Our Kansas whitetail trip seemed to start off just the same as the year before. We left Pennsylvania virtually the same time, same day, same vehicles, and with the same good friends as the year before. As luck would have it, our trucks that never break down, broke down nearly at the same spot as last year. So we were broken down halfway between “no where” and “some where” and no one had the parts we needed to get to Marysville, Kansas.
In our line of work, when the first day of Kansas hunting is in jeopardy, there is only one thing left to do. “Run it!” So we did, we ran 500 miles on 6 injectors instead of 8. “Pull over and let her rest, that’s a big hill, it’s to the floor. We are only going 35 miles mph, get ready to push; we’re not going to make it.” These were all conversation topics for 500 miles. But we made Marysville at last! We went straight to the Ford dealer.
The service manager said all of his employees were hunting, so he may have it fixed in a week. I said “may” isn’t going to work for me. I told him to give me the new injectors, and I’ll put them in myself. That seemed to change his mind. He said they would start on it today. That was great! Back to camp we went.
After getting back to camp and unloading we went on a tour to check out some stands and show the new guys where they were going. When I say guys, I mean guys and gal. This year we had a great addition to our hunt, Emme Rickabaugh, the wife of Dustin joined us. She is the one and only female allowed in our deer camp. She can handle a week of the sounds and odors of deer camp. Although I must say I didn’t hear her join in on the early morning music.
As I’ve done the last few years, I try to let all the others choose the spot where they want to hunt. After everyone else picks, I decide where I’m going for the first morning. I honestly don’t think that any one spot is better than another. It seems it’s the right place at the right time and a whole lot of luck.
First morning was cold and slightly breezy, which is normal Kansas weather. I was set on hunting at a stand that my brother had hunted the year before, but I had never actually been there. I knew the area pretty well and was sure I could find it. I got dropped off with my gear, gun, and mental GPS system, that didn’t work. As I walked to the stand I knew something was wrong. I was twisted up, so I sat down and waited until first light to figure out where I was. At daylight, I began seeing movement and watched several deer moving along the edge of the pasture. I slowly made my way to the stand that was just over the ridge. I got settled in and sat there all day. I had a great day. I saw 37 doe and 8 different bucks. I was pumped.
I was sure that everyone else’s day was as good as mine. That wasn’t true. After getting back to Rockey’s and talking to everyone I discovered that a majority of the guys and gal hadn’t seen much at all. Several hadn’t even seen a tail. I could sense a bit of discouragement in the atmosphere. The camp morale was definitely down. The anticipation of Kansas monsters walking everywhere and being run over by deer had gone by the wayside.
Once again this was just like last year. The next morning I was definitely going back to the same stand. After a day like the previous one, I would surely see a dandy sooner or later. I sat there until 1:30 and only saw one doe. How could this be? How do you go from 37 does and 8 bucks to seeing only one tail? I’m cold and hungry and Fred’s back straps are on the move. I ventured up into the pasture and met Grovey. We conversed awhile and ate some lunch. After eating, I text my brother and let him know what was happening. He knew the area and had some advice for the evening.
I made my way to a spot on the side of a hill. Here I could see a ravine and a small field that was in the center of two wood lines. Almost immediately I saw movement. Deer were moving back and forth between the woodlots under the cover of an adjoining thicket. I got set up in among some small trees and laid my backpack in front of me for a rest. If I got a shot I could lay my gun across my bag and shoot from my belly. After seeing 4 or 5 deer, the day seemed to be running out of light. It was now 4:00.
Shortly after 4:00 a good buck stepped into the upper end of the little field. It was definitely a shooter. Quickly, I spun around and lay on my belly. With the buck in the crosshairs the decision was mine. Yeah or nay? I guessed it to be a 130 inch buck. Definitely a dandy! The previous year I had killed a 150 inch buck. It was early in the week, it may be the best I see, but I know there are bigger ones out there, “nay”. “I’ll take my chances.”
After the encounter with the 130 inch buck and having a minute to decipher what just went down, I was happy with my decision. It was time to text my brother and give him another update. I purchased a new gun this year, a 300 Weatherby Mark 5 Acumark. There was only one guy that I wanted to set the gun up for me, my brother. While texting my brother the news, I asked him what he thought the ball would do at 220 yards. I had visually estimated the distance and figured that distance would be close. I had shot the gun at 140 yards, but not at 200 yards and over. Knowing that he had shot longer distances with the gun, his knowledge would be helpful. He immediately called me back and said it should be right on, but if I wanted to hold an inch high just to be safe, that would be fine.
Now it is getting dark and the sun is going down and the hill on which I was sitting was shaded. The other side of the ravine in which I was watching was still bright with light. It was the time of day when a hunter is trying to slow the clock down and beg for thirty more minutes. It was perfect, beautiful and peaceful. I looked at my phone. It was 4:44. As I glanced at the corner of the uppermost part of the field a buck stepped through the fence row. I could tell it was a good buck, definitely a shooter. I lay on my belly and held just a shade high and squeezed.
Bang! He was gone. I didn’t see him fall and I didn’t see him run. Immediately I stood up and thought, I got to get over there. I walked down through the ravine and up the other side. It seemed I kept walking and walking. The further I walked the more I thought, “This isn’t good. This is a long way.” I finally made it to the spot where the deer had been when I shot. It was easy to figure the exact spot in the field because I could see my bag on the other side of the hill. The blood had to be right here. By now I was fairly worked up. I didn’t know exactly how big the buck was, but I know he was decent. Everything happened so fast. Everything was by the book. Still no blood. By this time it was almost dark so I decided to walk down towards the woods to the west. I know he didn’t run up the hill or I would have seen him. He had to go down.
I walked along the edge of the woods hoping to find a blood trail where he ran in. Back and forth along the edge of the woods bent over with my flash light. Still nothing.
As I stood just inside the wood line looking back up the hill where I had shot, many thoughts ran through my head. I had a good rest, I didn’t flinch, and he was standing still. Everything was perfect but the distance. As I stood there I was that sick I could have puked. The only thought that kept coming back was I didn’t want to wound or gut shoot that buck. I’m the type of hunter that if it’s not perfect, I don’t shoot.
Still playing it over in my head and still gazing at the hill I decided to pray. I prayed Lord, please let me have missed that buck. As I prayed I asked that either I had missed the buck completely or that I find him. I reminisced of the previous year when I had a decent shot on a 150 inch buck. We had to trail him for 2 miles. Now I have one with no blood anywhere. After saying my prayer I remember thinking, I’m going to be looking for this buck the rest of the week. I wonder how thick this woods really is. With that thought in mind, I took my flash light and turned to look inside the woods. There he was. He was piled up leaning against a tree not more than 10 feet from where I was standing. I walked over to look at him. I was shaking like a leaf. It wasn’t the deer that had me worked up, it was the prayer. I believed before, I guarantee I believe now.
As I admired my deer I counted the points. 1-2-5-10-17-20. 20 points. Unbelievable. I had to call my brother. He answered, I was almost crying. I said, “Flem”, he asked if I was all right. I said that I just killed a hell of a buck. He asked how many points and I said 20. He said “how many”? I said, “just like it sounds, 20!”
By this time I needed help. I called and got the cavalry headed my way. When the guys arrived they asked how big is he. I said he has 8 points. I wasn’t lying. I just wasn’t telling them about the other 12 points.
We needed a cart to pack it out. Luckily, Rockey had just purchased a few new carts and threw one in our truck, just in case. Great thinking on Rockey’s behalf, but it was still in the box in pieces. I think that’s Rockey’s way of getting them put together. With six guys, 4 flash lights and a couple crescent wrenches we had it. Only minimal parts left over, a couple nuts, a strap and one wheel. To the woods we go. When the other guys saw him, they had a few choice words for me for saying 8 points. No one could believe it including myself. It was a perfect shot through vitals but with the angle it came out high. All the blood was inside. He only ran 60 yards.
Back at camp, Rockey was standing in the door waiting for the day’s report. I got out of the truck and said, “Rock, I have to apologize, he wasn’t quite as big as I thought.” Rockey said, “Uh oh, what did we do now.” He looked in the back of the truck and looked at me and said “Jesus Christ”. And I said, “That’s the guy that found it for me.”
Rocky scored it later that night after he found his second ball of rope. It’s score, 202 inches, just like it sounds.
The following night we made ourselves known at the Wagon Wheel. We drank about 6 too many pitchers of what we call “Go Hammers”. We had lots of laughs all to chants of “202, just like it sounds”.
Thanks to Rockey and Brenda for their hospitality and their family-like atmosphere. I will always remember the hunt, but it’s the whole trip that makes the memories.