Kansas’ Gagger Bucks
by Mike Lambeth
It’s hard to discuss gagger whitetail bucks without mentioning Kansas. The Sunflower State holds an allure for whitetail purists seeking to take a “book” buck. A popular destination for non-resident hunters, Kansas could certainly produce the next world-record whitetail.
John Hafner Guns a Central Kansas Giant
If the name John Hafner sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because he is a prolific outdoor photographer. Hafner’s photos have graced the covers of many outdoor magazines and hunting company’s catalogs. Most of the time, Hafner shoots animals with one of his Nikon cameras, but he gets to hunt on occasion too.
After meeting outfitter, Tom McMillan, during a KS photo shoot with Michael Waddell, Hafner was invited to hunt. He jumped at the chance and travelled from his home in Montana to hunt with McMillan Outfitting in Stafford, KS.
When Hafner arrived in camp, he was taken to an elevated shooting blind overlooking a CRP field strewn with cedars. The wind blew hard and the temperature was in the single digits. The first two days produced numerous sightings of deer, but not a shooter buck.
On the third day, Hafner climbed into his perch and waited for daylight. In the pre-dawn light, Hafner began to see deer moving across the waist-high grass in the distance. He began glassing and found a strange object 225 yards away. “I really thought I was looking at driftwood until it moved,” Hafner recalled. “I realized it was the dark antlers of a bedded buck I guessed to score between 150 and 160.”
Hafner was afforded brief glimpses of the bedded whitetail when the wind would gust, moving the grass and revealing the antlers and tips of the buck’s ears. John knew he would have to wait for the buck to stand, if he was going to get a shot.
Into the afternoon, Hafner continued to get brief glimpses of the buck. At 5 PM, he noticed a doe standing in the tall grass beside the buck. Soon another doe appeared, and the two does walked through the grass, offering a full view. John noticed the buck had reversed his position and was now facing the does.
In an instant, the big buck was on his feet and headed towards the does. When the monster stepped onto the game trail, the buck turned directly away from Hafner. Anxiously, Hafner held his gun on the deer. “I was praying that I could hold my gun steady,” he said.
Allowing for the wind, Hafner placed the crosshairs on the big-bodied buck and fired. “Initially, I thought I missed,” Hafner said. “I reloaded my gun and went to look for blood, knowing it would be dark soon.”
Hafner was amazed to find the huge buck lying in the tall grass. The buck had 16 points and would score much more than he predicted! “It was surreal,” Hafner remembered. The buck scored 180 6/8-inches, a gagger for sure.
Brandon Adam’s Blackpowder Bruiser
Brandon Adams probably sees more big bucks tip over each year than any other hunter in the nation sees, but usually never fires a shot. Generally, Adams is behind the camera filming Jeff Danker or in front of the computer editing footage for Buckventures Outdoors’ and Major League Bowhunter’s television shows.
A few seasons back, Adams won the lottery! Danker was contacted by Kansan, Richard Blakeslee, of Triple Creek Outfitters located near St. John, KS, where Blakeslee had seen a huge heavy-horned typical buck that had taken up residence on one of his properties. Since Danker had already drawn a tag in another unit, he decided to reward Adams with a chance to hunt the biggest buck of his life. Adams hadn’t applied for a tag during the spring drawing, so he applied for a leftover tag and drew one in Blakeslee’s area.
Just before the season opener, Adams and cameraman, Steven Stewart, traveled to Kansas to scout the area they would be hunting. Blakeslee told them he hadn’t seen the buck in 10 days, and feared the buck had gone nocturnal. However, the evening before the season opened, Adams and Stewart were driving in the area and spotted the huge buck 150 yards away in a field.
The next morning, Adams decided to stay on the perimeter of the big grass field, so he wouldn’t disturb the buck. The buck’s daily routine was generally to feed in the tall standing crops, loiter in a small patch of trees, and then return to the middle of the CRP field to bed down. The next day Adams hung a stand in a clump of trees nearby where he could observe the CRP field. While observing the field, a coyote ran into the clump of trees near the buck’s bedding area. A large buck came out followed by the big buck, which was given the name “Turmoil.” Both bucks went into the tall grass and bedded. Adams climbed down at 10 AM, with a plan for the evening’s hunt.
Knowing the deer had a penchant for hanging out in the clump of trees near his bedding area; Blakeslee drove Adams and his cameraman to the area around noon. The deer were used to seeing the outfitter’s truck, which allowed Adams and Stewart time to hang two treestands before Blakeslee drove away.
From their new vantage, the pair watched the distant field expecting to see “Turmoil” walk towards the woodlot like the previous three days, but nothing happened. Just before dark Stewart spotted the huge buck 30 yards away. Adams shifted in his treestand and carefully aimed his Traditions Vortek .50 caliber smokepole at the brute. With darkness looming, Adams waited a few minutes before walking to the area where the buck had stood, but 50 yards away, “Turmoil” laid motionless—causing much excitement. Blakeslee scored the brute at 192 4/8.