Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge is an area of approximately 60,000 acres located in southwest Oklahoma near the city of Lawton and is home to a healthy herd of Rocky Mountain elk, whitetail deer, American bison, and Texas longhorn cattle. The Refuge is operated by the US Fish & Wildlife Service where biologists manage the animal populations by rounding up and auctioning excess numbers of bison and longhorns and by removing excess elk and deer through 2-1/2 day hunts awarded via public drawing. (The hunt coordinator told me they try and maintain a population of 600 elk and 450 deer.) My dad and I have hunted the Refuge three times previously; together in 1995 for an antlered deer, together in 2005 for an antlerless deer (deer hunt drawings can be applied for as a group), and once each for elk (he was drawn for a cow elk in 2007 and I was drawn for a cow elk in 2009). Each of the previous hunts involved a total number of about 150 hunters and resulted in quick success within about 30 minutes of sunrise. There were only 50 hunters drawn for this year's hunt (November 2013) -- which should've been a sign for us.
At any rate, we were both drawn for an antlered deer this year and we live about 90 miles northeast of the Refuge. Based on our previous experiences, we decided to simply drive back and forth for our check-in and hunt instead of staying in a motel. (USFWS hunts require a check-in and briefing 24 hours prior to the start of the hunt.) The Refuge staff decides what areas of the Refuge are to be hunted and divide the hunters into groups of ten. We were assigned Area "I" in the northwest part of the Refuge and we toured this as a group where we decided where we each wanted to be dropped off when the hunt began. (The USFWS drives you in and out, you can't take your own vehicle beyond their designated parking area.)
One of the other hunters in our group was a cop for the Refuge. (I was mildly acquainted with him from my elk hunt in 2009 -- he was our group leader on that trip.) He was part of a group of four who had antlerless tags and had done a good deal of scouting even before this hunt and was telling the buck tag holders where and when he had been seeing buck activity. We had all selected our "spots" based on his recommendations and one of the spots was this area around Medicine Tank pond where he'd been seeing bucks coming in during the evening. (Incidentally, 5 out of the six who had buck tags were successful.)
We had to be at the Refuge's corral area ready to go by 5:30 A.M. on the day of the hunt, which meant leaving home about 3:15. We didn't see squat for deer -- no sign, no tracks, no animals -- until about 1:00 in the afternoon when we saw three does. (We saw elk -- and bison -- by the gross all day. Here's a poor quality cell phone photograph of one of the innumerable 6x6 bull elk we saw.)
We had just about packed it in at 5:30 that evening when we started walking down the road to meet our ride out of there when my dad saw a deer. (The light was very dim at this point.) We both stopped and looked through our binoculars and could see it was a buck -- a big buck on the west side of the road.
My dad wondered if it was still legal shooting light. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 5:50 -- we had ten minutes left. He suggested I try and slip in a little closer for a shot. The area was mostly open with a few blackjack oaks on the west side of the road and the buck was to our southwest. The wind was howling like hell out of the southwest (it had been gusting to over 30 MPH throughout the day), so I decided to try and put some blackjacks between him and me and move within 100 yards or so. I moved closer to where I was confident I could shoot and looked over to the west and saw a big buck silhouetted about 300 yards off on the horizon. I started to cuss my luck and then looked back to where we had first seen the deer and saw him standing in the same spot facing me. There were TWO big bucks!!! I dropped to one knee and squeezed off a shot. The wind caught me as I fired and the shot caught him a little far back and he ran about 50 yards and stopped. I chambered a second round and ran in closer and finished him with a broadside shot behind his left shoulder. (The first bullet struck him behind the right shoulder, demolished his right lung, missed his entrails, and ended up in the hide near his testicles where I found it while I was dressing him.)
Our ride picked us up about 6:15 and after checking the animal, we made it out of the Refuge about 7:20 which put us back home a little after 9:00. (You'll recall the day started about 3:00 that morning and we'd been on our feet most of the day.) My dad had this idea that we'd split the driving: he'd drive to our briefing/check-in on Monday, I'd drive the first day of the hunt, and he'd drive the second day -- if there was one. He also planned that if one of us killed a deer, but the other hadn't, then the other guy would be on his own. He's 72 and I knew if I was beat, he was REALLY BEAT, so I told him that since I already had a vacation day scheduled, I would plan on coming back. I had him leave his rifle and other gear in my pickup and parked it in my garage for the night so that he could just jump in and go in the morning.
By the time I cut the head off and dropped the carcass off at a processor 15 miles north of my house, took a shower, and had everything ready to go for in the morning, it was after midnight. My 2:45 alarm came early. I had breakfast ready for us (I had my wife scramble some eggs and cook some bacon the evening before so that I could reheat it in the microwave) and hot coffee. (I've found if you eat a high protein breakfast, you can really go like hell, even if you're tired or miss lunch.) I picked up my dad and he was BEAT, but after he had his breakfast, he was ready to go. I dropped him off at the corral area where he headed out with the other remaining hunters. I headed in to Lawton a little after 7:00 A.M. and picked up a sandwich so that we'd have something to eat if the day was as long as the previous day when I got a call from my mother -- my dad had killed a deer and was having trouble dialing out. (Cell service is spotty, at best, within a lot of the Refuge.) I made my way back to the Refuge and rode out with our group leader to pick up my dad. He had returned to the same place where I'd shot my deer and managed to kill the other big buck. (The red star on the map.) My dad's buck was aged by the hunt coordinator via dental a examination at 9-1/2 years old and mine was aged at 8-1/2 years. His was the oldest buck taken this year. (There was a doe that was aged to 10-1/2 years, believe it or not.) It was a great hunt, but it took us about a week to recover and rest. We're staying in a motel next time.
Here's one of the other hunters out our area with his "little" 8-point: