Dusty McGehee: Zeb Ates Giant Eight

A 12-year-old boy that lives on the Lincoln/Union Parish line, small in stature who eats/breathes/lives all things outdoors.  You might think I’m writing a throwback story about myself but let me introduce you to Zeb Ates.

Zeb is no ordinary kid. He has faced plenty of adversity in his young years, but he is the epitome of what hard work, dedication, and true grit can succeed.  Each of these characteristics were utilized for a 5 year journey with a buck on their family property near Bernice.

The story of Zeb’s buck begins in 2016.  They got their first trail cam pic of him and knew they had a 2.5-year-old superstar.  Immediately, the decision was made to pass him up that year to see what he would grow into.  Like anyone would be, they worried a neighbor would shoot this young buck, but little did they know how intelligent this particular deer was.  The Ates family nor anyone else would see this buck for the next three years other than on trail cam pictures.

In 2018, the buck blew up into an absolute giant (150-plus inch buck).  Once Zeb got his first daylight picture of him, he got his priorities in line.  He knew it was now or never.  Zeb and his mom, Amy, hunted this deer for 5 days straight; sitting all day.  He may or may not have missed school those days, but if anyone at D’arbonne Woods Charter is reading this, keep assuming he was under the weather those 5 days.

In 2019 the buck disappeared.  Their worst fears were running through their heads.  Had he been shot by a neighbor, hit by a vehicle, or killed by a predator?  Had all the blood, sweat, and tears poured into this deer been all for naught?  The Ates family felt like they were hunting a ghost; until November 20th that is. Zeb’s dad, Alan, was on the trigger and the ghost surprised him.  Fortunately for Zeb, the buck didn’t present his dad with an ethical shot so he passed.  This was the first time they had seen the deer in daylight hours and the Ates family was starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

The 2020 season comes around and Zeb was all in on this buck.  Every spare second of energy he had was dedicated to this one deer.  They were monitoring him on trail cams and knew they might have an opportunity in late season.  He was beginning to show his face closer and closer to legal shooting light in mid-December.  On December 20th, the wind was right and they knew this was the best chance at the buck.

Zeb was armed with a 22-250 TC Encore and as the light faded, the anticipation was high.  As luck would have it, Zeb’s buck made an appearance.  He lined up the crosshairs and pulled the trigger.  The deer immediately went down.  Celebrations began in the stand as the final chapter had been closed on the buck they had worked so hard for.  The deer laid motionless on the ground for 1.5 minutes then got up and wheel barrowed himself out of the area.  The Ates family looked for the deer for 2 months and never found any sign of him.

In October of 2021, a trail cam picture showed the deer was alive and well.  The Ates knew something different had to be done.  This deer was intelligent and had the game figured out.  Hunting at odd times of the day, the family hoped to outsmart the deer, but they kept coming up empty.  In early November, Zeb got sick and Alan got rained out from work.  Alan went out on his side-by-side to sit and observe a woods road on their property that looked back towards a ground blind.  As he is watching, a deer comes out at 50 yards and it is THE BUCK, staring intently at the ground blind and never looking in his direction.  Alan raised his gun, clicked the safety off and earned father of the year points by lowering it back down.  He went home and told Zeb “I love you with everything I have son, so I passed up your buck.”

It was at this moment that the Ates family had gotten their biggest clue.  Alan knew this buck was patterning them and the surrounding hunters.  Based on the trail he was traveling and the way he reacted to the blind. He knew the buck was dodging everyone in the area.

Armed with this new information, Zeb set out and made a homemade blind with natural ground cover where Alan’s side-by-side had been sitting.  They left it alone for 20 days and waited for the conditions to be right.  November 24t (the day before Thanksgiving and Amy’s birthday) was the day.  Waking up well before dawn, they headed for the blind.  

The morning was slow; only two deer had been seen.  Zeb being worn out and recovering from illness, fell asleep in the blind.    Alan was cold and thought they may be wasting their time.  Thought set in that they should leave but they had worked too hard for this deer and decided to stick it out.  At 10 a.m. Alan spotted the buck coming down the same dim trail he had seen him almost a month ago.  Zeb woke up immediately, steadied his new .243 rifle and made a perfect 130-yard shot.  A few seconds later, Zeb heard the crash.  The deer he had poured his heart and soul into had just fallen.

Alan and Zeb took up the blood trail shortly thereafter.  After a short tracking job, Zeb looked up and all he could see were antlers sticking up above the vegetation.  Neither father nor son took off after the buck; being so filled with emotion over this incredible journey they had been on, they embraced one another for over a minute hugging each other and soaking it in. The 5-year-endeavor had finally come to fruition.

What a buck it was!  A giant 8-point with a small kicker, this deer would end up scoring 137 5/8”.  All the hard work Zeb had put into this deer, the countless bucks he has passed, and the all-around family effort that went into this deer made it all worthwhile.

Congratulations Zeb! You are an amazing kid and an excellent hunter!


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