December 26, 2022
By Danny Farris
I was set up along a field edge, right where the uncut milo transitioned into lush winter wheat. On several occasions I’d watched from a distance as deer emerged from the milo and fed out into the wheat. Several times I had set up a few hundred yards away near a community scrape where I captured photos of a couple of big, mature bucks, but the deer never seemed to make it down that far before the end of shooting light. Today, however, I decided to take a chance and move farther out into the open, closer to where the deer emerged from their beds.
With a Dave Smith 3-D buck decoy positioned about 30 yards out in the ankle-deep winter wheat, I tucked myself into the first row of uncut milo with a Stalker whitetail doe decoy on my bow. When bucks see this setup, they typically assume the 3-D buck has a hot doe pinned down in the brush, and they approach with bad intentions. When using this ground-decoying system, I don’t usually place the 3-D buck that far away. This time, however, I felt it needed to be farther out to maximize visibility, and to hopefully give bucks room to walk between the decoy and me.
The first buck to emerge did so right on top of me. He was less than 10 yards to my left when he popped out of the milo. Upon seeing the 3-D buck, he bristled, but it startled him when he looked right and saw me with my bow-mounted doe at close range. That’s exactly what I don’t want. I want bucks to see my bow-mounted doe from a distance. When they do, they typically write her off and focus on the 3-D buck, giving me ample opportunity to draw and shoot. After being startled, however, this buck didn’t stick around.
A short time later, another buck appeared in the winter wheat, but this time farther out in the field. It was a buck I had on camera, and one that I had already decided to take if given the chance. He spotted my fake doe from a distance as he approached the 3-D buck. With ears pinned, he acted like he was going to follow the script and walk right between the buck decoy and me, but at 30 yards he suddenly changed his mind and turned right at me. I drew my bow as he approached — 25, 20, 15, now 10 yards! He was close enough to be looking down at me, and the milo stalks hiding the turkey chair I was sitting on were no longer providing cover! When he stopped at nine yards and gave me a skeptical head-bob, I had to make a decision.
I often struggle in situations when things don’t go exactly according to plan. When bucks walk in as intended, I typically execute well. When one makes an unanticipated move, especially in the closing moments of truth, I sometimes panic and make less-than-ideal decisions. Strangely enough, this intense moment wasn’t the one that made me panic on this hunt.
I’ve been bowhunting Kansas for over a decade now, and each year it’s one of my most-anticipated trips. I hunt on my own, mostly on walk-in areas I’ve learned over the years. When I first began hunting Kansas, walk-ins seemed to be a well-kept secret. I seldom encountered other hunters and literally had the run of most properties. Over the years, however, due to publicity generated (at least partly) by big-mouthed outdoor writers like yours truly, competition on walk-in areas has become more significant. Most areas that offer traditional deer habitat where stands can be hung, typically have trucks parked at them, so I started concentrating my efforts on sparsely timbered, open areas — I basically hunt pheasant ground.
Of these open areas, there are a couple of hidden gems that I’ve come to rely on for much of my success. Plans A and B for me are two small walk-in areas that most bowhunters drive right by. Unless you’ve ever taken the time to actually get out and walk them, you’d never know the treasures they hide.
My Plan A spot features a deep, weedy bottom where does love to bed. It’s devoid of trees, except for a couple of cedars overlooking the bottom. In 2017, I used my 3-D buck/bow-mounted doe decoying system to arrow one of my biggest bucks to date at just 13 yards. Since then, I’ve returned just about every year, and have experienced some of the best deer encounters of my life as a result.
My Plan B spot is completely devoid of trees and looks like an ordinary low-growth CRP field. In the middle of that field, however, is a depression that hides a deep weed patch. The weedy bottom is about the size of a football field, and deer come from quite a distance to bed there.
In 2018, I spotted a wide-framed buck (that I initially mistook for a mule deer) bedded with a doe in that weed patch. Cameraman Mike Emery and I snuck in on that buck with a Stalker doe decoy on my bow and a Stalker buck decoy on Mike’s camera. We stopped within earshot, and I used a grunt call to pull the buck out of the weeds. When he spotted our fakes, he marched in for a 16-yard shot. He remains the biggest buck of my career. Two years later, I blind-grunted another buck out of that weed patch, taking him at just six yards from behind my bow-mounted decoy.
So, here’s how my Kansas routine typically goes. Since I rarely have time to take a dedicated scouting trip, the first thing I do is hang some game cameras. I like to set them on established scrapes that I’ve located over the years. Bucks are typically hitting these scrapes regularly, and it allows me to take a quick inventory. What I don’t do, however, is hang cameras on my Plan A and Plan B spots, because I know they are reliable producers and that I’ll be hunting them regularly throughout the trip. Some of the scrapes are close enough to capture bucks that might be coming and going from them, but I don’t head to those spots until I’m actually going to hunt them.
Last November, I arrived midday, spent the afternoon hanging cameras, and prepared to head for my Plan A spot the following morning. I arrived predawn, and as I started carrying my 3-D buck out to where I always set him, I noticed something odd: The grass where I normally put him was less than ankle deep.
As the sun lit up the eastern horizon, I was horrified to see that the entire weedy bottom that made the spot a treasure had been mowed. Crap! I thought to myself. My morning was wasted, but worse than that, Plan A was off the table for the rest of this hunt. Without the weeds, the spot had nothing to offer. On to Plan B.
Because Plan B is quite a distance from Plan A, I spent the rest of the morning glassing and checking some of my cameras. That afternoon, I parked my truck at the access point and started the lengthy walk in. As I crested the hill overlooking the depression with the weed patch, I began seeing cows. What the heck is this? I thought, as I’d never seen cows there before, and now there was an entire herd bedded in and around the weed patch.
I proceeded to take a closer look, and I soon discovered that the cattle had mashed most of the weeds down. There was no way deer were hanging in there now. My entire first day was ruined, and now Plan B was off the table, too!
That’s when I started to panic. Here I was, seven hours from home, and my two primary spots were a bust!
I had some other spots to choose from, but I wasn’t nearly as experienced with any of them. I needed to gather some intel — and fast!
I’d taken for granted how things change from year to year, and when you’re a traveling DIY hunter, there’s typically no one to tell you what’s going on. Crops get rotated, cows get moved, and farmers apparently decide to mow their best deer-holding weed patches for some ungodly reason!
The good thing about hunting wide-open terrain is that bucks have relatively few places to rub and make scrapes. When a field has only a couple of trees, it’s usually a good bet that one of them will have a scrape under it, so I spent the rest of the afternoon on my first day finding scrapes and hanging more cameras.
While giving my cameras time, I spent the next few days in another spot I’ll call Plan C. It’s a large CRP field that doesn’t have isolated bedding areas like my Plan A and B spots, but I had seen bucks cruising for does there on several occasions. Again, it was completely devoid of trees, and it’s a bit of a crapshoot trying to decide where to set up. I wound up choosing the most visible spot on the property for my 3-D buck. It was near the top of a hill, where a small erosion terrace provided me with some cover to sit with my bow-mounted doe decoy.
My first morning there ended up being a good one. Three young whitetail bucks and one mule deer buck ended up making appearances at different times. The first whitetail buck crested the horizon with a doe, right out in front of my setup, and all went according to plan. The pair strolled right between my 3-D decoy and me, hung out for a few minutes, and then departed without ever really spooking. It was a great encounter. The mule deer buck came from the same direction and followed the same script, and I was thrilled to see how well the setup worked on that species. The final two whitetail bucks had to be rattled-in, but when they saw my decoy set, both came in and offered shots, had I decided to take them.
I returned to Plan C full of confidence — maybe a little too much confidence. I set up in the same spot, and just as the sun was coming over the horizon, I spotted a nice 10-point walking through the CRP. He approached in that golden light of morning, and everything went exactly according to plan. After spotting my setup from a distance, he then focused his full attention on the 3-D buck.
I drew my bow as he began his stiff-legged march toward my decoy, and when he turned broadside at just under 20 yards, I released. Only problem was, I never saw my arrow. I didn’t know where it went. The buck bolted, and I just about blew a gasket!
After several hours of trying to figure out what happened, I discovered that my unzipped outer layer had pressed against the fletching on my drawn arrow, causing it to come up off the rest during the shot. I never found that arrow. I assume it’s somewhere in Nebraska.
Plan D materialized when I checked my game cameras. Two of the properties where I’d placed cameras weren’t producing, but one had three mature bucks hitting scrapes. I immediately refocused my attention there.
Two nights later, I found myself in the position described at the beginning of this story — at full draw, with one of the bucks staring at me at nine yards. My pin was buried in the middle of his chest when he gave me the suspicious head-bob. I’m pretty deadly at that distance, and he didn’t have time to move. Seconds later, he was belly-up in the lush winter wheat.
I’m always amazed at how much gear ends up in the back of my truck when I head out on my Kansas hunt. Sometimes I feel like it’s overkill, but that’s what it takes to be consistently successful on DIY hunts. Even on ground you feel intimately familiar with, things can change from season to season, and you must be ready to shift gears on the fly if things change.
When it comes to DIY bowhunting, success or failure is all on you!
On this hunt I was shooting a Hoyt RX-5 Ultra with Easton Sonic 6.0 arrows tipped with Rage Hypodermic NC broadheads. Other equipment included SIG SAUER KILO 3000BDX rangefinding binoculars, Browning apparel, Browning Trail Cameras, a Dave Smith 3-D buck decoy, and a bow-mounted Stalker Decoy from Ultimate Predator Gear. Watch for this hunt on a future episode of Bowhunter TV!