Glassing the valleys and draws of a West Texas ranch near the small town of Gail was the last thing I thought I’d be doing during the 2014 deer season. However, Brad Clay, host of Final Descent Outdoors, called me with a short-notice opportunity to join him and represent Great Plains Kubota on a filmed hunt with Miller Brothers Outfitters. This hunt would prove to be bittersweet and a defining moment in my years of hunting.
It was the week before Christmas and with a Kubota RTV in tow, Brad and I headed west to our hunting destination. I’d only hunted out of state one other time before this trip, so my mind was full of anticipation and wonder during the six hour drive. I was also a little nervous, as it seemed to me that a lot was riding on this trip. We were going there, in part, to feature the Miller Brothers Outfitters as well as Great Plains Kubota as a sponsor and partner of Final Descent Outdoors. The goal was to harvest two trophy whitetails on camera to create an episode from which all parties could benefit from. The outcome, all though different, was just as rewarding.
I had never been on a guided hunt before, but Valentine brothers: Miller, Miles, and Merik were everything I thought good guides should be. They were experienced and knowledgeable, but even more so, hospitable. They were the friendliest group of people I’ve ever been around which made the week away from home more comfortable. Miller’s wife Jessica was a great hostess and excellent cook. Every night after a long day of hunting, we’d come back to a well prepared supper. To me, hunting has always been about the experience rather than the harvest. It’s these attributes, paired with plentiful game and rustic scenery that made the hunt so enjoyable.
When Brad told me we would be hunting on 50,000 free-range acres, I didn’t really know how to process that. A couple thousand acres of private land is the largest I’ve ever hunted. It wasn’t until we drove to the various locations on the ranch that the vast amount of land we were hunting began to sink in. The Miller Ranch, or Bar-V, has been in the family for over a century. So locating game in the mesquite and cedar was second nature for the Brothers Miller. The diversity and amount of big
game was also impressive. During the hunt we saw deer, antelope, wild boar, coyote, but the wildest game animal was the free range Aoudad sheep. The Aoudad or Barbary sheep is from the Barbary Coast in northern Africa, and was introduced to Texas as a big game animal for hunting purposes. The West Texas climate is perfect for this sheep, so over the years itsnumbers have grown in Texas as
well as on the Miller Ranch.
On the first sit of the hunt, Miller, Brad, and I hunted from an elevated box blind that overlooked
a fence line. Not far from the blind was a feeder, where just a couple weeks prior, a giant buck had been showing up regularly. Brad and I had flipped a coin to see who would shoot first. I won. That evening I watched several groups of does and a young buck as the sun slowly sank into the horizon that first night.
Although the three bedroom, two bath log style cabin was cozy and comfortable, the thought of possibly shooting a buck of a lifetime was making me restless. To say it was hard to sleep would be an understatement. The next morning brought another first for me, Sandhill cranes, and tons of them. I had never seen one nor have I hunted them, but we saw hundreds flying within a few feet of our blind that morning. After the first morning’s hunt, Miller gave us a tour of the ranch, which for 50,000 acres took the rest of the day. We wrapped up our first full day of hunting by giving our first stand the benefit of the doubt, but the particular buck we were after never showed, and we decided to try a different approach to our hunt.
If one thing could be said about the Miller Brothers it’s their devotion to ensuring that their clients have an opportunity to harvest a trophy animal. Things were getting tough, but I never saw them lose sight or get frustrated. In fact, the harder we hunted the more fun we began to have. Their company and attitude made the long hours in the field more than enjoyable; it was unforgettable.
For the next couple of days we tried different locations both in the morning and evening. All seemed to offer a something different and exciting. Whether it be posting up on a ridge overlooking a sendora or skirting a green field, the views were always breathtaking. When we weren’t set up, we were driving to check cameras or fill feeders, and we were constantly glassing. It’s hunts like this where you really appreciate the value of good binoculars. Honestly, I’ve hardly even used binoculars to hunt in Oklahoma, and after a few days behind a pair, my eyeballs were bloodshot. The food was getting better every day, as well as the companionship, but as I went to bed on the third night I couldn’t help but wonder if we would have the opportunity we came for.
The next morning it seemed colder and different somehow as it was quiet and calm on the way to the new hunting location. It was like we were all thinking the same thing, and we all meant business. As Miller, Brad and I took position on a ridge point that overlooked a large valley, we took cover with what brush we could because this last-ditch set up didn’t have the luxury of an elevated box blind. While we were positioning ourselves, Miles went to scout different ground. Again, Brad was behind the camera and I was behind the trigger. As soon as the sun came up, deer where moving everywhere, and although the rut was practically over, every whitetail we saw was showing signs that it wasn’t. I knew this would be the morning! I had a feeling that our hard work was going to pay off. Suddenly we spotted a larger buck at about 300 yards chasing a doe, and it was coming our way! We quickly slinked our way into position so we could get a better look at him. Those next few minutes seemed to last forever, but I was comfortable and steady. As I waited for both Brad’s okay and a clear shot, I followed the buck with my rifle scope, and I got a clear look at how big the buck really was. To me, he was everything a trophy Texas whitetail should be. His large white rack was tall and wide. Each tine was as long as the next one, and they carried their mass all the way to the tips. He finally closed his distance to within 150 yards or so, and my crosshairs we’re dead on his chest. As I eagerly requested to shoot, Brad insisted on a more ethical and reliable broadside shot. Meanwhile the doe he was chasing had closed her distance even more, and she was walking strait toward us. I couldn’t see as I was at a lower position than Brad and Miller. All I could do was freeze as Brad whispered her location. I felt helpless, but when the doe walked within ten yards to our right, I just knew the buck would follow right behind her. I prepared to shoot from the hip as she passed us without notice, but we soon realized the buck had slipped farther right than expected.
After the two deer had crested the ridge, we wasted no time giving chase. When we got to the top there was no sign of the buck nor the doe in the small valley below. Without much thought, Miller and I began sprinting down the hillside and across the plain to try to catch the buck over the next ridge. However, Brad brought to our attention that it wouldn’t do any good to reach the top without him or the camera. It’s one thing to run with a gun, it’s another to run with a $5,000 camera that’s attached to a long, cumbersome tripod. I knew we didn’t have much time, but I also knew Brad was right. We slowed our pace and allowed Brad to catch up and take the lead on the next hill. When Brad made it to the top, he motioned me to hurry, and while he began setting up the camera I already knew I was going to have another chance at this buck. There was no time for a slow steady shot because we were already pegged. I was standing as Miller extended a pair of shooting sticks for me. The buck was staring at us 250 yards away on the next ridge line. My heart was pounding through my layers of camo, and I was dripping sweat. The morning was no longer cold, and there was no more time to waste. As I tried to control my breathing from the strenuous sprint, Brad was whispering, “shoot him, shoot him, shoot him.” My crosshairs were all over the bucks’ body. I was finding the rhythm of the shake as Brad continued to tell me to shoot him. I kept saying to myself that I’m going to miss. I wasn’t comfortable with the shot. Until that moment I had never even drawn on an animal at that distance. Again, I said to myself I was going to miss. The only thing I knew to do was to try to get more of my body in contact with the ground, but I knew if I moved it was over. Still, I had to try. As soon as I began to lower myself he bolted into the thick cover of cedars and mesquite.
I was at a loss for words. I felt sick, but even worse I felt I’d let everyone down. I’ve never had that kind of pressure in hunting before, and at the time I never wanted to feel that way again about the sport. Everyone had done their part except me. Of course, Brad and the guys assured me not to worry and insisted I moved on, and I probably wouldn’t have had it not been for the fun and friendly nature of everyone on this trip.
We went back to the same spot that evening and again the next and final morning, but a shooter never showed.
As we said our goodbyes everyone agreed that although this hunt had its disappointments and hardships, it was a great time. In fact, I can’t remember a hunting trip or any trip for that matter where I had laughed so much or had as much fun.
To book a fun filled hunt with Miller Brothers Outfitters call (806) 759-5046, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Miller Brothers Outfitters” By Reed Boettcher From the Fall 2015 Issue of Great Plains living