THE STORY OF A KANSAS PUBLIC LAND WHITETAIL
Hunting whitetails with a bow is difficult. Add in public land, a new state and the odds of a filled tag are not very good. More often then not we fail but occasionally everything works out. These occasions are why we continue the chase.
This story really started back in the spring of 2021 on an extended weekend turkey hunting trip with the guys at the office. Knowing I would be in Kansas chasing whitetails in the fall and probably be on limited time, scouting and hanging cameras held priority over busting a RIO gobbler.
After driving hundreds of miles each day in attempt to cover as much ground as possible we were ready to call it quits. We had a couple of birds killed, cameras hung, and had walked or looked at nearly every accessible public hunting tract in the unit. Before we officially packed up and headed back east, I had one last piece of WIHA marked on my map. The piece was isolated. The piece was small. It was drastically out of the way but offered the only amount of cover for miles when the ag was off the fields. The piece had the most amount of deer sign I had seen on the trip but it also had the most amount of people sign. Due to the sign of human pressure, I didn’t hang any cameras, and in fact wrote the whole piece off and considered it a last resort….
Sunday: I arrived in Kansas on Nov 7th, with my hunting buddy Clint Campbell arriving the day before. Cell cameras were hot on Nov 6th but the weather was warm on the 7th, so I made it a priority to take advantage of having cell cameras in the truck. I spent most of the day checking cameras I had put out in the spring, hanging new cameras, scouting pieces, and getting an idea of the human pressure.
Monday Nov 8th: The temps were cool, and the previous day didn’t have any nose punching sign sent my way so I decided to jump right in a tree close to where I had gotten some photos of a couple good deer on Nov 6th. That all day sit was relatively unfruitful, but it did provide a couple small buck sightings, some digital scouting, and an eager attitude to cover ground and do work behind glass in the days to come.
Tuesday: The following day, I attempted a spot and stalk hunt on a solid 130”+ plus buck we had glassed from a road. While it was fun and exciting in the moment, it ended in disaster. Being overly aggressively led to me being impatient and ultimately bumping the buck out of his bed. Banking on that buck still being alive and in the area over the next few days we kept this spot in our back pocket and spent the rest of the day scouting from the road. Temps were hot…almost 80, deer sightings were minimal until the late in evening but I did manage to lay eyes on a few nice looking pieces that were huntable. One being the isolated piece from my spring trip and much to my surprise there was zero sign of any recent human pressure out along the road.
Wednesday: The game plan from day break was to glass a new piece of WIHA near our camp and then make the 1 hour 45 min trek to the piece of WIHA from the spring. With limited access only from the North, I wanted to keep my vehicle visible to any passerbyers in hopes that my truck would prevent anyone from walking in on me. That choice of parking led to several roadside conversations with other resident and nonresident hunters as I got dressed and geared up for the afternoon hunt. The bulk of those conversation were guys complaining about deer numbers, stories of EHD, echoes of the “good old days”, and a handful of “good luck to you”s . With limited access and with how I parked I had to walk around the bulk of the property to not totally blow the place out. From my spring scouting I recalled where we had found the most deer sign and where we actually bumped deer. I wanted to keep those areas “clean” or pressure free so I intentionally walk several hundred years down the road and cut into the CRP, taking a straight beeline towards the down wind edge of a timber finger. This access forced me to give up the back 1/3 of property with my scent blowing there but knowing most of the deer sign was up wind of my entrance route I made sure I was also not visible on my walk in.
As I got to the timber edge immediately got into sign, finding several rubs, and feeding sign in a locus grove. As I followed the sign deeper into the interior of the property I bumped a couple does bedded in a really thick area. Those does were bedded in an area that was unusual and I was shortly going to learn they were there seeking shelter from young bucks pestering them. I paid close attention where those does went after I pushed them out of their safe haven. Their path took me to a very unique spot. An inside corner where CRP meet timber. The timber was only 60 yards wide. Several types of habitat met in this small area. Cedars, CRP, a flowing creek, and some topography on the back side. As I made my way into the timber funnel from this inside corner, I saw a buck with his nose to the ground just out a head of me 50 yards or so. In a panic, I jumped into a patch of cedars, nocked an arrow and began to make some ground noise imitating a buck making a rub. After 20 minutes I grew anxious and told myself I need to be in a tree NOW! As I turned around towards the patch of cedars I caught a big rub that looked to be from this year, looking a little further I saw another, and then a third. As I crawled under a few cedars what I found was remarkable….no less than 12 or 13 big tall rubs with a dirt worn bed right smack in the middle!
With the damage done, I took advantage. I quickly scouted how the buck was getting into the spot, on which winds he could use the the bed safely, and then I walked his exit trail. The exit trail took me through 60 yards of briars, thorns, dead falls, that all bordered the creek. Where the trail eventually came to a more open area, it split. One trail went across the creek which was marked by several more big rubs, the other trail went to the exact area the does ran through and the same area I saw the buck with his noise to the ground. This was the Mike Tyson, punch you in the face sign, bowhunters dream of.
Tree’s in the area were limited and I couldn’t do a bunch of trimming so I decided to just tuck between a couple cedar trees and make a makeshift ground blind. I spent the next 5 hours watching a handful of young bucks chase the same doe to the brink of exhaustion.
Thursday: With a hot doe in the area, the last thing I wanted to do was bump her out especially if a big old Kansas buck had started to court her around since yesterday evening. Using gray light I started my walk in, walking out through the middle of a monotinous sea of CRP field directly to my little make shift ground blind. I felt good about my route and confident it was clean. The morning started slow but by 8:30 I had seen 3 different bucks. The windspeeds were 20 MPH + which isn’t uncommon for Kansas but the lack of a visual advantage and audible advantage had me questioning my setup. A 120” buck snuck in behind, I heard him splash in the creak just 15 yards away and he ended up on the other side of the cedar tree I was tucked into, no more than 5 yards away. 40-50 yards away on the other side of the creek there was a much bigger deer, a buck that I guessed at 150”. Shortly after those two had walked off a tall tight racked 115” buck came through the pinch from the CRP. After that 30 minutes of action, I sat in boredom until 4 o’clock. What happened next was the most exciting, adrenaline filled hunt I have experienced.
After being on the ground for the entire day, I was completely frustrated, pissed, and uncomfortable. Frustrated that I had no visual advantage. Pissed I couldn’t get into a suitable tree, and uncomfortable from being twisted up on the ground for hours. A few times throughout the day, I literally stood up, surveyed the surrounding trees, and tried to talk myself into an elevated setup but my gut just said stay patient and stay put. Around 3:30 PM I very distinctly remember adjusting my position and breaking a few branches in the cedar tree to give me a shooting opportunity if either buck repeated the morning movement. A basket ball sized window. As I sat flat on my butt, facing the direction of the bed I had found the day before I sat listening to the wind howl.
At 4PM I heard a deer walking directly out in front of me. I picked up movement behind a cluster of deadfall tree tops. I stared closely at a deer 13 yards away from me licking it’s nose and putting it to the wind for nearly 3 minutes. Not once did I see antlers. At this point in my mind, I was sure I was watching a doe checking the area for bucks in fear of being ran all over. That deer began to walk towards the creek behind the tangled tree tops, still I could not tell what I was watching but my bow was vertical in hand and ready to draw. In a blink of an eye, I watch a giant 10 pointer bound over the dead fall through my shooting window and come to a stop just a few feet away from me. The buck stopped in the exact spot the smaller 120” buck stopped earlier that day. I now had a 170” deer on the other side of the cedar I was tucked into and he didn’t have a clue I was there. At that point, sitting flat on my butt with the buck not having a clue, I knew I needed to draw. I drew my bow, now I need to get to my knees so I could get situated for the shot that I anticipated to happen behind me. I slowly moved one leg then the next, but I quickly realized I was going to bump a limb or hit the camera setup next to me so I decided to let my bow down. The buck snapped his head around, my heart sank as he stared through the cedar for several seconds. He eventually turned his head the other way. Now on my knees, I told myself it was now or never, I drew back again. The buck turned and took a few steps back towards his bed in the direction he came from. I released the arrow and watched it go through him at 5 yards. A perfect high lung, quartering away shot. I sat in excitement for 30 minutes and then went to the impact spot. Blood and chunks of lung, but no arrow. With an 80lb setup and 575 grain arrow I felt confident about the shot placement and knew the arrow was probably in Colorado. I went back to the truck and waited until 7:30 when Clint arrived before we went in to track. The buck had headed back to his bed but never made it. He expired 50 yards from the shot impact, laying in the creek next to his exit trail. Clint and I celebrated with a brutal 800 yard drag through spitting rain and howling winds.
This hunt was everything a bowhunter dreams of. Post season scouting paying dividends with a giant public land buck and celebrating with a long hard drag with a good buddy!
May the spirit of the whitetail forever enrich your soul...