Outdoor Life - - DEER OF THE YEAR -

MY BREATH STOPPED, as if some­one had knocked the air out of me. I had only glanced at the buck for a frac­tion of a se­cond, yet I knew in­stantly that he was the most beau­ti­ful thing I had ever laid eyes on—his thick mass of antlers tow­er­ing above the grass from his bed­ded po­si­tion.

“How many inches do you think he is?” I asked my boyfriend, Cory Hill, un­der my breath. “Prob­a­bly 115 to 120,” he re­sponded ca­su­ally. By now I was shak­ing. My hand hold­ing up the gun ached, so I used the other to sup­port the rifle’s weight. My eyes were still pinned to my tar­get.

“I got this,” I mut­tered to my­self, try­ing to keep self-doubt at bay.

It was our third day out hunt­ing the rugged ter­rain of the Huachuca Moun­tains in south­east­ern Ari­zona, and it was the first time I had ever had a buck in my crosshairs. This eter­nity, which in re­al­ity was al­most an hour, ended in one split se­cond when he fi­nally got out of his bed.

My heart seemed to miss a beat. I tried to steady my breath­ing. Cory coached me to take the safety off, but I was al­ready on the trig­ger. I stead­ied the crosshairs, hes­i­tated for only a se­cond, and squeezed the shot off. Cory told me that he saw the rifle re­coil, but I didn’t feel a thing.

“He’s down,” he shouted. “Han­nah, we got our­selves a mon­ster buck.”

Cory gave me a huge hug as I choked back tears. I was speech­less. We made our way down the steep em­bank­ment, up an­other hill, and stum­bled our way through the field to where he lay. I crouched down next to him. My hands slid across his thick horns, trac­ing each curve and point. I gen­tly lifted his head to get a bet­ter look at his mas­sive rack. It was an in­tri­cate mix of ex­hil­a­ra­tion and rev­er­ence, adren­a­line and re­flec­tion.

This was my first buck. And not just any buck, but a gi­ant Coues deer. His gross mea­sure­ments were 136 ²∕₈ inches. The Boone and Crock­ett record is 144 ¹∕₈. Af­ter har­vest­ing my first big buck, I sud­denly had a clear un­der­stand­ing as to why so many de­vote their lives to this raw and rus­tic way of life.

Han­nah Macken­zie and Cory Hill with Han­nah's great Coues buck.

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