After four days of some of the coldest weather the Midwest had experienced in decades – temperatures were in single digits at dawn, the chill multiplied by steady winds of 10-20 mph with blowing snow putting an exclamation point on the misery – the afternoon of November 13 appeared to be ideal. The winds had calmed and the mercury slowly rose into the upper 20s.
My buddy Derrick Nawrocki had recommended the spot where my stand was hung. The previous year he had observed deer funneling in and out of the creek in this location, so when we arrived on site we made a quick scouting foray and bingo! Fresh tracks on several trails met at this junction, and there was a fresh scrape just below the tree we chose for our perch.
During the previous three days I’d seen some deer – not a ton, but this was not a bedding area. Instead it was a travel corridor where the bucks used the sheltered creek to move between agricultural areas that held the girls. On day two I’d watched a whopper 8-point make a huge scrape and tear a tree to shreds not 20 yards from me, then chase a doe up and out within 10 yards of my stand. Trouble was, he was a 140-something stud with his entire left main beam broken off at the base.
That afternoon I sweetened his scrape with a healthy shot of Code Blue Platinum Doe Estrous, and when I returned the next morning my heart raced into overdrive. The scrape had doubled in size, and there was another large, fresh scrape not 20 yards away. I know conventional wisdom says ignore scrapes during peak rut, but how can you see that kind of smoking hot sign and not buckle in for the duration?
And so, I fired up a couple of handwarmers, got comfortable and enjoyed a quiet afternoon watching the world go by interspersed with a little reading of the kind of trashy paperback novel I take to help pass the time. Then things got interesting in a hurry.
At 4:30 p.m. a 1½-year-old spike buck and doe strolled in and started feeding under a big locust tree 30 yards away. The pair was soon joined by a lone doe, who paused in her travels long enough to munch a little before she moved off into the chest-high CRP weeds to the west.
When the little buck locked his eyes to the south (off to my right), I wondered what had got his attention. I could not see over the edge of the creek bank, and my eyes were like windshield wipers as they went from my little buddy to the edge. When the buck he’d been looking at stepped out, my legs started trembling and my hands quivering.
It was like something out of a TV show. His belly sagged and his neck was swollen. The main beam extended almost to the tip of his nose and the bases were massive. There were points missing from fighting, but this time of year in this area I’ve found that not to be unusual as the buck-to-doe ratio is almost perfect. He stood for maybe a minute, steam coming from his nostrils in intermittent puffs, and the sun glistened off his brown coat. Magnificent.
He was only 35 yards away, but screened by a thick tangle of tree limbs. Then he walked toward the other deer, and as he cleared the tree limbs he stopped broadside, staring intently into the CRP. Should have been a slam dunk, except for the fact that as I scooched my body on the seat so I could draw and shoot, the little buck heard me in the still evening air – where is the dang wind when you need it? – so I was paralyzed, forced to let things play themselves out and hope for the best.
Why is it that, at times like this, the mind often goes through some weird thinking? For some reason I flashed on what my old high school football coach told an aspiring young quarterback about the forward pass – three things can happen, two of them bad.
And so it was here. The young buck could punk me, or the big boy could choose to race off into the CRP and chase that doe. Or, he might first decide to come and chase the little buck off the block, which would have him pass me in the wide open at about 30 yards. Be cool, be calm, don’t panic just yet, right? Are you smoking crack? I was shaking like a leaf.
After a couple of minutes, Mr. Big decided he needed to assert his dominance before doing anything else. And so, as he started toward the little buck I came to full draw. As he strutted right in front of me I settled my sight pin on his chest…and that’s when things went to hell in a hand basket.
The setting sun was right on the horizon and directly in front of me. I tried to use the big locust as a shield, to no avail. As the buck slowly walked through the zone I was completely blinded. Are you kidding me? When he got out of the sun spot he had moved 25 yards to the left of my shooting lane, stopping once again to look at the two young deer and standing completely broadside behind an impenetrable screen of limbs.
OK, don’t panic, right? The two young deer appeared to be headed to a little trail that led back down into the creek bottom. If Big Dawg decided to follow them a bit more, I might have a chance. When he took the first step I drew the bow again, and when he was a half-step from a little hole in the limb tangle I mouth-grunted, loudly. By some miracle, he stopped right in that opening and swung his head my way. I was sitting but had to hunker down ever more on the seat. The cover was so thick he couldn’t make me out through the 3-D world of limbs, and when my 30-yard pin floated onto the sweet spot I touched the trigger. The red Nockturnal nock glowed hot as my 430-grain Easton Experimental Deep Six shaft, tipped with a 100-grain Rage Hypodermic broadhead, drove itself through the left scapula and imbedded itself in the off shoulder blade. The buck dropped in his tracks.
I had to sit for a minute or three before the shaking stopped enough to allow me to clip my bow onto the pull rope, drop it to the ground and slowly climb down. There were still 30 minutes of daylight left, and when I reached this majestic deer I knelt quietly beside him, watched day become night and let the entire experience envelope me. I am not a believer of high-fiving or fist-bumping or strutting like a peacock when the good Lord has blessed me. Instead I thought, what a wonderful country we live in that allows us all to experience the wonders of the outdoors as free men and to share it with friends and family and others of like mind.
Next November, I hope to be back at Rader Lodge in the company of good friends, bowhunting the magnificent whitetail deer.
Rader Lodge is located near Glen Elder, Kansas, and offers whitetail deer and spring turkey hunting on more than 25,000 acres spread over several different farms, as well as excellent guided fishing trips on nearby Waconda Lake. Owner Jeff Rader has been deer hunting this area for more than 20 years and has stands set in prime locations. This is Kansas Deer Management Unit 7, known for producing bucks with huge bodies and thick antlers.
The Smoky Hills region of Kansas is characterized by rolling grasslands and lots of deep cuts, creek and river drainages, and agricultural and cattle operations. It’s ideal wildlife habitat. Hunters stay in a rustic lodge and receive home-style meals. Rader also has Wi-Fi in the lodge for those who need to stay connected.
All nonresident deer tags are issued by drawing, with the application period occurring during the month of April. Applications must be submitted either online or over the telephone. Applicants can select a first- and second-choice unit as well as which weapon (bow, rifle or muzzleloader) they wish to hunt with. Jeff Rader can help you with questions, and more information is available at www.kdwpt.state.ks.us/news/Hunting/Applications-and-Fees/Deer.
In 2014, our group of nine bowhunters was challenged for half our hunt by record-setting cold, snow and strong winds. Still, we ended up tagging three bucks gross-scoring over 140 gross Pope & Young points, had two other golden opportunities slip away and two others decided to pass on bucks they thought would score in the low 130s. All things considered, that’s pretty good results for bowhunters targeting whopper whitetails.
Bow: Mathews ChillR, 70-lb. draw weight (www.mathewsinc.com)
Arrows: Easton “Experimental” Deep Six (www.eastonarchery.com)
Nock: Nocktural (www.nockturnal.com)
Fletching: NAP QuikFletch (www.newarchery.com)
Broadhead: 100-grain Rage Hypodermic Deep Six (www.ragebroadheads.com)
Sight: TruGlo (www.truglo.com)
Release: Fuse (www.fusearchery.com)
Clothing: ScentBlocker Apex jacket, pant (www.scentblocker.com)
Daypack: Tenzing TC 1500 (www.tenzingoutdoors.com)
Treestand: Millennium M50 (www.millenniumstands.com)
Rangefinder: Leupold (www.leupold.com)
Binocular:Swarovski 10×42 (www.swarovskioptik.com)
Harness: Hunter Safety System (www.huntersafetysystem.com)
Scent-Eliminating Spray: ScentBlocker Trinity Blast (www.scentblocker.com)
Scents: Code Blue Platinum Standing Estrous (www.codebluescents.com)