Two Years ago I came back to Fort Riley, Kansas from a deployment to Iraq. I made it back home just in time to buy my deer tag and jump into the second week of archery season. I was more anxious than ever to return to the woods and expose my senses to the great outdoors of the Midwest.
As enthusiastic as I was to plunge into hunting after a long exodus, I had to scout out a good location without interfering with fellow hunters, who were at this time, already well established into their own optimistic honey holes, awaiting their future Kansas Giant.
Fort Riley is tucked away in the Flint Hill of Kansas. While most of the state is flat, rolling plains, Fort Riley is covered in steep hills and draws, deep river banks exposing the raw stone underneath the soil, and stretches of hard woods bordering the several tributaries to the Republican and Kansas Rivers. Dealing with restrictions of using a bow and having limited mature trees worthy of a tree stand, I scouted along the creeks that snaked through the hills.
Without much scrutinization of my location, I stumbled upon an old food plot long overgrown and untended but still an obvious social hub for the local wildlife. A small creek bordered its backside and the hard woods followed along either side of the creek as it leveled out and splintered off into a wide, grassy valley.
I threw my stand up the first able tree I found just off the small opening overlooking a massive, fresh rub. I was pleased with the expedient setup and was soon greeted by a spike and a few does with their yearlings. I watched them for the next few weeks and eventually the does were watching me. Every time they came near they would stare up my tree and begin their anxious stomping and snorting. In my rush to establish a stand, I settled for a tree that was too thin to climb up to an adequate height. The limited availability of mature trees pressured me to select one directly over the main trail I was hunting, and my placement in the wind was unfavorable. My heart sunk with the thought of packing it in and finding a new location but it had to be done.
I held out a few more days and on one moon lit night as I walked back to my truck across the old food plot I flushed out a massive deer only 15 feet in front of me. It ran into the opening and stood illuminated by the moon. I was awe struck at the sight of a towering rack extending well beyond his ears. He gave me a nasally snort and leaped back into the cover of darkness underneath the trees. I wasn’t sure what I had seen but I knew it was a monster.
With the rut coming on and the encouraging sighting of a trophy buck, I decided to stay put in my spot. The does learned to avoid my stand but they still came into the food plot with their yearlings to let them run and play every evening. Just as I was beginning to doubt the magnificent encounter I had under the moonlight, I reconfirmed the trophy status of my newly deemed “target number one.” That same monster buck ran into the opening in hot pursuit of a doe. I was shocked to see that I had not overestimated his size. He appeared to be a typical 12pt and easily a 170-class buck. I gave a few grunts and managed to turn his head, but with the promising prospect of love staring him in the face, and multiple saplings blocking my shooting lane, he trotted off. I waited the rest of the season for that deer passing up everything that came by. I sat through the wintery days of December and ended the season with a big “skunk.”
The next year started early. I drudged deeper into the thick summer under growth, following the creek back into the woods. Covered in ticks and avoiding the poison ivy I went beyond last year’s spot. I had studied up over the off-season, watched the hunting shows, and read the magazine articles. I needed expert advice on how to improve my ability as a bowhunter.
I found a great bedding area off the backside of the old food plot. I followed the creek deeper to find good cover in the woods overlooking the bedding ground. I’d found the location worthy of my expert hunting articles; off of the primary bedding ground where the deer skirted through to come back and forth from their feeding areas. Multiple trees allowed my stand to not directly hang over my main trail, and the mature woods offered a shield to the ever-present Kansas winds. I opened some shooting lanes and mounted a trail cam.
My second season on Fort Riley started out promising with lots of deer activity, but I was discouraged with the lack of mature buck activity and their absence on my trail cam photos. I had gone about 10 days into the season when the first trophy appeared in the camera, a beautiful 140-150 class 11pt. It didn’t take long until I had another 11pt in the camera even larger than the first, and soon after that I had multiple bucks ranging from spectacular 8pts to handsome basket 10s. Bucks surrounded me but with only one problem, they were not yet moving during shooting hours.
It took a few more days but an 11pt finally came into some corn I had on the ground (baiting is legal in KS). I was sure I would take a shot but he kept his antlers facing directly at me and I did not want to shoot over them down onto his back. While I waited, arms trembling with the arrow drawn back, a squirrel decided to leap onto a limb directly over my head. The buck looked up and at a second glance noticed my silhouette. He grew uneasy and bounded back into thick cover.
It hadn’t been more than a week later when he came back through my area once again. I watched him move through the woods tracking a doe to his front. She came down my trail and walked directly bellow my stand. I was sure this time I would have him if he would only follow in her footsteps, but of course, he went his own way and stayed about 35 yards out in the brush. There was never a shot I felt comfortable with so I left him alone and hoped for another encounter. I pulled my camera photos a little while after to see if there were any new pictures of the nice 11-point. I was amazed when I pulled up yet another new buck but this one could have possibly scored 190-200. I wondered how I could possibly be sitting
in such a highly concentrated buck spot. This deer was oddly familiar though. I studied his tines and considered the odds of having two deer pushing a score of 200 over a two-year span in the same location. It had to be the monster from last year.
I called off all shots on any deer but this one and having only gathered two more photos of him, I began to wonder if he would leave my freezer empty a second year in a row.
While waiting for fate to bring us together I was lucky enough to watch a 10-point buck and a wide 7-point buck battle it out directly beneath my stand. I watched them as they went through their escalation of force with each other, first grunting, then pawing at the earth, and showing their strength by thrashing the brush with their antlers, and finally crashing horns with each other and battling it out for over a minute straight (the seven point won).
The day of the kill felt like a great day for deer to move with the air carrying in a cold front. My afternoon hunt was spoiled by a unit training around my hunting area. This is a reoccurring inconvenience on a military post, but mission first and foremost.
I went out for the evening hunt and with about 20 minutes left of shooting time I heard my deer crashing through the woods. As he came closer I could hear his antlers snapping off of the branches. The canopy above the trees was now blocking out most of the light but my corn and main trail were exposed to the sky and stayed illuminated just long enough.
As the deer busted through the brush I got my first glance at his rack. I immediately saw that he had mass and spread. I wasn’t sure if he was the monster I had photographed or one the nice 11-points because of the cover he was in. I decided to take him and to no longer look at his rack to avoid getting overly anxious. He came in directly underneath me but then turned away. He wasn’t hanging around long and I could tell from his breathing and sense of purpose that he was looking for does. I had to take my shot quickly and the only one he offered me was down on his back as he faced away.
I lined up the sights and to my disgust, it had grown just dark enough to make my peep sight go invisible, but feeling comfortable with my draw and knowing I was in my sweet spot, I centered the bead on his back and let the arrow go.
The shot was difficult to judge, but I was sure I penetrated vitals. A vertical shot between the shoulder blades isn’t one I had been practicing for. The buck took off running hard and low but I could only follow his movement for about 60 yards before I lost him.
I let him set for a few hours and went out later that night with a friend to track him down. We followed his trail for about 25 yards until it went dry. It was an all time low of my hunting experience thinking I’d made a bad shot.
We went back to the beginning of the trail and started again. At the exact point we lost the trail the first time we had lost it again, but we held our ground and didn’t take no for an answer.
Several minutes went by before we found the pinprick drop of blood making an abrupt turn in the buck’s line of travel. With sighs of relief we followed the nearly microscopic drops for another 15 yards until his wound opened up again.
I had never been so happy to see a full, single drop of blood in my life and a few feet more it had opened up into a full trail again. You could nearly smell his presence in the air and what totaled to only be about 60 yards away from my stand, we found him lying up in the brush. I couldn’t believe it; the spot I had followed him running to when I was in the stand was right where he had laid down.
My shot had been perfect and the stars had aligned for me on that day. I had my Kansas monster.
The buck scored (P&Y) Non-Typical Gross of 204 1/8 and a net of 199 5/8.