With experience, you realize it's not what you know but who you know that brings success.
Some call it networking. I simply call it finding a place to hunt, and last season I applied my "finding a place to hunt" skills when my friends and I went to town for supplies. It was the fourth day of our Kansas hunt, and we hadn't seen one shooter buck, even though we were hunting proven properties. A few years before, while speaking at the Kansas Bowhunters Association's banquet, I'd met a farmer named Lynn Leonard, who turned me onto some great lands where I later shot a 9½-year-old deer with a gross antler measurement of 155. And two years ago, my friend Steve Keithley had shot a tremendous nine-point that measured 167 inches, and I'd dropped a 140-inch 10-pointer. Given this history, our expectations were high.
But given our low results this year, I was feeling a little desperate. So, in the midst of our getting supplies in town, I did not hesitate when I noticed a hunter walking into a house.
Immediately I decided to stop in to ask him if he was seeing any good bucks.
"C.J., you can't just walk into a total stranger's house and ask him where he's hunting," my buddy Dr. Dwight Guynn said.
"Why not?" I asked, knocking on the front door. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
Answering the door, the man explained that he was from Alabama. For the last three years, he had been hunting with Richard Blakeslee, the owner of the house and Triple Creek Outfitters. That very morning, the Alabama man had killed a big buck on one of Richard's properties.
Richard Blakeslee (above) of Triple Creek Outfitters and I shared the joy of putting down a very good, 3-year-old eight-pointer.
We were so impressed with the hunter's stories that we decided to stop back and talk to Richard after we'd finished buying our supplies. My friends and I agreed that a change of scenery would be welcome.
Shortly after we had talked to the hunter from Alabama, however, he left for home, and he never mentioned our conversation to Richard. Thus, when we returned to the house for more information, Richard wondered what planet we'd come from. It was one of those awkward moments we all try to avoid, but adhering to my "nothing ventured" approach, we worked our way through it and eventually negotiated an agreement with Richard.
"I'll put you on some shooters," Richard said as we were leaving his house. "The rest is up to you."
The next day Richard directed us to one of his leases, which turned out to be only about a mile north of the property we'd been hunting. Given the close proximity, Richard was surprised we had not seen any good bucks on our original hunting grounds.
Taking new stands on new property heightened our spirits, but on our first day on Richard's property, we continued to see only small bucks. For whatever reason, some of Richard's best stands went cold for all of us. Richard was a little perplexed, but since it was only one day, none of us felt any real concern.
Over the next couple of days, our streak continued -- nothing but small bucks. Our concern grew.
On the last day, however, our concerns were put to rest. My buddy Kurt Cassell had a solid 140-class, 10-point buck at 20 yards -- but no clear shot. Later that morning, while trailing a doe, the same buck stood at 35 yards -- still no shot. In late afternoon, that same buck showed up a third time, at 40 yards. You guessed it -- no shot, again. Can you say frustration?
That same day, Dr. Dwight experienced his own brand of bad fortune when he was drawing on a buck -- and his arrow fell off the rest. "It was a rookie mistake," Dwight said. "I kept looking at the 125-class buck and forgot all my fundamentals!"
Hunting typical prairie habitat and shelterbelts, we saw lots of young bucks like this, but not until our last day did we see the mature bucks we'd come to expect from Kansas.
During the first hour of my final morning, I sat watching a button buck. The little guy had a small bald spot on his back where he'd apparently tangled with a barbwire fence.
Watching him so long, I was starting to get annoyed, and when he finally left, I breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing I needed was for him to blow my cover should a good buck show up.
About 10 a.m., looking across a CRP field, I saw my dream buck -- a clean, 150-class eight-point -- coming directly toward me. When he'd come within 40 yards, I began to raise my bow, but then he turned, entered some plum thickets, and never came out. I have no idea where he went.
About noon, I left the woods for a quick lunch and then headed back to the same stand.
About 2:30 p.m., my favorite little button buck returned and was feeding within 25 yards of me when I heard hooves directly behind me. With the wind blowing directly from my treestand toward the unidentified deer, I knew it would be only a matter of seconds before things blew up.
The sound of hooves suddenly stopped, and I knew the deer had to be only a few yards directly behind me. I strained to look over my shoulder but could not see the deer. I then realized that the deer would have to pass underneath my ladder stand before I could attempt to draw.
The hoofbeats resumed, and this time the deer stopped directly below me. As I tried to determine exactly what and how many deer were beneath me, my friend the little button buck perked up. At five yards, I identified the first deer as an adult doe. Following directly behind her was a perfect, 3½-year-old, eight-point buck.
Why the deer never smelled me I do not know. With the wind blowing 20 miles per hour, I can only assume my scent was blowing over them. As the two deer passed my stand and walked toward the button buck, I started to draw.
When the button buck saw my motion, his alert body language caused the other two deer to stop and turn broadside. At 20 yards, even I don't miss (at least not very often).
As the hard-hit buck ran off, I said my customary hunter's prayer and then climbed out of the stand. As I walked up on the buck, I looked out in the CRP field and spotted the button buck staring at me from 40 yards away. Yeah, he was still annoying, but I had to silently thank him for his help as a perfect decoy.
And I had to thank all the people who had helped me take this great buck -- Lynn Leonard, Richard Blakeslee, and the stranger from Alabama. By going out of my way to meet these fine gentlemen, I'd gained far more than I'd ventured.
The author, our "Hunting Whitetails" columnist, recently received the first ever "Signpost Communicator of the Year" award from the Quality Deer Management Association. He and his family live in Randallstown, Maryland.
Author's Notes: I used a Hoyt Katera XL set at 80 lbs. draw weight, Carbon Express Aramid KV arrows, Rocky Mtn. Ti-100 broadheads, Fuse sight and quiver, T.R.U. Ball Pro Diamond Extreme thumb release, Sitka camouflage clothing, Sportsman's Guide boots, Nikon Premier binoculars and Archer's Choice laser rangefinder, and Summit treestands.
To book a hunt with Triple Creek Outfitters, contact Richard Blakeslee at (620) 617-7550, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.triplecreekoutfitter.com.