The Darby Deer

Bruce Fox's Darby Deer

Finding meaning…and sometimes redemption…in the details

Darby Campbell is a successful business man with multiple businesses across the country. Of note, several marinas, Lakeside Tavern, Margaritaville Hotels, and more. Darby is a friend, a dedicated hunter and fisherman with whom I’ve hunted for several decades. 

Years ago at a UT basketball game—our seats are in the same row—Darby mentioned that his dad had purchased some acreage in Oak Ridge that might have some turkeys on it. I was somewhat skeptical, but much to my delight, the ridge was covered with turkey scratching and sign. Come turkey season, it would definitely be worth a try.

Pre-dawn one morning, we crept up the ridge into position. At first light, I sent out a few owl calls hoping to provoke an old tom—turkeys don’t care for owls and often gobble out a warning—and sure enough, one sounded off 100 yards in front of us, just off the point of the ridge. I set Darby up against a large hickory tree, in line with where I thought the tom would come. I backed off 50 yards and made a soft hen call. Old tom was coming!

As the gobbler approached, I could see Darby anxiously moving around, trying to spot the bird. I had emphasized the need for stillness, but he was nervous with anticipation. The tom got spooked, dropping back down the ridge just below me. I had a clear shot, and I took it.

Darby was furious; the bird was supposed to be his. I quietly told him he spooked it and it was leaving when I shot it, but not to worry, there were two more gobbling down the ridge. I got him set up again, closer to where I had heard at least two gobblers sounding off, and started calling. Within a short period of time, I saw two gobblers in full strut with a half dozen hens coming toward us. Darby made a great shot and harvested a huge old tom with a long beard. I was forgiven for shooting his bird.

On the way back to the trucks, I noticed multiple sign on trees where a buck had rubbed his horns. I made a mental note to talk to Darby about deer hunting next fall. 

When the season started, I happened to be sitting at a red light on Northshore Drive when Darby pulled up next to me, rolled his window down, and said he had hunted the property for deer but had no luck. He said that he would be duck hunting for the week and I was welcome to deer hunt the property on Thanksgiving and the day after. He would return to hunt the next day. I told my wife, Mary Jane, about Darby’s offer, and she granted me a “kitchen pass” to hunt on Thanksgiving morning.

No luck on day one, but walking back to the truck, I came across a large “scrape” making a mental note of the location for the next morning. Setting my tree stand just below the crest of the ridge provided a clear view of the scrape. Shortly after daylight, I caught movement; a buck was heading up the ridge! I got set up and took the shot. The deer kicked and headed uphill to a point directly above me. I saw him go down about 75 yards away. 

My heart raced as I lowered my gun to the ground with the haul rope. I turned my back on the deer to face the tree to inchworm my tree stand down. When I was about six feet from the ground, I heard a commotion behind me and turned to see the deer heading over the ridge. I jumped from the stand, grabbed my gun from the ground, and started up hill. However, I had foolishly failed to untie the rifle. It hit me like a freight train and I fell backwards on the steep slope. Although it seemed like an eternity, I finally came to my senses, untied the rifle, and began looking for the deer. 

When I found him, I could not believe my eyes. I started counting points and when I got to 16, my head spun. I couldn’t believe it, so I counted again…16. I knew I would need help to move the deer. So I drove over to my dad’s Oldsmobile dealership in Oak Ridge. He, my brother, and one of my uncles were all there, and gladly agreed to help.

It was the deer of a lifetime, even featured in several outdoor magazines. Darby thought it was a joke when I told him. When I finally convinced him, he was even madder than when I shot his turkey!

The “Darby Deer,” as I now call it in honor of my friend, taught me how important it is to slow down and pay attention to the details, as they can, no matter how small, often lead to something spectacular. And as for Darby, I assume he’s forgiven me at this point for taking his turkey and his deer, so I suppose this story is a little bit about redemption, too. Thanks Darby for being a friend and sharing your dad’s hunting spot. 

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