Editor’s Note: Herald Democrat outdoors writer Lynn Burkhead continues his yearly tradition of penning a fictitious outdoors story as a Christmastime gift to readers.
As the north wind whistled over the chimney, Jake Thomas finished poking the embers of the smoldering December fire and settled down into his easy chair.
“Honey, why don’t you quit reading and messing with the fire and get up and go hunting?” queried his wife Kathleen. “The kids won’t be here until tomorrow, I need to run into town, and I’ve still got to finish up the wrapping.
“I know you want to help with that,” she smiled in his direction.
Jake grinned back, and for a moment he thoughtfully sipped on the holiday brew — southern pecan coffee with some peppermint mocha flavored creamer added in — that his wife of 45-years had handed him just a few moments before.
“Honey, I’d like to do that,” he replied as the oak logs crackled in the flames of the renewed blaze. “But ever since the neighbor tagged Big Guy, I’m just not seeing any shooters show up on my cameras.”
Big Guy was a local Montague County whitetail buck of almost mythical proportions, a Boone and Crockett Club qualifier for sure, one that had literally caused Jake to gasp when he had first laid eyes on the monster after pulling an SD card from his Browning trail camera nearly four years ago.
And why not? With 10 tall sweeping tines, an inside spread of more than 20 inches, lengthy main beams on both sides, and heavy mass, Big Guy was a coveted “Booner” buck and then some.
In fact, Jake knew exactly how big the buck was — 179 1/8-inches typical — net score numbers that made Big Guy one of the top bucks ever found anywhere in the Red River Valley.
The only problem was that even though Big Guy spent most of his life on the 750-acre farm that Jake and Kathleen had retired to a few years ago, it wasn’t the graying bowhunter that had tagged the massive whitetail. Lured onto a neighbor’s small farm by a winsome doe during the rut, the massive buck went down in the final hours of the recent Thanksgiving Day holiday weekend.
While Jake was happy for his neighbor — a young first-year football coach at the nearby Class 2A high school — he was sad that three years of intense hunting had come up empty for himself.
As he let his hands be warmed by the hot liquid inside the steel YETI coffee mug — a Rambler as his son Sam had called it back on Father’s Day — Jake let his thoughts swirl back over the last few years.
Thoughts like the first trail cam photos, days after he had retired in mid-January from his veterinarian practice. The excitement as he and Sam — who had recently moved his wife and kids from Colorado down to Oklahoma City — soon conversed about the giant buck.
“Dad, I sure hope you get that Big Guy this fall,” Sam had said in the exchange, creating the moniker that the giant whitetail became known by.
While Sam’s own coaching career limited his time down at the family farm, he had spent the following summer diligently helping his dad put up new stands, work the land for fall food plots, and make sure that the corn feeders were full.
In fact, it was Sam who had suggested that Jake buy one of those fiberglass blinds - what was it called, a Redneck Blind? - that was designed for bow hunters to sit elevated above a food plot with their scent contained no matter what the wind direction.
After Jake had seen the blind in action on one of Bill Winke’s Midwest Whitetails videos, he had agreed with his son, ordering two blinds to set up on the farm.
Truth be known, it was inside one of those blinds — one that Sam had dubbed the I-35 Condo — that Jake had come closest to tagging Big Guy. One moment, the small food plot was empty, and the next, it was filled with the Goliath-sized whitetail carefully testing the wind on the overcast October evening.
To this day, Jake still wasn’t sure how he had missed the 15-yard chip shot from his Mathews bow, but he had. Somehow, the arrow had sailed cleanly an inch or two below the giant whitetail’s chest.
As Jake thought back on that disappointing miss — and the two other close calls he had with Big Guy — he sighed heavily. Because three years of excitement, of post-retirement purpose really, had suddenly evaporated a few days ago in a single phone call.
He had tried to be happy for the young coach, really he had. But every time Jake saw his bow in the corner of his small study, another wave of disappointment would sweep over him as his thoughts filled with trail cam photos, tractor work, runs to the feed store, and the dozens of hunts he had invested in the pursuit of the buck over the last three autumns.
And that’s why he found himself sunk into his leather easy chair a few days before Christmas, poking the fire, nursing a cup of coffee, and thinking about what might have been. Especially since the trail cameras were currently revealing a farm inventory that consisted of nothing more than some does, a few promising young bucks, and a gnarly antlered management buck or two.
But then Jake had a thought, one from a text his son had sent a few weeks ago after a Life Church service up in The City.
“What did Sam’s pastor — I think his name was Craig something or other — say?” Jake thought. “That our faith isn’t in what we see, but instead it’s in who God is and what He says?”
With renewed conviction, Jake decided that since there were undoubtedly a few deer out there that he didn’t know about, it was time to cease the self-pity, ignore the negative reports coming from the cameras, and time to exercise a little faith and hope in the waning days of the North Texas deer season.
With that, he donned his Mossy Oak camo, grabbed his bow and quiver of arrows, and set out for an afternoon of observing the world from a deer stand.
A few hours later, Jake was quietly enjoying the afternoon, reflecting on blessings from the Creator and the message of hope and redemption that Christmas can bring to this crazy world.
“Lord, sometimes I forget how much I have to be thankful for,” said Jake in whispered prayer. “The farm is paid off, I’m finally past those ticker issues, and Kathleen seems fully recovered from her cancer scare a couple of years ago. Besides, Sam, Ellie, and the grandkids are only a couple of hours away now and they’ll be home for Christmas before long.”
With that, Jake sipped some more java — even he had to admit that his wife’s holiday concoction was pretty good — from the battered old Thermos he carried in his pack. As he did so, he thought back to the first Christmas, how a man named Joseph had to take a dose of unexpected news — and a word from God by way of an angel - purely on blind faith.
“You know, there’s still a few days left in the season,” he mused. “That scrape I saw opened back up on my walk in, maybe the secondary rut will kick in with a few of these young does. And maybe, one of those gnarly management bucks will wander by.”
Suddenly, whitetail movement flickered into view as a small doe trotted into the food plot, a bright green patch of ground standing in stark contrast to the drab brown Red River Valley landscape. When the doe cast a nervous glance behind her, Jake carefully reached for his bow.
A moment later, he was silently sucking the compound back to full draw as a buck — a giant gnarly old non-typical with what looked to be at least a couple of dozen points — trotted into view, nosed the ground, and looked in the direction of the yearling doe.
“I’ve never laid eyes on this Big Boy before,” thought Jake as he tried to slow his breathing down and steady his bowhunter’s nerves. “That buck has got to be north of 200-inches, a Booner non-typical for sure.”
As Jake settled his 20-yard sight pin on the buck’s boiler room, the arrow and broadhead were suddenly away. Upon impact, the buck kicked, wheeled around, and ran low and hard out of view. A moment later, the bowhunter heard a crash in the thicket behind him, one that he hoped meant the buck was down.
Quietly putting his bow back on its hanger, Jake looked at his watch, promising to give the buck 30 minutes before a search began.
A little more than a half-hour later, after Jake had traveled only 40-yards, he knelt and carefully wrapped his deer tag on the massive 28-point buck, the biggest the hunter had ever seen.
As he did so, another thought came to mind, one that brought a huge smile with it.
“I’m sure glad that Kathleen told me to get up out of my chair and to go hunting,” he laughed with no one else listening.
All the while as a chilly wintertime breeze rattled the barren countryside a few days before Christmas.