Because of a foreboding weather forecast, heightened by bad luck at the onset of his planned weeklong hunt, Gary Fears headed afield on Nov. 24 with the resignation of killing the first decent buck dumb enough to wander into his crosshairs.
Not even a doe was safe.
Four days earlier, Gary had a spring in his step when he walked into the little hole-in-the-wall cafe around noon. Afterward, when he climbed back into his truck with a full belly, he grew considerably less happy.
That was the first day of his 2010 hunt in northwestern Oklahoma. He was glad to see a world far beyond the windshield of his trooper’s cruiser and elated at having seen a couple of dandy bucks before lunch. One of them would’ve rivaled his second-best whitetail in four decades of hunting, and he was eager to get another look at it.
But when he turned the key -- gently, firmly, and over and over again -- nothing happened. Plus, there was little chance that he’d find any help in the little town of 300 on opening weekend of rifle season.
He wound up calling the owner of the 250 acres he leases in Woods County. Several phone calls later, the man helped him connect with a mechanic, who couldn’t look at it until Monday. A bad (diesel) fuel-control module was to blame, a part that would have to be ordered, so Gary called a friend who owns a wrecker. The guy brought him his Jeep, and then towed his truck 250 miles back to Coweta.
Tuesday night, Gary’s already tainted week took yet another turn for the worse when he heard the weather forecast for the next several days. The daytime temperature had been in the 50s, and the wind was blowing its usual 20 to 25 mph. By Thursday, the mercury would plummet and the wind’s ferocity would literally double.
That’s when he decided it was no time to be picky. Because gale-force winds out there tend to keep even the randiest of deer off their feet, and since he couldn’t hunt the following week, Gary resolved to fill his tags on Wednesday. He wanted to be done with it all.
“I just wanted to kill a buck, any decent one, and go home,” he admitted.
When he went out that day, he ventured away from his usual spot and fashioned himself a ground blind from a couple of hillside cedars overlooking a canyon. Soon afterward, he saw two great bucks chasing does between 400 and 600 yards distant.
“For whatever reason, the rut seemed to be late last year,” he said. “It usually peaks by the end of the first week in November. This was at least 10 days later.”
Although cutting the distance was tempting, he didn’t have to ponder moving for long. A handsome 10-pointer began dogging a doe in and out of cedars far closer. When it tired of the chase, the doe came on out into the open and began browsing, leaving her boyfriend standing guard within the scrub.
While Gary watched, trigger finger itchy, the buck suddenly whirled and took off in the opposite direction.
“I couldn’t figure out why it ran,” he said. “There was no way it could see or smell me, and the doe hadn’t spooked.”
So accustomed to bad luck that week, Gary decided to take the bird in hand. He eased his .270 WSM to his shoulder and put the crosshairs on the feeding doe. Before squeezing the trigger, however, he glimpsed more deer legs above his scope and raised his head to check out the newcomer, which was a buck, and a much dandier one than the 10-pointer he’d fancied shooting earlier.
“It all happened so quickly, I didn’t have time to get nervous. I’d already used that up on the 10-pointer,” Gary said. “Plus, I saw only the right side of the deer’s rack. I really didn’t have a clue that it was so big.”
As soon as the buck stepped into the clear at 220 yards, Gary’s rifle spat a 150-grain ballistic tip at it.
“The buck hit the ground instantly,” he said. “And when it raised its head, I popped it again ... for insurance’s sake.
“The doe never moved. She stood there throughout both shots. So I thought, ‘I’ll just shoot you, too,’ and be done,” he added.
As Gary approached the buck, he realized it was far bigger than he’d imagined.
“My knees got weak when I saw all that antler,” he said. “One look, and I knew that, after 40 some odd years, after hunting regularly in Kansas, Iowa and Missouri, I’d finally broken the 200-inch mark.”
His best buck prior to that was a 178-incher. He’d also taken several in the 150s and a couple in the 160s.
Gary loaded both deer on his four-wheeler and took them back to camp.
When he awoke the next morning to howling winds carrying a 10-below chill factor, he was happy not to be on one of those hillsides. He’d also forgotten about bad luck.
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Hunter: Gary Fears
BTR Official Score: 206 4/8
BTR Composite Score: 227 1/8
Weapon: Modern Rifle
Location: Woods County, Oklahoma
Date: November 24, 2010