by Darren Choate, Editor In Chief
Having grown up in the West hunting primarily mule deer and elk, a Midwestern whitetail hunt had never even been in the back of my mind. As a young adult, my hunting passion switched to the pursuit of the Coues White-tailed deer. Still, I had no desire to hunt the Midwest. After successfully harvesting Coues bucks with both a rifle and bow, I was ready for new challenges. First, I went to Texas a couple of times and took two nice whitetails. I believe that TV is what turned me on to Midwestern whitetail hunting, and after just a few seasons of watching, I knew a Kansas whitetail was at the top of my list.
It still took several years for me to make the decision on when and where to go. Through social media, I met Cody Kuck, owner of Heartland Pride Outfitters. For a couple of years, Cody and I shared emails and liked each other’s posts on Facebook. Late in 2014, I made the decision to book a Kansas hunt with HPO. I convinced my friends Brian, Matt, and James to apply and hunt with me. As it turned out, only James and I drew in Kansas, but luckily, Cody has properties in nearby Nebraska, which offers over-the-counter deer tags. We chose the second week of November to hunt—right in the heart of the rut.
Although I was busy at home scouting over the summer and hunting in the fall, I couldn’t wait for our Kansas hunt to arrive. Cody kept us anxious and excited by posting trail-camera pictures of giant velvet bucks on Facebook. Several of the bucks were real monsters—over 170-inches B&C! Then, in mid-October when I thought I couldn’t be more excited, Cody had a couple of days to hunt himself, and he harvested a great buck. When I saw his “hero shots” combined with the fact that our hunt was only a few weeks out, it really hit home. I was bouncing off the walls.
Matt, James, and I left Arizona on a Saturday with plans to meet our friend, Brian from Indiana in Kansas on Sunday, with our hunt to begin on Monday morning. On Sunday, Cody called me wondering where we were at and when we would get to hunting camp. He also let me know, that if we arrived in time for the afternoon hunt, we could sit a stand that evening. Cody had already selected a spot for me in a Darkwoods blind overlooking a protein feeder. Unfortunately, it was a long trip and we did not make it in time to hunt that evening. Later in the hunt, Cody checked the trail-camera at the same feeder, and on that evening there had been a giant 11-point buck there during daylight hours. This buck was well-known to Cody and his guides and clients from earlier that season; in fact, another archery hunter had missed this buck from the same stand earlier in the year. I was hopeful that all of us would get a chance at this or another buck during our five-day hunt.
On opening morning, I was both anxious—not knowing anything about the location I would be hunting, and excited—knowing that wherever it was, there was a chance I would come face-to-face with a giant Kansas buck. As it turned out, I sat in a ground blind overlooking a field with a corn pile on its western edge. Right at first light two does appeared. Later in the day, another two fed out near the blind on the opposite side of the field. At last light one more doe showed up near my blind, but no bucks. I knew right then that no matter what you see on TV, this was still going to be hunting—and I wouldn’t want it any other way!
On the second day, I sat a treestand on a field edge. It was the same stand that Cody had taken his buck from just a couple of weeks earlier. With that in the back of my mind, I was on constant alert for any signs of a big buck. I sat the stand all day and saw several deer, including one little buck and one shooter buck. I was able to coax the little buck across the field to my location with a few grunt calls, but unfortunately, was not able to do the same with the bigger buck.
The next day, the wind changed and I was able to sit the hard-sided Darkwoods blind. The wind had switched because of severe storm, and with it came strong winds—like 30mph! I was happy to be in that blind on that day in those conditions. I saw a few deer that day, but because of the high winds, sideways rain and snow decided to hunt just half of the day. The next morning, I was in the same blind. After seeing a few does and a small buck, it finally happened—a buck meeting the 140-inch minimum was heading toward the feeder and into range. As the buck approached, my hopes sunk when I saw that both eye guards and both G-2s were broken off completely. A little later a shooter 9-point came in, but just kept going. I tried calling to no avail; in fact, my snort wheeze sent the buck bounding away with its flag in the air. I texted Cody, and because the wind was about to switch directions, we decided I would move to a tree-stand nearby.
At 1PM I climbed up into the stand. In minutes, deer were going this way and that way beneath me, but no shooter bucks, yet. The wind had in fact changed and was blowing directly into my face. I was in thicker timber, overlooking a travel corridor that was covered in scrapes and rubs. There was no doubt in my mind that at least one trophy buck was in the area. Later that afternoon, I heard what I thought was a hoof stomp. It sounded like it was coming from in front of me, but I couldn’t see the deer making the noise. Finally, when the wind subsided a little, I could tell that the sound was actually coming from behind me. Carefully, I peeked over my left
shoulder. Thirty yards away stood the giant 11-point buck that I didn’t get the see the day I arrived in Kansas. Well, I saw it now, and it was quite a site—all I could see were towering white points everywhere! I knew there was little hope, but time was running out, so I stood and turned with my bow in my hand, hoping for some miracle. It didn’t happen, and the buck left like nobody’s business. I was dejected, but excited about the encounter too. I sat until dark without seeing another deer.
On what would be my last morning there, the wind was right to sit the same stand. Cody and I agreed that the buck was in the area, and during the rut you never know what might happen. An hour before dark, I climbed into the stand. Early in the morning, a small buck appeared at the fence line of the bordering property; it merely looked my way and then left. Soon after, I could make out the white of antlers through the river-bottom timber out in the field in front of me. I tried calling a few times, but nothing responded. It was getting late, and it was going to be a long drive home. I texted James—who was in a stand nearby—and told him if I had not seen anything by 11AM that I was headed home. As soon as I pushed send, I caught movement in front of me—it was a buck and it was a giant buck. After making a move to my left, the buck came directly my way, stopped below me at 20 yards and grunted once. I had no shot because several thick branches covered the bucks body. Then the buck turned and walked to my left. In one motion, I was standing with my Bowtech Prodigy in my hand. I drew the bow and poised the Easton Hexx for a release. The buck stopped just six yards away, but was quartering to me at a hard angle. It appeared the buck would never move.
I had practiced several hours a week at the range for months, and I was ready for almost any shot. I knew that although I was shooting a fairly light
arrow and only 60 pounds of draw weight that I had plenty of energy and momentum to make the hard-angled shot. What felt like minutes was probably nanoseconds, and before I had really convinced myself that I could make the shot, my brain had already told my finger to pull the trigger, and the arrow was on its way. Luckily, I had settled the pin on the correct spot on the buck’s chest and the arrow hit its mark, passing completely through the buck at that distance. The buck merely walked away, and did not look to be in any distress. However, after making it about 40 yards, the buck became week-kneed and perished within site. I quickly climbed down and made my way to the buck. Everything had happened so fast, I hadn’t paid much attention to the buck other than I knew it met the 140-inch minimum. Grasping the left beam and taking a look at the buck, I quickly realized it was the giant 11-point that I had encountered the previous afternoon. It was a surreal moment. Not fully comprehending what had just happened, I walked back to the tree to gather my gear and my thoughts. I texted James to let him know what happened. When he responded, I noticed my last two texts to him occurred just four minutes apart.
I called Cody and let him know I had just harvested the 11-point. Soon after, Cody was there to help me take a few photos and field-dress the deer. When Cody said, “This is why you come to Kansas,” it finally sunk in that I had taken a Kansas buck-of-a-lifetime. After processing the buck shortly thereafter, I put a quick tape to the rack—the buck grossed 166-inches B&C. Needless to say, I was ecstatic, and Matt and James congratulated me on a great Kansas buck! Brian had already left earlier in the day, so I called him to let him know about my buck, he was as excited as I was. An hour after the harvest of a lifetime, Matt, James and I were headed back to Arizona.
I am booked to hunt with Cody at HPO again this year. As long as I am lucky enough to draw another tag, I will be back in Kansas in 2016. If you would like to do the same, please reach out to Cody, maybe I will see you there.
Heartland Pride Outfitters
Contact: Cody Kuck, Owner & Outfitter