MORE WHITETAIL WAR MEMOIRS
By Steven E Stillwell
58,220 AMERICAN SERVICE MEMBERS LOST THEIR LIVES DURING THE VIETNAM WAR, BUT CIVILIAN CASUALTIES ON BOTH SIDES EXCEEDED 2,000,000. THE SOUTH VIETNAMESE ARMY REPORTED APPROXIMATELY 250,000 SOLDIERS KILLED IN ACTION WHILE THEIR NVA AND VIET CONG COUNTERPARTS LOST 1,100,000 FIGHTERS.
Several years ago, one of my best friends invited me to spend a week with him in Texas, in an area known as, THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE. We planned our trip during the peak of the rut, and after my arrival, I couldn’t believe all of the trophy bucks I saw. This was one of the best managed ranches I’d ever seen, and the free-ranging wildlife was incredible. There were no high fences, and my buddy wanted it this way. If he was going to kill a Boone and Crockett animal, his motto was; IT HAS TO BE A FAIR CHASE EXPERIENCE.
PAINTED SUNRISES AND SUNSETS ARE GOD’S GIFTS TO MANKIND. Desert hunting is unique, and long-range shots are not uncommon, so your rifle better be sighted in. Three days elapsed and I was seeing more game than I’d ever seen in my life. My buddy asked me to patiently observe before shooting anything, because he wanted me to see several animals on his, NO SHOOT LIST. These were young Bucks, 10 points or more that were incredibly huge, but were still maturing, and hadn’t reached their maximum potential. Foxes, coyotes, exotics, snakes, turtles, peccaries, feral hogs, whitetails and a variety of birds were sighted almost every day from the various stands my friend shuttled me to.
On the fourth day, three additional lease holders arrived, and this is when our trip got really interesting. Sleeping accommodations weren’t a problem, because each hunting party had their own private quarters, so there was plenty of room. A beautiful fire-pit was situated in the center of these lodges, and this proved to be a rallying point in the evenings after each hunt. My attention was immediately drawn to the oldest hunter in this group, and after a quick introduction, I learned that he was a naval aviator, and we both served on the same ship, THE USS LEXINGTON CVA 16, but at different times. Mr. Gray attained the rank of Captain, and I was an enlisted man, but we had so many things in common, that we spent several hours each day sharing stories. He also liked the fact that I called him Captain, and in my opinion, he deserved this recognition, because he was an officer and a gentleman.
During one of our conversations, the Captain told me about his flight missions in Vietnam, and confided that he flew spy planes deep into enemy territory, taking top secret pictures. His jet was equipped with high-tech cameras, but no weapons and many of these reconnaissance sorties were extremely dangerous. “We couldn’t defend ourselves.” Mr. Gray also confided, “Several of my close friends were shot down and killed.” His most dangerous assignment involved talking photos of a particular NVA compound, and this was a suicide mission. Because of the mountainous terrain, there was only one avenue of approach, so they knew which direction you were coming from, and all of their antiaircraft guns were trained on this exact spot. In spite of the aviator’s protests, his commanding officer still gave the order to fly into this death-trap.
“I came in low and fast. I knew where their guns were, so I climbed and banked right before reaching this point. The sky lit-up with enemy fire. I was at the threshold of G-forces, and it was a miracle that I didn’t pass-out, because technically, I should have,” the Captain recalled. “This was the most dangerous mission I’ve ever flown, and I survived.” When he returned to base, there wasn’t a scratch on his plane.
Everyone in our hunting party took home nice, mature, management Bucks that week, and this was one of the most memorable hunts in my life. If we’ll take the time to talk to others, it’s amazing some of the things we’ll learn, and the inconceivable stories we’ll hear. Deer seasons are great, because you never know who you’re going to meet.
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