In Pursuit of Kansas Whitetails

Kansas sunrise.
Kansas sunrise.

Movement caught my eye a hundred yards to the North as a feeding deer materialized through the tree limbs and brush. The buck raised his head and my heart skipped a beat. It was the big nine.

I slowly reached for my bow as the big buck continued to feed, pausing once to give an offending bush a good thrashing. I got my bow off the hook, slowly stood and started a slow motion spin to my right. A slight scrape against my seat brought the buck to full attention. “Oh no, you’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought to myself as the buck stared in my direction. I stood motionless, watching the tip of my arrow vibrate in the crisp fall air.

My trip to Kansas to hunt with Wally and Deanna Eldridge of Central Kansas Whitetails had become an annual event. While normally accompanied by childhood friend Dr. John Peebles, I was flying solo this year due to John’s somewhat alarming dedication to his job.

On a previous muzzleloader hunt I took an unusual looking 5×5 that had a conventional five-point rack on one side and a pitchfork on the other, due to an injury. So once again, fall found me in central Kansas pursuing a mature oversized buck.

The first morning of my hunt found me in a truck with guide Trevor Olsen in the predawn darkness, headed for a funnel in a newly leased piece of property. We arrived, Trevor grabbed a decoy and we headed into the bush. In short order I was perched in a locust overlooking a small clearing, surrounded by trees. As dawn reluctantly began to break over the forest, I was greeted with the sounds of a hundred turkeys roosting beside me. As duck hunters began shooting in the distance, a chorus of gobbles echoed across the clearing.

pursuitkansas4x4buckA few hours after sunrise, a small 4×4 ambled along the fence line eighty yards away. He stopped short and stared at the decoy. Then he started licking his lips, locked his ears back and started stiff legging toward the decoy. The closer he got, the less tough he became, stopping about twenty-five yards away. With a little more posturing, he decided that the decoy was probably bigger and went back to his route. With no further activity I decided to rattle a bit. I just finished my sequence when a 125-point 4×4 materialized thirty yards to my right and began walking toward me grunting with every step. Then he spotted the decoy and his attitude changed abruptly. He was braver than the smaller buck, but still not confident enough for a full-blown attack. After a complete circle around the decoy, he faded into the brush.

The rest of the day was uneventful with the exception of a few turkeys and some cows that decided the grass around my stand was the best in Kansas. After sunset, Wally and Trevor picked me up. As we drove back to camp, Wally told me about a large buck that Trevor and he spotted chasing a doe on another piece of property. A tree stand was already set up there, so we quickly made a plan for me to sit there the next day.

We decided against the extra scent and noise associated with bringing in a decoy, so I slipped into the area very early and as quietly as possible. The morning passed quickly. I saw several deer, including a nice 130-class 4×4. At about 9:30, a small 4×4 slipped past me 80 yards away. I decided to get a few pictures of him and grunted to turn him toward me. He ignored me completely and movement in the woods ahead of him caught my eye.

A huge 5x6 buck that showed up before the Big Nine. Close enough for the camera but not the bow.
A huge 5×6 buck that showed up before the Big Nine. Close enough for the camera but not the bow.

A deer stepped out of the shadows and into the sunlight. I immediately knew I was looking at the buck Trevor and Wally had seen the previous day. With the camera already in my hand, I grabbed a few pictures as the buck slowly wandered around. He approached the fence line, and then turned to walk back into the woods. By then I had my bow in my hand and grunted, then snort wheezed at him. He swung around, instantly alert, then turned once again and headed for the woods. I tried again with the same result, but decided not to push it any further and let the buck go.

Back at camp, we looked at my pictures and dubbed the buck “the big nine” since it appeared that he was a 5×4 and would probably score somewhere in the 160s. Just the kind of deer I was looking for.

Hoping the area with the big nine had calmed down a bit, we headed for that area the next morning. Based on the poor response from the buck on the previous encounter, we decided to add a decoy to the mix. As we headed into the gloom, Trevor walked slightly ahead of me carrying the decoy. Suddenly the ground exploded under his feet as he stepped on a covey of quail. One of the little feathered missiles went straight for my head, apparently trying to take out my eyes. Luckily, I was wearing glasses so he just bounced off my face. I carried on, thankful that eagles didn’t sleep in coveys.

This young 4x4 buck is sizing up the decoy.
This young 4×4 buck is sizing up the decoy.

I saw several deer as the morning progressed, including a few small bucks. Then in mid-morning I spotted blaze orange in the distance. A group of men were walking the line, disconnecting sensors. I couldn’t believe it; once again the area was being invaded. They passed, but the deer activity dropped to nothing. Later, in mid-afternoon a white SUV drove around the property to the North and I didn’t see anything for the rest of the day.

The next morning found me headed back to the area with the big nine. As the morning progressed, I watched a nice 120-class 4×4 try to intimidate the decoy and had a few does wandering around. I even managed to spot a black and white llama in the distance. But mid-morning carried the sound of beeping from the oil vehicles to me. It was like fingernails on a chalkboard. Then camo-clad hunters on the next property suddenly appeared, talking loudly and obviously looking for blood. I’ll admit I felt totally deflated with all the activity and the possibility he had taken the big nine. I texted Trevor and asked for a move to another stand.

The last day of my hunt was here. I decided that it was going to be the big nine or nothing, as there was no way I was moving. I saw three bucks on the move in the morning, including a large typical 5×6 with a kicker. As the buck approached me, I had every intention of shooting him, but the possibility of taking the big nine found me trading bow for camera as the buck postured fifteen yards away.

Just before noon, a group of men filed past, doing something to the sensors. One of them kindly yelled to me a hundred yards away to make sure I saw his orange vest. I guess he figured I might not have heard the loud music playing. I gritted my teeth and waved to him. There were more vehicles wandering around throughout the afternoon, but I decided to roll the dice anyway.

I looked at my watch and saw that sunset was only a little more than an hour away. The area had settled down and I hoped for the best. That’s when the big nine made his appearance.

After hearing the noise from my seat, and standing there forever, the buck finally relaxed and I started breathing again. He approached the fence sixty yards away and effortlessly jumped over it. He started walking directly toward me and I knew the decoy was about to come into play. As soon as the buck spotted the decoy, his attitude changed completely. He was no longer out for an afternoon stroll; he was immediately ready for battle. He puffed up, started licking his lips and increased his pace.

As he approached the decoy, he started walking sideways with his ears laid back. Unfortunately for me that meant he was practically facing me. He got to within a few yards of the decoy and smelled something he didn’t like. He recoiled a few steps and quartered away slightly. Afraid he would bolt, and seeing my opportunity, I immediately drew my Matthews S2 and shot as quickly as possible.

The author and his Big Nine which turned out to be a big 5x5 buck.
The author and his Big Nine which turned out to be a big 5×5 buck.

The buck spun around and headed for cover. He never made it, staggering to the ground within about eighty yards. Having the hunt come down to the waning minutes and taking that buck was a little overwhelming. I sat down heavily in the seat and reached for my phone. After several failed attempts, I managed to text Trevor, “BBD.” He didn’t respond in two seconds, so I called. The first words out of my mouth were, “I got him!”

Trevor was only a few miles away and we were soon admiring the magnificent buck. Once we got a good look at the buck, he was actually a basic 5×5 with a couple of kickers and a lot of mass. I couldn’t have been happier. The potential for great bucks like that is what keeps me coming back to Kansas.—Glenn Bingham

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