January 22, 2024
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Deer hunters aren’t far and few between, even those that only chase trophy whitetails. Every season, millions of deer hunters take to the woods for a chance to harvest one. If you’ve spoken to a deer hunter, you’re also aware that almost all of them have their own methods, tricks, and tactics that they believe are the key to success.
What’s rare in the deer hunting community is coming across a deer hunter who constantly harvests mature, trophy-class whitetails. Darin Williams of Waverly, Kansas is one of those hunters. Darin has a dozen or more deer mounts and racks hanging in his house, all between 150 and 170 inches. He’s no novice in chasing, and more importantly harvesting, mature trophy-class whitetails. Darin started hunting when he was a sophomore in high school. Unlike others though, he decided to teach himself. He didn’t have a family member or friend to show him the ropes. He took it upon himself to read countless magazine articles and study all the information available.
Fast forward to the spring of 2022. Darin was in his tractor on a piece of ground he farms. He was spreading fertilizer when he spotted antler tips sticking out of the grass. It was a giant non-typical shed antler with a bladed brow tine. As a farmer in Kansas, Darin’s no stranger to picking up sheds while doing field work, especially since he’s a big believer in cover crops like wheat and rye grass. These late-season food sources are especially attractive to whitetails during the months when they typically drop their antlers.
Darin was aware of the buck who dropped this particular shed prior to finding it. But he hadn’t seen the deer in person or on camera. Instead, Darin’s friend Travis had told him about the deer. In fact, Travis had hunted the buck during the 2021 season. Come to find out later, Travis wasn’t the only one after him. Many of their neighbors had the buck on camera, some for multiple years. Many were specifically targeting him as their No. 1 hit-lister. The deer was estimated to be 4 1/2 years old when Darin found the shed antler, based on all the trail camera photos eventually discovered.
SETTING THE STAGE
Going into the 2022 season, Darin wanted to make sure his property stood out among the rest. “I put a plan together back in March, after I found the shed,” Darin explains. “I decided right then that I was going after this deer.” An avid hunter and lifelong farmer, Darin knows what deer need to feel safe, but also what’s needed in their diet to reach their maximum antler potential. He knew this buck had spent most of the hunting season on a neighbor’s property, in years past. If the same held true, the buck would cross over properties while switching to his fall range. Only then would Darin have a chance at him during the pre-rut or rut.
To maximize the amount of time deer would spend on his property, Darin knew he needed to make some improvements. So he planted oats in the spring as a food source during the antler growing period. Darin then harvested the oats in July, giving him enough time to plant a fall food plot. Darin practices no-till farming, and he routinely sows his fields in triticale and peas for cool season crops, and Sudan grass, sunn hemp, sunflowers, cowpeas and tillage radishes for warm season food plots. This approach builds up the soil’s organic matter and leads to better quality crops that are more attractive to whitetails. He also planted Sudan grass for cover and security for the deer. The plan was for the extra-tall Sudan grass to serve as a privacy fence, as well as an access and exit route for hunting purposes. However, Darin’s part of Kansas experienced a drought in summer 2022, and the grass only grew to a fraction of the height needed. Darin changed plans and decided to plant seven acres of triticale as his fall food plot in August.
After church a few weeks later, Darin and a few of his friends put together a Redneck hunting blind and hauled it out to “the spot” — a location that had been predetermined based on the location of the food plot, the timber edge and water source. Darin says, “If you looked at this property, you would not buy it for hunting purposes. But, based on my experience planting food plots in this area, I thought I had a reasonable chance of catching this buck on my property.”
RUT ACTION PICKS UP
On the morning of Nov. 15, Darin’s friend Travis was hunting and spotted the big buck a few hundred yards from Darin’s property, chasing and dogging a doe. Travis sent Darin a picture of the buck in the field. When he received the photo, Darin was busy in the combine harvesting soybeans on another property. Darin, being the experienced deer hunter that he is, knows that a mature deer of this caliber doesn’t make many mistakes, so he needed to capitalize on the opportunity. When Darin received a trail camera photo of the deer by himself the following morning, he knew he was no longer “locked down” with the doe. It was go time.
Putting the harvest on hold, Darin headed to his Redneck blind on Nov. 16 around 2:30 in the afternoon with his Raven RX29 Sniper crossbow. It wasn’t more than two hours later when he was faced with the moment millions of deer hunters dream of, yet never experience. Following another doe down a path to the food plot was the buck Darin was after, the deer of several lifetimes. There was no excitement, no panic.
This is what Darin had planned for — the moment he had been searching for ever since he saw those tines sticking out of the grass back in March. He was mentally prepared and physically ready. It was time to execute. He checked the line of sight; there were no obstacles in the way. Head down, safety off and squeeze; don’t pull. The 8-yard shot broke, resulting in the giant tipping over into the food plot no more than 35 yards away!
That’s when Darin’s cool, collected demeanor started to break down! The adrenaline started to flow. Darin had accomplished what he set out to do. His hands shook. He asked himself, “Did that really just happen?” Darin had promised Travis that he would be the first phone call if he was able to harvest the buck, but Darin struggled to work his phone because of his trembling hands! Once he was able to get Travis on the phone, Darin’s excitement started to explode. “The more I talked to Travis, the louder I was getting,” Darin laughs. “And I started yelling that we killed him, that we did it!” Travis drove out to the blind and helped in the recovery of the deer, and the two men celebrated together.
Pursuing and tagging a 200-plus inch whitetail isn’t a small feat. Just like Darin’s situation, many people were aware of and hunting this deer. Having a friend like Travis, who was also hunting the deer but was willing to share information and help Darin, is even more rare. All the way leading up to the successful hunt, Travis was genuinely happy for and encouraging of Darin. This puts Travis in a category of friends that’s arguably more rare than the class of deer itself!
Comparing the shed antler and trail camera photos to the final antlers attached to the harvested buck, Darin and Travis estimate the buck gained roughly 38 inches from when he was 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 years old. Darin’s Coffey County, Kansas buck was officially scored and entered into the Boone & Crockett Club Record Book at 230 inches net non-typical.
Darin Williams is a class-act, whitetail hunting enthusiast, who I’m honored to call a friend. I couldn’t be happier for what he’s accomplished, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for him in the whitetail woods. Congratulations, Darin!