Three hundred and twenty steps later, my thoughts were confirmed. No blood, hair or sign of impact indicated that I had missed the deer of a lifetime. My head was spinning, wondering what had just happened in the previous 15 minutes; it happened so fast.
What could I have done differently, and what did I do wrong? My heart was heavy and my stomach was uneasy. How was I ever going to be able to tell the guys that I had blown the shot of a lifetime? I went on to work and broke the news to the rest of our hunting group. The responses were all the same. They were very supportive, which seemed to help ease my pain.
Later that night as I laid in bed, I continued to toss and turn, reliving the events of that morning. The reward for all of the hard work and stress that we had endured as a group over the last three years was right before me and somehow I managed to let it slip away, or so I thought.
Three years ago, the deer was a young, aggressive 3-year-old with a temper. He had dismantled one side of his rack trying to earn a spot in the pecking order. He was a little bigger than the other deer his age, sporting a 150-inch-plus rack, which was more than impressive for a deer his age.
The buck seemed to be a regular on the trail cameras we had been using, beginning early in antler-growing period. That year there was a bigger deer in the woods that our group of hunters was chasing. There were opportunities to harvest the 3-year-old, but everyone had bought into the idea that he would get bigger with age. We had set management goals, one of which was to let the deer reach maturity, which we considered to be 5 years old.
To aid in these management goals, we annually planted 10 acres of food plots consisting of clovers, rye, standing corn and beans. We also used 10 game cameras to help monitor the deer. Game cameras were vital in our management plan, allowing us to know what deer were out there and where they might be located. Based off of pictures, we could gain a good idea of the ages of the animals. With some strategic camera placement, we were rewarded with high quality and quantity of deer pictures.
The following summer came around and there he was again fairly early on, but this time he had a surprise. He was now sporting a small drop tine, which any avid hunter loves. Throughout that summer, we watched him on camera and also watched him a lot feeding in a bean field. I had access to a protected bean field, and I could sneak up a hill without being detected and glass the field. The field was easy to get to, so several nights a week, when the wind was right, I would travel to this spot with binoculars in hand to watch what came out to feed.
At the time there was another deer that we had also been watching that was a year older. Although this deer was a year older his rack wasn’t quite as impressive. Based on our plan, he was the deer to kill this year. He had reached 5 years old and that was considered mature in our books. During these summer scouting trips, both deer would frequently visit the field, sometimes even at the same time.
In early August of that year, we got a picture of the younger buck still in velvet with damage to his rack. He probably would have been a 180-inch deer if he hadn’t had the antler damage, but because he was banged up, it made it easier on us to pass him up for another year. Even though you know that you want them to reach 5 years old before you take them, it is always hard to pass on a deer that would gross 180 inches.
As we continued to become more experienced with our deer management, we felt that we needed to start putting a name with the deer we were following. This gave us an easier way to communicate about the deer without having to explain and describe each deer in full detail each time they were seen.
Naming the deer was a process. Each deer had a name that fit them, and usually had something to do with a unique characteristic that would make them easy to detect. One night as I was looking through pictures with my wife, I told her that someday this deer would be a deer that everyone would be talking about, but we couldn’t find a name that we felt fit him.
As we continued to look through pictures and talk about that deer in particular, I kept pointing out that in the pictures his drop tine was always broken off. That had been irritating the heck out of all of us. As she thought about it she came up with the name “Bankrupt.” Her reasoning was that if the deer was constantly “broke,” he might as well be bankrupt. The name seemed to fit him perfectly, and it didn’t take long for it to stick.
During that season, three of us—Emmett, Sam, and myself—bowhunted this ground, and we had all decided that Bankrupt should get another pass. His rack was not in good condition and he still was a fairly young deer. There were a couple encounters with him but those were far and few between.
As he continued to age, he was also becoming wiser, which made the hunt even more difficult. As we went from bow to rifle season we gained a fourth member to our group, Dustin.
On December 5 of that season, I was able to tag an older deer that ended up being 5 years old. While I was admiring my kill, Emmett had Bankrupt in his sights 80 yards from his blind. My brother-in-law, Matt, was sitting with him, videotaping the hunt. They got some amazing footage of the deer, and Emmett had even clicked the safety off and was ready for the kill. But as he watched the deer, he ended up clicking the safety back on, knowing that the deer had such great potential.
For the rest of the season and past closing day, we continued to get pictures of Bankrupt on camera. This ensured us he had survived yet another season, but it left us wondering how long we would be able to keep this impressive deer our secret.
That spring we did some CRP burning to manage the native grasses, and we found one of his sheds from two years prior. To see and touch his sheds was enough to get everyone amped up for the next deer season. A frenzy of sorts started with the shed hunting after this, and Matt was able to find the match. In Emmett’s shed hunting adventures, he was able to find one side of his rack from the previous year, but as much as we continued to look, we never found the other side for the complete pair.
Trail cameras were checked weekly, and every time our hope was that he would be there. One little glimpse is all we needed, and finally, he was there! The pictures were few and far between, but we were able to get some pictures of him in velvet. These pictures were enough to assure us that the decision to let him grow was a great one. The field I normally scouted had been rotated back to corn, and the beans were on the other side of the ground, making scouting a little more challenging. There wasn’t an easy way to the bean field, and you couldn’t see over or though the corn.
We were going weeks to a month at a time between pictures of the buck. By late August, we still hadn’t seen a picture of him with a full-grown rack. The last picture taken was on my birthday, July 19. We had no idea of his true size or even if he was still in the area. In the middle of August we were out of town and a terrible storm ripped through our area. The damage was unimaginable, 100 mph winds and baseball-size hail did incredible damage to crops, trees and the land in general.
The two forces combined took a fully mature field of corn down to stalks that were barely knee high. The center of our management plan was our resource of trail cameras. They didn’t fare so well in the storm; out of the 10 we had, four were destroyed. The hours spent on cleanup made it hard to get to the good trail cameras to check them.
At this time, killing Bankrupt was one of the last things on my mind. One afternoon I retrieved the memory cards from the cameras that were still functional and figured I needed to go through them to see what we had. What was in front of me was more than I ever thought was possible. We had caught Bankrupt on camera again, and it was almost like he was conducting a photo shoot for us. Based on the pictures in front of me, Bankrupt was doing amazingly well. He had turned into the deer of a lifetime.
Everyone was focused on the upcoming bow season and how we were going to harvest him. We all took to the field with bows in hand, trying to run into him. One thing this deer had never done for us over the years was show any distinct patterns. The area has low pressure, and the bucks roam around freely.
The season rolled on and nobody had seen Bankrupt. There was some frustration mounting and a little fear that maybe someone had poached him. But all it took was one more trip to check trail cameras. That night revealed that there was a three-day window where he presented himself in range during daylight hours. One occasion was Halloween night about 45 minutes before dark. I had lobbied to hunt that night, but family is more important and I took my kids trick-or-treating.
During the peak week of the rut, Emmett was on vacation, and he spent most of his time chasing Bankrupt. One of the few encounters with Bankrupt occurred as Emmett was leaving the stand and heading back to the truck. He saw him across the fence on neighboring property, which we also had permission to hunt. Emmett put a sneak on him and was able to get within 50 yards of him, but the buck was preoccupied with a doe and never offered a shot.
We had finally reached rifle season, which is always the Wednesday after Thanksgiving. The plan was to put in as much time as possible. We run a family-owned fertilizer and chemical business, and with the good winter we were having, it was a busy time. This made it hard to hunt as much as we wanted. I was determined to go out every morning before work and get in at least 45 minutes of daylight. This leads us back to where I started this story.
On the first Friday of the season, I went out like I had the previous two mornings, but this time was different. Three deer came out in front of me, but it was too dark to tell what they were. I could tell two of them were bucks, and in my gut I knew that Bankrupt was one of them. I glassed very intently but could not verify it was him for several minutes until there was enough daylight. In the time I let slip away he had continued to move farther away.
I steadied my rifle and took the shot and he just walked off. I knew I missed and after figuring out how far it was I knew why. It was farther than I had estimated. I climbed down and paced off the shot—320 steps. There was no blood, no hair, no sign of impact. A week had passed since my last encounter. We had been working long days, which made it challenging to get in the deer blind before dark.
My plan was to sneak out to the same field where I had scouted so often before. This cornfield had been devastated by the August storm, which made it a great feeding ground because corn was scattered all around. It was almost 5:15 p.m., so time was running out as I sneaked up the hill.
Knowing the deer would already be out, I had prepared my rifle with the bipod folded out, and I crept gingerly up the hill. I eased over the top to take a peak, and there he was, feeding with some does. I quickly took a seat and steadied my Browning rifle. As soon as I settled in, I took a deep breath, centered the crosshairs on his vitals and squeezed off a shot. Down he went!
The bullet had hit a rib bone and fragmented, and a piece had lodged up in his spine. Matt wasn’t too far behind me; he had walked to this spot not too long after me and had reached the base of the hill when I shot. “I got him,” I yelled, and we hurried out to get a closer look at him. After exactly 181 steps, we were there and he was every bit of what we had hoped. We loaded him up and took him to where we meet as a group, and the celebration began.
The news spread fast and it seemed like my phone was ringing all night with congratulations. Words can’t explain the way I felt being able to take this deer. It is deer like this that make hunting such an amazing experience.
Bankrupt had 26 points and grossed 247 4/8 and netted 238 4/8. This made him No. 12 among the biggest non-typicals ever taken with a rifle in the state of Kansas. I entered Bankrupt in the first annual Monster Buck Classic of Kansas event and he was crowned the non-typical “King of Kansas.” Several people have asked me if I am done hunting. My response to them is it’s not just about the size of the deer. It’s all about our passion for hunting.