John Hafner's First Realtree Buck

John Hafner's First Realtree Buck

Posted 2004-02-19T06:00:00Z  by  John Hafner with Stephanie Mallory

John Hafner's First Realtree Buck

John Hafner, a newcomer at Realtree, has worked for the company for less than a year as public relations coordinator. He serves as a contact for licensees, outdoor writers and conservation groups. Hafner is a 2002 graduate of the University of Montana's journalism graduate program and a 1998 graduate of Penn State-Behrend in Erie, Pennsylvania. Before coming to Realtree, he pursued freelance photography. His images have been published in numerous magazines, books, calendars and other media outlets. While in graduate school, he worked as a photo coordinator at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's headquarters in Missoula, Montana.

Hunters Names: John Hafner, Tim Christie, outdoor writer and photographer, and Garrett George, owner of Double G Outfitting.

Game Hunting: Texas Whitetails

Where Hunting: We hunted near Barnhart, Texas, a little southwest of San Angelo with Garrett George of Double G Outfitting. We stayed in a basic camp house and slept on bunkbeds. Garrett cooked delicious meals for us each night. His steaks were out of this world. After the hunts, we'd eat and hang out with Garrett's beagles named Bones and Maverick.

Hunting Method: I hunted with a Thompson/Center Encore chambered in 270.

Phase of Season: I hunted the last week of December, so the deer season was coming to an end, but the deer were still very active.

Weather Conditions: The temperature was really cold in the mornings -- approximately 15 to 20 degrees. Then the temperature would rise to around 50 or 60 degrees. We wore about four or five layers of clothing in the morning and would remove them as it warmed up throughout the day. By the afternoon, we'd be down to our sweatshirts and pants.

Terrain and Hunting Locations: We hunted on the 9000-acre McAfee ranch. Located in Irion County, this ranch is surrounded by absolutely beautiful landscape. We had a chance to sit in a different stand each day.The terrain was flat and wide open with mostly sage and mesquite. Being from Pennsylvania, I'm not used to this type of landscape. In fact, Texas is unlike any place I've ever visited. I was amazed at the flatness of the land.

We hunted from elevated stands in the open near feeding areas. That style of hunting was totally new to me. I learned that you have to hunt somewhat close to feeding locations in that part of Texas because the deer are so hard to spot against the earth-toned terrain. There's no green in the landscape -- it's brown, black and earthy colored. The deer just melt into the sage and mesquite. Because they blend in so well with the environment, you can easily overlook a deer standing just 10 yards away from you.

Gearing Up
This was my first trip to Texas and my first deer hunt with Realtree. I was really pumped about the new experience and was excited about spending time with my friend and mentor, Tim Christie. Tim is an outdoor writer and photographer from Idaho. When I worked as a photo editor for Bugle magazine, I'd buy photos from him for the articles. He's really taught me a lot about nature and wildlife photography over the years. He's given me so much that I wanted to give him something in return. So when I was told I could go on this hunt and take a writer, I chose Tim. I really enjoyed spending this time with Tim. He gave me some more photography pointers during the trip, and he got some great story ideas as well.

I've hunted in Pennsylvania all of my life. I've shot several deer, but I've never had the chance to shoot a really big buck. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of big bucks in Pennsylvania, but I've never had the good fortune of shooting one. When I found out that I was getting to go on a Texas hunt, I envisioned taking a 150- or 160-class deer. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I had a lot of expectations - some of them unrealistic.

First-Day Observations
The first day of the first hunt, the wind was blowing approximately 30 miles an hour. I was in a shooter house 20 feet off the ground and was freezing to death. The deer were really moving that morning, and I saw a lot of bucks. In fact, the first five or six deer I saw were bucks. I knew within the first few minutes of the hunt that I'd get a chance at a nice deer.

Surprisingly, I didn't get buck fever, but I did get all pumped up waiting for a shooter buck to appear. That first day I probably saw 40 deer and 15 of them were bucks, but none of them were shooters. They were all little guys with small racks. The guide said any bucks we shot had to have at least eight points with a spread past the width of his ears. The bucks I saw on that day had mostly four or six points. I also saw a couple of really small 8-points.

On that first day, I knew I'd see bigger deer, and I'd get the chance to hunt from several different stands, so I decided to put my gun in the corner of the stand and just observe the scenery. I took that opportunity to just soak in my surroundings and to get used to the deer and the terrain. I worked on spotting the deer with my scope and judging their sizes and their distances from my stand. I just spent that time trying to take it all in.

Had I been back home in Pennsylvania, I probably would've shot the first decent one I saw. But in Texas, you need to be patient and wait for your big buck because that state has so many deer. When I return to Texas, I'll probably wait another day or so before deciding on the buck I want to take. The guys in the office told me to be patient and wait for the right deer. While they're absolutely right, waiting is easier said than done!

I also spent that first day taking a lot of pictures. I probably took 500 shots from my stand that day. During my afternoon break I spent my time taking shots of the surrounding terrain and of the nearby town. We'll use those shots for Realtree Road Trips and other media purposes, such as for the magazine and for the Web site.

Second-Day Success
I sat in a different stand that second morning, which was even colder than the previous morning. The wind was blowing really hard, and I didn't see a thing - not even a raccoon. The stand location was great, but there just wasn't any action. I had a very boring hunt that morning and felt a little bit disappointed with the lack of action. During the afternoon break, I did some photography around the nearby towns.

That afternoon my luck changed. My stand site that afternoon was pretty typical for Texas. I sat in a shooting house (ground level) about 100 yards from a feeding area. It was pretty windy, but the temperatures were in the upper 50s, so it felt nice -- a little too nice, actually. I'm used to hunting in the snow in Pennsylvania. Texas weather was a lot different than what I'm used to. My stand site was surrounded by sage and mesquite tangles, and it was hard to see the deer until they stepped out in the wide open. They really disappear in the vegetation.

At approximately 4:30 p.m., after being in the stand for a little over an hour, I spotted two deer about 100-yards away from me. The first deer I spotted was a small buck - definitely not a shooter. Then I spotted some movement in the brush a little behind that first buck.

Hafner's Thompson Center Encore packed a punch. His buck fell dead in its tracks. (Photo by Tim Christie)

When that deer stepped partially out from behind the brush, I could see half of his wrack, and I counted four points. I could tell right away he had pretty good mass. I hit him with a range finder, then I checked him out with the scope. I had my Nikon scope cranked up to 9x to make sure he was a good buck. This was the first time I'd hunted with an outfitter, so I wanted to make sure that I did everything by the book. I didn't want to shoot a buck that was too small. I didn't want to shoot a big six and mistake it for an eight point. After studying him for a moment, I figured he definitely fit the requirements according to the guide's description of a shooter buck. He was the best buck I had seen so far, and I decided not to let that opportunity pass by me. Surprisingly, I wasn't nervous at all. For weeks and weeks prior, I was real excited about this hunt. I knew ahead of time that unless I just really messed up, I'd come home with a decent buck. Like I said, I've shot bucks before in Pennsylvania, but never one I'd want to put on the wall. So, when the deer began to appear, I just got in that zone. Thank goodness buck fever didn't kick in. I just tried to focus on the deer and tried to find a good opening through which I could take the shot. I focused on what I had to do. So, calmly, I raised my Thompson/Center Encore chambered in 270 and fired. The buck instantly fell in his tracks!

I bet only a few seconds passed from the time I saw the deer to the time I knew it was a decent buck, and I decided to pull the trigger. Then, buck fever kicked in. I got really excited and started to shake. I waited a couple of minutes in my stand before climbing down, but it felt like an hour. I jogged down to my deer and found him laying there dead in his tracks. I immediately called my wife on the cell phone and told her that I had just shot my first decent buck -- my first "Realtree buck!" That was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. I had accomplished my goal!

After day two of hunting, Hafner and his partner took awesome camo effectiveness photos as well as some monster buck shots. (Photos by John Hafner)

Notes On The Trophy
That buck ended up having nine points with about a 16-inch spread, and he weighed approximately150 pounds. Garrett said for that part of Texas, that buck had a lot of body mass. He wasn't a magazine cover buck by any means, but I was happy with him. The trophy is in the eye of the beholder. Although he wasn't a huge buck by most people's standards he was a trophy for me.

Since I took my buck on the second day of the four-day hunt, I spent the rest of the time taking pictures. After I got the buck, the late afternoon light turned really sweet, and Tim and I were able to do a lot of photography. Garrett tried his best to show us a good time. In fact, he even modeled for some effectiveness photos for me. The photos I took on this trip were just as important as the deer that I took. This trip was as much a photo shoot as a hunt. I spent a lot of time taking pictures of our new MAX-4 HD pattern to show its versatility in the field. I took more than 1500 frames during that trip.

To Sum Things Up
My first Realtree hunt was great. I especially enjoyed spending time with Tim who also had a successful hunt. He took a nice, symmetrical 8-point on the last evening of the hunt. He really cut it close on time. At about 140 to 150 pounds, his buck wasn't huge, but it was nice, and he was as happy with his buck as I was with mine.

The guys here at the office were pretty mellow about my first "Realtree buck." I think there's so much going on that hardly anyone knew I was even in Texas. However, John Tate and Michael Waddell were happy for me, and they both congratulated me. My buck wasn't anywher the size of the ones they killed this year, but getting my first "Realtree buck" under my belt somehow made me feel as if my position here is official. Now if I can just get my first "Realtree gobbler" this spring, I'll be all set. I've got a few writer hunts in the works, so something tells me a few birds are going to be dispatched!

Well Worth The Trip
The whole trip was one that I won't forget anytime soon. I got to see some new country, and I learned the importance of patience. I was also reminded on the hunt about the importance of friends and mentors. Tim taught me a lot of what I know about wildlife photography, and it was great to shoot with him again. We hadn't photographed together in over a year and a half, so it was great to pick up where we left off. He's been a widely published photographer for over 20 years, and I feel very blessed to learn about photography from someone like him. I also learned that I like Texas cuisine. When I return to Texas, I plan to buy a few cases of ranch-style beans. Our guide couldn't believe that I had never heard of them. He cooked them practically everyday, and I got hooked on them right away. I've got a pretty big appetite, and I'm always up for trying new foods.

Editor's Note: Contact Double G Outfitting at 3518 Lindenwood San Angelo, Texas 76904. Call 1-325-947-7557 or 1-830-708-2512 or check out the Web site