There’s still one more doe in front of him,” I whispered. Finally, the doe moved away, and Shannon had the opportunity to take the shot. 

Shannon already had her .50 caliber CVA Optima Elite blackpowder rifle up and ready to shoot when I remembered that I hadn’t put a percussion cap on the breech plug. “If Shannon shoots, all she’s going to do is spook the deer,” I thought to myself. Even though I was afraid I’d blow the hunt by taking the blackpowder rifle from Shannon and putting the percussion cap on the break-action rifle, I knew if I didn’t make that move she’d have no chance at all of shooting the first deer she’d ever taken in her life. I kept my eyes on the deer as I broke the gun open, and the deer were only slightly startled. The mature buck I wanted Shannon to take drifted away from our stand site and walked about 80 yards. Once I had the percussion cap on the breech plug, I closed the barrel. Then we watched and waited as Shannon’s buck fed. Shannon might have been able to make the 80-yard shot, but since this was her first hunt, I wanted to make sure she had as close a shot as possible to ensure her success. 

“I think I can make the shot, Uncle Johnny,” Shannon said. But I whispered, “I believe the buck will come back the same way he went in. And if he does, you’ll have a really good shot at him at 30 yards.” Through my binocular, I saw the buck turn and begin heading back to our stand site. Finally, Shannon’s buck presented a clear shot and stood broadside at 30 yards. I whispered, “You can shoot now.” Aiming with the accuracy of a veteran, Shannon squeezed the trigger and watched orange fire and white smoke erupt at the end of her barrel. The buck never knew what hit him. He dropped in the same tracks where he once stood. That day, Shannon joined that special elite fraternity of the Mossy Oak family who ties together the richness of hunting with the strength of family values.

When Shannon and I arrived at the buck she had just taken, we hugged and high-fived as we tied a knot of family love that only hunters can understand. There are many values that can be found in the sport of hunting. You can learn woodsmanship, you can learn about animals, and you can find that inner solace that comes from being alone in the wilderness.

Before we hunted and as the hunt date got closer, Shannon called and asked, “Uncle Johnny what am I going to wear?” I told her not to worry, that, “We’ll get you some Mossy Oak camouflage.” Toxey Haas and all the members of his Mossy Oak company are strong supporters of family values. The Mossy Oak people believe in using hunting as a tool to deepen and strengthen the ties that bind families together. Therefore, by acquiring Mossy Oak camouflage for Shannon, she would not only be more identified with me and the other hunters in camp, because we’d all be wearing Mossy Oak, but she’d be tied to a camouflage company that represented the kind of family values so many of us treasure.

Holiday Cheer with the Chris and Michelle Kirby

Chris Kirby has never known a life without hunting. The son of the late Dick Kirby, the founder of Quaker Boy Calls in Orchard Park, New York, and turkey-calling champion, Chris is now the President of Quaker Boy. In 1995, Chris won the World Turkey Calling Championship.

The first weekend in December, I had the opportunity to hunt with Chris, his wife Michelle and his mother Bev at the Ford Ranch in Melvin, Texas. One of the advantages of hunting at the Ford Ranch is that you can take a buck of a lifetime there. Whether it’s a morning or an afternoon hunt, you may see as few as five to as many as 10 or more bucks. Taking a buck that will score around 150 inches by the Boone & Crockett system is quite common. Each year before hunting season begins, Forrest Armke, the ranch manager, hires a helicopter and a pilot and flies a grid pattern over the entire 30,000-acre ranch in an attempt to photograph all the trophy bucks on the property. Before each hunt, Armke shows his hunters the trophy bucks that are available on the Ranch. However, there are two to three times as many bucks that will score from 100 to 140 B&C points available for harvest. Having hunted the Ford Ranch before, I tell the hunters I know who are going there to:  “Take your video camera with you, because none of your buddies will believe the number of bucks you see on your hunt, unless you have the video evidence to prove it.”

Kirby and his entire family have been a part of the Mossy Oak family for many years, and on this trip, Kirby’s mission was “To wait on the biggest buck that I’ve ever been able to take or I’m going to go home without filling a tag.” This is the type of mentality it takes to be a trophy buck hunter. You’ve got to be willing to turn down great bucks and the opportunity to take them, if you’re going to bag the biggest buck you’ve ever taken in your life and even more importantly, have a place to hunt that can provide you that opportunity.

For three days, Kirby hunted like a man on a mission. Finally at the end of his hunt, a buck that would score in the high 140s or low 150s B&C stepped-out. Using a CVA Optima Elite .243, Kirby let the crosshairs settle on the buck’s shoulder. With a light squeeze on the trigger he took his dream buck of a lifetime. One of the most-difficult aspects of being a trophy buck hunter is letting other bucks walk away that you know any of your hunting buddies will be excited to take, to find and bag that dream buck of a lifetime. But not everyone needs to be a trophy buck hunter. As I mentioned earlier, Kirby’s been hunting all of his life. Kirby has hunted with bows, blackpowder rifles and conventional rifles and has taken a large number of nice bucks. Now he finally possesses the patience and discipline required to let a good buck walk away to have the chance to take the buck of a lifetime. Too, Chris Kirby would’ve been happy to go home not filling his tag. Kirby saw plenty of bucks he could’ve taken but didn’t, and that’s the true essence of the sport of deer hunting. The taking of the game should never be as important as the spirit of the hunt.

If you’re a hunter, one of the most-important ingredients for a successful marriage is to find and marry a woman who understands the Mossy Oak obsession for hunting that we all share. You’re doubly blessed if your wife is a part of that obsession, and enjoys the sport as much as you do and can share in the excitement of a successful hunt whether it’s you or she that takes the game.

Chris Kirby, President of Quaker Boy Calls in Orchard Park, New York, has found such a woman in his wife Michelle. Michelle Kirby has taken plenty of deer and really enjoys hunting with her husband. When he pulled-up to her stand after an afternoon hunt on a recent trip to the Ford Ranch in Melvin, Texas, Michelle looked at her husband and said, “We’ve got issues!” Just a day earlier, Michelle had taken a buck that would score in the high 140s Boone & Crockett.

The night before each hunt, Forrest Armke, the ranch manager, shows all the hunters aerial photographs he has taken of the trophy bucks available on the ranch. “Back-up one picture,” Michelle requested as Armke was showing the pictures of the trophy bucks. “Look at the brow tines on that deer. His G1s have got be 12 or 14 inches.” All the hunters were in awe at the length of the brow tines of the buck in the photograph. Even after Armke had shown 12-more photographs, Chris Kirby said, “Forrest, go back to that photograph of the buck with the long G1s. I can’t believe they’re that long.” That night, all the hunters named that particular buck “G1.”

At the Ford Ranch, after you take your trophy buck, you have the option of taking four does or a pencil-horned spike and three does. “I was sitting on my stand, looking for does, when this huge buck appeared,” Michelle Kirby remembers. “As he got closer, I could see that he had tremendously-long brow tines. So, I picked-up my rifle and laid it across my lap. I knew if I took a second trophy buck, Chris (her husband) would have to pay for a second hunt. I put my CVA .243 on my lap while I was trying to decide what to do. Luckily, the deer walked-off, solving my problem as to whether to shoot or not. But 10-minutes later, that deer returned to my stand site. I got a really-good look at him and realized that he was ‘G1.’ So, I picked-up my rifle from my lap, although I still hadn’t made the decision, but as I looked at G1, something happened. And before I knew it, the rifle was on my shoulder, the crosshairs were on the buck’s shoulder and the gun went off. When I went out to inspect the deer, sure enough, it was G1. I wondered if Chris would be happy with me, because I took the best buck I’d ever seen. Or, if he would be mad, since I’d shot a second trophy buck, and we’d have to pay for another hunt. I didn’t know how Chris was going to react. When he climbed out of the truck, I walked-up to meet him and said, ‘We’ve got issues.’”

When Chris Kirby saw G1, he was elated. “Michelle, that’s a buck of a lifetime. I would really have been upset with you, if you hadn’t shot this deer. In your lifetime, you’ll never see a buck with brow tines this size. I’m really proud of you.” Chris Kirby’s attitude and Michelle’s decision reflect the key family values that always have and always will be associated with the Mossy Oak fraternity.

In the Photos: Shannon Phillips and Chris and Michelle Kirby with their Christmas bucks from the Ford Ranch in Texas. 

For more information about the Ford Ranch, you can call Forrest Armke (325) 286-4572, email fordranch@hotmail.com, or visit them on the web at www.fordranchhunting.net.

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