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June 2024
Story by JaciLynn Farnsworth
State: Arizona
Species: Deer - Mule

Spring harvest is one of my favorite times of year. The cool feeling of dew as it sets in, the smell of freshly cut hay, and deer. Lots of them! My dad and I have been watching deer come and go from our family farm my entire life. It’s not unusual to see 30-40 in the fields at a time. That all changed this spring. Some evenings, we were able to count up to 120, if not more. There were a lot of does and fawns, but we also saw some pretty good bucks. For the past two years, there had been rumor of a massive buck in the desert area around us. We’d heard so many stories and even saw images of him, but we never crossed paths with him on our farm. He was a legend in my hometown, and every hunter for a hundred miles wanted him.

One evening, in April, my dad asked me if I’d like to go bale hay with him. Of course I said, “Yes!” That choice would turn out to be one of the most amazing decisions I’ve ever made. Less than an hour after getting to the farm, we spotted some deer moving in. My dad decided to take a peek. He reached under his seat and grabbed his binos. Moments later, he whispered, “Holy cow, Jayci, look at this!” I grabbed the binos and put them up to my face. It didn’t even take a full second for me to see the antlers of the most massive buck I’d ever seen. We were both in awe and continued to look at him for a very long time. At some point, I said to my dad, “His horns look like a pitchfork.” That’s the name that stuck with him from there on out. For months, we went out every evening and watched him come into the fields.

I’d been target practicing with my dad for a long time, but I still needed to focus on long-range shooting as I had never really done that. After practicing with several of my dad’s rifles, I decided that I wanted to use his Winchester .270. It is his favorite gun. It was given to him by his mom on his sixteenth birthday and also has a fancy scope my uncle, Chet, gave him. My dad has taught me everything I know about hunting and has put a lot of effort into teaching us kids hunter safety and awareness.

Opening morning, my dad woke the family up very early and then we were off. I’ve been down that dusty old farm road too many times to count, but this morning was different. This was my first hunt, and I could hardly wait. After scouting and learning Pitchfork’s routine, I felt confident I could do this. I turned towards my dad and said, “I’ve got this in the bag!” It was funny because he seemed more nervous than I was. He smiled and then parked the truck.

We moved in and posted up on the south edge of one of our hay fields. The sun was finally starting to come up, and we could see several deer moving out of the hay fields. We didn’t even have to draw up binos to see his legendary 230" horns. He was roughly 200 yards away and perfectly broadside. I got my rifle in position and him in my sights. All of a sudden, all the deer herded up together tightly and started to move out of the field towards the tree line. I knew at this point that my opportunity was getting away and that’s when I started to get nervous. We watched as doe after doe stepped in front of him, almost as if they were trying to shield him. Finally, he stepped out and started to take a nibble of some mesquite beans. This was the moment I had been waiting for, and I hoped my shot would be good. I took a deep breath, thinking about all the times I had practiced shooting and hearing the loud “Boom!” It has always made me flinch a little. When I pulled the trigger this time, it was like everything stopped, pure silence, and I was calm. He jumped up and then stumbled about 15 feet. I hurried to reload, but by the time I had another bullet in the chamber, he dropped. That’s when it hit me, Buck Fever. I felt a rush of heat go through my entire body and excitement like I’d never known. I jumped up, turned towards my dad, and said, “I told you!”

As we walked over, to get our first up close look at him, my mind was flooded with memories from the previous spring and summer. Thoughts of the first time I saw him out in those lush, green fields. How he stood out from all the other bucks. No matter how tired I was, I would make it a point to go farm with my dad just so I might catch a glimpse of him. All these things led up to this moment, and I was over the moon.

Some may call it luck, killing a monster buck on my first hunt, but this was a lifetime in the making. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get Pitchfork if it weren’t for my Great Grandpa Tom Sr. for starting up the farm so many decades ago, and my grandpa who kept it going, and my dad and Uncle Chet who farm it to this very day. Pitchfork was only ever on the farm to eat the hay my family has grown for generations. This hunt was part of their legacy and a gift to me.

In addition to my hunt, my brothers, Ridge and Thomas, also had youth tags. We all took our hunter safety and were ready to hunt last year, but unfortunately, no one drew. This year was very special for us because we could all finally hunt together.

My 10-year-old brother, Ridge, killed his buck on the evening of opening day. He shot a big 4-point with his .243 from about 200 yards. His shot was incredible, but his reaction afterwards was the best! He was so hyped up about getting his first deer that he started to shake and had to take a moment to collect himself before we could go retrieve his buck.

Thomas, who is 12, was a trooper on his hunt. He hiked and glassed in the hills for a solid five days. He passed up some really good bucks and even had days where he didn’t see anything at all. On the evening of the fifth day, he was able to harvest a beautiful 4-point. This was his first mule deer, and he couldn’t be happier.

The time I spent with my family on this hunt will be part of my memories forever. It was a special time shared, especially with my brothers because we all got our first bucks together.