When many of us started our hunting careers, we began with small game. In many cases it was squirrel or something of equally small stature, eventually progressing to ever bigger game. In many cases that game topped out at whitetail deer, the preeminent big-game animal of North America. The luckier or more determined ones continued up the ladder to ever increasingly larger game, cresting with African elephant, the biggest land mammal to walk this planet. Enter Susan Hayes.
When Susan Hayes decides to get involved, she pulls out all stops. Susan Hayes has hunted the world: Africa, Europe, the South Pacific, South America and Asia. Her first game animal ever was a bison—an animal exponentially larger than a whitetail. Sometime later she killed a muskox in the Arctic Circle. In fact, a couple of years ago she had the honor of taking a bull elephant in South Africa, often considered the high point of any big-game hunting career. She even had the rare opportunity to experience an elephant charge on that hunt, but Susan was undaunted, welcoming the challenge.
However, it wasn’t until a few years ago that Susan killed her first whitetail. Imagine that. Bull elephant before white-tailed deer—a backwards progression in the typical order of the hunter.
Husband Bill pointed out to Susan that she had yet to hunt whitetail in her native United States and then mentioned Safari Club International’s (SCI) “Whitetail Grand Slam”—five deer from what SCI identified as the five regions of the United States. The challenge is that this must be accomplished in one hunting season. In layman’s terms that equates to a roughly six-week period and a lot of travel, not to mention the determination and willingness to hunt hard to complete the challenge of the grand slam. So what does she do? What any self-respecting competitive person would do: She set out to complete the feat over the course of one short season.
The quest began in Missouri on the 14th of November in 2016 and was Susan’s first hunt from a blind. It was also Susan’s first time experiencing buck fever. She reports the morning was so still and quiet for so long when her buck made his entrance chasing does. Her heart pounding, Susan implored herself to “get a grip” when he finally offered her a shot opportunity to get the first buck of her grand slam down for the count.
Next, she boarded a plane for Montana four days before Thanksgiving, leaving the warm late season of Missouri for 17-degree temperatures two hours north of Bozeman. There is ice on the ground and frost on everything else. Susan can see prisms through her scope. Bill Perkins, her guide, glassed the area for a mature buck when they spotted one just under 200 yards in the distance. Susan forgot her gloves in the truck, and it’s cold enough that the metal of her rifle is painful to the touch. She hit the buck with the first shot, and using Bill’s back as a rest took another just to pay the insurance and buck number two entered the record books. Susan then asked Perkins if he could get her back to Bozeman that day so she could board a plane for Maryland for the third installment of the SCI Whitetail Grand Slam.
Husband Bill met Susan in Maryland so they could spend Thanksgiving together, where they had dinner at a local Cracker Barrel. (Hey, it’s the thought that counts!) Maryland posed some setbacks in the time-limited quest. Susan hunted diligently for eight straight days, but she had to get home for her son’s Army flight school graduation. A contingency plan for the northeastern installment had to be made.
With the graduation behind her, Susan made the trek to Fayetteville, Pa., to hunt with Gsell’s Whitetails. A blizzard had kept her from flying to New York for the next leg of the challenge, so she booked a hunt with Gsell’s. They rode quads in search of the illusive northeastern whitetail, but kept jumping them, forcing Susan to run to get into position for the buck that wouldn’t materialize. This pattern went on for two days before she dropped a buck that happened to score 201 inches on the next to the last day of the season.
Onward to the southeast (are you tired yet?), destination Alabama, two days after Christmas. Susan met with NRA Past President Jim Porter at his farm in western Alabama. She hunted out of a treestand for a couple days but never saw a mature whitetail. On the last day, with the sun beginning to drop, the designated buck made an appearance. One shot at the buck, now on a 40-yard run, sent it to the taxidermist following a trip to the skinning shed where the meat was prepped for processing. Next stop, last stop (hopefully), Texas.
Susan got in her rental and droves all night to Baltimore where she boarded a plane to Houston and the King Ranch to hunt for whitetail No. 5. She and her hunting party drove the property on day one, not seeing much whitetail sign, but Susan chose to stay sharp by killing two nilgai on the run. Day two arrived on Dec. 31, when they found a group of whitetails on the far-south end of camp. Susan and company tried to cut them off and ambush them, getting in position, glassing, playing the wind. The whitetails moved in the hunting party’s direction. Susan could hear antlers scraping through the mesquite of a stand of trees. Suddenly a representative buck came out and crossed the road but for some fateful reason stopped. Susan’s 7mm barked, the bullet covering the 175-yard distance in a millisecond. The shot was true (do you see a pattern here?), the buck took 10 steps and collapsed. The grand slam was officially complete.
Looking back on her achievement, Susan reports that each region of the country offered something unique to that hunt, from terrain, to weather, foliage, hunting method and shot opportunity. She experienced buck fever for the very first time, the absolute manifestation of the excitement of deer hunting. Susan feels she has become a better hunter for this whitetail grand slam experience, having to adapt and adjust to five radically differing hunts.
Five deer, five different regions, six weeks, thousands of miles of travel, one season. Sounds like an extremely daunting task, but what have we learned? It is not wise to challenge Susan Hayes unless you are prepared to watch her succeed. Susan evidently fears no challenge and will go to great lengths to fulfill her commitments. This is another reason she is of such value to the NRA, where she serves as the Chairperson of The NRA Foundation Investment Committee and as a Trustee on The NRA Foundation Board of Trustees, not to mention her involvement with the NRA Women’s Leadership Forum and her and husband Bill’s involvement with the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum. Susan Hayes is no underachiever!
Game, set, match.