Krysten McDaniel Buck: 193-Inch Kansas Breathtaker

Krysten McDaniel Buck: 193-Inch Kansas Breathtaker

While turkey hunting in spring 2014, Krysten and Josh McDaniel took a few hours off to scout potential deer land. The sheds they found would lead to a breathtaking buck. Photo by Josh McDaniel

After having experienced one of our toughest deer seasons ever in Indiana, my husband, Josh, and I were ready to head to Kansas for the spring 2014 turkey season. We'd been successful there the last couple years and were once again ready to switch gears and focus on longbeards.

We went to Kansas to get our minds off whitetails — but little did we know we were about to get a curve ball that would completely change our next deer season.

A New Spot to Hunt?

While we were in Kansas, the opportunity to lease some ground came up. We'd been wanting to find a good piece of property to hunt out of state, and the landowners assured us this property was overrun with deer. The only problem was that they were asking quite a bit of money, which we didn't have much of — especially with the added travel expenses that come with living three states away.

Still, after hearing about this potential deer land, we started finding it hard to focus on turkeys. So one day we used the hot temperatures and a rainstorm rolling through as an excuse to scout out the property. If we were going to go broke on this lease, we were going to have to walk it and see something that would make it worth the investment. We just needed some kind of sign from the good Lord that this was the right decision.

Map in hand, we arrived at the property early that afternoon, after the majority of the storm had passed. Driving around the property we weren't too intrigued, because the access was going to be tough. The way the ground lay, it would be a struggle getting in and out undetected by deer. It was going to be very hard to ever get aggressive when the time was right.  We were going to have to hunt the edges, which was how we normally have to hunt our small tracks back home — but not ideal, especially when looking to fill two buck tags on video.

Our first 20 or so minutes walking the property we saw a lot of deer sign, but nothing that showed there was anything special about it; the rubs and scrapes were small. After crossing a big ravine, we walked up the next ridge, and it started turning into a beautiful oak ridge that also had a lot of cedars. We could already tell the sign was getting more aggressive. And not three steps into the cedars, Josh looked up and saw a monster typical 6-point side about 60 yards away. It was the middle of May, and the antler had hardly been touched by rodents. We couldn't believe it; 80 percent of the Kansas antlers we find in turkey season are chewed to pieces.

This of course got us into shed mode; we were excited to try to find the other side. It was overcast with a little light rain, the kind of weather that seems to make sheds glow. We couldn't help but wonder if that big antler was the sign we were looking for, but we kept looking for the other side of the rack.

After another 30 minutes or so of trying to find the antler's mate, we stumbled onto another cedar thicket that looked promising.  We decided to spread out and comb the area really well. As we got about halfway through it, Josh came across a patch of wild clover and began inspecting it closely. I couldn't help but ask him was he was doing. He replied that he was asking God for a sign: a 4-leaf clover to tell him we were supposed to lease the property. Right after that, he took three steps and looked to his left — and saw a giant shed!

I started to run over to it, as if it were going to get up and run away. But Josh quickly told me not to touch it; he just wanted to stand there and enjoy it for a second. He's walked countless miles looking for sheds, and that was by far the largest he'd ever found. So I let him have his moment, even though all I wanted to do was grab that antler!

Finally, after a bit my husband quietly picked it up. By the mass you could tell the buck was an ancient warrior that had been stomping around there for years. The actual weight of the shed was amazing, and the mass carried out all the way throughout. It was a main-frame 6-point side with a great inside point, plus a super-long brow tine that had a little curl at the tip. As with the first antler, there was hardly a scratch on it.

We just couldn't believe it. We finally had the obvious sign we were looking for. The rest of the day, Josh and I switched our focus onto finding the other side of that rack. We covered everything with a fine-toothed comb, with no luck.

It took just a single afternoon of scouting to see this new land had serious whitetail potential. Photo by Josh McDaniel

That evening we went back to the landowners' house to tell them we'd found the sign we were looking for and were interested in leasing the property. While we sat around socializing, Josh noticed a basket of sheds and asked if he could look at them. He's obsessed with antlers and is always picking them apart to see if he recognizes a buck from a past shed or trail cam image.

As he dug through the pile, he noticed a beautiful matching set next to the fireplace. The landowners told us they'd been found by good friends of theirs a couple years back. That buck had been a legend around their neck of the woods.

Josh quickly started seeing similarities between those antlers and the last one he'd found. The landowners said they were certain the buck had been killed that fall by another hunter on some of their other property, but I could tell Josh wasn't convinced. He examined the sheds and the other hunter's field photos — then went out to our truck to get the antler he'd just found.

Sure enough, it was a mirror image — just more massive. It had the matching, curly brow tines. The only piece of the puzzle that would assure us it was the same buck was the missing sheds from the previous year. The landowners said the matched sheds they had were found only about 300-400 yards from where Josh had found the massive antler.

After hearing that, we were convinced it was the same buck. We figured him to be around 7 1/2 years old going into fall 2014. We knew that if we were lucky we might have one good year left to kill him at his peak antler growth. Considering factors such as stress, genetics and nutrition, you just never know when a deer will start going downhill. All we were certain of was that we had a world-class deer on our hands, the kind that comes around only once in a lifetime — at most.

We decided to call the buck "Curly," because of the curls at the end of his brow tines. And Josh and I made a pact: We weren't going to shoot any other deer on that lease.  It would be him or nothing.

More Scouting...New Problems

Early last summer, we went back to Kansas. We just wanted to get at least one photo of the buck, to be sure he was still around and that we were in his home core area. But after putting out a lot of cameras over mineral, beans, corn and water, we never got a picture of him. We got tons of photos of other bucks, including one that if he showed himself during season would be hard to pass. He was a monster, but he wasn't Curly.

Seeing all of these beautiful bucks on camera, Josh and I knew we'd made the right decision to lease that piece of property. We'd found huge sheds, and we'd capture photos of numerous bucks any hunter would be crazy to pass if not hunting another particular deer. To say we were excited about the 2014 season would be an understatement.

Then, at the first of September, tragedy struck: My stepbrother unexpectedly passed away. It was devastating; he was one of my biggest supporters. It was and is still one of the toughest things my family and I have had to go through. He shared my passion for hunting but had an even bigger passion for hunting arrowheads. I decided to dedicate my upcoming hunting season to him. I kept one of his favorite arrowheads and made it my new lucky charm. I knew he'd always be looking over me.

Shortly before my stepbrother's death, Josh and I also got the bad news that we'd lost every piece of private ground we had to hunt in Indiana. The only option we had left in our home state was hunting public ground. And so, what we most had to look forward to going into the heart of the season was hunting Kansas. We kept Curly's shed on our coffee table and looked at it every day. Josh even made a photo of it his phone's screensaver. It kept us positive through these rough times when we were down. And needless to say, it kept us looking forward to sweet November.

We hunted a lot of October in Indiana without any luck. We'd thought 2013 was rough, but this season was well on its way to being just as bad, if not worse. Between the bad hunting season and everything else that had happened, we were more than ready to head to Kansas. And so, in mid-November we decided we'd had enough and headed west.

Back To Kansas

The first couple days on the lease we spent hanging stands and doing some last-minute scouting. The weather was extremely cold, with wind chills in the single digits. It made even hanging stands difficult. We didn't get as many set up as we'd have liked, but we were ready to get out there and bowhunt.

Josh and I came to an agreement that I'd hunt the rest of November and he'd hunt December, when the temperatures are usually pretty brutal. That meant I didn't have too many days left with bow in hand.

Our first morning was pretty exciting. We saw a lot of deer, just nothing mature. That evening we saw a few 2 1/2-year-old bucks out cruising, but still no sign of Curly.

The second morning was extremely cold, so we decided to wait until daylight to get to the stand and hunt until 3 p.m. or so. We saw a lot of does that morning, but not one buck. Then, about 1 p.m., we caught a quick glimpse of a giant chasing a doe about 200 yards away across a bottom bean field.

Josh had a good idea where the buck had come from and was dying to get over there and check it out. After 30 more minutes, he couldn't take it any longer. Something kept telling him he needed to go do some more scouting. We felt we weren't in quite the right spot.

Tightening the Noose

Knowing we were going to have an east wind for the next two days, and with no stands sets for that, we came up with a logical game plan. The area the giant had come from earlier that day was covered with fresh sign. He had the place all torn up, with big rubs everywhere. Everything came together there: a picture-perfect pinch point that was ideal for an east wind. So instead of hunting that evening, we headed back to camp, grabbed another double set, got it up and sneaked back out.

Full of anticipation, we crept back in the next morning. It was supposed to warm up a bit from what it had been the previous five days. Josh was confident the more seasonable temperatures and switch in wind direction would get the deer on their feet. We just had a feeling about that morning, so we packed our lunches and prepared for an all-day sit.

But the hunt didn't start off well, to say the least. We sneaked back to our spot, running late as always. For some unknown reason there seems to be not a single straight tree in Kansas, and as Josh had been in a hurry to get everything set up the evening before, he'd made do with what we had. He'd put the camera stand in a slightly different position than I'm used to. And so, as I was sneaking up the tree, quiet as a mouse in the pitch darkness, just before swinging around into the shooter's stand I whacked my head on the bottom of the camera stand.

I sat there for the next 30 minutes trying to come up with a way to throw Josh out of the tree stand for hanging it the way he had. However, all of that was forgotten when I caught movement straight in front of me, about 65 yards to the north. I could tell it was a deer but wasn't sure of anything beyond that. I alerted Josh that we had one heading our way.

As the deer got closer, I could tell it was a decent buck. Josh whispered to me to just be ready for anything — and boy, was he right! I stood up, grabbed my bow and started getting in position, just in case. Once the buck made it to within about 40 yards, we got a good look at him through the brush. It was Curly, the legend himself!

The Big Moment...And Beyond

I instantly stopped staring at his rack and started looking for where my shot was going to be. The area was pretty thick, and we'd done only minimal trimming. I was actually very calm as I started picking a spot low on the deer's heart. As soon as he hit our one and only shooting lane, Josh stopped him perfectly broadside at 15 yards, but with the near-side shoulder back instead of in the ideal forward position. I took a deep breath, put the pin as low and tight to the shoulder as I could and let her fly.

Everything came together when Curly followed a doe into easy range of the couple's ambush. But as this still frame from the hunt video clearly shows, Krysten's shot wasn't easy. The illuminated nock of her arrow is visible approaching the monster buck's vitals. Photo by Josh McDaniel

Curly ducked a bit, as expected, but the arrow slid right in there. As he ran off, though, the amount of shaft showing suggested it hadn't penetrated that deeply.

It was still early, so we decided to just stay put for a few hours before climbing down. The last glimpse we had of the deer was of him twitching his tail frantically, which of course is often a good sign. Even so, we had a lot of mixed emotions sitting in that tree. Part of me was thinking about how little penetration my arrow had achieved; the other half was trying to stay positive that the buck would be lying dead right over the ridge.

As I sat there, I was going through the roller coaster of emotions of bowhunting. I couldn't help but let tears roll down my face as I thought about the whole journey we'd been through that past year. From losing most of our hunting ground in Indiana late summer, my brother passing away unexpectedly, and the horrible season we'd had leading up to this shot.

I'd honestly been about ready to throw in the towel a couple times. I was just too darn stubborn to give up. That isn't in our DNA. Then we'd finally been handed the break we needed, and now I might have blown it. All of that preparation leading up to that one moment, only to leave us sitting there with an uncertain outcome.

I tried my best to stay positive. Everything in Kansas had worked out perfectly up to that point, so how could we not find him? I got out my lucky charm, my brother's arrowhead, and prayed we'd find Curly.

After a few hours, which of course seemed an eternity, Josh and I decided to get down and slip out of there as quietly as we could. We went into town to get a quick bite to eat and give the deer still more time. I'm not going to lie, I couldn't eat anything; I was just sick to my stomach.

Taking Up the Trail

From town we went to camp, where we played back the video footage on the big screen. That's when we realized the shot looked way better than it had in real time. It appeared the lack of penetration was because my arrow had hit the opposite shoulder and bounced part of the way back out.

And then, just as Josh and I were starting to feel better . . . it began to rain. Now we kicked into panic mode, fearful there wasn't going to be any blood. We quickly went back to the spot but couldn't find much sign, so we decided to sneak over to where the buck had entered the woods. Not even five yards into the timber, there lay my arrow — and the start of a beautiful, bright-red blood trail.

I quickly examined the arrow and sure enough, it indicated way better penetration than we'd thought. My stomach now was really in knots; I was so overrun with emotion. I just kept praying for gold at the end of the rainbow.

We slowly began walking a blood trail a blind man could have followed. As we did, we were alert and ready for anything. The farther we followed the trail, the more the blood picked up. About that time, I couldn't take any more anticipation. We looked up the trail . . . and there, 50 yards away, lay the monster buck!

I can't describe the emotions that were running through my body. That feeling is why we love bowhunting so much. There's absolutely nothing like it. There's something spiritual about walking up to that animal for the first time. It's always a bittersweet feeling. The love and respect a hunter has for the animal is indescribable, but it's accompanied by feelings of sadness to see such a magnificent life taken. Still, I couldn't help but to be happy that all the preparation and hard work had paid off. Outsmarting and harvesting a 7 1/2-year-old whitetail with bow and arrow is quite a task, no matter the size of his headgear.

When I put my hands on Curly for the first time, I couldn't believe just how big his rack really was.  His body was so big that it made his rack seem smaller than it actually was. The mass of the antlers was amazing; I could barely get my hands around the bases. This guy didn't have ground shrinkage but rather, ground expansion. We'd just pulled off a miracle!

Tale of the Tape

Following Boone & Crockett's required 60-day drying period, my 8x8 trophy was scored for entry into that club's record book. Thanks in large part to great mass and the fact all four of the G-2 and G-3 tines ranged from 10 6/8 to 12 4/8 inches, his basic 5x6 typical frame had a gross score of 177 4/8. While there were major deductions for asymmetry on that part of the rack, 27 2/8 inches of abnormal points raised the final non-typical score to 192 6/8.

Watch the Hunt

The hunt of the Krysten McDaniel buck is scheduled to air on Adrenaline Junkies in September on Sportsman Channel.

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