Our quest for a huge eastern Kansas buck known as “Yardstick” started when my dad and I unexpectedly caught him on trail camera in 2014.
We’d decided to put out cameras on our property. The first time we checked them, one had snapped a picture of a massive deer passing by. Naturally, we were determined to find out more about this buck and where he might be living. But despite our efforts, we ended up getting only two pictures of the deer that year. They were taken at night and were very blurry, but we could make out some details of his huge rack. He was a typical 12-pointer and surely the biggest deer around.
Up to that point in my life, I’d killed one small buck. I’d never even seen another one that could compare to this beast. When the season started in September, my dad and I hunted and hunted but didn’t see him. I killed a small 8-pointer early and couldn’t shoot another one that year, but my dad devoted himself to chasing the monster exclusively. In the end he didn’t even shoot a buck all season, and he’d always taken one every year. Yardstick had begun to work on him.
A few months after deer season, we were burning pasture in the same area where the two photos had been taken. We were deep in the woods when my dad yelled out, “Horn!” Sure enough, it was an antler from Yardstick. We were now officially part of his ongoing story.
Later that summer, we showed the shed to some friends. They couldn’t believe how big it was. Still, we really didn’t fully realize the enormity of this antler until a friend told us about a guy named John, from North Carolina, who had been hunting and filming the deer for years. He had pictures of the buck from a fawn to present! John’s a professional hunter and a deer biologist. He’d put hundreds of hours, thousands of miles and who knows how many dollars into trying to harvest the beast.
When my dad and I talked with John, he said, “It’s the smartest deer I’ve ever tried to hunt!” John told us he named the buck “Yardstick” because his G-2 tines look almost that long.
We’d thought we were obsessed with this deer, but when we met John, we knew we’d met our match. In fact, he offered us a large cash reward and an exact replica of the shed, with the work to be done by the best-known antler replicator in the world: Wisconsin’s Klaus Lebrecht (antlersbyklaus.com). After much consideration and debate, we finally agreed to the deal. We sold John the original shed, and we now have a perfect copy of it.
The ’15 deer season came and went. I shot another decent 8-pointer during early youth season, and then sat with my dad during bow and rifle seasons. He continued to wait for the return of Yardstick, but again the giant never showed up.
When spring came, we hunted and hunted for the sheds but found neither of them. At that point we kind of assumed he was dead, though we hadn’t heard of anyone having taken him. We soon talked to John, and he said he had captured pictures of Yardstick the previous fall — and that he was the biggest he’d ever been! We now just hoped he made it through rifle season and hadn’t been poached or hit by a car since then.
By the next season, the quest for Yardstick was eating at my dad and me something fierce. Through talking with John, we learned the buck was still alive but now was declining in antler size, due to his advanced age. Yardstick had grown a 6-inch drop tine and had become a main-frame 10-pointer, not a 12.
I hunted the entire September youth season, passing on all other deer while waiting for Yardstick. He never showed. My dad did the same throughout bow and rifle season. We hunted until the last minute of the season without firing a shot. As a result, we had no venison in the freezer. It made for a tough winter.
The next spring, my dad and I went out to check trail cameras for turkeys and decided to look around for sheds. We were walking through some brush when I saw a tine sticking out of the grass. At that moment I felt extreme excitement, as I knew it was big — and that it had to be from Yardstick.
As I got closer to the antler, I realized it was his ’16 drop tine shed! My dad and I were so excited, it was unreal. After that, we looked over every inch of that ground. Every nook and cranny of a 2- to 3-mile area was walked. I even took a day off school to search for the other side. We were worn out, but we pushed on.
A couple days after finding the drop tine shed, my dad and I were about a half-mile away, walking a draw, when I found the remains of several dead cows. I yelled over to my dad for him to take a look at them. He really didn’t want to, but he humored me and started walking over to see what I’d found. While walking, he happened to look down, and there it was: the other side of Yardstick’s rack. It was the missing piece of the puzzle!
We walked a lot more over the next couple days and in the process found a sun-bleached shed that clearly had belonged to Yardstick all the way back in ’12. Even though he had to have been only 4 1/2 years old or so then, the antler already was massive.
In late summer ’17, my dad and I were driving along when we noticed what looked to be a nice 8-pointer in a bean field almost a half-mile away. All of the sudden, another deer stood — and it dwarfed the 8-pointer! Could it be Yardstick?
We watched with binoculars for 30 minutes but never could positively identify the mystery buck. We just knew he was huge. So my dad set some trail cameras on that field for a week. When we checked them, there he was: Yardstick, alive and well! We’d found his summer home.
When youth season started in early September, my dad and I went out on opening day and sat on the ground in the beans. We saw nothing. We thought maybe we were hunting the wrong side of the field, so the next day we went to a remote part that couldn’t be seen from the road.
We’d been sitting on the ground that morning, watching the field, when my dad said, “Reid, look! It’s Yardstick!”
The buck was on the edge of the beans, about 80 yards out. All I could see was antlers; the head and body were out of sight in the tall beans. As I was using a rifle, my dad was frantic, wondering why I wasn’t shooting. I told him I didn’t have a view of the deer’s body, and I didn’t want to make a poor shot.
Yardstick then walked into the woods. We waited on him to return, but he never came out. At that point, I thought I might have blown my only chance. My dad was devastated too, but he said he was proud of me for not taking a bad shot. Of course, I was sick over not having been able to make it happen.
That afternoon, in the heat of the day we borrowed a tripod stand from a friend and put it up beside a tree near the edge of the field. If I were lucky enough to see Yardstick in the beans again, this time I might have a shot.
Accompanied by my dad, I hunted every opportunity I got over the next five days. This was tough because of school, homework and football practice, but in those five days, I put in 31 hours in that stand.
And over that span, I saw . . . absolutely nothing.
The last day of youth season was Sunday. It was 5:00 p.m., and the season would be over in a couple of hours. The next day would mark the start of the early muzzleloader and archery seasons for all hunters. But despite the fact time was quickly running out on youth season, I just had a feeling I’d see Yardstick.
After an hour of waiting, all of a sudden big antlers appeared 180 yards away from us, out in the beans.
“Is that him?” I asked Dad.
“That’s him!” he replied.
I dialed in with my scope on Yardstick’s head. Then, seconds later, he bedded down and disappeared again. Apparently, he’d been bedded in the beans all day; he’d eat for a while, then lie back down. Hoping to get the giant buck back on his feet, I made some grunting noises and other deer sounds, but nothing I tried would make him rise again.
After probably 20 minutes (which of course seemed far longer), the buck finally stood up again. Without much hesitation, I focused on the only part of his body visible above the beans: his neck.
Boom! I squeezed off a round from my .30-06. Yardstick ran five steps or so, then turned and ran the other way. Boom! He ran to the edge of the field and just before entering the woods turned broadside, with his chest now visible to me through the scope. Boom! My third bullet hit him in the heart, and he dropped. The legend was down!
I was jumping around in my stand. I’d never felt such extreme joy. My dad was jumping around, too. We’d done it! We’d accomplished the unthinkable!
When we walked over to Yardstick, I saw he was dead. I’d hit him twice in the neck within two inches of each other, and my heart shot had been right on target. He hadn’t suffered, and death had come quickly. That’s the way I’d wanted him to go.
After the mandatory drying period, the rack measured out at 196 3/8 gross typical, with a net of 191 5/8 on the 5x5 typical frame. The five non-typical points all were short, with the longest being just 4 2/8 inches, totaling 12 3/8. Subtracting the combined lengths of those abnormal points from the net typical frame resulted in a final net typical score of 179 2/8.
But as strong as that number might be, it doesn’t really illustrate how big the buck’s rack is. With main beams of 30 4/8 and 30 0/8, as well as an inside spread of 18 6/8 and four tines ranging from 11 7/8 to 15 5/8, this deer had all the ingredients of a world-class 10-pointer. His non-typical score would be 204 0/8, so he’s one of those special deer that would make B&C’s all-time record book (170 net typical, 195 net non-typical) either way.
So there you have it: the legend of Yardstick. This eastern Kansas whitetail lived a great life and brought much joy and excitement to many people in our area. I’ll never forget the hours my dad and I spent hunting this massive creature. I will probably never again in my life get the opportunity to see, let alone shoot, a deer this amazing. I feel God blessed my dad and me with this experience, and I’ll forever be thankful for it.