The Deer Of Spring

May 23, 2011

axis deer hunting
Axis are among the world’s most beautiful deer.

My mood was mixed. I reflected on the wonder of the wildlife I’d witnessed these three long days. But it had been frustrating, busted by the exotic spotted bucks that made the fabled whitetail look retarded, and broiling in the hot sun, suffering dry dust and gnawing gnats. And with maybe three hours left in the hunt with nothing to show…well, it just didn’t look good for the good guy.

An hour later I had just scattered a mob of cattle with a barrage of stones—these deer don’t tolerate bovine, I’d noticed—when I turned slowly and saw legs hurrying in the brush. My pulse quickened as the motion materialized into an axis doe—followed eagerly by a buck. And not just a buck, but the biggest axis buck I’d ever seen, dead or alive.

The deer skirted a couple of straggling steers, bringing them beyond bow range, but they angled back toward the water. They hesitated 30 yards out, but the buck was angled toward me, a no-go. The doe circled him and he turned to follow, and my bow leapt to full draw. But he was moving, and there was brush…and the next thing I knew he was out of range and heading toward the sinking sun, dragging along my last vestiges of hope for an awesome axis trophy….

Spirits had been high when we first set foot in this ground. Mike Stroff runs Canyon Ranch three hours west of San Antonio. Here, an incredible variety and volume of game range freely over 20,000 acres of typical Edwards Plateau habitat, mainly mesquite and dust. There were whitetails and fallow deer, the beautiful blackbuck and wild hogs, Rio Grand turkeys, red deer, oryx and I’m not sure what else. But it was the ample herd of axis we were after, a wonderful way for a group of bowhunting pros to test out an array of top-shelf new gear that included Bowtech, Stryker, Tru Glo, Octane, Mossy Oak, Under Armour, Danner, Badlands, Nikon, Outdoor Edge, S4 Gear, Gold Tip and Rage.

We writers assembled our gear, tried it out on the range, then packed up and headed for our hunting sites. They were treestands and blinds largely overlooking water. With the climate lately arid and hot even by West Texas standards, water would be key to concentrating game.

axis deer hunting
Purpose of the hunt was to test some top-shelf new bowhunting gear.

The first couple days of hunting brought a gradual accumulation of success. Sam Coalson and Jeff Suiter from Bowtech each bagged bucks that about made me drool. Sam’s buck sported beautiful full velvet with fully formed antlers underneath. Jeff’s had begun to throw its velvet. They were fine examples of trophy axis antlers, which typically consist of three points to a side, with main beams ideally 28 inches or more, and well-formed and lengthy subordinate points. With its proportionately large rack, handsome head and spotted coat, I’ve always considered the axis the most beautiful deer.

It was apparent we had timed our hunt well to coincide of the axis “rut.” While these deer native to India may breed anytime, May is when most seem to get hard-horned and interested in the does. Antlers mature and activity increases, making later May and June the prime time to hunt.

From my stands I had spotted axis bucks in the distance and had a couple close encounters. But the bucks always approached warily and seemed to scent or sight me before getting into range. It was interesting to compare them to the whitetails, which would feed and water for long periods within bow range, clueless or uncaring of my presence.

They were enjoyable, sometimes frustrating interludes on stand, but the next thing I knew the sun was going down on my last evening of the hunt. I was sitting it out in a ground blind built of mesquite branches when the axis buck of my dreams suddenly entered my life--and exited just as fast. I let down the bow and strained to watch. The deer disappeared in the undergrowth. My heart sank. But in a few minutes, incredulously, the buck was trotting back toward me, strips of peeling antler velvet flying in the breeze. And suddenly there he was, stopped broadside, with my 30-yard pin on his heart.

It would be a night of high celebration as four of us—Kevin Howard, Tony Peterson, Luke Hartle and me—disorderly conducted ourselves into camp with our last-minute trophy bucks. As it turned out, most of our party bagged, and it was good, very good, especially to have had the rare joy of hunting such beautiful deer in springtime.

For more info visit www.soehunts.com; or call 910-358-3106.

axis deer hunting
The author’s buck had main beams 35 inches long.
axis deer hunting
Jeff Suiter and his fine trophy axis deer.
axis deer hunting
Sam Coalson and his full-velvet trophy.