Spot and Stalk Bowhunting for Whitetails

Not all Kansas whitetails are arrowed by hunters waiting in treestands and ground blinds. With the right conditions, spot and stalk bowhunting can be deadly, too.

Spot and Stalk Bowhunting for Whitetails

Photo courtesy of Hoyt Archery Facebook

Doyle Shipp and I were bowhunting southern Kansas during the peak of the November deer rut, and we saw plenty of bucks. Our friend and outfitter, Clay Corbett, had set up access to several private properties in the area, and there was also abundant hunting available on public land managed specifically for wildlife. The country was a weird hodgepodge of farm fields, thick shelterbelts, rolling grassland and powder-dry sandhills. There were deer everywhere, but bowhunting methods had to be tailored to specific kinds of terrain.

On the second day of scouting, we found a heavily used scrape and rub line along an alfalfa field. The edge was thick with wild plum brush, stunted cottonwoods and waist-high grass. There were also occasional evergreen trees, but none were downwind from deer travel corridors. The best we could do with a chain-on treestand was cinching it around several wrist-thick trunks of a plum bush. The stand was only 6 feet above the ground because the limbs were too small and limber higher up. But Doyle was able to claw his way to the stand and sit without swaying too much in the Kansas wind.

On the fourth day of our adventure, Doyle was daydreaming on that platform around 9 a.m. Most deer he’d seen were moving before sunrise and after sundown, but you never know about a rutting whitetail buck. Doyle had decided to stick it out all day, every day, so that he didn’t miss any action. The heavy sign beneath his stand indicated a lot of deer moving around, and he was seeing different bucks each day. So far, nothing had been larger than medium-sized 6-points and 8-points — smaller than the solid Pope and Young buck my pal was hoping for.

 

The Rut Heats Up

Doyle told me later he was nearly dozing in the unusually warm fall weather when he heard a stick crack. He looked down just in time to see huge antlers floating past in the high grass.

By the time Doyle could grab his bow, the buck was already 50 yards away and cruising fast. It was like a nightmare. But my quick-thinking buddy let go two frantic blasts on his grunt call. Like magic, the buck wheeled on a dime and swaggered straight to the stand, ears back and hair standing up along the neck. Doyle thumped the buck at less than five yards, driving an arrow almost straight down through the chest. The buck raced off and collapsed 100 yards away.

Doyle was almost doing backflips when I drove in after his cell-phone call. His giant buck had narrow but impossibly tall antlers with five even tines per side plus three short bonus points on the right side. It gross-scored precisely 164 inches and net-scored over 160 inches. This was by far Doyle’s best whitetail with a bow.

Doyle Shipp’s tall-tined Kansas buck almost slipped away before he grunt-called it back under his low-hanging treestand. The warm-weather buck net-scored 160 record-book points.
Doyle Shipp’s tall-tined Kansas buck almost slipped away before he grunt-called it back under his low-hanging treestand. The warm-weather buck net-scored 160 record-book points.

After a photo session and the butchering chores, Doyle took a nap while I got back to business. After sitting in my own treestand on the first morning, I had glassed up a beautiful, wide-antlered 5x6 whitetail in the barren sandhills that afternoon. That deer was giving me fits. The weather was so warm, I abandoned my favorite green beanie in favor of a camo baseball cap. Yet despite the heat, and thanks to the open country, I found the buck every morning after some serious glassing. I tried one or two stalks each day, but most times, I had to back away because a final approach was impossible. I didn’t want to scare the animal out of the country.

 

Slow and Easy

I knew I could climb into Doyle’s stand or the one I had already used on day one. I would almost certainly see a decent buck. But I had my heart set on the 5x6. Besides, spot-and-stalk is my all-time favorite method with a bow. I’ve spent plenty of time in deer stands, and I’ve taken some good-sized whitetails from ambush spots. But when push comes to shove, I prefer more active hunting whenever possible.

I grew up in northern California, where cagey blacktail deer moved erratically and made stand hunting impractical. When I bow-bagged my first buck in the Golden State at age 16, the published success rate for archery deer hunters was a dismal 3%. Bowhunting blacktails was definitely the “school of hard knocks.” Still, I learned to creep along the ground, be patient and eventually set up a shot.

According to official statistics from the Pope and Young Club, nearly 90% of record-sized whitetails are taken from treestands or ground blinds. I kept running this through my mind as I chased the big Kansas buck. I was not just creeping in the sandhills — I was often slithering on my belly like a snake. My clothes, hair, and even ears were full of fine brown sand each night, and that’s not to mention plenty of spines from low-growing cactus that dotted terrain. Yet still no buck after four long days of trying.

My best chance had come two mornings before. I planted my fanny on a high sandhill, locked my elbows inside my knees, and started peering through my 10X binocular. Within minutes, the buck I was after appeared 300 yards away. He was dogging a doe and continued to gallop and strut in huge circles as she ran him ragged across the sand. The pair was in full view at least half the time.

Finally, the two deer slowed in the warmish morning weather and bedded on the north side of a plum bush. I started to crawl and eventually wriggled inside 40 yards. I peered through the only bush between us and realized the doe’s head was completely hidden behind a cluster of limbs. The buck was dozing and dead broadside, his chin on the ground. Perfect!

I typically avoid shots at bedded bucks, but this guy was perched on a pedestal of sand with vitals fully exposed. Likewise, I dislike shooting at whitetails beyond 20 or 25 yards because they are so prone to jump the bowstring. But this buck was relaxed with his eyes closed. Pope and Young statistics show that about 15% of big whitetails have been taken beyond 30 yards, and about 5% beyond 40 yards. Many of those deer were hunted at ground level in open terrain like this.

One tiny limb crossed the buck’s ribcage, but I figured I could slip a shot past it. I rolled to my knees, drew low, and took the 39-yard shot.

 

“Twang!”

My broadhead smacked the finger-sized limb and careened into space. In typical whitetail fashion, both deer leaped from their beds and raced away without looking back.

At nearly 40 yards, I decided I could not deliberately hit that little limb even if I shot a dozen times. In bowhunting, I believe Murphy’s Law is a joke. When it comes to cagey critters like whitetail deer, Murphy was definitely an optimist!

Photo courtesy of Hoyt Archery Facebook
Photo courtesy of Hoyt Archery Facebook

A Cooling Trend

As often happens in late-fall Kansas, tee-shirt weather suddenly turned sour on the fifth night of our trip. The morning of November 23 was well below freezing, with ice on the pond beside the farmhouse where our friend Clay Corbett had arranged for us to stay. I half envied Doyle as he slept while I slipped on heavy winter wear, including double stocking caps over my ears.

The wind was slicing like a knife when I trudged from the pickup to a vantage point in the sand, and my face quickly went numb as freezing air ripped past my head. Deer were tucked into hollows like ticks, and I saw only two spike bucks during a whole hour of glassing.

I was nearly back to the truck for some heater time and a mug of coffee when antlers flashed 200 yards away. It was the 5x6, easing along a ridge by himself!

The buck vanished in a dip with slopes all around. I glassed with cold fingers for 20 minutes but could not find the buck. I hustled to the edge, dropped to my hands and knees, and crept ahead for a peek.

Antlers appeared to the left, and my heart leaped to my throat. But it was only a small, bedded 6-point. The deer was barely 20 yards away, but the wind direction was right, and a shallow cut in the sand let me weasel farther ahead. A few minutes later, I raised one eyeball above a bush.

Massive antlers loomed directly in front of me above another bush! I guessed 30 yards, rolled to my knees, and drew the bow. The little buck blew out of his bed 10 yards to one side, and the big boy stood up in confusion. He was perfectly broadside, and he looked directly away!

I aimed, dumped the bowstring, and watched the arrow impact six inches behind the shoulder. The deer ran in a frantic semicircle and collapsed.

The author’s Kansas whitetail led him on a merry chase before he managed to creep and crawl inside bow range in suddenly freezing November weather.
The author’s Kansas whitetail led him on a merry chase before he managed to creep and crawl inside bow range in suddenly freezing November weather.

My Kansas whitetail gross-scored a touch over 160 and net-scored a touch under 150. Not quite as large as Doyle’s, but ask me if I cared. Our climb and creep bowhunt was a smashing success, and I can hardly wait to do it all again!


Author’s note: For a terrific bowhunt for giant Kansas whitetails, the author highly recommends Clay Corbett. He offers excellent accommodations and prime deer habitat. Visit www.claysguideservice.com for more info.



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.