Hunter with a harvested axis deer from the Texas Hill Country.
Dylan Hayward

Hill Country Dreams: The Hunt for an Elusive 13-Year-Old Axis Buck in Texas

For the past decade, if you were to ask me what my dream hunt was, my answer would have probably been a 50/50 split between grizzly in Alaska and hunting axis deer in the Texas Hill Country. As grizzly hunts continue to shoot up in price and dive down in availability, I decided I needed to put that hunt on the backburner and pursue my dream of chasing free-ranging axis bucks.

In the winter of 2021 I decided to put my ear to the ground and start looking for a place to hunt these wary ungulates, also known as chital. I got linked up with a guide through a mutual friend and started planning for my trip that was about six months away.

After doing extensive research on axis deer hunting, I narrowed down all of the gear that I would need to give me every advantage possible. This included scent killer, new optics, snake boots (don't mess with Texas rattlesnakes), my Havalon knife, my Mathews bow, and my Weatherby .30-06. I would decide on which weapon I'd use after arriving in Texas.

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Arriving in Texas

After a 19-hour drive from my home in the Midwest to rural Texas, I watched the temperature gauge in my truck rise considerably. When I got to my destination, I met with the owner of the property, who reminded me a little of Doc Holiday from the 1990s movie Tombstone. It was fitting, what with the hot, dry surroundings and the rather rugged landscape. Well, any hunting land's considered rugged when it reaches triple digits. He showed me the cabin (okay, it was a double wide) I would be staying in for a few days and gave me the lay of the land.

Up until this point, I was fully committed to only using my bow to harvest an axis. I had really only brought my gun as a last resort. I figured I would take it out on my last day, just in case one lingered out past my comfortable bow range. That was until the farmer filled me in on just how smart these animals are.

He told me that unlike whitetail deer, they lack that sense of curiosity that keeps them around even when something doesn't seem right. He proceeded to tell me that in order to harvest one, essentially a thousand things would have to go right and not one thing could go wrong. Even then, it's wasn't guaranteed that I would even lay my eyes on one during my trip. I've got to say, that's not very reassuring for someone who just drove nearly a full day with high hopes of bagging a bucket list buck!

He strongly recommended against using my bow. My goal was to harvest a deer within a couple of days, but he said it was a less-than-likely situation. All the same, he promised he'd do everything he could to help me find one and put a stalk on it.

Whether I was discouraged or excited I can't exactly say, but I quickly changed the subject and started looking at trail cam pictures of the bucks that were on his property.

I asked him if there were any older, aggressive bucks hanging around with a tendency to push other bucks off. My thoughts were that a buck with an ego might make more mistakes than one without, and harvesting an aged, mature deer was the ultimate goal. He showed me a picture of a buck that he had been watching for nearly five years. His best guess was that this axis was pushing 13 years old, and if I got a chance to kill him, I would probably be beating the grim reaper by only a few months.

Put simply, this was the axis buck that occupied my dreams. He was an old warrior that had broken off half his rack from fighting, had gouges in his face from frequent sparring sessions, and sported a pot belly like he just left a Thanksgiving feast.

"That's the one!" I said, already eager to go after him.

"There are nicer bucks hanging around. You sure?" my host asked, in a confused and possibly critical tone.

"Oh, I'm sure."

The Hunt Heats Up

At the time, the mercury was rising to just over 100 degrees, but the heat index was closer to 110. I figured my best option was to find a watering hole in this deer's core area, and wait for him to stop by for a drink. So I set up about 40 yards downwind with my bow, and started sweating. That's what you do on Texas hunts this time of year.

Within two hours I had a magazine-cover buck come in at about 60 yards. At that point, I wish I would have just brought my gun, bagged him, declared it a successful hunt, and got the hell out of that heat. But of course, I didn't bring my gun. I'm humble enough to admit that 60 yards is about 25 yards outside of my reasonable bow range. And I wanted that old buck I'd targeted. Nothing else showed up that entire evening.

The next morning brought me an unexpected downpour of rain and wind that shook my entire cabin. I got a call from the owner of the land, and he said "Man, it hasn't rained like this in years! What are the odds?"

Lucky me.

I wanted to make the most of my time, so I nonetheless grabbed my bow and checked out a new spot that the farmer said is usually pretty active with bucks.

After an hour of getting soaked and not seeing so much as a jackrabbit, I decided to pack up and head back to the cabin for breakfast. I thought about the conditions that I had been met with, the extreme heat one day and unexpected rain the next. At one point I started to feel like this was a waste of time and money.

I knew I needed a swift kick in the ass for motivation, so I called my hunting buddy to check in and ask for some advice. He told me about how he once spent a week in the mountains chasing elk with hardly any food, dealing with frigid temperatures and crummy conditions. He didn't even hear an elk for four straight days. Suddenly, Texas seemed like Disneyland.

Ready to Roll

I sucked it up, put my gear on, grabbed my .30-06, and headed back to the watering hole, hoping that old buck might make an appearance. I spotted a few does headed down a steep hill in my direction, and noticed a much larger body trailing behind them. I couldn't see any antlers due to the thick brush and mesquite trees, but my interest was piqued.

I grabbed my binos out of my pack and lifted them to my eyes. Sure enough, it was the buck I was after.

He kept up a steady pace down the hill, and at 200 yards away he completely stopped. My guide was right; I could tell he knew something was off. He waited for the does to go first, and watched their body language for any warning of danger.

My entire time in Texas, I never saw an axis put their head down. They were constantly scanning the entire landscape, almost as if they were hoping to see a predator so that they could bolt.

The buck stuck his nose up in the air, and as if something physically hit him, he took two steps back and began to turn his body in the opposite direction. I knew if I was going to harvest him, it had to be right now. I put the crosshairs of my Vortex Diamondback just behind his shoulder, and I pulled the trigger. The power that came from the 178gr .30-06 was enough to drop him in his tracks. He was mine, just like I'd dreamed.


Dylan Hayward

For years I have been chasing this idea of harvesting a mature axis buck in southwest Texas, and it finally came true. That feeling was bittersweet. On one hand I had just harvested an animal that I came to respect so much over the past 10 years, and that was incredible. But part of me was sad that with only four pounds of pressure on my trigger, the chase was over.

Some time has passed and I've spent many evenings eating the meat from this buck, sharing meals with friends and family. Hunting has a way of preserving not only our nation's wildlife, but also preserving a feeling of gratitude for our resources. While the chase for my first axis is over, I already have an undesirable itch to get back out there and do it again. Perhaps with a different animal, likely in a different state, but with the same respect and adoration that this lifestyle brings.