Every whitetail hunter I have ever met has had a dream in which they are about to arrow a truly giant buck. Often, the buck has just entered a shooting lane and the hunter has come to full draw. The unassuming monarch stands broadside at 10 yards. Nearly every time, just as the hunter is about to take the shot of a lifetime, they wake up.
Have you ever had that dream? Something tells me that if you are reading this story and you are anything like me, then you have had this dream more than once.
Dale Gertz, of Anne Arundel County, Maryland, has had this dream too. Dale is a 50-year-old homebuilder who is passionate about a few things — his friends, his children and hunting trophy whitetails. I was fortunate to meet Dale at a banquette to support the Maryland chapter of the Quality Deer Management Association. Dale and I spent nearly 40 minutes that night talking about not only his buck, but our mutual passion for Quality Deer Management and hunting mature whitetails. Dale shared with me his story and the story of “Kicks,” his new Maryland non-typical archery record. To share Dale’s story with you, I will start from the most logical place, the beginning.
The first thing I noticed about Dale was that he was just cool. In fact, Dale is the type of guy whom everyone would like to hang out with. More than anything, I noticed that, despite owning the Maryland archery record, Dale is simply a normal, down-to-earth guy. His hunting career was about the same too — normal. At the age of 50, Dale had been hunting hard for most of his life, and prior to that fateful day in 2011, he had managed to harvest just one Pope and Young trophy out of countless hours on stand.
During the summer of 2009, Dale had only just begun to seriously manage his 150-acre family farm for quality whitetail hunting. For years, he tried to focus only on harvesting what he called “ bigger” bucks. Dale and his friends abided by a very standard rule of only harvesting bucks that were at least eight points and outside the ears. Dale admitted that while he and his buddies were trying to do a better job managing the farm, they still hadn’t come close to the full potential of the property. He knew that the area held a few large, mature bucks. In fact, the farm is bordered by nearly 500 acres of state-owned land that is not hunted at all. Talk about a sanctuary!
On another border of Dale’s property lies a 200-acre farm that for years has been hunted hard, really hard. Dale told me he never really considered how he might be able to make his property more productive and attractive to more, bigger bucks. That is, not until a hunting trip to Wisconsin changed his perspective.
Dale told me about how he traveled to Wisconsin and hunted with an outfitter whose land had been managed under a strict program since 1978. This property was being operated at an entirely different level, and the results spoke for themselves. Dale spoke about a 300-acre piece of property that held hundreds of deer and as many as 30 Pope and Young bucks at any given time.
On two trips to Wisconsin, Dale learned about strict scent control, land use tactics, how to create an effective sanctuary and the importance of stand positioning, as well as the best way to enter and exit those stands. In addition to a wealth of knowledge, Dale also acquired his first ever Pope and Young buck, a 161-inch mature whitetail. Perhaps most importantly, Dale acquired a vision for what could be.
Upon returning from Wisconsin, Dale got to work on his own farm and management program. “The first thing I did was begin to limit the amount of human activity on the property,” he said. “No more dirt bikes, no more four-wheelers, limited paintball to one small area for the kids.”
Dale realized that while he was working hard to manage his farm, he was also shooting himself in the foot so to speak as he and his friends were running all of the deer off while using the property for a recreational hang out. After getting the land use issues under control, Dale began to design his property to grow and hold mature whitetails. He planted five acres of food plots for the deer, along with 30 pear trees, 10 Chinese chestnut trees and 10 persimmon trees. Once Dale had the groceries in order, he started to formulate a plan to provide his deer with the feeling of safety they would need to stay on his property. Part of Dale’s plan was to build a sanctuary and included the future planting of 800 pine trees.
In the summer of 2010, Dale’s deer management program began to bear fruit. Dale was seeing more and more deer. Not just bucks, but does and fawns as well. Several bucks really caught Dale’s eye, but none like one buck in particular. This buck was different.
From the day in mid-June when Dale first captured him in a trail camera photo, he knew this buck was going to be special. The buck was estimated to be three years old and had amazing potential. When most other bucks were still growing their antlers, this buck was putting on some serious inches. Dale took note of the amazing brow tine length and how long the buck’s main beams looked even covered in velvet. Not to mention, the buck grew several kicker points and several drop tines throughout the summer. Dale’s daughter Rachelle named him Kicks.
This buck was truly something else. Dale estimated that Kicks would score somewhere around 170 Pope and Young inches. It wasn’t until the final chapter of the story had been written and Dale’s friend and official Boone and Crockett scorer, Robert Newton, found Kicks’ 2010 shed, that he was able to estimate the buck at 190 inches as a 3 1/2-year-old.
In late summer, Kicks was showing up on the cameras on a regular basis. Dale’s anticipation was growing by the day as the September 15 archery opener approached, but with one week to go before the season, Dale’s anticipation turned to despair. Day after day, the trail cameras failed to produce proof that Kicks was still in the area. The giant buck had gone nocturnal. Almost as if a switch had been flipped, the buck moved on and vacated the property all together. Dale hunted hard during the 2010 season but never laid eyes on Kicks. The deer simply disappeared.
Kicks had disappeared with the exception of one brief sighting and a handful of trail camera pictures. While Dale was happy to know that Kicks was still alive, his heart sank when he heard that the giant buck had been hit by a car. A good friend of Dale’s witnessed the buck walking on three legs and bedding in the middle of an open field on Dale’s farm. The buck was clearly injured when he showed up on the trail cameras briefly in November. One last nocturnal photo of Kicks in early December proved that the buck had already shed his rack due to his injuries from the run in with the car.
In the late spring of 2011, Dale had come to terms with 2010’s disappointing season, until a morning walk in May gave him something to smile about. As Dale walked his property and approached one of his timed deer feeders, he noticed a large bodied deer standing under the feeder. “When the deer lifted his head, there was no question.” “ It was him; it was Kicks.” The monster buck was back and even though it was only June, Dale could tell it was him by the characteristics of his giant, growing rack.
Immediately upon encountering Kicks on that hot summer day, Dale began devising his plan. “I was thinking, what can I do?” he recalled. “What can I do to keep this buck from leaving my farm again this year? How can I spare myself that disappointment?”
The one issue that Dale previously had little control over was pressure put on Kicks by other hunters in the area. Dale knew that his best bet for keeping Kicks in the area was to create a bigger area. Right away, Dale approached his next-door neighbor and did everything in his power to be the highest bidder on the adjacent farm’s lease. By solidifying the sole lease on the additional 200 acres, Dale had nearly doubled his huntable acreage and reduced hunting pressure by limiting the number of hunters to three. Now both pieces of land shared borders with the 500-acre unhunted and state-owned tract.
Right away, Dale began to limit all activity on his property, only stepping foot into the buck’s core area to check trail camera photos or to fill a deer feeder or two. Immediately, Kicks began showing up on the trail cameras on a regular basis. Like clockwork, the giant buck was making daytime appearances and seemed to be comfortable and stress-free.
Dale quickly noticed that Kicks had grown. He had grown a great deal. It wasn’t until later in the story that Dale figured out the huge buck had put on nearly 40 inches of antler in just one year.
In the state of Maryland, the use of timed feeders and baiting is legal. With several stand locations to choose from on the 350-acre hunting tract, Dale decided to put his focus on just one stand location. This was the one area where Kicks was almost sure to show up on camera during the entire summer. Every morning from mid-June on, Dale rose before the sun and road into the darkness on his ATV.
“Each day, I would leave my house at 5 a.m. and head to that spot,” he explained. “Every day, I would put out 15 pounds of shelled corn and sprinkle it with “Deer’Licious” apple powder.”
Wouldn’t you know, every morning during the summer, Dale would head out early and put out his corn mixture and shortly after, Kicks would show for breakfast. Rain or shine, Dale kept up this ritual, even during a rare Maryland hurricane. By the end of the summer, Dale and Kicks were both used to the routine. Dale says he believes that the buck became used to the sound of the ATV and was bedding close by the stand where the corn and apple powder could be found.
On the morning of September 15, cool weather had settled in over the state of Maryland and provided perfect conditions for Dale to go after the buck on the season archery opener. Dale rose early just like always and had his friend, Crusher, meet him at the house. They loaded up the ATV and Crusher drove Dale to his stand. Well before first light, Dale settled into his perch while Crusher poured out the customary 15 pounds of shelled corn and sprinkled it with apple powder. Crusher then hopped on the ATV and drove off. You see, this was all part of Dale’s plan. The plan worked.
Feeling perfectly comfortable that feeding time had come, four deer made their way into the stand site. The fourth deer in the group was Kicks. The deer made his way into the set and Dale readied his Hoyt bow. As the buck stepped into the clearing, Dale came to full draw and found his anchor. In the low morning light, Dale watched his illuminated sight pin as it seemed to float in mid-air. As the pin settled in behind the buck’s shoulder, Dale easily and steadily pulled the trigger on his release.
Almost immediately, Dale knew that his Muzzy broadhead had founds its mark. The buck turned and bolted from the site, crashing through the thick early-season underbrush. After taking a few minutes to compose himself, Dale climbed down to trail his trophy. After recovering the blood-soaked arrow, Dale made quick work of the 90-yard tracking job.
When he walked up on the buck, Dale could hardly believe his eyes. Even though he knew the buck so well, Dale couldn’t believe what he had done. The deer was huge. Sporting impressively long main beams, brow tines measuring nearly 10 inches and a drop tine over 11 inches, this deer, as Dale had predicted, was truly special.
Unfortunately, as Dale’s trail cameras had shown on July 25, the buck had broken off a considerable amount of his main beam, a drop tine and a point off the beam. All together, the buck lost nearly 13 inches of antler. Even with this loss, Kicks still grossed 219 6/8 Pope and Young inches. After the mandatory drying period, the buck was officially scored at 208 7/8 net Pope and Young inches. If the buck had not broken his rack prior to the season, he would have likely grossed over 230 inches.
In the state of Maryland, the words “200 inches” and “whitetail buck” are not often uttered in the same sentence. With that said, I believe Maryland is a sleeper state. Each year, a handful of “Booners” are taken from this small East Coast state. Every now and then, a special buck comes along and a special hunter is lucky enough to engage him in a battle of wits. Every now and then, a Maryland buck breaks the mystical 200-inch mark, and it is proven that dreams can come true.