The whitetail deer is, without question, the most popular big game animal in North America. There are very few western states that do not have any whitetails at all, but even out West, more traditional mule deer states like Montana, Wyoming and Colorado all have plenty of whitetails to hunt.
The state where I have done most of my serious trophy hunting the past several years is Kansas. It’s no secret that Kansas in general, and the eastern half of the state in particular, produces a goodly number of really big whitetail bucks every year. There, the excellent farm country habitat and superb genetics, coupled with a rifle season lasting less than two weeks, helps the deer get enough age to reach their full potential. I have hunted a fair amount in the region, and like it a lot.
However, the southwest corner of Kansas is my own little “secret spot” for a chance at gold medal, free-ranging whitetails. At first blush this may seem strange. The terrain there is mostly rolling sand hills, sagebrush, and tumbleweeds, with little visible water and scattered agricultural efforts. Most of us would look at it and think it more suited to mule deer–which live there, too. But it is the whitetails that keep drawing me back.
For four of the past five seasons I have hunted near Liberal, Kansas, in the extreme southwestern corner of the state with Jeff Louderback and LL Outfitters On my first hunt with Jeff in 2007, I had a drop-tined monster get away from me only to have a 7 1/2-year-old 12-pointer that scored 164 2/8 SCI points walk 22 yards from my stand before my Thunderhead destroyed his pump room. Three years ago I chose to bow hunt the bitter post-rut of mid-December, after the gun seasons were over but when bone-chilling cold forces bucks worn to a nubbin from the rigors of the rut to eat a lot–and that means head for the high-calorie food sources. I didn’t let an arrow loose, but that wasn’t because I wasn’t seeing anything. To the contrary, I saw scads of deer and numerous mature bucks, but was holding out for one of the true monsters I kept seeing but wasn’t able to get a shot at.
The southwestern side of Kansas is kind of a hidden secret for big whitetails. It has fewer people and more open land than areas of central and eastern Kansas, and the deer quality continues to grow
year after year. This area is mostly plains country with scattered river bottom cover featuring lots of agriculture up off the bottoms, including corn, winter wheat and alfalfa. The key for deer hunters is that the local deer herd has both the genetics and the opportunity to grow old enough to produce big antlers. That is most evident when you talk to local deer hunters who say a 150 buck is “a nice one,” but they do not really get excited until they see one over 170. They call a “shooter” a 150 or better for gun hunters, with a 140 a shooter for archers. That’s high quality deer hunting!
One afternoon halfway through my hunt found me sitting a ladder stand in a small stand of cottonwoods on the edge of the sagebrush. It was mid-November and the rut was on. It had been a relatively quiet morning until about 1:00 p.m., when all of a sudden here they came. Through the cottonwoods I could see a small herd of deer chasing each other and heading right for me. In the middle of the pack was the biggest buck I have ever seen in the wild, a huge-bodied animal that dwarfed the other five bucks in the bunch–two of which were 8-pointers I thought would top 140 and who began a serious fight not a hundred yards from my tree! This behemoth was a giant 11-pointer with mass, long tines, beams that stretched to his nose and a body I bet would have neared 300 pounds.
There were two does mixed in with the bunch, obviously both in heat. The deer raced in and around my stand for five minutes, and though I saw each and every deer well, they never got closer than 75 yards. The big buck did stop and stand still for maybe 30 seconds, giving me a chance to inspect him through the 10×42 Nikon binos at close range. As sure as the sun rises in the East, I am certain he pushed the magical 200-inch mark. Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over, with the deer racing off to the west and out of my life. Just seeing that incredible sight, which really is hard to describe, was worth the price of admission alone.
I was seeing plenty of deer, but no good bucks had come close to me. The sign told me that the big guys were coming after dark–the weather was unseasonably warm–and so Jeff and I came up with a plan. We erected a ground blind 30 yards south of the water tank. The blind stuck out like a sore thumb in the low sagebrush, but I was willing to risk it.
Would this new monstrosity bother the deer? That first evening, the answer was … sort of. No good bucks came by, but the dozen does that appeared shied away from it. They didn’t panic, but they didn’t trust it–and so I was encouraged enough to keep hunting there.
An hour before dark I saw antler tines easing their way over the rise directly behind the tank. They slowly materialized into a dandy 9-point buck cruising in to get a quick drink before sliding off to the bottom to search for a new girlfriend. At first he, too, gave the blind the evil eye, but still took a sip or two before easing off to the west. Fortunately I had anticipated such a move when I erected the blind and had definitive range markers in place. When the deer walked into the open, he was standing just outside my 40-yard marker. Already at full draw, I grunted loudly with my mouth; when he stopped I settled the 40-yard pin on the sweet spot and hit the trigger. The 100-grain Thunderhead blew through him, and in the open sagebrush I was able to see the deer go down a hundred yards down the slope. He scored 162 2/8 SCI. That made it three out of four seasons hunting there that I had arrowed bucks scoring over 150. How good is that? And so, before I headed home, I made sure Jeff had my name down on the hunt list for 2012. The place is just too good to not hunt again.– Bob Robb