When someone refers to me as a “professional hunter” it’s a lot like fingernails on a blackboard! The title of “PH” connotes long apprenticeship and proper licensing in far-off places. I’m just a gunwriter, and happy to be just that. However, I’ve done enough guiding to know that I lack the patience to do it full-time! Fortunately, I don’t have to—but I do enjoy matching wits with the whitetails on our Kansas farm.
Working the food plots and setting the stands is fun, and trying to figure out (“guess” is a better term) which stands are most likely to produce is interesting—and frustrating—sort of like playing chess. All of our couple dozen stands are in pretty good places. All can produce, but not necessarily on any given day. All the stands that have been in place for a while have produced, but certainly not on just any sitting. Our short 12-day rifle season is fixed, always starting the Wednesday after Thanksgiving. That means we can’t do anything about the moon phase. Check a lunar calendar and we can know what the moon phase will be next season and five seasons from now! We also can’t do anything about the weather. We hope for clear, cool, and calm, but it will be what it will be.
Most of the time it’s fun. Neighbor and partner Chuck Herbel and I have twice-daily conferences, setting the great strategy of where we’ll put our hunters. Decisions are based on wind and weather, and also the physical capabilities of our hunters. We have a mix of covered “Texas-style” blinds — comfortable and out of the weather — plus a whole bunch of two-person ladder stands, sturdy and safe, but very exposed. Those are not for everyone, and when it gets cold, they’re miserable! No worries, we have choices. We try to make them intelligently but, really, it’s all guesswork, and the final moves on the chess board are up to the deer.
That’s when it gets tense. After the hunters are all on stand there’s nothing to be done except wait, hoping to hear a shot or get a call. Neither system is foolproof. Our oak ridges do weird things to sound. No stands are all that far from either my house or Chuck’s, so you’d think we could pinpoint where a shot comes from, but experience has shown that we cannot. We don’t get it right half the time, and we’re usually most wrong when we’re absolutely certain. Hills and trees mess up cell coverage, too, so the primary plan is to get a call or text if DRS (that’s “Deer Recovery System”) is needed, but sometimes there’s a deer down and we don’t know it until we go for pickup at the pre-arranged time.
So, in the early morning hours and that magic final hour before dark, we wait and hope. As our five-day hunts wind down, the tension increases. Sometimes, I’ll take a leftover stand after all the hunters are out. On the third evening of this past season, I took “Power Line,” a treestand on a power line (duh) that crosses a ridge just above my house. It was calm and cool, but I heard only a couple of distant shots. I saw a decent eight-pointer right away — too young — and then a couple of little guys. Power Line is a shadowy place, and with cloud cover dark came early. Just after sunset I heard rustling in leaves behind me. Two bucks—but it was already too dim in the trees to count points. I was done, so when they moved off, I climbed down and hiked toward the house.
Standing in the driveway, I looked at my watch. Four minutes legal shooting left, and then I heard a shot to the north, not far. It almost had to be young Travis Folkman, at “Taj” overlooking a major food plot. With a long east-west axis, that field holds light until the last minute. I glanced back at my watch and verified with my cell phone. Yep, plenty legal!
This was one of those rare instances where I was correct. A minute later I got a text and jumped in a four-wheeler to see what we had. Travis was there to meet me, as was his buck — a nice eight-pointer — no giant but a solid deer. Travis dashed up and said, sheepishly, “Uh, sorry, I think I shot a bit late.”
I should have said, “The game warden is on his way…” but I didn’t think fast enough. Instead I told him he had at least two minutes to spare and we had a good laugh.
Funny, 48 hours later I didn’t even hear Jason Morton’s shot! Jason’s an old friend and VP-Marketing for CZ-USA in Kansas City. He’s been coming down for several years. He’s taken deer, but we haven’t shown him the kind of buck he’s been looking for. Our first group all planned to leave Sunday morning, so Jason drove down from KC, arriving at midday. That meant he had the place to himself. If anything, that makes the decision harder. Naturally, we don’t think we have any bad stands. But we had one spot where somebody needed to sit.
Ron Silverman shot his buck opening morning. That evening, sitting for a doe, he saw a really nice buck, described as mature and very big, maybe an eight-point frame. Ron watched him for 20 minutes, but Kansas is a one-buck state, so all he could do was watch and kick himself for shooting too quickly. Nicole Folkman, Travis’s sister, saw him the next night but couldn’t get a shot. She also described him as big and mature. He hadn’t been seen again, but there was a fair chance he’d show up again eventually, so somebody needed to sit that stand.
Since Jason was our only hunter on that Sunday evening, our recommendation was easy. Problem is, Jason knows the area and most of our stands, and has his preferences. That spot, even with its new Redneck blind, isn’t one of Jason’s favorites, but this time he agreed to listen to his guides!
Nobody heard him shoot. As sundown neared, I was at my house a long mile away. Chuck was closer, in his house, but we weren’t listening hard. Jason had long proven he was picky. None of us expected him to shoot, certainly not on his first afternoon. Chuck texted me about ten minutes after sundown, “Jason shot a buck.”
That of course, initiated our DRS and our curiosity. If Jason shot this buck on his first night, it must be a pretty good buck! It was, and it was one of those rare animals that just keeps getting bigger the closer you get. It was “only” an eight-pointer, but high, wide, heavy and, according to the tape, right at 160 inches. It was a good buck anywhere wild whitetails are hunted, but as a clean eight-point is a gorgeous buck. We assume it was the same big buck Ron and Nicole saw, but who knows? I just wish we could show every hunter a buck like that!–Craig Boddington