Like most natives of the northeast, I grew up hunting whitetails in relatively small woodlots with high hunting pressure. This did not afford the opportunity to hunt mature whitetails. It wasn’t until I started hunting west of the Mississippi, that I found the supreme challenge of hunting mature bucks.
Each of the last four years, I have had the opportunity to hunt the big whitetail bucks of Kansas. In all instances, I have hunted with Kevin Kline and Double K Hunts. Kevin bases his operation out of Delphos in the north central part of the state.
Having hunted the area for three seasons already, I had some ideas about where I might want to hunt on the first morning. After reviewing aerial photos of Double K’s area, Kevin and I decided that, given a brisk North wind, I would spend opening morning in a turn of the century granary. This long since abandoned barn sits on the edge of a large wheat field and overlooks the field and a fairly open section of creek bottom below it.
Unfortunately, the morning was slow. In five frigid hours on stand, I only saw two does and two fawns. This was not the sort of opening that I was looking for. In a mid-day strategy session, it was decided that I would spend the evening hunkered down on a pond dam overlooking two fields – one wheat and one milo. As I had in the morning, I would employ a common late season tactic. Get on feed, or between feed and bedding areas, and try to ambush the deer going to or coming from their food source.
About forty five minutes before dark, I began to hear rustling in the grass. The source of the sounds directly behind me and sounded to be about 50 yards away. I tried to crane my neck so as to see behind me without moving enough to dive away my location. My efforts were in vain. Consistently, the sounds were getting closer and closer. With increasing nearness, they also became clearly identifiable as steps of an animal. My pulse quickened as I imagined a main-frame twelve pointer approaching from behind. Finally, when the source of the sound was within five yards, I could take it no longer. I planted my palm on the ground and turned my whole body around. Immediately, I was face to face with a pair of pheasants – a rooster and a hen, preparing to make their nest for the evening. Though there was no big buck, I had my excitement for the evening.
When I returned to camp, Kevin had some news about his afternoon of scouting. He had spotted a very nice, mature buck near the granary that I had been in that morning. More exciting still, the buck had a drop tine that Kevin estimated at over six inches. According to Kevin, the buck had been in the wheat field with ten does and two small bucks. After a brief discussion, and only a little thought by me, it was decided that I would hunt this buck specifically. This would meaningfully increase the degree of difficulty for my hunt; however, the added challenge would add to the excitement as well.
The next morning, I was back in the granary well before sunrise. By about 7:00am, the sun was up and activity was on the rise. The birds and squirrels were coming out in force to soak up some of the early morning sun’s warmth. Shortly thereafter, a doe cautiously appeared in the wheat field. She was followed by two fawns and the three began to feed in the field. While they fed 50 yards to my front a procession of other deer began in the creek bottom below me. Seven does came first. Next came three young bucks bringing up the rear. They included four point, a six point and an eight point. The stage was set, now all that I needed was for “my” drop tine buck to emerge from the timber.
As is often the case, it was the deer that told me of another approaching. As a group, their ears perked and they began to stare down into the timber below. As my pulse quickened, I began to scan the timber in search of a switching tail, a flicked ear, a glint of antler, or anything to reveal what was approaching. All at once, a rack of antlers filled my binocular view.
After a brief scan of the field, the buck stepped out. He was high and wide, with chocolate horns a good mass. His ten points were symmetrical and looked great. His Roman nose and dropped down belly indicated that he was at least four years of age. Unfortunately, while this was a shooter buck, it was not the buck that I was looking for.
When he got into the field, the buck immediately started to chase one of the does on the fringe of the group. As he worked his was up wind of me, I got a nose full of his musk. He quickly singled out the doe and ran her off. As he dropped out of site, I had that hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach that every hunter gets when they pass on a good animal in hopes of harvesting a great one. In a consoling revelation, it came to me – the second rut was on.
I spent the rest of the morning planning how I would execute the rest of the hunt. I would break with common wisdom and employ rut hunting strategies well into the post rut period. Having seen the buck chasing the doe, I was confident that this would be my best chance to take the buck.
The next morning, was absolutely frigid. Air temperatures were in the single digits and winds were steadily over 10mph. There was a heavy frost on and the sky was perfectly clear. As I approached the granary, I deployed a liberal amount of scent. I released a Doe in Estrus Buck Bomb and also hooked a pair of Wildlife Research Center Golden Estrus Trophy Leafs onto a fence near my location. I was banking on the drop tine buck cruising the area for a hot doe, so I didn’t want him to miss the section of the creek bottom that I could see. By using the two scents in conjunction, I would have a large volume, long distance application from the Buck Bomb; furthermore, I would have a long lasting, short range application with the Trophy Leaf. I have had success with this combination in the past and I saw no reason why it couldn’t work again.
At around 8:00am, the sun was up and started to bring the slightest warmth to the plains. I heard steps approaching me from the river bottom. After only a couple of minutes, a doe appeared and began making her way towards the feed in the wheat field. She had a heavy strip of frost down her back and walked with a stiffness that betrayed the cold.
As she made her way toward the feed, I continued to watch her back trail. Less than a minute later, a buck stepped out behind her. Immediately, I saw what I was looking for, in addition to the heavy 5 point antler on his left side, he had a non-typical frame on the right with a monster drop tine. This was the buck that I had been looking for.
I waited until he passed behind a small ever green, so that I could raise my rifle without fear of spooking him. As quietly as possible, I got my rifle into position and waited for the buck to emerge on the other side.
As so often happens, the buck had another idea. I could just make out through the tree that he was now walking straight away from me. Having him within 30 yards and not having a shot was excruciating. His body size was clearly exceptional. With the thick layer of frost on the ground and on his back, I thought for sure that I was in Saskatchewan.
Time was crawling as I tried to pick an opportunity to get a shot at “my” buck. I looked ahead of him and saw a small gap between two trees where he would have to take a steeply quartering away from me. I centered the gap in my scope and waited. First his main beam, and next his nose entered the gap. It was now or never. If I didn’t get a shot in this gap, I wouldn’t get one today. Finally, his neck entered the gap. I centered the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger. He dropped to the shot and didn’t move a muscle.
Having a chance to think about what had just happened, my hands began the trademark tremble that all hunters yearn for. The excitement of successfully hunting a specific, mature whitetail buck is difficult to describe. A mix of sadness and elation, respect and joy wash over you.
Much like the transition from hunting the whitetails that surrounded my childhood home in upstate New York to hunting the mature bucks of the Midwest, having the opportunity to identify, hunt and harvest a specific buck is the next level of deer hunting.
Author’s Note: For more information about hunting in Kansas with Kevin Kline and Double K Hunts, visit www.doublekhunts.com.