by Mario Guisto
I like to take on new challenges, whether it’s filming a hunt, achieving new fitness goals, hunting new species or guiding in new places. Last spring, Matt Woodward, from Borderland Adventures told me about some private ground in Kansas that he was going to try outfitting for White-tailed deer. When I get a lead on a new place to guide, you can count to ten, and I will have already signed on the dotted line for the job. I am like a Gypsy, and it’s not a good thing. It seems no pasture is ever green enough; I want to hunt every new piece of country I can land my feet on. I am surprised my wife, Kira, was even able to tie me down for a weekend that we got married last July.
I quickly contemplated Kansas, and it was a done deal. Borderland Adventures sold six hunts for the archery season. Matt and I scouted and found deer and pheasants were plentiful. I was more than ready, and it turned out to be a great deal for me because I had the opportunity to guide and hunt.
Growing up in Oregon, I had hunted Elk, Blacktail Deer and Mule Deer, but had only hunted whitetails a handful of times. I arrived in Kansas the third week of October and dove head first into scouting, looking for the best bucks in the area. Our first clients arrived the first week of November. Prior to that, I had read every magazine article on whitetail hunting, hoping to become a whitetail wizard. That first week, I put out baits, hung stands in pinch points and set up blinds on some water holes that were being hammered by deer. At every location, I also hung cameras and cleared shooting lanes. It was a great feeling to have placed my chess pieces for the coming hunts.
I learned a ton that first week of hunting; and most of the lessons hindered my chances throughout the rut. My biggest mistake was that changing the natural landscape put the big bucks on notice; they began changing their routines, which really racked my nerves up for weeks to come. Fortunately, it did not affect bucks that came from as much as five miles away that were not as familiar with the natural surroundings I had altered.
My biggest success that week, the number of deer that were hitting the water holes where I had placed stands. Prairie whitetails hit water just like antelope on a dry year. They would wait and stare at the blind for about five minutes, and then they would waltz right in for a much-needed gulp of water. The high temperatures and steady rutting activity had the bucks thirstier than a bear in southern Arizona! The corn worked just as well as it does in Texas. The deer were also addicted to cracked corn; they couldn’t get enough of it. With hunters arriving soon, we had good water, bait and trail sits, all with great activity. I could already predict it would be an epic season.
The first week of hunters went well; we went two-for-two, hunting over on water. It was an amazing week of hunting that helped to lower my stress level, which had built up over the last few months. The great thing about a challenge is that, although it can be very stressful at times, if you work hard, the success always tastes sweeter. My western water tactics that I grew up with were working just as well on Kansas whitetails as antelope back home, and it was a great feeling. Even the hunters could not believe they harvested whitetails off a water hole, without a tree for miles.
The next week we had two more hunters, they were a Grandfather and a Grandson from California. The grandson Ryan harvested his deer via spot-and-stalk and his grandfather ended up missing two bucks sitting in a pinch point. Though, he will be back this year because he drew a coveted Kansas mule deer tag. He also reminded me “he still wants redemption on the big buck he missed.”
Before I knew it, my guiding job had ended and I was sitting over water, hunting for a good buck for myself. When you sit in a ground blind for that many hours, you get to contemplate life. I sat there that day passing up younger bucks and going through the last month of hunting in my mind. At that moment, nobody could wipe the smile off my face. Never in a million years would I have dreamed up hunting and guiding on 30,000 acres in Western Kansas for the famous whitetail deer I grew up watching on TV. That day, I also thought about how nice it would be to leave the blind and spot-and-stalk for the remainder of the day. My only problem was that I had promised Dave Watson I would try to get my harvest on film. So, there I sat waiting for a good buck to come along. The next couple of days were filled with action at different water sits and tree-stands, but I still didn’t have a buck walk by that would fulfill my 2012 dreams.
On the last day of the archery season—before the Kansas Orange Armada would take over for the rifle season—I had a nice buck show up late in the afternoon. I took lots of video of him chasing does, drooling at his mouth, and slurping up water. Eventually, I sat there filming so long and judging him that he left. I sat there in disbelief. How did I just sit there like I was filming for National Geographic and not draw my bow? “Unbelievable,” I kept telling myself. I reviewed the footage and he was an older buck with sunken in hips that needed to be taken to keep the herd healthy. As the day passed, my thoughts of how tag soup was going to taste sank in. I was texting my wife asking her if I could stay and hunt after my rifle clients went home. Her only reply was “it’s not even dark yet!”
I really despise her when she is right. With only 45 minutes of daylight left, the old sunken ship buck returned. This time, I was not so interested with the pre-roll. As soon as his nose hit the water, I pulled my Mathews back and settled the 40-yard pin behind his shoulder. I squeezed the trigger of my release and watched my arrow as it disappeared perfectly, right behind the shoulder. He instantly kicked like a kangaroo and ran around the corner up the coulee and out of sight, Checkmate!
Emotions hit me like a train. Every great moment over the last month was rushing through my mind and I couldn’t wait to go put my hands on such an old mature whitetail. I unzipped my blind and walked up the coulee to see horns sticking out of the grass. I couldn’t run fast enough, my entire world was in slow motion. The sun was setting in the western sky, while the harvest moon was rising over my beautiful Kansas whitetail. I sat there for an hour taking pictures and enjoying the crisp autumn air. All I needed was my wife there with me and I would have been the happiest man alive.