It was a bit after noon and I was settled in for what in all likelihood would be a several hour wait. Perhaps half an hour had gone by when I spotted movement about 300 yards away through the trees. My initial impression was that of a big deer and I felt certain it was “Bruce.” I grabbed my sticks and my rifle and slowly set up for a shot.
I was staying with J.W. Simonson and his wife Cindy, hunting whitetails in the sand hill region of central Nebraska. I hunted with J.W. in 2013, but the deer herd was suffering after a significant bout with Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD). Following that hunt, we arranged for another hunt in a few years to allow the herd to recover.
Fast forward three years and I was in Kansas for a muzzleloader hunt in mid-September. J.W. suggested that I grab my bow and head to Nebraska if I tagged out early. He had a big mature 4×5 patterned and he thought there was a pretty good chance of having a shot at him. As luck would have it, I did get a nice buck in Kansas and drove to Nebraska for a few days of bowhunting.
J.W. described the buck that he and guide Tyler Teahon had patterned. He was a big 6 ½-year-old 4×5 with heavy antlers. Tyler named the buck “Bruce” after watching him the previous year chasing younger bucks off a patch of turnips. It was obvious that he was “The Boss.” Being a Springsteen fan, the name “Bruce” stuck.
That evening we set up on a hill about a mile away to glass Bruce’s bedding area. From above the valley, J. W. pointed out the original homestead directly to the east and further north, the old cat house, which of course was where a more recent land owner had parked his caterpillar. We spotted Bruce in the thick willows and watched him until sunset.
The following morning was cool and crisp. The wind was right as I made a long circuitous walk to a tree stand in the predawn darkness. I settled in the stand and waited for dawn. At sunrise, I spotted a deer about 350 yards away. A quick look with my binoculars left no doubt that it was Bruce, and he was meandering in my direction.
He disappeared behind some cottonwood branches and was out of sight for about five minutes when a loud truck bustled up an adjoining dirt road. Immediately, Bruce broke into the open at a dead run. He galloped by me at about 70 yards and vanished into his sanctuary. I waited on the stand a bit longer, but I knew that he was not going to make a return visit. I had one more encounter with Bruce during the next two mornings, but there was no chance for a shot. He skirted by a hundred yards to the east and faded into the willows. That encounter ended my bowhunt, but boosted my enthusiasm for my upcoming rifle hunt in mid-November.
The two months went by quickly and I found myself on the same hill with J.W. the evening before opening day of rifle season. J.W. explained that Bruce had moved to the south along the drainage and had established his domain in the same area as he had the previous year. As we began to glass, a buck and a doe walked out of a small patch of cedars 400 yards below us. Unbelievably, it was Bruce. He had bulked up considerably and had a few tines broken off, but he was still a very impressive buck. He calmly fed in the field with the doe for the rest of the evening.
Opening day found us back on the hill as the world came to life. The temperature was in the mid-twenties and the wind was blowing around 20 mph. We spotted Bruce as soon as it became light enough to see. We, however, had a problem with a Jekyll and Hyde theme. Bruce was an entirely different buck, running around frantically looking for a hot doe. He made a loop to the north for a mile and then back, weaving around to the point that it was difficult to keep track of him.
By mid-morning he had finally worn himself out and bedded in thick cover along the streambed. We decided that even though the wind was marginal, I should head down to the cedars and spend the rest of the day there with the hope that the buck would appear within shooting range at some point during the day.
I made a loop to stay out of view and slowly crept into the cedars, eventually setting up at the corner of a fence. I had lost a lot of elevation, and my visibility was severely limited, but it seemed like a good bet that Bruce would eventually walk within range. Tyler and J.W. stayed up on the hill and took turns keeping tabs on the buck while I tried not to nap.
At one point, a nice 4 ½-year-old 5×5 walked across the field and headed up the hill. I lost track of him, but an hour later, he suddenly sprinted out of the cedars about ten yards away from me. Talking to J.W. later, the buck had been in the cedars with me for about twenty minutes before he realized his mistake and vacated, post haste.
Late in the afternoon, I spotted Bruce as he stepped into an opening about 350 yards away and started walking away from me. Then he turned and started walking at an angle that would bring him into the field about 200 yards away. I kept tabs on him through the willows until he was about 300 yards away and lost him in the thick stuff.
I was on a solid rest as Bruce broke into the open. The only problem was that he was 400 yards away instead of 200. The wind was pounding me as I tried to steady the crosshairs on the buck as he quickly walked across the field and ran a few does around on the side of the hill. As he paused to jump a fence, I was reasonably steady, but decided against a shot. The wind was just moving me around too much. I watched as Bruce continued his quest to the south and disappeared from view.
The next morning, it was ten degrees warmer, but still breezy. Dawn found us right back on the same hill. We spotted “Mako,” a 4 ½-year-old 5×5 with great mass. He had been in a serious battle that had broken off his left main beam right at the base. We saw him the day before, as well, calmly keeping company with a doe all day. Following the Jekyll and Hyde theme, he was now on the prowl, making frenetic loops up and down the valley below us until mid-day. We also spotted “Big Broke,” a mile to the north. Big Broke was a massive 5×5 with several kickers. He was also quite a scrapper, always breaking his rack up, hence the name.
We stayed high all day, moving around from time to time to view some new territory. While we saw several bucks, including some mule deer, we never spotted Bruce. Occasionally we would watch a buck push a doe into the hills, and J.W. speculated that perhaps Bruce had done the same thing. With virtually mile upon mile of sand hills, he could have been anywhere.
The third day of the hunt was mild with a light wind. We again made our way up the hill and began to glass. Through the predawn gloom, I spotted a deer a half-mile away that had the right shape to be Bruce. A few more moments brought him a bit closer and I was sure it was him. We tracked his movements for an hour and came up with a plan for me to make a loop to the south, cross the stream and set up on the eastern side of the valley. That would get the wind right for the rest of the day, and hopefully Bruce would make an appearance within range.
I got packed up and ready to go, but J.W. suggested that we observe Bruce a bit longer since he was wandering all over the place. That was great advice, as Bruce suddenly headed into the sand hills to the east. He walked in a long loop that would have put him right in the path I was planning on walking. Finally, he made his way back into the valley and into the willows.
By mid-morning he had settled down and began to feed. We watched him until he vanished in a stand of cottonwoods. We felt like he had bedded down and we made a plan to drive a few miles to the north, and approach the trees from the east. We parked about a half mile away and began to walk toward the cottonwoods, picking up about 50 curious cows along the way. They followed us all the way to a fence line that was within shooting distance of the trees.
With the cows making a semi-circle around us, we crawled to the fence and began to glass. After carefully picking apart every twig and log, we couldn’t see anything even resembling a deer. I told J.W. that I would like to get into a position where I didn’t have to shoot through the grass. I crawled under the fence and another twenty yards to get into position.
After spotting the deer through the trees, I found it in my scope and could see everything but the head. After an eternity, the deer took a step forward and my heart leapt in my throat. I recognized the tall heavy antlers in an instant. I forced myself to wait until he took another few steps and centered the crosshairs on his vitals.
The squeeze felt good as the recoil rocked me back and I was sure that I heard the bullet strike home. I frantically tried to find the buck, but I only saw a few does bust out of the cover. After looking for a while, I turned and asked J.W. where he had gone. J.W. just had a silly grin on his face and shrugged. I learned later that J.W.’s knees had started to hurt, it was mid-day, and the cows were bedding down, so he figured he might as well follow suit.
He had just nicely fallen asleep when the crash of the rifle abruptly ended his slumber. This was followed directly by the sound of a stampede, which he fervently hoped was not pointed in his direction.
J.W. approached, wiping the sleep from his eyes and we discussed the situation. I felt good about the shot and suggested that we take a walk into the cottonwoods to see what we could find. I was just starting to get nervous when I spotted him just ahead of me. I called to J.W. and told him that I had found him. He was everything that I thought he was, with a huge body and big heavy antlers. I could not have been more pleased.
J.W. is a cattle rancher who takes just a few lucky whitetail and mule deer hunters out a year. It’s obvious that he doesn’t do it for the money; he just really enjoys trying to outwit the big boys and give his clients a great hunt. He believes in quality over quantity and specializes in taking truly mature deer. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay with the Simonson’s and expect to do so for many years to come.–Glenn Bingham