In 2012, Ryan Nikkel started getting pictures of a giant typical 10 with a bent G2. Naturally, the name "Lightning" was born. Ryan hunted hard every time the wind was right, but never laid eyes on the buck.
As the 2013 season approached, Ryan was sure the buck didn't sneak through the previous fall. His trail cameras proved him wrong, though. Showing up in September, Lightning was sporting two new flyers and a 6-inch droptine. The stakes were suddenly raised.
It didn't take long for Ryan to become obsessive. He only hunted when the wind was perfect and followed every scent control tip known to man. Still, the buck never showed up.
Wrapping up the 2013 season, Nikkel started to question his motives. Was it worth waiting for a deer that was essentially a ghost? Passing numerous Pope & Young caliber bucks would test any hunter's patience, but Ryan remained focused.
His tag was only good for one buck: Lightning.
Miraculously, the mega buck made it to 2014. Hunting in a high-pressured area, Ryan knew this buck was special. Adding to the allure, Lightning was now a 6x6 with even more trash than it had in 2013.
Using a buck-scoring program, Ryan estimated the 8.5-year old whitetail had 214 inches of antler.
Also different about the buck this year was that he was showing up in August. With better trail camera intel than ever before, Ryan relocated his stands accordingly.
On September 15, he laid eyes on him for the first time. Lightning looked bigger than Ryan imagined, and he started thinking 214 was a conservative number. With this sighting, suddenly Ryan had hope.
Nearly a month later, Nikkel had his second encounter. At 100 yards away, Lightning started heading his direction. Buck fever consumed him, and Ryan had a bad feeling about what was about to happen.
With the deer approaching a shooting lane, Ryan drew back his bow. The shot was going to be at a very steep angle, but all he could think about was what if he'd never see this deer again. Laying the pin behind his shoulder and square on his back, he released an arrow.
Ryan figured the worst-case scenario would be that he'd spine the deer and have to make a follow-up shot. That wasn't the case, though.
Sounding like his broadhead connected with concrete, the deer spun around and ran off. With just 3 inches of penetration, it was immediately obvious this wasn't a fatal shot. From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, Ryan was devastated.
Unfortunately, no blood was found the following day when he returned to track the deer.
Ryan was overcome with emotions. He was crushed knowing he'd likely never see the deer again. On top of that, he considered how the buck would have to fight off infection to make it through another winter. A death like that is no way for such a magnificent animal to go.
Feeling defeated, he elected to quit hunting for the remainder of 2014.
In 2015, the Nikkel's were building a new house. His focus shifted from Lightning to working on the project. With no summer sightings of the buck and 2014 still on his mind, Ryan imagined the deer had perished or found a new home. It seemed best to just move on.
Again, Ryan was wrong about the buck. October trail camera pictures were placing him back at the scene of the crime. With new inspiration, Nikkel found himself excited for the season. Still, he decided Lightning wasn't going to consume him again. Going on a 4-year drought, Ryan was set on taking the first good buck that would walk by.
On October 29th, a few does near his stand had an excited buck grunting from the timber. This was his eighth hunt of the season, and the flash of antlers from the eager whitetail got Ryan to reach for his bow. Nikkel readied himself, but no amount of preparation could brace him for the buck that was about to emerge. It was Lightning!
Before he could process the sight, the giant buck was standing broadside at 32 yards. Taking aim, Ryan released an arrow that found the deer's vitals. Lighting spun around and headed back the direction he came from. After his sprint slowed to a jog, the buck bedded down just inside the timber.
Ryan was confident in his shot, but backed out and headed home. Taking no chances, he decided to wait until the following morning to make a recovery.
After a short search, Ryan's buddy spotted the expired buck. The chase was finally over.
With a net score of 186, Lightning only had 4 inches of deductions. His perfect rack should land Nikkel in the top 10 archery typical whitetail records of all time in Kansas. The truly incredible part of this story is that the buck was on his way down. If taken in his prime, the deer may have been Kansas' new typical state record.
Although it's only one less deer, for Ryan, the woods feel a whole lot emptier.