May 12, 2016
By Matt Palmquist
My good friend, Steve Gerlach, is no stranger to success in the whitetail woods. Over the last 10 years, he has consistently killed mature Kansas giants that would qualify as once-in-a-lifetime bucks for most hunters.
Living in Kansas and hunting quality private land ultimately spoils those of us lucky enough to live and hunt here. Like most whitetail hunters, Steve has dreamed of eclipsing the magical 200-inch mark that Kansas and other Midwest states have become famous for in the whitetail world. However, the reality is those deer are few and far between.
After killing multiple bucks that grossed over 160 inches, Steve set a lofty goal of breaking 180. He came close a time or two, but fell an inch or two short. As his buddy, I had a tough time feeling sorry for him!
Steve has used trail cameras to his advantage to locate this caliber of whitetail. Once he locates a buck he wants to kill, he is smart about hunting that buck. He is very patient, and he won't intrude on the buck's home until the time is right. When his target buck finally shows up in daylight hours, Steve will wait until the conditions are nearly perfect before moving in to strike. This has yielded great results for Steve.
During the 2013 season, Steve hadn't located a buck he was excited about and ended up making several trips west to hunt mule deer with me. On his second trip, Steve arrowed a heavy, mature mule deer, which ended his season in Kansas. While he was hunting with me, Steve offered to let me hunt some of his whitetail haunts back home. I jokingly said that if he had a net Boone and Crockett buck on camera when he got home, I would take him up on his offer.
I got a call from Steve a few days later, and he said he might actually have the kind of deer we had sarcastically discussed. He sent me a couple of pictures of a beautiful 6x6 typical that very well could net over the 170-inch B&C minimum. I couldn't believe it, and told Steve to keep me posted. But knowing Steve had several children and a wife who had started hunting, I didn't intend to hunt the deer.
Even though the 6x6 hadn't showed up in daylight yet, Steve decided that since the conditions were perfect, he would take his 11-year-old daughter, Cassidy, to hunt a blind where the buck was living. Like it was meant to be, the huge typical came within range early in the sit and Cassidy made a great shot with her crossbow, killing the kind of buck every hunter dreams about!
High on his daughter's success and tagged-out himself, Steve quit checking his cameras regularly, but left them in the woods to monitor late-season movement. As shed season approached, Steve checked his cameras and discovered an exceptional buck had shown up mid-December in the same area where Cassidy had killed her deer. This buck had great mass and quite a few extras, and he showed potential for turning into something special. The hunt was on, and Steve was determined to find the shed antlers from this buck.
Sheds Offer a Secret
On an outing with his youngest daughter, Laney, Steve spotted a large antler in a crop field, but kept quiet and let Laney spot the antler herself. Of course, she laid claim to the shed and the buck like any enthusiastic seven-year-old would. The entire Gerlach Family grid-searched the rest of the area multiple times that spring in hopes of finding the matching shed, but they never located it.
Steve studied the shed antler and trail camera pictures and soon realized that he had this buck's antlers from the previous year. He didn't know the buck when they picked up the set, and he didn't have any pictures of him either. Cassidy was with him that day as well, and she picked up the matched set of antlers that were in the 140-class. Judging from his antlers that year, Steve guessed the buck was old and on the downhill slide because the bases were large compared to the rest of the antlers. Thankfully, he was mistaken, and the buck had put on an additional 30 inches of antler!
Steve spent the offseason thinking about this buck and what he might become, hoping for another explosion of growth. In 2013, he didn't get any pictures of the deer until late in the season. He expected the same results in 2014, but he ran his cameras religiously anyways. Like he had predicted, the buck never showed his face, and it was evident that the buck was calling another area home during the summer and early fall.
The season opener came and went with no sign of the buck. As the rut neared, I talked to Steve on a regular basis and he had not seen any sign of the giant he dreamed about. I will give Steve credit for keeping the faith that the buck would show up. He had other great bucks showing up on camera, but not the buck he wanted. Finally, on November 3, he got a picture of the bruiser, confirming his hopes and dreams€¦the buck had morphed into a bona fide giant! The photo was captured in the middle of the night, and there was only one image.
Since he didn't want to pressure the area, Steve opted to expand his search for the deer, hoping the rut would cause him to let down his guard and show up in daylight. Steve called me one morning a few days after he got the picture, and like usual, my first question was, "Did you get him?" He said no, but he was watching him tend a doe on the neighbor's property, close to a main road. The buck had finally slipped up, but he was in an area Steve couldn't hunt. Steve was able to watch the buck off and on throughout the morning, which was an awesome experience, but torture for an obsessed bowhunter.
As November wore on, it became evident that hunters on the surrounding properties were fully aware of the buck's existence, and they were all in full pursuit. To say Steve was a nervous wreck would be an understatement.
Several days after Steve witnessed the daytime display, the buck finally became a regular back in the area where he had dropped his antlers the winter before. Unfortunately, all of his documented movement was in the middle of the night. Steve stayed the course and didn't pressure the area, hoping all of the surrounding hunting pressure would just push the buck into his core area for good. He was able to hunt a few times on the fringe in hopes of catching a glimpse of the buck in daylight hours, but without success.
As November came to a close, the buzz around the area had dwindled, and no one had killed the deer to Steve's knowledge. Rifle season started the Wednesday after Thanksgiving, but in Kansas it is legal to continue bowhunting during the firearms season. Finally, Steve got the evidence that he had patiently waited months for. The buck showed up with a doe in the middle of the day, near one of his stands on the first Saturday of rifle season. Although not perfect, the wind was going to be acceptable to slip in and hunt a ground blind on the fringe the following afternoon.
Anticipation was at an all-time high as Steve got settled into the blind around noon. It was good that he crawled in early that day, because the buck appeared shortly after 2 p.m. Steve nearly got a shot, but the buck stayed to the left of the blind, and it would have been a difficult shot to pull off through a narrow window.
The buck disappeared out of sight, and Steve was upset that had he let the buck slip away and may have just missed his only opportunity. But there was a lot of daylight left, so he regained his composure and stayed focused, knowing the buck was close.
It didn't take long before the buck came back into view. This time, Steve wasted little time making the necessary adjustment for a clear shot to the buck's vitals. It would be a tight window to shoot through, but Steve was confident in his abilities. The buck of his dreams stood at 18 yards when Steve loosed his arrow, making a perfect shot!
I will never forget when I got a call that Sunday afternoon, and I finally got the answer to my question that I had expected all along. Steve said the buck was down within sight of him! Happy would be an understatement for the feelings I had for my buddy. He had strategized and made all the right moves, and it had paid off in a big way.
Steve didn't sound as excited as I had expected he would, but I don't think it had really sunk in yet. We discussed his reaction at a later date, and he mentioned that while he was elated, he was also sad. He had spent so much time thinking about this deer, and now the quest for him was over. Having experienced this feeling myself, I knew exactly where he was coming from, and having respect for the animals we pursue is one of the reasons Steve and I are great friends.
Word spread throughout the area about Steve killing the giant buck. As luck would have it, some of Steve's other friends were talking to a local farmer in the area about the deer, and they showed him a picture. Not only did the farmer recognize the buck from the picture, he had the shed antler from the year before that the Gerlach Family had spent many hours searching for!
Steve's friends were able to acquire the shed and present it to Steve, putting an exclamation point on the already perfect ending to his quest. The buck unofficially gross-scored over that magical 200-inch mark, adding to Steve's impressive resume as a successful whitetail hunter. That buck is going to be a tough one to top, but I would put money on Steve making it happen again sooner than later.
Author's Notes: Steve, his wife, Melissa, and their daughters, Makayla, Lindsey, Cassidy and Laney, spend many days in the field together, scouting and hunting for whitetails. All but Laney have successfully put their tag on some exceptional deer, and I expect nothing less when Laney is old enough to join in the fun. Hunting whitetails is truly a family affair for the Gerlach's.
The first set of sheds that Steve found off his buck taped close to 145 inches. It was evident in trail camera pictures that the buck had grown significantly the next year. After getting the other shed antler from the farmer, the buck was scored and he had put on 36 inches and came in at 181 inches. Steve thinks the buck was five years old when he finally caught up to him. The deer had put on another 25 inches that year, and he gross-scored a whopping 206 inches! If the genetics are there, whitetails can do some amazing things.