When the action beneath your treestand is slow, savvy whitetail hunters know that sometimes the best thing to do is just stay put — especially during the rut.
Years of experience bowhunting the rut in central Kansas has taught Randy Walk that the last thing he wants to do during that time of year is play musical treestands. According to Randy, the more time he puts into a single stand without much showing up, the higher the odds are that he will soon see a shooter.
While this has been his theory for quite some time, Randy's resolve to just stay put was solidified a couple of years ago after sitting a stand for nearly a week straight, only to have his good friend Eric Watts come in and arrow a 180-inch giant from it the day after he left. Since that little incident, Randy really doesn't like to move!
Last fall, Randy was hunting that same stand when friends in camp brought up the inevitable topic of moving. Just as he began to pitch them on the idea of being patient and staying put, the group's host, Jay Verzuh — who typically agrees with Randy's "just stay put" philosophy — announced that he was already planning to move one of them the next day. This took everyone by surprise.
Jay went on to explain that earlier that evening he had spotted a monster — the kind of buck all whitetail hunters dream about. However, getting anywhere near the buck would be extremely difficult. He was with a hot doe, and had her pinned in some brush in the middle of a giant CRP field. To make matters worse, the brush was located atop a rolling hill, giving the deer a vantage point and making them virtually unapproachable.
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He had few options, but Jay managed to come up with a plan. About a half-mile from where the buck had been spotted, in a barren portion of the property, there was a tiny cluster of trees. They were the only trees for miles. Jay figured these trees were the best bet. While none were large enough for a treestand, there was a small, elevated platform tucked in the middle of them. The platform was built from an old shipping pallet, and it was a creaky old thing that stood only three feet off the ground. It was originally meant to elevate a ground blind so you could see out into the field, but it had proven to be cumbersome and was never really used. Jay's idea was to have one of the bowhunters stand right in the middle of that platform.
"I need one of you to work your way in there before daylight," Jay explained. "Find that platform, and then get up on it. You won't be but a few feet off the ground, and you'll probably stick out like a sore thumb, but I can't think of any other way to get anywhere near this buck. Even if we get lucky and he heads that direction, this is going to be a tough deal, so I want to send someone who has lots of experience. Randy, I'd like you to give it a try."
"So, let me get this straight," Randy responded with a chuckle, "You're sending me to stand on top of a platform that's three feet off the ground?"
"That's right," Jay said. "This buck is a real giant though, and even though there's only a one-percent chance that you will even lay eyes on him, it will be worth it."
Jay would be hard pressed to find a bowhunter more suited for such a challenge. Randy Walk is a member of the Bowhunters Hall of Fame, and the depth of his bowhunting experience is hard to match. He was born into a family that was consumed by bowhunting and competitive archery. His father was the president of the Utah Archery Association and he ran a pro shop called White Pine Archery out of their family home. Randy was taught to shoot a bow before he could talk, and by the time he was old enough to bowhunt, he had been competing in archery events with his family for nearly a decade. Randy was literally born into bowhunting.
When you consider his childhood, Randy's career path is not surprising. As a young man back in 1985, Randy was hired part-time by Hoyt Archery as he worked his way through college. Two years later, after graduating with a degree in electrical engineering, Randy was hired full-time to help lead Hoyt's budding engineering program. His engineering talents, coupled with his passion for archery and bowhunting, created a unique skillset that helped Randy move up the company ladder quickly, and he eventually took the reins as president of Hoyt Archery in 1995.
Throughout his tenure as an archery industry executive, Randy has remained first and foremost a diehard bowhunter, and he has been a very successful one. His trophy room is chock full of giant mule deer, elk, moose, sheep, and a variety of other North American and African game.
To be successful as a manufacturer of bowhunting products, Randy believes you must first possess the fundamental perspective of a bowhunter. That is precisely why he takes great pride in the fact that many Hoyt employees are also super-serious archers and bowhunters. With company headquarters located in Salt Lake City, Utah, many of them regularly pursue Western big game. However, in order to ensure that his staff keeps their fingers on the pulse of the whitetail market, he and other members of the Hoyt team make an annual trip to Kansas during the rut.
The 2012 season marked nine straight years bowhunting whitetails in central Kansas. And while Randy and his team have taken some very nice bucks over the years, none could compare to the one Randy was about to encounter.
Realizing how difficult it can be to stand motionless for hours, especially in cold and windy conditions, Randy asked Jay how long he thought he should stand there.
"I'd give it until at least 10:30," Jay said. "You're probably going to get pretty stiff, but there's a good chance you will see some late-morning movement this time of year."
Randy headed to the platform before daylight with cautious optimism, but when he couldn't seem to find the small group of trees in the dark, his hopes began to dwindle. By the time he reached the isolated tangle, the horizon was glowing much brighter than he would have liked. When he finally climbed onto the rickety platform in his leafy suit, he feared his movement might have been spotted.
As the sun lit the Kansas prairie, Randy could see out of the trees into the fields that surrounded him, and to the south he could see the rolling hill and the small brush patch that Jay had described. He could also see that there was a heavy deer trail that led from the hill to the trees and passed just feet to the right of his platform. Just like bass will visit an isolated stump in the middle of a pond, deer will typically frequent this type of isolated cover, and this trail was evidence of that fact. Randy soon began to understand why Jay thought this unorthodox maneuver might be worth a shot.
Not much later, a small buck suddenly appeared at the base of the hill. And wouldn't you know it, the little guy followed the deer trail across the field straight to the platform and shuffled past Randy at less than two yards! Randy stood like a statue and the young buck never noticed him. His excitement soared, and he began to think Jay's plan just might work.
Things slowed for the next couple of hours, but then, at about 9 a.m., a big 10-point buck appeared to the north and began to approach Randy's position. However, unlike the young buck, this buck turned at a couple hundred yards out, circled around and headed south, eventually disappearing into the brush patch where Jay had seen the monster buck the night before. Thirty minutes later, a buck appeared on the edge of the brush patch. Assuming that it must be the 10-point he had just seen disappear, Randy raised his binoculars to take a better look. It wasn't the 10-point — it was the giant!
Standing still for several minutes, the giant buck turned his head from side to side, allowing Randy to really size him up through his binoculars. Jay was right — this was the biggest buck he had ever seen!
For the next 30 minutes the giant buck ducked in and out of the brush on top of the hill, tormenting Randy every time he would reappear. Then suddenly, while the buck was out of sight, a doe came screaming out of the brush as if she were being chased, but there was nothing behind her. She tore across the open field toward Randy, using the same trail the young buck had used earlier in the morning. Randy knew if she continued past him that there was a good chance the giant buck might scent-trail her down the same path. But Randy's heart sank when, at 100 yards, she suddenly turned another direction.
Moments after watching the doe disappear, Randy caught more movement as the giant buck chased a subordinate buck out of the brush patch, down the hill, and across the CRP field. When the smaller buck made his escape, the giant turned and started heading back up the hill when he crossed the path the running doe had just taken. Putting his nose to the ground, the monster buck immediately changed direction and began following the doe's trail toward Randy.
Randy's heart began to race for a moment before he realized the buck would likely turn right where the doe had and head a different direction. Darn that doe, he thought, but then it happened. When the buck hit the spot where the doe had turned, he just kept on coming! Now Randy's heart rate went into overdrive, but experience had taught him that he needed to calm down, think, and react. After taking a few deep breaths, Randy drew his bow before the buck was close enough to detect the movement, and then he held at full draw as the buck continued to charge directly toward him.
At just 10 yards, the giant paused at the edge of the trees, with two trunks directly between his vitals and Randy's arrow. The buck peered back and forth through the trees as if he expected to see the doe bedded within them. For close to a minute the buck just stood there, but when nothing moved, he eventually continued down the trail.
Randy never stopped looking through his peep sight, and he never took his pins off the buck's vitals. Randy slowly pivoted at the waist in perfect unison with the speed of the buck's approach until the buck finally presented a broadside shot at just two yards. With the buck's magnificent rack literally within kicking distance, Randy released an arrow into his vitals!
It was 10:30 on the nose when Randy called Jay to give him the news, and rather than rushing down to the fallen trophy, he decided to wait for his friend. When Jay arrived, he and Randy could see the buck's antlers sticking out of the grass, and after Randy gave him the play by play, Jay asked, "Have you even gone and looked at him yet?"
Laying their hands on the giant buck for the first time is a moment the friends will never forget. Jay had developed a seemingly far-flung strategy that led to Randy's success, and then he practically predicted what time it would all go down. And what can you say about Randy's accomplishment? He arrowed the buck of a lifetime from a three-foot-high platform, at a distance of two yards! There were a hundred things that could have gone wrong, and with most bowhunters, something would have. Staying calm, knowing when to draw, watching the buck through his peep, and understanding how to move without being detected were all products of years of bowhunting experience.
When a giant buck lured Randy Walk out of his comfort zone, he used those years of experience, and the bowhunting skills he's developed, to transform a bold move into a lethal one.