“Where’s he going?” I asked Jim. Toward a band of 10 does, as things turned out. They’d been lying near another windmill about 700 yards from ours all afternoon and we hadn’t seen them.
“How do they do that?” I added.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “The real question is how are we going to get him?”
The answer was “crawl.” While Jim kept tabs on the herd, I belly-crawled 500 yards through grass tall enough to hide my knees, but not much else. When the deer finally noticed me, they couldn’t figure out what I was. A coyote? They pranced closer, and when my laser rangefinder indicated the buck was at 240 yards, I sat up and took him on his final dinner date. The ability to shoot long is a virtue in Nebraska. Despite all the new brush and forests plenty of vast, open grasslands and fields remain, and whitetails forage and even bed in them. Even where riparian brush is thick, whitetails take to the open.
That’s where Justin and I found my first big LWRO buck in 2010. Despite discovering pounded trails, massive rubs and wide scrapes in the river forests, we found no big bucks. Small ones crossed our paths or foraged in bottomland fields. We even rattled in a couple of young bucks, but the old-timers were on the bison prairies associated with irrigated alfalfa fields.
“All these does have got to lure in the big bucks,” Justin said each day as we glassed fields with dozens of animals, including mule deer, coyotes, ducks, geese and grouse. Then we found a massive 4x4 that two of Justin’s earlier hunters had missed.
We went prospecting for him about 1.5 miles into the grassland. Deer feeding in the alfalfa were hiking deep into the grass to bed in pockets of plum brush. We sat on a barren hillside and watched a shallow waterway they followed back toward the fields. A dozen, including three good bucks, filed past. Then we rattled a tall, fairly heavy 4x4 inside of 100 yards.
“This one looks like him, but not quite heavy enough,” Justin explained. “Must be his younger brother.”
We let him walk. Not 10 minutes later, Justin spotted the older brother.
“That’s him. Take a look.”
I took a look. “Let’s go get him,” I said.
We tried. We couldn’t. The old buck was feeding in the alfalfa, surrounded by other deer. There was no way to approach him without alarming half the field.
The next morning, in a world rimmed with frost, we drove toward that field in the half-light and spotted a blocky buck with four does in another alfalfa field. It was him. We drove out of sight, approached from behind a shelterbelt, crawled 150 yards through tall grass and settled behind a pile of old farm machinery.
“He’s at 250 yards. Hurry. Get on him. He’s moving off.”
Indeed he was. He wasn’t spooked, but hurrying after a doe that was walking directly away from us. My Model 70 .30-06 was zeroed for 250 yards. I twisted the Bushnell Elite to 8X, held the crosshair on the lower chest and sent the 150-grain Winchester Bonded bullet flying. The buck jumped, trotted and stopped.
“You got him. Watch him fall.”
But he didn’t. Instead he started walking again—without wobbling.
“Better give him another.”
That shot fell low and woke me up; I had 250 yards stuck in my head. The buck had been walking away, and they cover ground deceptively fast.
“What’s the range?” I asked.
Justin’s rangefinder read 287 yards. I held high shoulder and landed the third shot where I should have put the first.
“Come back next year,” Justin said. “We’ll have more—and bigger.” He wasn’t kidding. Two hours into my 2011 hunt I spotted, stalked and shot a buck that grossed greater than 150. It was one of the smaller ones in Justin’s trail-camera gallery.
Too bad the University of Nebraska isn’t choosing a team mascot today. Go Whitetails! Nebraska rising.