The shortest distance to the taxidermist is the line between points A and B.
A deer lease in Houston County, Texas, was the perfect gift for Mark Lee’s newly teenaged son.
Two hours from their Crosby home, the tract is mostly pasture. Only 50 of the 1,000 acres are wooded, but Mark thought he and 13-year-old Cullen might have a legitimate shot at tagging an honest-to-God trophy buck there.
“It’s not much to look at for deer hunting, but it has a reputation for good deer,” Mark said. “Most of the pasture is used for row crops and winter wheat.
“It is mainly a travel corridor for them. We actually hold very few deer during the year,” he continued.
Father and son erected box and ladder stands, six in all, hung trail cameras, and set up one feeder. They also established mineral licks.
They were soon evaluating bucks.
“It was nice to watch those deer develop over the summer and to pattern them through the pre-rut,” Mark said.
That first season was a bust, maybe because of the drought. They saw only three deer while in stands.
In 2011, they retrieved photos of a very good buck spending lots of time near Cullen’s bow stand. But neither Cullen nor Mark got an opportunity at it while bowhunting.
They didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the rifle season.
“On the Thursday of that week, we learned the farmer had spent the previous three days cultivating the entire pasture for planting,” Mark said. “We never saw that deer again. It was killed about a mile away three weeks later.
“It was another tough season with few deer sightings,” he added.
Mark and Cullen checked their cameras every two weeks, always arriving around midday so as not to bump deer. At times, the two-hour drive seemed longer.
In June 2012, they got their first tantalizing glimpse at a whitetail they dubbed King.
“We were riding from one spot to another when four bucks jumped the fence beside us and took off across our field,” Mark said. “Their racks were still very much developing, but we were surprised at the size of two of them as they ran away.
“Cullen was commenting on the two wider deer, but I could not take my eyes off the one bringing up the rear,” he continued.
The last buck’s rack wasn’t wide, but there was obviously a huge knot of antler resembling a crown, which is why they nicknamed him King.
“By August, he was spectacular,” Mark said.
King seemed to like the area near Cullen’s bow stand until two weeks before the season opened, when an oil rig was erected on the neighboring property next to the fence and about 800 yards from the teenager’s setup.
Even so, the Lees hunted every day they could, and they passed up some good bucks.
Cullen played varsity football, which consumed their Fridays. They’d go to bed late and get up at 2:30 a.m. Saturday to be sure to be on stand an hour before daylight. Religiously scent-conscious, they played the wind and walked long distances to reach their destinations.
They finally saw King again on camera in December. Later that month, Mark was treated to a daytime sighting.
“From a very long distance, I saw him running a doe,” Mark said. “I thought, He’s still alive!”
They saw him again while setting out cameras in June 2013.
“In almost the exact same spot as the previous summer, four deer jumped the fence ahead of us and ran across the pasture,” Mark said. “It was amazing, really. King had returned, along with two of the others.”
The Lees also began collecting photos.
“He was much larger,” Mark said. “His maturity was obvious in the pictures with the other bucks. He probably put on 25 or 30 inches since 2012.”
Mark and Cullen were happy when the state changed their area’s MLD (managed lands deer permit program) designation to Level 3, which meant they could hunt deer with rifles as well as bows when archery season began.
Opening day couldn’t arrive soon enough.
“Two weeks before, King disappeared again,” Mark said. “But I told my son I didn’t think he had gone far that time.”
Cullen played in a high school football game the Friday evening before the Sept. 28 opener. There was little time for sleep before their planned 2 a.m. wakeup.
Cullen’s initial game plan was to hunt from a particular ladder stand, but Mark had reservations. He was concerned his son might fall asleep while aloft.
“There is a ladder stand at the camera where King had been most of the summer. There’s also a box blind about 50 yards away,” Mark said. “I usually hunt a tower about 800 yards away on the same tree line along a small creek.”
Fields surround the narrow strip of trees
“Cullen had slept through most of the drive and was obviously very tired when we arrived. I told him I’d feel better if he was in a box stand, and he agreed,” Mark said. “I also told him to pay attention, because I felt that if he was going to see that buck, it would be right at daylight.
“I thought if King was already in the strip of trees, he would probably pass by one of us as he went to bed down for the day,” he added.
That’s exactly what happened.
Right after daybreak, Cullen saw movement. Even in the low light, there was no doubt it was the buck he’d salivated over for two years, 50 yards away. The giant was facing away from the 17-year-old, and his body was completely blocked by thick brush along the creek bank.
“To my son’s credit, he didn’t pull the trigger,” Mark said. “He didn’t have a good shot, and he didn’t want to take a chance on wounding the deer.”
Plus, Cullen figured the buck was heading toward Mark.
“It seemed like a long time before light began to show in the east, and as light began to come, I glassed the tree line for movement,” Mark said. “A few minutes later, I saw what appeared to be the legs of a deer about 400 yards out, moving down the tree line toward me.
“I tried to confirm it was King, but he would never give me a clear look at his head,” he continued.
When the deer dodged back into the tree line, Mark picked up his rifle and stuck the barrel out the stand’s window. As soon as he dialed in his scope, he saw a deer standing broadside at the edge of the trees 175 yards distant.
“He was looking across the cotton field, back toward a stand of trees. I knew it was him,” Mark said. “Without hesitation, I moved the crosshairs to his shoulder and squeezed the trigger.
“The shot was a surprise. When it went off, I knew it was good,” he added. “The .300 Win Mag did its job; the 180-grain bullet hit perfectly.
“I watched King run across the cotton field and go down,” he said. “When he fell, I got emotional.”
Cullen called almost immediately. “Tell me you got him,” he said.
“It really hit me when I told him I was about to get out and go and look at the buck,” Mark said. “As I got closer, the deer got bigger.”
His son arrived moments later.
“Cullen’s being there was as much of a thrill for me as actually pulling the trigger,” Mark said. “We celebrated because it was something we had done together. We’d spent so much time and effort, and there we were, together, seeing the reward.”
This article was published in the December 2017 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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