Hunting > Whitetails

A Rifle Hunter's First Bowhunting Buck (Page 2)

A rifle hunter catches the bowhunting bug, becomes a better hunter and bags a fiancé along the way. Still, her hardest-earned “trophy” will be a mature whitetail buck.

Naturally, on the last day I knew I should have tried for one of the management deer I’d seen with both antlers. I got my break when a mature 8-point stepped out at 18 yards. But just as I drew, coyotes yipped their way onto the scene and the buck split. I left Kansas seeking round three.

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In the meantime, somehow knowing I needed all the help I could get, Mathews, Easton and NAP launched some incredibly innovative products for 2012, starting with Mathews’ Jewel bow that had me outshooting my Z-7. With this backing, 2012 had to be my year. Besides, three is the charm. I’d drawn my third Kansas tag but hoped to drop a buck before that hunt on my brother, Joe’s, property in Maryland. It was Nov. 3 and bucks were already trolling for does. I ranged landmarks, feeling especially good about the 30-yard tree straight ahead and set my sight on 30.

As does nibbled along a 39-yard trail in front of me, a mature 7-point came from my right on the same path. He stopped, I shot … and missed. Frustratingly, I’d forgotten to move my sight to my 40-yard mark and the shiny new Easton arrow flew harmlessly under his chest. Clearly that trail was the hotspot, so I moved my sight to 40. Adrenaline surged as a larger buck approached from the same spot. He stopped at my 30-yard tree—broadside. Dream shot. My Jewel felt like an extension of my body. This time the arrow flew over the buck. Old habits die hard. Intent on the perfect shot, I never moved my sight to 30. Clearly I thought bows were rifles, good out to 200 yards.

I’d had enough. Stomping back down the ladder, I pondered “the sureness of the gun”—certain the buck was the big 9 on Joe’s trail-cam. Who makes the same mistake twice in 10 minutes? I’d purposely opted for a TruGlo single-pin adjustable sight over its multiple-yardage-pin counterparts so I wouldn’t use the wrong pin, and I still messed up. Fortunately, Kansas—and the chance to redeem myself—were up next.

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Daydreams of the Sunflower State kept me in the game. Plus Phil, Mike and Steve had leased 43,000 adjoining acres where the genetic line of Phil’s giant exists. With Phil’s outfitting background, he suggested they manage the property for big bucks and turn it into a hunting operation. They predicted the hunting would be unbelievable, especially once Mike and Steve took their bucks—Mike’s in the 160s and Steve’s a jaw-dropping 193. That got me thinking. …

“Hey, Phil, wouldn’t it be neat if my first archery buck were my biggest buck ever?”
“Yeah …wouldn’t it?” he answered, adding, “You just might beat your 148 here.”
Unfortunately, Kansas remained under drought conditions. I’d try for the first mature buck with both antlers. Phil wanted me to shoot first so I had to force him to carry his bow. “If the buck’s really big, shoot it for your show,” I said. “Plus, what if a buck comes in out of my range?”

The first one to pass our treestand was an old 140-class 10-point following a doe at 20 yards. I checked my sight was on 20, drew and settled my pin. But as I squeezed the trigger, the buck lunged at the doe as bucks often do during the rut. This time my arrow flew harmlessly behind the buck.

The next morning, we switched to a Double Bull blind out in the open near a crop circle a mile from the river. It was dark when we got inside. Before we could see our sights, a huge, heavy 9-point walked past the blind. An hour later we saw another large buck at 200 yards. We’d put in our time here. Unfortunately, neither of us had a mule deer tag when a parade of muleys with a couple giants passed us heading to the crop circle.

After lunch in camp we came around the corner and saw by far the biggest buck I’d ever seen—a true Kansas giant pushing 190 inches as a 9-point with 16-inch G2s and 30-inch beams. He stood at 90 yards just long enough to be cemented in our memories. With two jumps he disappeared into the sandhills, heading toward our blind. But we never saw him or even one mature whitetail.

The next morning we glassed from a high point searching for the giant. Before lunch, the temperature dipped well below freezing. Phil was excited about the cold snap, confident it would drive more deer to feed. Hiking to the blind, we came over a rise and saw a large group of whitetails strung out on their way to the crop circle, the biggest of which Phil said had never been seen—a wide-racked, heavy-bodied buck with great brow tines. The magic of the rut. The deer saw us, too, and flagged back into the sandhills. Phil predicted the cold would bring them back before dark.

For three hours we didn’t see a deer. Then one of our small muley groups showed.
“I bet the whitetails are watching and will feel comfortable coming down here now that other deer are in the field,” Phil said. Minutes later, three does and a couple small bucks were in front of us feeding without a clue. Phil peeked out the side of the blind and whispered, “Pick up your bow.” By his tone, I knew it was something good.

When the buck emerged, I saw he was heavy-beamed but asked, “He’s old enough, right?”
“He’s plenty old,” Phil said.

I didn’t realize how large the buck’s body was. Sidestepping any buck fever, I glanced at his rack only long enough to know it was above average. My heart pounded hard as I drew. Before I shot, the buck lunged at one of the does and ran her behind the blind. Another opportunity gone.

Then I heard him grunt. The doe returned with the buck on her tail at 20 yards. I drew again. With two younger bucks standing 10 yards away, my buck bristled and charged. I let down again. Now he was quartering away, watching the doe: “Draw and shoot,” Phil said.

I hit my anchor point knowing I had him. I came up from the buck’s offside leg, got into the lower third of his rib cage and squeezed. He bolted 90 yards, stopped, took one step and dropped.

All the while I was pulling on Phil’s arm while he was trying to film, saying, “I got him good, I got him good, right?” I flew out of the blind. Not until I had the buck’s antlers in my hands did I realize the quality of the whitetail I’d shot.

“Did you know the buck was this big?” I asked.

“Of course I did,” he answered.

I asked why he didn’t shoot it. “You’ve put in so much time, and never complained about the cold or long hours,” he said, “you deserved this buck.”

We’d recently gotten engaged, so I replied, “If I weren’t going to marry you before I’d marry you now because I realize the gift you’ve given me—and you still have a tag in your pocket!”

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The bowhunting gods rewarded Phil the next evening with the high-160s 9-point that passed our blind before shooting light two days earlier. After two other hunters dropped their bucks, that made six for six—ranging from the 150s to Steve’s 193. I’d say that’s a little above-average success rate for a bunch of bowhunters. I told Phil I was so happy I didn’t care if I ever got another buck.

“Then who’s going to shoot your giant in the sandhills?” he asked.

Looks like I’ll be spending more Thanksgivings in Kansas.

Bowhunt Giant Whitetails
Kansas draws hunters aplenty each year as one of the nation’s top 10 B&C states for trophy whitetails and mule deer. If you want to hunt western Kansas on more than 45,000 acres and 15 miles of river bottom property on an exclusive lodge-based hunt with rifle, muzzleloader or bow, contact: Unleashed Adventures; 337-552-6000; philphillips unleashed.com. Phil and the guys will set you up on your trophy hunt and also assist you in applying for your Kansas nonresident either-sex whitetail or mule deer tag by the April 25, 2014, deadline.

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