I had not hunted the great state of Kansas for a few years. Several recent trips out there had been a bust. I had hunted lands leased by outfitters, and those places were badly overhunted, as are many outfitter lands across the Midwest. Anytime you hunt a property where dozens or even hundreds of people have hunted before you that season (with either bow or gun) your odds of killing a big deer are low, and astronomically low when you are trying to film a TV show. With all that human pressure (movement, scent and shooting) the big bucks not killed or pushed off a property go completely nocturnal. You might get lucky, but… Remember that and do your homework before paying good money to hunt in any Midwestern state.
I had vowed never to return to the Midwest unless I got the chance to hunt private ground. That is where 95% of the big deer you see here on the blog and elsewhere are shot each fall. Those opportunities are few and far between, but this year I got an invite to hunt a 3,000-acre ranch near Wakeeny, Kansas. I had 12 hunts planned for 2014, but I looked forward to Kansas the most. This was where I’d have the best shot at killing a 160-inch buck or better, and a 180 was not out of the question.
I arrived last week, did a light recon of the ranch and confirmed I was in a good place. Perfect habitat…deep, long, winding cottonwood drainages on the Saline River, with weed fields and brush for additional cover, and alfalfa and cut corn nearby. Best of all, there had been no pressure on the deer for a year, none. No scouting, no early bowhunting, no human intrusion except for normal farming and ranching. There are few lands like that anywhere in the U.S., but that is where you shoot big deer.
That explains why I saw 100 deer, and at least 40 rack bucks, from my blind the first afternoon of hunting. It is amazing to watch how whitetails move and interact in their normal routine when they are not affected by pressure. This afternoon it was classic early post-rut behavior. A few bucks still nosed and pushed does, while other bucks had started to regroup and move in groups of 2 or 3. All the deer, rut weary and thin, moved toward the corn and alfalfa to feed. The movement began early, a good 90 minutes before sunset, again due to lack of pressure.
At 4:30, I looked up and saw the buck above crossing a field, the sun glinting on that white rack. This still image from our video does him no justice. With the naked eye at 500 yards I knew he was big and special. I stammered, “Ten points, long G-4s, 170 giant!” I put glass on him as he walked into the timber. His body did not look big and blocky, but then the major rut was just passed, and the buck had lost considerable weight. You need to remember that when examining the body size of bucks.
I passed several borderline shooters that night. I could not get the image of that giant out of my mind. There was another stand site across the cottonwood drainage within 200 yards of where the buck had disappeared into the trees. I would be in that blind tomorrow morning, and I would hunt it all day every day for the next 4 days. That is the kind of world-glass buck you come to Kansas to hunt.
The sun rose the next morning, and the action was slow. Ever noticed how that happens? After a killer afternoon of deer movement, you can almost predict that the movement next morning will be a fraction of that. I saw some does and small bucks, and settled in for the long wait. The giant was right here somewhere…
At 8:30 I looked up and saw a buck limping across a weed field, angling toward my stand. He was 600 yards out and at first peek nothing special. I remember thinking, “Ten points, short tines, just decent. Man, he looks old and beat up from the rut.” I had zero intention of shooting this deer…until he closed within 200 yards and I thought I saw something jutting down off his left beam.
But I had thought I had seen a drop tine 1,000 times before during the last 3 decades of hunting across America. Alas, those illusions had turned out to be a stick in the background, or a buck’s ear at a weird angle. I had actually seen only 1 legit drop tine buck in my life, and he was too far for a shot.
I glassed and glassed and determined that this one was indeed real…not a long “drop club,” but at least 4 inches and thick and gnarly, legit. I raised my rifle and got ready. What about the 170 monster lurking in these woods? Was there ever a thought of passing this deer? Not a chance.
Five minutes later I started to freak. The buck had dipped into thick patch of brush, and I had lost him. Uncanny how a big buck can sneak past you, even though you think you have him covered. But this old boy had moved slowly to get to me. I thought and prayed he was still there someplace.
Finally he stepped out into a small opening 100 yards below me. I glassed his rack one more time to confirm the drop—no doubt. The buck was quartered on, and I swear he looked up and straight into my eyes. I held it together and pressed the 7mm Remington Ultra Mag’s trigger. The buck thundered down, and there was no intrigue or anxiety as to the recovery. All that remained was to put my hands on that wonderful buck.
What the drop lacked in length it more than made up for with character. It jutted 4 inches down from the left beam, was thick with swirls and even had a small hole in the middle of it. It was as if God and Nature had fused a clump of gray Play-Dough to the base of the beam. It was beautiful.
I had always worried that if and when I saw the elusive drop tine that it would be a younger buck. What would I do if I encountered a 2- or 3-year-old deer with a good-sized drop? I would have shot him and been happy and grateful, I think. But I live to hunt mature, wild whitetails, the craftiest and most magnificent animals on Earth.
How this old warrior fit that bill! The first time I looked up close at the buck’s square head and gray, scarred face, I knew he was at least 5 years old and likely older. Later that day, Mike the local taxidermist checked the deer’s teeth and said, “Six at least, maybe 7….”
The next day as we were wrapping filming for this BIG DEER TV episode, I looked into the camera and said (I paraphrase):
“The only bad thing about this is that now, what do I look forward to? I have been consumed with a drop tine for 30 years…what’s next?” I paused and smiled, “A man, a hunter needs a goal, but that won’t be a problem. There are so many fantastic things for us to dream about out here in the world of Big Deer, I’ll come up with something.”
To all of you who have been on the Big Deer Blog with me for the last 6 years and urging me on, thanks for coming along on this epic journey.