The hunter and guide approached the blind at the 2,100-acre Highpoint Ranch near London, but first light had already arrived. Behind the blind were four deer that scattered off with the movement, stopping about 200 yards out.
“See that one? He’s wide — he’s the one we’re looking for,” the guide said. “Let’s crouch down and get a rest on one of these shin oaks. Let’s see what they do.”
Three of the deer moved away, but the widest buck stood still, then moved toward the blind and stared straight at it.
“He’s coming toward us — get ready,” the guide said.
“He’s facing straight at us,” the hunter replied.
“Are you comfortable with a neck shot?
“Not from this tree.”
The buck eventually turned broadside.
“Take him,” the guide said.
The shot rang, followed by a loud thump.
“He turned right as you shot,” the guide said. “Where did you hit him?”
“Way too far back,” the hunter replied. “He turned away.”
“Let’s get in the stand; we’ll give him an hour and then go look,” the guide said.
The guide was 26-year-old Sawyer Wright. The hunter, on a dove- and duck- hunting lease near Sawyer’s home, met Sawyer when he was a 7-year-old silent visitor to the hunting camp.
Sawyer’s father didn’t hunt much. His grandfather did, but was too busy working cattle and the farm to get out much. A few years later, Sawyer was tagging along with the lease members on bird hunts, and proved to be a better shot than most of the adults. When he started driving, varmints and other critters were regularly thinned by Sawyer “shining the light.”
He killed a few deer in his high school and college years, and he became a top ranch hand working with his grandfather. But he was having trouble finding his way.
“I kind of wandered for a few years there,” Sawyer said.
The hunter and his friend met Bob Zaiglin, who heads the wildlife management program at Southwest Texas Junior College in Uvalde. Zaiglin described the program, his students and the job placement they found upon completion.
“We know a young man we think would be perfect for you,” the hunter and his friend told Zaiglin. “He might need a little discipline at first, though.”
“Send him to me,” Zaiglin said.
Sawyer applied, was accepted and moved to Uvalde. He thrived in the program.
“He was one of my top students,” Zaiglin said.
Listening to Sawyer describe all of the plant life, information on whitetails, and other animals and terms the hunter and friend had never heard, gave them a sense of pride that they helped a young man find his place.
On the hunt near London, the hunter and Sawyer talked about the memories of his best friend, his grandfather. They talked about his work at Artemis Outdoors, a deer management consultant firm based in Three Rivers, and about the summer Sawyer spent as an apprentice professional hunter at Numzaan Safaris in South Africa, where he honed his skills.
“We learned how to track everything, especially “off track” where there is no blood,” Sawyer said. “And it’s muddy from the rain so the tracks should be easier to find.”
“Do you think there will be much blood?” the hunter asked.
“Depends where the bullet went after it hit, it could have gone anywhere,” Sawyer said.
The hour was up, and when the area of the shot was reached, the news wasn’t good.
“There are bone fragments,” Sawyer said. “You hit some of the back leg.”
Fair amounts of blood made the trailing easy — at first. After about 100 yards, a large amount of blood mixed with air was seen and helped ease their minds.
“You caught some lung,” Sawyer said. “He should be close.”
But he wasn’t. And the blood trail thinned, with small amounts observed every 30 to 50 yards.
Text messages to and from the friend, in another blind, told the story.
“Shot one before getting to the blind. He turned as I shot and hit him too far back.”
“Sounded like a solid hit from here — come get me, nothing going on here.”
Later, the three studied the trail, now about 300-400 yards long.
“He stopped several times and there was some clotting,” Sawyer said. “But every time he started again the clot blew out — look here.”
“It shouldn’t be much farther,” the friend said.
The hunter, though, was getting concerned.
A small road crossed the path ahead. The friend noticed more blood and the trio was back on the trail. And after 100 more yards or more, the friend said the magic words.
“You guys can stop worrying,” he said after two hours of meticulously studying and following the trail. “There he is.”
The hug between hunter and guide told the story. Twenty years of time spent together, and now the student was educating the teachers.
Back near the blind, the group observed the tree from which the hunter had taken the shot.
“Look down,” the friend said. “There’s a huge scrape on this tree. Maybe that’s why the buck was so curious, you were standing on his scrape.”
The hunter was me. The friend was Lone Star Outdoor News CEO David J. Sams. And the guide will remain a life-long friend to both.