This story initially ran within the March 1988 challenge of Out of doors Life.

THE WHITETAIL BUCK was huge, larger than any I’d ever seen earlier than. Although I’d hunted all over the world many occasions, I’d by no means been as excited as I used to be at that second. The buck’s rack was excessive and heavy, with no less than 12 factors on both sides, and his forehead tines have been every simply one foot lengthy. As an official Boone and Crockett Membership measurer, I knew that the deer was a straightforward candidate for the document e book. 

The buck’s dimension wasn’t the one motive for my pleasure. Jack O’Connor was sitting a couple of toes away from me, and Jack wished a giant whitetail, larger than any he’d ever taken. 

On the time of our hunt, within the fall of 1977, Jack O’Connor was a dwelling legend. Having been Out of doors Life’s Taking pictures Editor for 31 years, he was to looking and taking pictures what Babe Ruth was to baseball or what Elvis was to rock and roll. 

Jack was the king of gun writers. Each shooter had heard of Jack O’Connor. He was a person so highly effective that in a single session at his typewriter, he may sway opinions for or in opposition to a specific rifle caliber. Due to Jack’s writings, some calibers, such because the .270 and .243, prospered through the years, and others died a fast loss of life. 

In 31 years, Jack had written virtually 400 columns, along with 200 characteristic tales for Out of doors Life and greater than a dozen looking and taking pictures books. 

Jack had hunted all through a lot of the world and was thought of the final phrase in sheep looking and rifles. If you happen to had a query a couple of big-game animal or a gun, you known as or wrote to Jack O’Connor. He tried to reply each letter. By his rely, he had responded to greater than 200,000 items of mail. 

Just a few months earlier than the hunt, Jack had known as and requested if we may hunt whitetails and pronghorns in Montana. I used to be overwhelmed on the concept. 

I’m a hunter’s reserving agent. I’d organized many hunts for Jack in Africa, Canada, Alaska and within the continental United States, and had accompanied him on a few of these hunts. However this was the primary time I’d have him all to myself as a result of I’d be his information. I used to be beside myself with the enormity of all of it. 

“Jack O’Connor’s Final Hunt” initially ran within the March 1988 challenge, with an illustration by Ken Laager. Ken Laager / Out of doors Life

SO THERE WE WERE, sitting on a log in Montana. A minimum of 20 different whitetails have been with the massive buck, together with two different very giant bucks that regarded like twins however which have been simply outclassed by the large. However Jack was positioned in order that he couldn’t see the deer. 

I knew that the deer wouldn’t dangle round for very lengthy. In actual fact, I puzzled why they have been there in any respect. The wind was blowing laborious, carrying our scent on to the whitetails. Jack and I have been sitting on a log in a reasonably open spot, and the deer have been milling about in confusion simply 50 toes away. 

I didn’t dare transfer or discuss for worry of spooking the animals. Someway, I needed to name Jack’s consideration to them. He was sitting on the center of the log. I used to be straddling the log in order that I may look each methods. Jack was confronted a technique—the mistaken manner. 

My rifle lay on my lap, together with a five-foot strolling stick. Fastidiously selecting up the stick, I eased it round and cautiously poked it into Jack’s again, hoping he’d understand that I used to be making an attempt to sign him. 

As a result of the wind was blowing so laborious, Jack jabbed again on the stick, pondering that it was the pesky department of a willow being shaken by the wind. 

Both Jack would shoot the buck or nobody would.

The herd of deer eyed us suspiciously. I grew to become completely unnerved. I didn’t know what to do. Underneath different circumstances, I’d have shot the buck myself, and that made me much more distressed. 

Our hunt was in jap Montana, the second a part of a double-header. Previous to the whitetail hunt, we’d tried for pronghorn antelope in one other space. 

Because it had turned out, the pronghorn hunt had been irritating and disappointing, although we’d seen some huge bucks. The one buck taken had been shot by Jack’s pal Henry Kaufman, who had accompanied us on each hunts. Additionally alongside was my good friend Tom Radoumis, who Jack jokingly nicknamed Zeus due to Tom’s Greek ancestry. 

I had accomplished some scouting the day earlier than Jack and Henry had arrived, and I had positioned a really large pronghorn that I judged to have horns between 17 and 18 inches. One other buck, with 16-inch horns, accompanied the bigger antelope. Each have been phenomenal animals. 

My rancher good friend had rigged a horse-drawn buckboard from which to hunt. However Jack wasn’t feeling effectively, so we drove the prairie roads in my Suburban. 

Each large antelope have been the place I’d seen them the day earlier than. A 3rd buck, with 15-inch horns, was mendacity in a draw slightly below the opposite two. I had positioned the trio from a small knoll with my recognizing scope, however once I returned to my automobile with the excellent news, Jack mentioned that he wasn’t as much as the stroll. 

At that time, I noticed that Jack O’Connor was failing. My hero appeared outdated and frail, and I used to be unhappy in addition to annoyed. 

The one likelihood we needed to get shut was to drive up a creek backside on an outdated homestead highway, after which attempt a brief stalk, from beneath. A excessive ridge separated the highway from the bucks, and I figured that we may get moderately close to to the animals. 

I used to be in a rush, in all probability driving too quick as a result of I used to be pondering intently in regards to the big pronghorns. All of a sudden, I regarded out the window to my left, and there have been the three bucks racing alongside beside the truck. Earlier than I may react, the bucks veered sharply and dashed onto the highway in entrance of us. 

It was only a matter of luck that I didn’t run them over. My fast cease jarred all of us, and that was the tip of the three pronghorns. 

LATER IN THE DAY, we noticed one other good buck, nevertheless it was not as large as the massive pronghorn we’d seen that morning. The animal was standing near the highway. 

“Let’s attempt a trick,” Jack mentioned. “Drive previous the buck till we’re out of sight; then, you and Henry get out. Tom and I’ll park the automobile the place it’s seen. That may maintain the antelope’s consideration. Then, you and Henry circle round on foot and shoot. 

“I’ve decoyed a lot of sheep that manner,” Jack continued. “A very long time in the past, I noticed that animals can’t rely individuals.” 

Jack’s technique labored, although at one level within the stalk, I used to be certain we had blown it. We had crawled previous a pond filled with geese and had alarmed the birds. They’d flushed noisily, and I had anticipated the buck to take off, however his consideration had remained riveted on the automobile. Henry then made a wonderful shot, and we had our first pronghorn, 

For the subsequent two days, we did lots of driving, and Tom and I did lots of strolling. Jack was feeling progressively worse, and he complained of being in lots of ache. I used to be fearful about what would occur if we discovered a trophy buck and needed to make an extended stalk. 

Regardless of our efforts, we hadn’t positioned one other worthwhile pronghorn shut sufficient for a shot, and simply as we have been about to surrender, I noticed a golden eagle land beside a nest on a bit rocky knob. The nest appeared to be unusually giant, so I climbed the knob to take a look. I knew that the younger eagles have been fledged and lengthy gone, however I used to be curious in regards to the bones and stays of the eagle’s prey that might litter the rapid neighborhood of the nest. 

Once I reached the knob, I regarded down the opposite facet and was startled to see the monster pronghorn bedded down simply 100 yards away. The buck was very distinctive. Not solely did he have huge horns, however he additionally had very darkish cheek patches that nearly regarded like eyes. I’d by no means seen an antelope with these markings earlier than. There was no query. It was the identical one I’d virtually run over with the truck. 

I slowly backed away from the knob and ran again to the truck to inform Jack in regards to the antelope. Once I reported our nice luck, he sat quietly and didn’t say something for a second. Then, with remorse in each phrase, he spoke. 

“I’ve hunted all my life and by no means shot a 17-inch antelope,” he mentioned. “I’d like to take him, however I don’t suppose that I ought to climb that hill.” 

I used to be shocked and disenchanted. “My God,” I assumed to myself, “Jack isn’t going to attempt for the large pronghorn!” 

Till this hunt, I had been certain that Jack O’Connor may climb any hill, make any shot, do the inconceivable. Now, the conclusion that the dean of American hunters was outdated hit me laborious. It was a helpless feeling. 

I didn’t press the difficulty of making an attempt for the antelope. The complete realization of Jack’s bodily situation stopped me. He had been rather more conscious of his difficulties than I. 

“Why don’t you go up there and shoot that buck?” Jack mentioned to me. “You’ve killed two 17-inch antelope. It might be good to know {that a} pal of mine is the one man I do know of who has taken three.” 

Taking pictures a buck meant for Jack O’Connor whereas Jack sat within the truck was not one thing I may do. This was his hunt. Both he would shoot the buck or nobody would. So we merely returned to the ranch. 

THE SECOND RANCH, the place we hunted whitetails, was in a stunning setting, with outdated cabins on a bluff above a river backside surrounded by dense brush, cottonwood timber and luxurious croplands. Jack was awed on the thought that this space was as soon as residence to nice herds of bison, elk and enormous numbers of grizzlies. 

I did some scouting the night earlier than the hunt and noticed no less than 200 whitetails feeding within the alfalfa and slipping by way of the dense underbrush. I had seen some big whitetails on that ranch on earlier hunts, and I totally anticipated Jack to take the largest buck of his life within the morning. 

Guiding America’s high gun author to a large whitetail can be a spotlight in my life. I can keep in mind fascinated about the place Jack was prone to kill the buck, the form of shot he would make and the way I’d get the buck out. I even envisioned the best way the top can be mounted for Jack. 

I felt silly telling Jack O’Connor to prepare.

We positioned ourselves in a strategic stand the subsequent morning, ready for drivers on horseback to push deer round within the brush. It didn’t take lengthy for whitetails to point out up. Dozens of deer moved by us, together with a lot of bucks, however none have been distinctive. As we watched, it grew to become apparent that Jack was having issues together with his imaginative and prescient. He noticed few of the deer; and people he noticed have been pretty shut and simply seen. I’d by no means seen extra whitetails on a drive in my life. They got here by consistently, together with foxes, coyotes, raccoons and pheasants. It was an important present. Jack appeared to be having fun with it immensely. We talked of many issues. 

At one level, he reminisced about driving tigers in India and the way typically the beaters have been mauled by tigers. He famous that if we had been looking tigers, the state of affairs would have been vastly completely different for the lads on horseback. It was frequent, Jack mentioned, for tigers to assault elephants and their riders beating the comb. 

The topic turned to Jack’s looking preferences. 

“What do you wish to hunt most?” I requested. 

“Typically, I feel I wish to hunt tigers, generally sheep, and proper now, whitetail deer. I assume that I wish to hunt the whole lot, so long as the animal has a good likelihood.” 

After a number of extra drives, the day ended with out Jack having fired a shot. However he’d had possibilities at a number of respectable bucks. Jack had not wished to shoot a mean buck as a result of he’d taken many such bucks. He had wished one thing extra. 

“I’d wish to take one actually good whitetail buck,” Jack mentioned as we walked to the automobile. “But when a hunter needs to shoot large bucks, he should be taught to not shoot the small ones. This will imply you go residence empty-handed a couple of occasions, however that’s the distinction between looking and trophy looking.” 

“It doesn’t damage to be fortunate, too.” I remarked. 

“And perhaps 30 years youthful,” Jack mentioned, as we headed for my truck. 

Earlier than we reached the truck, I pointed to a stand excessive in a tree and advised Jack {that a} hunter had fallen out of the stand and had been killed the earlier 12 months. 

“I can not consider a greater approach to go,” Jack mentioned with a slight smile. “I don’t desire a lengthy, lingering loss of life; I wish to die rapidly. I’d wish to die whereas on a looking journey and have my ashes unfold over the sheep nation within the Yukon.” 

Jack’s phrases appeared to bolster an odd feeling I had that this is able to be his final hunt. Someway, I imagine that he felt it as effectively.

THE NEXT DAY, whereas we have been driving to a stand, a really giant buck ran throughout the filth highway in entrance of us. It stopped and regarded again. The deer was so shut that I may see his bulging eyes. 

As an alternative of operating off instantly, the deer stared at us. Jack had problem seeing it, and he made a hasty effort to get out of the automobile. However Jack’s cumbersome winter garments and boots hung up on the truck door deal with and the seat. He cursed his 75 years, the producers of cumbersome garments, Stetson hats and long-barreled rifles. 

By the point he lastly bought out, the buck had seen sufficient and was operating by way of the comb. Though a shot would have been doable, Jack bought again within the automobile and sat with out saying a phrase. 

It was apparent that Jack was terribly annoyed and in a substantial amount of ache from his arthritis. I felt badly for him. In earlier years, no operating buck was a match for Jack O’Connor’s unimaginable taking pictures. 

Lastly, Jack began to chuckle on the humor of the state of affairs. 

“I don’t suppose that deer deserved to be shot,” he mentioned, grinning. “Anybody who’s so outdated and decrepit that he can’t get out of a automobile whereas a deer waits to be killed, shouldn’t have a shot anyway.” 

The outdated hunter had a wry humorousness, and didn’t thoughts poking enjoyable at himself. However he was annoyed, and all of us felt his helplessness. 

Jack O’Connor’s Last Hunt, From the Archives
The March 1988 cowl featured {a photograph} by R.G. Duffy. Out of doors Life

Later that morning, a number of whitetails appeared earlier than our stand. Some have been very wonderful bucks. Tom and the horseback riders have been doing their greatest to maintain deer in entrance of us. Sometimes, Jack would increase his rifle, look by way of the scope, and decrease it once more. When one notably good buck glided by and Jack didn’t shoot, I requested him why he was hesitating. 

“I can’t see the antlers very effectively,” he mentioned. 

Simply then, a giant buck appeared and stood in opposition to a purple riverbank. The buck was a reddish colour, and it was standing within the open. I pointed the buck out to Jack, however he couldn’t see it. I noticed that the one manner Jack would be capable to see a buck effectively sufficient to shoot was if it was in entrance of a sharply contrasting background. And it must be very shut. 

Regardless of unhealthy luck all through each hunts, Jack stored his good humor and advised us extra tales of his hunts. I feel he perceived my private frustration that he hadn’t scored. He was making an attempt to make me really feel higher. However Tom and I hadn’t given up. We have been decided to present Jack one of the best hunt he ever had, with or with out luck. 

Our subsequent plan was to go to a spot the place I’d beforehand seen a really large buck. Whitetails usually hand around in the identical space, and we hoped to see this specific buck once more. 

Jack and I walked to the log I’d chosen to observe from, and now understanding his visible downside, I positioned him the place he may look down a slim hall that had a light-weight background of grass. A heavy frost as vibrant as snow supplied a contrasting backdrop. 

Tom and the opposite drivers have been good. Earlier than lengthy, a lot of deer ran in entrance of Jack and me. A dozen does handed by way of the hall Jack was watching. Following was a pleasant buck that bounded by way of so quick that Jack couldn’t react in time. 

Extra deer, together with a number of good bucks, ran by way of, and Jack checked out me with a pained expression. “I’m rattled,” he mentioned. “I should be coming down with buck fever.” 

I couldn’t imagine the deer that have been operating by. I’d by no means seen extra whitetails in my life. I don’t suppose that Jack was actually affected by buck fever. He was having problem seeing antlers, and his outdated painful limbs merely prevented him from reacting rapidly together with his rifle. 

The wind had begun to blow furiously simply earlier than the 20-plus deer, together with the large buck and his twin accomplices talked about at first, confirmed up. I firmly believed that the gods have been setting the stage for Jack O’Connor’s ultimate act. 

I’d by no means been in fairly such a predicament earlier than. I used to be poking Jack within the again. He was jabbing on the stick. And a record-class whitetail was watching our efficiency. 

Immediately, the primary two bucks have been alarmed by our actions and ran. They made a lot noise that Jack rapidly turned and noticed them disappear into the comb. 

“Rattling!,” he mentioned. “How can my luck be so unhealthy?” 

As quickly as he spoke, he noticed the massive buck, nevertheless it was too late. The animal rapidly melted again into the willows. 

All of a sudden, I noticed the dual bucks heading again towards the hall that Jack had been watching. One in all them stopped close to a lifeless snag and stared at us. 

“Shoot, shoot,” I whispered. However Jack didn’t shoot as a result of a lot of the deer’s physique was hidden. 

“Prepare,” I warned. “Right here comes the second buck.” 

I felt silly telling Jack O’Connor to prepare. He was one of the educated hunters I’d ever met, and he was certainly prepared, however this was not a very good day for Jack. It was like a nasty dream. To me, the champion of hunters was now within the ring, below the highlight, with the group cheering. However out of the blue, that dream was shattered because the younger champion I remembered grew to become the outdated hunter. 

At that second, I felt a heat however unhappy kinship with Jack. It was like discovering that your dad had grown outdated earlier than your eyes and being surprised by his lack of ability to do the issues that each of you had as soon as accomplished so simply. It was like pleading, “Come on, Dad, let’s do it,” and your dad replying, “I simply can’t try this anymore, son.” 

THE TWO BUCKS moved away, however they have been positioned the place I may make a fast sprint and presumably power them by way of the opening the place Jack may see them. 

I ran, and the whole lot appeared to be going effectively, however the bucks out of the blue vanished, as occurs so typically with whitetails. They have been gone. No quantity of wishing may convey them again. 

At that second, the wind stopped and the woods grew silent. I used to be by no means so disenchanted in my life. I rotated to select up my rifle, and was astonished to see the large buck as soon as once more. The good whitetail was within the open, standing broadside, trying straight at me. 

Selecting up my rifle, I slowly turned my head and noticed Jack trying the other manner. He was nonetheless looking ahead to the dual bucks that had made off in one other route. 

I whispered loudly to sign Jack, however my voice spooked the buck. He whirled and crashed into the willows, bounding off in a manner I knew was for retains. 

I used to be heartsick. Why did so many bucks current themselves, and why have been we so unfortunate? 

Then, the inconceivable occurred. The massive buck stopped operating and trotted proper again to the very place he had simply left. It was an excessive amount of. I raised my rifle, aimed toward his coronary heart, however couldn’t pull the set off. I used to be watching what might need been the largest buck in Montana, however I couldn’t shoot. I desperately longed to listen to the roar of Jack’s .270. There was no motive on the planet why that buck ought to have returned and offered himself for one more shot. It was as if the great Lord was giving Jack O’Connor the best present of his life. 

I raised my rifle once more, however couldn’t convey myself to fireside it. This was Jack’s hunt, not mine, although he had insisted that I shoot if I had a chance. 

The large buck spun and ran off, this time for good. I turned and was shocked to see Jack standing together with his rifle to his shoulder, aiming on the buck. He was grinning from ear to ear, and I noticed that he had seen the buck, however for some motive had refused to shoot. 

“God, what a buck,” he mentioned merely. “What a buck!” 

As we left the woods, our hunt over, I couldn’t convey myself to ask Jack why he hadn’t shot. Maybe he’d seen me drawing a bead on the buck and wished me to take it. 

Maybe. Or perhaps he hadn’t fired as a result of he believed that when you’re taking the largest buck of your life, there’s nothing to sit up for.

Jack O’Connor handed away the subsequent spring, in 1978. I’ve returned to the whitetail ranch a number of occasions since Jack’s loss of life. I by no means noticed the large buck once more, nor have I ever once more seen the unbelievable variety of bucks that we noticed on his final hunt. 

I’m satisfied that somebody up excessive was pulling for outdated Jack. Jack was one of many best hunters and taking pictures writers who ever lived. It was becoming that he was proven such an excellent parade of whitetail bucks the final time he carried a rifle in his beloved American West. 

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