By Jeff Gambill
Judith Peebles has enjoyed hunting all her life, so when she had the opportunity to go on a Texas trophy whitetail hunt, it was an easy decision. In a column last year, I recounted Judith’s success hunting boar in the Tennessee mountains. Well, she’s been at it again, only this time it turned out to be the hunt of a lifetime.
Judith answered an ad in an NRA magazine and sent in her deposit. She was selected for a Women on Target hunt. This organization, sponsored by the NRA, organizes hunting clinics, shooting tournaments, and women only hunts. They host a dozen or so hunts for pheasant, goose, deer, or bear at sights all over North America. A limited number of hunters are permitted on each trip and the group size varies depending on the quarry.
Judith headed for the K3 Ranch in Hunt, Texas, near San Antonio. She left behind her husband and favorite hunting partner, her son Ryan, with their blessings and full support. She flew into San Antonio the first weekend of last December.
“I had always hunted with my family, so this was something new. I had never hunted with other women before, so I was really looking forward to the experience.”
After arriving in San Antonio, she took the 2-hour drive to the 1500-acre hunting ranch. From the onset she felt a little out of her element with temperatures in the 80s and a Texas desert landscape far different than Indiana.
“There were nine women at the ranch from all different places. There was a writer from Buckmasters, a 69-year-old from Oregon, two ladies from Tennessee, and the rest were from Texas. They all varied in ability as well. There was even one who had learned to shoot a rifle for the first time two weeks before.”
Upon arrival at the ranch, Judith was greeted with some unfortunate news. Wildlife biologists closely monitor each hunting ranch, and as Judith put it, the biologists have the authority of a sheriff and the run of the entire place. Her ranch site had promised a trophy whitetail hunt, but after the local biologists had inspected the area, the ladies were informed that they were restricted to shooting one spike buck and a doe. The guides informed the ladies that they could still pursue a trophy animal, but it would have to be an exotic animal. Several exotic species of deer run wild throughout the Southwest. Escaping from ranches and quickly adapting to the dry temperate environment, these species flourish. “There were three of us that decided to hunt for an exotic trophy: Marla (the woman from Oregon), Dawn Samson (the writer from Buckmasters), and me. I could shoot a spike buck or a doe in Indiana, so why choose that?”
The Clay County native decided to try for an Axis deer because the meat is delicious, and the guides said that they are as wary and challenging as the whitetail. The Axis deer had been imported to Texas from India in the 1930s and flourished since. The Axis deer, also known as chital deer, are beautiful animals. Their coats are reddish with spots, and the antlers are tall. Unlike whitetail deer, they don’t have set travel routes which makes them impossible to pattern. Furthermore, the Texas whitetails come to feeders and can be hunted over them while the Axis shy away from the feeders. Judith had her work cut out for her.
“It didn’t really matter. I wasn’t there to hunt for trophy deer, I was there to hunt with other women and enjoy the experience. It was great. Each night we had a campfire and it was neat talking to these other ladies from all over the United States.”
Judith’s guide, Jay, took her out the first morning to an elevated box stand from where they could scan the area.
“I had a great guide; it was just like hunting with my son since Jay was about the same age.”
Armed with the same Winchester .243 she used when she hunted mule deer in Colorado as a girl with her father, Judith patiently watched as Jay told her to pass the first morning on an Axis deer that came within range. The second morning, the same thing happened. A nice stag came within range, but Jay shook his head.
“I knew to trust Jay. Marla had shot a very nice one, but he said there were bigger ones. I had no idea what was considered big and what wasn’t, so I just trusted my guide.”
The third day was cooler and more deer were moving than the previous two days. That afternoon, Jay and Judith picked a new elevated stand and watched trophy whitetail, sika deer, and a nice Axis in velvet pass by, but again, Jay said no. Around 5 p.m., he saw some movement in the brush with his binoculars and told Judith it may be a shooter. Tense moments passed as the deer got closer and closer. “As the buck got closer and closer, Jay’s face got brighter and brighter. All he would say was, ‘Oh my, oh my, oh my’.”
Judith readied her .243 when Jay told her that this one definitely was a shooter. The buck was at eighty yards when Judith brought up the rifle and sighted the deer in her scope. “Jay said, ‘Any time you’re ready,’ but I shot before he could finish the sentence.”
The buck took off running right toward them and went down twenty yards from her stand. “It was a beautiful deer, just beautiful, but Jay was more excited than I was. I didn’t realize what I’d done.”
Judith is having the trophy mounted and the beautiful hide tanned. The rack of the Axis deer is enormous stretching 32” from tip to skull. There is a 31” spread between the main beams, and the dressed weight was 180 pounds. Judith was told the rack would be in the top 3 percent of its class. The local taxidermist asked her, “So, are you coming back?”
Judith replied, “I don’t think I can do any better.”
“Nope … you couldn’t,” the taxidermist responded.
Judith summed up the experience best in her e-mail to me: “I was very fortunate to take such a nice animal. He will have a wonderful spot on my wall, overlooking the Indiana record buck I took in November 2000 when I was hunting with my dad. Each and every time I enter my family room I will be reminded of all the wonderful times I had hunting with my father and the absolute awesome experiences that he allowed me to have with him and still to this day by introducing me to the wonderful world of the outdoors.”
To learn more about the NRA’s Women on Target program, go to www.nrahq.org/women/wot.asp.
Jeff Gambill can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.