It might be impossible to determine the extent of one deer’s effect upon the economy in Republic County, Kan., a couple of years ago, but there’s no doubt a substantial amount of cash changed hands when photographs of the animal hit the Internet.
An influx of nonresidents hungry to lease hunting ground is never appreciated by those whose bank accounts aren’t affected. Every time a local hunter sees a big buck in the back of a truck with an out-of-state tag, there will be grumbling.
The only thing residents hate worse than an outsider shooting their deer is poachers, regardless of origin. And during the fall of 2012, conditions were ripe for both.
Landowners with climbable trees earned a lot of spare change that season, including the man who owns the property Tom Hamel hunts. Tom, who lives in neighboring Cloud County, might’ve had to look elsewhere if it hadn’t been for a mostly wide-open, 80-acre pasture nobody else wanted to hunt.
Even the landowner considered it a waste of time, as barren as the moon’s surface. But Tom knew – or at least suspected – better.
While hunting turkeys in the fall that year, Tom and his grandson, Shea Crum, twice jumped an enormous whitetail. They didn’t know it at the time, but the deer was the talk of the nearby town.
“Turned out, almost everybody knew about that buck,” Tom said. “It was quite a popular deer. It was the main topic of conversation at all the coffee tables.
“Two farmers had photographs of it. One man was even posting pictures on the Internet, advertising for out-of-state hunters,” he continued. “Everyone was asking for permission to hunt the land where the big deer was seen, along with neighboring tracts, and some were offering wads of cash to lease them.”
Tom wanted a crack at it, too, though he seriously doubted the animal would be able to elude the army of camo-clad bowhunters and even poachers he suspected would be on the prowl for it.
“I saw it in early October. Our rifle season doesn’t open until the first week of December. A lot of things can happen in almost two and a half months,” he said.
One of the things that happened was the landowner, who did indeed lease some of his holdings, told Tom he could still hunt an 80-acre pasture – mainly because nobody had offered to rent it.
“It’s the kind of place nobody would want,” he said. “It’s all open, except for some little plum thickets about 10 feet by 10 feet. You can see from one end of it to the other.
“Even the landowner considered it a waste,” he added.
But that’s precisely where the monstrous buck liked to spend its days, submerged up to its neck in a plum thicket.
“I don’t know why he hung out there,” Tom said. “Maybe that’s where he felt safest. We have gently rolling land out here; lots of farmland; no ravines; and only small patches of woods, which is where most people prefer to hunt.
“I think he stayed there during the day, venturing out only at night, when he was photographed.”
Tom might’ve also been in a more deery-looking spot, somewhere, if the pasture hadn’t been dotted with those little thickets.
When the 10-day rifle season finally arrived on Dec. 8, Tom saw the sunrise from within a blind he’d built about midway into the pasture. He shivered in his chair for nearly three hours, enduring a cold drizzle, before deciding to skirt some of the plum thickets to see if he could jump a deer.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Any deer in any one of the thickets had an unobstructed view of the pasture and Tom’s progress. If one was bedded, it would come down to how much nerve it possessed.
After circling about five thickets, Tom glanced ahead and saw a buck stand up about 100 yards distant.
He quickly glassed it, realized it was probably the local legend, and then squeezed his .243’s trigger. The solid thwump told him the bullet had smacked the deer, but the animal didn’t collapse. It ran slightly uphill and jumped a nearby fence.
Rather than give chase and push it into the sights of another hunter, the 62-year-old electrician drove back into Cloud County, to his home in Clyde. He returned to the pasture about 4:00 with his wife, Jo, and 16-year-old grandson.
The search was easier and shorter than he thought it would be. The wounded buck had made an almost complete circle and died in a little brush pile within the pasture where it liked to spend its days.
News of the big whitetail’s demise wasn’t well received by the nonresidents who’d paid to hunt the adjacent lands, but Tom says the locals were overjoyed that the deer was staying in Kansas, on Tom’s wall.
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Hunter: Tom Hamel
BTR Official Score: 209
BTR Composite Score: 229 3/8
Weapon: Modern Rifle
Location: Republic County, Kansas
Date: December 8, 2012