December 20, 2023
Climbing up into my treestand in Kansas, I already had a smile on my face because of how excited I still get about hunting whitetails. It’s no secret that I began my bowhunting obsession in Texas, where I grew up and started shooting a bow and bowhunting while still in high school. And it was in Texas where I started hunting my first big-game animal — whitetails. Bowhunting has been a major part of my life ever since.
Three years ago in Kansas, I hunted every day for well over two weeks, during some of the best November conditions, and I still didn’t harvest a deer. As good as Kansas is, and the ground I hunt is primo property, it’s still hard to believe that I did not put my tag on a buck. I wasn’t even after a particular target buck that I had on camera — I was just hunting for a good, mature buck. Yes, there were multiple opportunities to shoot bucks, but never the “right” buck.
One morning, a 150-class buck came to my decoy and stayed within 20 yards for several minutes. He had a G-2 broken off at the main beam, and I didn’t want to shoot him with a broken rack. A few days later, on a foggy morning hunt on the other side of the farm, the same broken-racked buck lingered less than 20 yards from my ground blind, tempting me again. The fun I had hunting and watching deer that year was awesome. All that I learned about the farm and deer movement made that hunt a success in its own way, even though I never tagged a buck.
Then, in 2021, I pulled into my Kansas farm with the same whitetail excitement and anticipation that I look forward to every fall. Having several days to hunt and work on the farm, I would not have wanted to be anywhere else.
Not having unpacked my hunting clothes yet and wanting to quickly get into a stand, I just grabbed my bow and headed to my favorite elevated perch wearing my green Carhartt work jeans. I barely got my bow pulled up into the tree and my headnet on when I saw movement through the woods. Seeing flashes of antlers through the trees, I knew it was a buck. Not getting a good look just yet, I could not tell exactly how big he was, or how many points he had.
As the buck made his way closer to me, he appeared to be a typical 10-pointer. With a short window of shooting opportunity about to open and my previous “deer-less” year in the back of my mind, I was ready when the buck stepped into my shooting lane at 22 yards.
Soon, my arrow was on its way. When I saw him go down, I couldn’t help but chuckle that my 2021 Kansas deer hunt was already over. He wasn’t a giant by any means, but he was a buck I would have been happy to shoot the year before after the countless hours and days I spent on stand. My 2021 Kansas whitetail buck scored 131 1/8 inches.
As anyone who has bowhunted whitetails knows, arrowing a mature buck is never easy. There are seasons when everything seems to work perfectly and a deer is taken in almost textbook fashion. Then there are seasons when you can’t catch a break and everything seems to go wrong.
In 2022, it was the same scenario. I couldn’t wait to get back to Kansas to hunt those Midwest whitetails in November.
Having planned my whitetail schedule months prior, I had ample days ahead of me to enjoy this special time of year. After arriving at the farm, the wind wasn’t right for me to slip into my favorite stand that evening, so I hunted a different spot and saw a few deer, but no mature bucks. Looking at the weather that night, the wind was forecasted to be what I needed to hunt my favorite treestand the next morning.
I got up extra early the next day, and it appeared that the wind was going to be perfect for where I wanted to hunt. It was a particularly quiet and still morning, and something told me to grab my rattling antlers and take them to the tree with me.
Using my headlamp to walk along the edge of the beanfield toward my stand, I was at the base of my big cedar tree in no time. This was going to be my first time hunting this great stand that year. After I got settled in, I slowly pulled my bow up, nocked an arrow, and hung my bow on a hook.
I could already see a doe through the woods, about 100 yards away. She was feeding and appeared to be alone, so I reached around and got my rattling antlers off the top of my backpack, and then hit them together as hard as I could to start.
When I finished my rattling sequence, I hung up my antlers. Facing uphill and into the wind, and concentrating on the main deer trail, I heard some leaves rustling behind me. Looking over my left shoulder, I spotted a nice young 10-pointer standing 25 yards away. Appearing to have no idea I was perched above him, the buck was keenly focused on something down through the woods. It was at about this time that I saw more movement off to my left and in the direction that the young 10-point was staring.
The first instant that I saw the antlers on the other buck slowly walking my way, I took my eyes off him and started trying to get my bow into position to shoot. I had no idea how many points this second buck had; I just knew automatically that he was a shooter!
Both bucks stood and stared at each other. I needed the bigger buck to take just a few more steps, so I would have a clear shot. Unfortunately, this would also take him almost directly downwind of me…and that made me nervous. My heart was about to beat out of my chest!
Finally, the big buck took the necessary steps. I concentrated, and as slowly as I could, I squeezed the trigger on my release. The sound of the hit and the way he ran off gave me a positive indication of a good hit. I heard some branches breaking nearby, and then the woods went completely silent.
Sitting there, I was in some sort of whitetail shock. I had only been in the treestand maybe 10 minutes! Both of those bucks had responded to the rattling antlers at about the same time. They came from downwind, and when the bucks saw each other they evidently thought the other one was responsible for the fighting noises they’d heard.
It was then that I began pondering just how often bowhunting action like that happens so quickly. I still didn’t even know exactly what kind of buck I had shot, as I had no time to really look him over with my binoculars, or even use my rangefinder before I released my arrow. At first glance, I just knew he was a good one.
Slowly, I climbed down the cedar tree, and when I got to where the deer had been standing, I immediately found blood. Then I found a piece of my arrow. Following the blood trail another 15 yards or so, I looked ahead and could see the deer lying dead, just 50 yards away.
It is difficult to describe the feeling I had when I walked up to this buck. I have arrowed a lot of whitetails in my life, but nothing like the one that now was lying on the ground in front of me.
I sat down, stared at the buck, and soaked-up the entire experience for a long time that morning. It will be a long time, if ever, before I arrow a buck better than this one — he later scored 166 2/8 net as a typical eight-pointer.
People have heard me say hunting whitetails is sort of a gentleman’s type of hunt for me. Not like some of the extra-tough, life-threatening situations and hunts I get myself into bowhunting in my home state of Alaska.
Even after completing two archery Super Slams — getting close to my third one — whitetails are still near the top of my list of favorite animals to bowhunt. Not only do I have an addiction to bowhunting, but I also have an addiction to whitetails.
My late friend and whitetail guru, Roger Rothhaar, titled one of his books, “Whitetail Magic.” It cannot be said any better. The experience and feeling of being in the whitetail woods, with a bow in hand, is just magical. If you bowhunt whitetails, and most of you do, then you truly understand what I’m saying.
I also think that the majority of you will agree with me when I say that more times than not the whitetail wins!
The author is one of North America’s most accomplished bowhunters. He lives in Wasilla, Alaska, with his wife, Millie.
On this hunt, I used my Mathews VXR bow, Victory arrows, Rage broadheads, Schaffer Archery sight, TightSpot quiver, Side Hill bowstrings, B3 release, and KUIU gear and clothing.