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Lessons learned are not always pleasant nor “easy”. In a reasonably long career of hunting I have my share of some of those “lernts”!

One of my first happened when I was a mere youngster hunting deer only a short distance behind our rural Texas home. I had the year before finally taken my first whitetail with my maternal granddad’s single-barrel 12-guage shotgun. After the morning’s hunt after having gotten permission from my dad to borrow his .30-30, I returned to our deer camp, a single-room tin building about a half mile behind our home. My dad had heard me shoot two times.

When he saw me, no doubt there was a sad looking on my face. I was in near tears.

Asked my Dad of his 12-year old son in a stern, demanding voice, “What did you learn?” I will preface what follows that my father knew I did not like school, because it kept me out of the woods. I had not seen him for several days because of his work schedule.

His asking, I know what you’re thinking! And no, I had not gotten in trouble at school, or skipped school as I wanted to do every day. I had not forgotten to feed the horses or milk the cows during his absence, and I had not gotten in fight in school.

I kicked the ground and quickly relived what had happened three hours earlier before responding. “Daddy, I sat in the old leaning oak deer stand. I shot at and missed two bucks, a big 6-point and an 8-point with your Model 94 .30-30. The bucks came in together and I missed both.”

“I know I messed up, Daddy! I know what I did wrong. I shot too fast. I shot at deer rather than picking a spot to hit like you taught me.” He listened intently. I continued, “If I had taken more time, I could have killed one of them. I should have!” I sighed deeply, “It started when I tried to look through the scope (a Weaver K4). It was fogged and I could hardly see the deer. That’s where I screwed up. I could and should have switched to the iron sights, but didn’t.” I continued, “I couldn’t really see the 6-point through the scope. I shot at him because he had bigger horns than the 8-point. I got excited really excited, but also I got greedy thinking I could possibly shoot both bucks. I didn’t take a good aim, like I should have before pulling the trigger. When I could not see the buck through the scope I should have switched to the open sights and shot him. But that’s not what I did. I have no idea where my bullet went, but it didn’t hit either of the deer. After the shot they started running and I still tried find a buck in the scope, but couldn’t, but I shot at it anyway!”

“When they disappeared I was sick. I knew I had blown my chance at a big buck, and an eight-point!” I added, “After they left, I crawled down and looked for blood, but found none. Then I got on their tracks and followed them for a half mile, till they crossed into the Fahrenkempt Pasture. No sign that I hit either one. I missed…I’m sorry!”

“Sounds like you might have learned a couple of things. Hopefully you won’t do those same things in the future!” Dad hesitated then said, “Good thing is, I guess, you still have your two buck tags and there’s about three weeks left before the end of deer season. It happens, sometimes you just miss, but, usually there’s a reason. Learn from the things you did wrong.”

“Next time you get a chance at a buck, don’t shoot while you’re overly excited or shaking. And don’t just shoot at deer. Pick a spot on the shoulder or right behind the shoulder where you want the bullet to go. Then, take a couple of deep breaths and only when the sights are exactly where you want to hit that deer, pull the trigger, but not before. And…if the rifle you’re using has a scope and it is fogged, forget about the scope and use the open sights. I know you shoot open-sights pretty good. Had you used the open-sights, you may have taken one of those bucks, maybe even both! Remember, don’t jerk the trigger, pull it gently when the sights are exactly and calmly where you want the bullet to go.”

Lessons learned! My dad gave me a hug. “Misses happen! I’ve done it too!” Even that statement and hug did not make dealing with what had just happened any easier! What had happened was really not a lesson I wanted to learn, at least not on big whitetail buck! But it was a good lesson!

What I just described happened just past middle of the past century during the annual Texas whitetail season. I know a long time ago! It was/is a hard lesson learned one that has stuck with me…well at least most of the time! I have had a few relapses of repeating the same.

Many things have changed since back in that time. Scopes, these days, seldom “fog” on the inside as they once did. And, most firearms these days have the scope mounted on top of the action, rather than on the side as had been the case with my Dad’s top-ejection Winchester Model 94 .30-30, which also allowed for the use open sights.

The one thing that thankfully has not changed; I still get excited about hunting when getting ready to take a shot. That excitement or “feeling” is what the older hunters I used to hunt with called “Buck Ague” or “Buck Fever”. Mostly it is caused by the release of a large dose of adrenaline into one’s system. The malady can manifest itself by causing “the shakes” and sometimes “acting” before one is really ready to do that action.

Even today, I occasionally get an unexpected case of “Buck Ague”. And, it does not only happen when a big buck appears particularly an older buck I really want to take.

This past hunting season… I had recently been introduced to a new deer attractant (during the 2023 hunting season); a combination of ground grape skins, rice bran and cracked corn, called Vineyard Max, which came with what the manufacturer described as “The Aroma of Success”! The aroma comes primarily from the ground grape skins, a byproduct of the wine industry. The “truly good for deer” part of the bait comes from the rice bran, which is a high energy food, so very important for healthy deer. But then the ground grape skins are too high in energy.

I had several Managed Land Deer Permit tags I wanted, nay needed, to fill, mostly does but also some bucks. This on the large western Texas lease I am involved in with several DSC members ( including our DSC Executive Director Corey Mason and his father Jim. Primarily older 8-points were my objective next to taking several does, which were my priority.

To truly test Vineyard Max put it in areas which previously had not been “baited”. Frankly I was a bit skeptical about using it because deer can be extremely finicky when it comes to what they eat and what they’re used to. Introduce a new “smell” and they might leave and relocate elsewhere. In a rather remote area, I poured small piles of Vineyard Max along trails leading to one of our limited water sources, a troughs and a small “spill-over” pond established specifically for the property’s wildlife.

Shortly after putting out Vineyard Max I built a natural ground blind where I could see two trails leading toward water. I settled in for the afternoon hunt.

I had been sitting for just shy of an hour when the first deer appeared, a doe headed to water. I suspected she had had buck fawns which she chased away when she approached her estrus periods earlier in the fall.

The doe was in really good body condition, and, looked perfect for my freezer.

I was hunting with my Rossi Model 95 .30-30 Win, open-sight, loaded with Hornady LEVERevolution ammo. I knew from shooting it earlier I could easily put three shots within a 3-inch circle at 100-yards and a tighter group at 50-yards, which was about how far away the doe was.

She came down the trail, wind blowing in her face carrying the sweet aroma of Vineyard Max. She raised high her nose as soon as she smelled it. Honestly, I expected her to stop, turn tail and run. I was wrong! It was like her nose was on a string attached to the Vineyard Max. She walked to where I had poured the first small pile and immediately started licking and eating it. Once she finished that pile she walked to the next and did the same.

To say I was surprise, would have been an understatement. I had fully expected her as mentioned, to turn tail and run as soon as she smelled the Vineyard Max. The exact opposite happened!

I knew there were no grapes of any kind in that county shy of in a grocery store or in a bottle of wine! Grapes were not something she had eaten before or knew anything about.

I watched her finish the second small pile of Vineyard Max, then walk to the third pile. I cautiously positioned the .30-30 in her direction. As I did, I started shaking. I could hardly believe it. It was a doe, not a monstrously antlered buck, and, I was shaking. I silently laughed at myself. I had hunted throughout the world, had taken four of Africa’s Big Five, lacking only the taking or darting of a rhino (neither of which is of interest to me). I had shot Boone & Crockett whitetail, Coues deer and Alaskan brown bear. And..I was shaking over a doe??

Immediately my thoughts drifted back to the two bucks I described at the beginning of this story. But this time rather than shooting before the sights were solidly on the deer’s shoulder my Dad’s words came back to me. I took several deep breaths, calmed my nerves, cocked the hammer, properly aligned the sights on the exact spot I wanted my bullet to go, then gently tugged the trigger.

At the shot the doe bolted, but piled up dead less than ten steps from where she stood when I had pulled the trigger.

Walking to her side I was extremely pleased! For one thing ,I realized what a great bait Vineyard Max ( was and that I had taken one of my does with the open-sight Rossi Model 95 .30-30 Win, doing it “old school”. I was really pleased about the delicious meals the doe would provide for my wife, me and our family.

After a prayer of thanks, a moment of reverence, I took care of the doe in preparation to hanging the skinned carcass in the ranch’s cooler, I headed back “into the brush” with another bag of Vineyard Max. I wanted to scatter it in an area I had long wanted to hunt, far away from any feeders, existing deer stands and pasture roads. I had found such an area earlier in the fall while walking and rattling. It was a relatively small opening where two drainages converged.

Once there, I scattered half of the 4-pound bag of Vineyard Max in small piles throughout the opening, then headed to another area where I did the same. The second was downwind from the first. I emptied the Vineyard Max bag there and then slowly still-hunted my way back to where I had put out the first half of the bag. My intention upon returning was to find a place where I could build a natural ground blind to watch the baited area for the rest of the afternoon.

As I neared the initially baited area, I spotted an older 8-point. His nose was on the ground. I cautiously eased forward a few yards. There I sat down where I could get a solid rest across a log. The buck was feeding, facing away, feeding where I had scattered the Vineyard Max.

I spotted movement to his left and right and almost immediately found two young bucks in my Stealth Vision ( binocular. They too, had their nose on the ground licking Vineyard Max.

Hmmm! Maybe there really was something to this nutritional deer bait, Luke Clayton with whom I do a weekly radio show/podcast and the weekly “A Sportsman’s Life” digital TV show on, had introduced me to.

I was less than 50-yards from the 8-point. I could see his hocks, tarsals. Even though the rut was over, they were still darkly stained all the way down to his ankles, generally indicative of a mature buck. His face and body too, indicated maturity. He was certainly a buck that fit all my requirements as being a management buck. Although I will tell you, early in my hunting career, this buck would have been the trophy of a lifetime! In many ways it still was!

The buck turned broadside. I cocked the Rossi’s hammer, took a fine bead on the buck’s shoulder, then squeezed the trigger. The buck lurched forward and fell dead.

Well, it happened almost that way. Soon as I cocked the hammer I could feel the approach of a case of “buck fever”. Quickly, I mentally ran through a check-list of things to do when this happened. I took two very deep breaths, held both inside for a couple of long moments, released them. After the second, deep breath when all air was exhaled from my lungs, the sights settled on an exact spot I wanted to place the bullet, only then did I gently tug the trigger.

Even though I have learned much since my first days of hunting. I continue learning every time I go hunting. What I have learned is to remember and execute using the basics. I actually learned several things on that hunt.

Vineyard Max deer attractant really does work even where deer have no idea what grapes are; a Rossi lever action .30-30 Win shooting Hornady ammo is deadly on both doe and buck whitetail deer; and, when buck fever approaches remember to go back to the basics.

By Larry Weishuhn

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