Makayla Hay had her eye on a gnarly 23-point buck as the Texas firearms opener approached—but then so did almost every other deer hunter in Madison County after a photograph of the bruiser swimming the Trinity River appeared in the local newspaper in October.
Makayla and her father, Jim, knew the photograph was taken near their deer lease, and they joked about the possibility of seeing the buck. When Jim dropped 15-year-old Makayla off at her tree stand on Nov. 2, she told him that she was going to wait for the river rack to show. "He said, 'You're not going to be able to be that patient,'" Makayla recalls. "I've never really waited a long time to kill a buck, but I said, 'Oh, no, I'm waiting for the deer in the picture.'"
Sure enough, when a "pretty nice 8-pointer" came out shortly after first light, she let it pass. But she did send her dad a text saying she had her backup buck in case the big deer didn't show. A few minutes later, less than an hour into the season, the buck did show. "I didn't know for sure it was the buck from the photo, but I did know it was bigger than anything I'd ever killed," Makayla says. She loaded her rifle and watched calmly as the buck turned broadside, then dropped it with a shoulder shot. When the deer lunged to its feet, she shot it again.
Only after her father came and they walked over to the deer together did she know that she had indeed shot the buck from the newspaper photograph. "My dad said, 'You did it. You shot the buck from the river,'" Makayla said. "I couldn't believe it, because it seemed to me like the deer in the picture wasn't real. He said, 'I told you it was a real deer.'"
Real—and real big. The 23-pointer green-scored 213 2/8 gross, 203 1/8 net. If the score holds up after the 60-day drying period, Texas officials say, it will likely stand as the biggest free-ranging non-typical ever taken by a youth hunter in Texas. It would also be the biggest Madison County buck in the last 46 years, and second only to a 223 2/8 inch 24-pointer shot in 1967.
While Makayla might have taken some ribbing in years past for being quick on the trigger, she is a serious hunter who always tries to shoot successively bigger bucks each season. "She's better at aging deer on the hoof than a lot of men," says her mother, Mary Hay. "Her daddy always tells her, 'You gotta keep shooting bigger.' And now he's like, 'Well, what are you gonna do now?'"
"I told him I would wait," Makayla says with a laugh. "I waited. It only took until 7:30 on opening day, but I waited."