Old Kansas Proverb: Sometimes you get the deer’s goat, sometimes he gets yours.
While deer hunting in Kansas last season, I was given the chance to test-drive an Ameristep pop-up blind erected by a guy whose trip was cut short by news of a workplace crisis.
The man, from one of those C-cities in Ohio, obviously put a lot of work into choosing the perfect setup. It was a saddle dividing a long cedar-studded ridge, right at the corner of a cornfield. And, I’m not making this up, it was within sight of “Buck Creek Road.”
That blind was tucked so snugly against a cedar, it’s a wonder it didn’t collapse when I tried wedging in the back door. If I’d had one more granola bar in my pocket, there’s no way I could’ve done it. Anyhow, I sat there Thursday evening and passed on a young 8-pointer. Two hours into my vigil the next morning, I stole the breath of a very handsome, 150-inch 10-pointer right after it stole mine.
My question is: Given that the original hunter poured so much sweat equity into that stand — even hanging a lock-on nearby in case he wanted a change of scenery — and given that all I did was squeeze the trigger, should I send the gentleman my taxidermy bill? — Curious in Alabama
Some stories write themselves.
It had been a frustrating 2009 season for me. Leading up to the morning I finally doused my Kansas dry spell, I’d logged 114 hours in deer stands from Pawnee City, Neb., to Ardmore, Okla.
I saw a couple of shooters during those hunts — either too far or too fast — before I let my .30-06 claim its 50th animal. I was determined not to go home without venison in my luggage, so I caved and shot a Nebraska doe in the middle of the day.
I had two tags, but the other one went unfilled.
A week later, I was shivering in Oklahoma. A full moon gave me one chance a day — about 10:30 — to be in the right place, and I wasn’t. But I cannot fault one of the deeriest places I’ve ever had the privilege to hunt.
I left Ardmore on the morning of Dec. 6 and met up with a friend, Bill Leon, in Kansas City. He’d driven from Tennessee so that he could measure a couple of dandy Missouri whitetails en route. That afternoon, we were hunting with Mike Nickels, who runs Old School Guide Service out of McLouth.
I’d hunted with Mike at least five times and never popped or stuck anything. The reason I kept going back is that I like him a lot. I also knew the possibility of tagging a monster was very real.
Two of my most memorable hunts happened there.
Once while standing completely naked (not literally) on the ground, I lured a 2½-year-old buck to within 5 feet by grunting and bleating. I had to scare him away out of fear of being either gored or mounted.
The other time, I whispered sweet-nothin’s for an hour to the largest whitetail I’ve ever encountered in the field. It was a clean 10-pointer, wear-ing at least 170 inches and easily weighing 300 pounds. It stood and stared at me from 20 yards beyond bow range until his little playmate took him away. He was among two dozen great bucks I saw during that incredible day.
I have to say, too, that Mike could’ve easily written me off as just another writer looking for a handout. He either felt sorry for me, or maybe he’s a glutton for letdowns.
Now we both can breathe more easily.
Ours was a five-day hunt. I sat in a couple of shooting houses, in one ladder stand and even on a log (to which my pants froze) before being introduced to the pop-up blind on the next-to-last day.
If I’d seen that place on day one, I’d have given it my entire week. Geographically, the setup was perfect. Logistically, far from it.
That anybody was taken there was a real Hail Mary because Mike couldn’t wrap his head around the wisdom of driving in along the edge of a picked cornfield — right beside primo bedding cover — to reach the little cut. Do it in the pre-dawn, and you run deer out of the field. Do it in the middle of the day, and you risk pushing them out of their beds.
But people do desperate things at the 11th hour’s approach.
When I trudged through 6 inches of snow to the blind that morning, it was a balmy 5 degrees. It had been minus 2 the previous day. The number of fresh deer tracks passing within inches of my beloved hiding place was enough to keep me warm.
All I needed was one — the right one — to pass that way again. Two hours later, it did, and I never bothered reaching for my binoculars.
I eased my rifle barrel out of the front window, only to realize that I had no shot. The Chia buck with the tall rack had too much spring in his step. So I slid it back in and over to the next opening. Praise the deer gods, the animal stopped and looked the other way.
A nanosecond later, it reared up like a stallion before running headlong into a tree and melting into the snow like a certain coyote trying to chase a roadrunner through a wall. (Do they still show that cartoon?)
“Hey, Mike ... The jinx is over,” I grinned, oblivious to the tongue-on-a-flagpole feel of bare hand touching cell phone. Read Recent Articles:
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• The Long Haul: The more time you spend in the woods, the better your odds for success. This article was published in the Winter 2010 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.