by Jeff Johnston - Friday, November 5, 2010
Greg Shaw has hunted several countries and taken numerous species of game over a long lifetime of hunting. In his hometown of Garden City, Kan., he’s legendary. But downtown in his Western wear store called The Crazy House, another man’s collection of huge deer and antelope line the walls.
“Mike Gilbert is the best damn hunter there is,” proclaims Shaw.
I heard of Mr. Gilbert and his hunting prowess via a serious deer-hunting friend in the region, so I made a few phone calls to see if this legend of the hunt was real, and if so, to get a couple tips.
“No, he’s not here; probably scouting,” said Loretta Gilbert. The tone of her voice was matter-of-fact, which gave me the impression she’s issued that message more than a few times during 38 years of marriage to an admitted hunt-aholic. “I really don’t know why he likes it so much,” she said. “But I do know that it’s not so much a hobby as an obsession.”
This isn’t a cleverly disguised Mossy Oak ad, but rather advice to wives-to-be. “Before our wedding, I knew he liked to hunt,” said Mrs. Gilbert. “I just didn’t know how much!”
Fact is, to have consistent success on mature deer like Mike has, a hunter’s got to put in time afield. Gilbert gravitated toward jobs that allowed him the lifestyle; he was the manager of Garden City’s buffalo herd, a gig that let him scout every day for nearly three decades. This, along with skill and Loretta, has allowed him to claim well over 100 deer with a bow, the first 26 of them with a recurve in the mold of his early influence, Fred Bear. And if outwitting big deer with a bow wasn’t consuming enough, he’s also addicted to trophy antelope hunting.
“I’ve taken some good ones over the years,” says the soft-spoken Gilbert, who hunts the plains of western Kansas and eastern Colorado. What he doesn’t offer up is what a Google search does, however: He owned the record for the biggest pronghorn taken with a bow in Kansas—an 814⁄8-inch Pope and Young Club behemoth—for 25 years. It’s currently No. 2. He’s got a 171 B&C whitetail and a pile of monster muleys, too, and he’s also guided for many more record-book-caliber animals, including 15 of Shaw’s best antelope. But it’s some others he remembers best.
“I spotted a huge mule deer off my property, but the land owner wouldn’t let me hunt. So I set up a blind and a decoy near the fence. Soon the giant deer jumped the fence and was standing 4 feet from me. I’ll never know how I missed that one!”
He’s been known to hunt a specific deer for an entire season. A few years back he hunted every day for 14 days in a row, often incubating in a 100-degree ground blind for hours on end. At one point during his vigil, the ranch owner checked on him to make sure he wasn’t dead. Gilbert wasn’t, although he may have smelled that way.
Like so many of the truly obsessed, his behavior might be viewed as strange if it were more visible. One time, while failing to connect on a big whitetail for several days in a row, he concluded that he was reaching his deer stand too late no matter how early he got there. So he actually did what some die-hard hunters have contemplated: He took a sleeping bag to his stand and stayed there all night. (He didn’t kill the deer, but that’s beside the point.) In another example of dedication, he fashioned a ladder and a piece of plywood to a windmill pole and arrowed a 380-inch bull elk after patterning him like a target from a No. 7 high house.
Does Gilbert agree that most people get too worked up over trophy animals? Yes, but he’s got his own justification. He says he lives for the thrill of the hunt, and so he prefers a bow to a rifle and to hold out for “trophy” animals merely to prolong the thrill. “To me, it’s not fun if you kill something every time,” he says. One year he decided he’d try for a 30-point deer. “I never did kill a 30-point, but I passed up a nice 3-point on the last day!”
Today, at age 64, Gilbert is still as serious as a broadhead about hunting, but he’s mellowed a bit in his methods. He uses a 50-pound Mathews Reezen compound bow, and he relies on ground blinds for much of his hunting because he doesn’t slither so well over the prairie anymore. And he’s a whole lot more patient. He now loves to hunt with friends, and he often guides for a rancher in Colorado for fun. He likes to take youths hunting because he realizes it’s the only way our beloved lifestyle will continue. His ethics, however, remain old-school. He doesn’t like high fences or using trail-cams, although he doesn’t care if other hunters do. He is adamant, on the other hand, that tag costs are out of control.
“I understand game departments must make money,” says Gilbert, “but sometimes it’s tougher to get the tag than the animal. In 50 years it may be too expensive for my grandchildren to hunt.” While he’s not exactly sure what can be done about this trend, he is sure about one thing: “There are people who would ban hunting, so being an NRA member is important.” (While posing for the photo in this story Mr. Gilbert was reluctant to go without his favorite NRA hat.) On top of his dedication as a hunter and conservationist, everyone who knows him says he’s just a good guy.
So the next time you’re down around Garden City, stop by The Crazy House and talk some hunting with Mike, if he’s around. Chances are he won’t be, but you can still ogle his trophies—all 22 of them—that adorn the walls. You might say he’s a generous man to give them to his best hunting buddy, Greg Shaw. But Mrs. Gilbert tells a different story: “I told him no more deer heads at our house!”
Gilbert’s Top Tips:
1.) Spend time in the field; if you wait on a perfect wind you may never get to go.
2.) Secure your tags early so you can focus on planning your hunt strategy.
3.) Hunt when deer are moving; Mornings for muleys, vice versa for whitetails.
4.) Scout vigorously! There’s no substitute for knowing the land and game.
5.) If you use a ground blind, put it up a week or more prior to hunting.
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