I first saw him in early June 2006, in Leavenworth, Kansas. The large-bodied buck already had a substantial growth of velvety antler visible, even from 1/4-mile away. With my truck’s hazard flashers on, I stopped where the buck had crossed the busy four-lane road. I grabbed the binoculars and scanned the small soybean field he’d entered. Over a rise in the field I could see the top third of his body as he browsed along the edge of the wooded creek drainage. Eight velvety tines with great mass were clearly visible, and it looked as though he had some non-typical growth beginning. My imagination went wild picturing what he’d look like after the 90-plus antler-growing days that remained.
Most of the summer passed without another sighting of him until mid-August. I extended my drive to the grocery store to pass by the farmland oasis sandwiched in the midst of the suburban setting. Deer were feeding early because a strong storm was approaching, and there he was: The buck was walking with two smaller bucks along the edge of the same soybean field where I’d seen him in June. It was evident his headgear had grown considerably since our last encounter. I decided then to make a serious effort to bowhunt the property because the mayor had legalized archery deer hunting to help control the city’s burgeoning herd.
Despite the landowner’s initial reluctance, I was relieved to attain his permission, but I felt unprepared. It was less than a week before the October 1 archery season opener, and I hadn’t even set foot on the property to scout.
The property is an excellent example of why urban hunting programs can provide high-quality deer hunting that would otherwise be inaccessible for hunting because of city limit expansions. The 120 acres are situated between a small industrial park and a new housing subdivision being developed at the outskirts of the city limits. Just beyond the industrial park to the east and to the south are older subdivisions. It didn’t take long to realize this property had tremendous potential.
Hunting Between The Houses
Because of other commitments, I finally enjoyed my first hunt at the city plot on October 13. After leaving work a little early, I headed to the north woodlot stand. I slipped silently into the narrow woodlot using the access trail I’d scraped leaf-free 3 days earlier when I’d set the stand.
Settling into a treestand for the first time of the season is a liberating experience. It’s always a special hunt, getting re-acquainted with the sense of calm and alert-relaxation that is unique to the deer woods. Suddenly, my meditation was interrupted with the recognizable racket of a no-holds-barred buck fight. I was tempted to leave the stand to witness the show, but I stayed, keeping focused on my first task of shooting a doe to be eligible for a buck.
After my son’s birthday party on October 15, I had only 1 hour left until the end of legal shooting light. Despite the limited time, I headed to the east woodlot stand. I’d just settled in when a great buck approached from the woods behind me. It wasn’t the Leavenworth buck, but this one would’ve been difficult to pass if I’d already earned my buck tag.
A change in weather the next day brought an all-day misty rain, but also an ideal wind direction to hunt the most promising of my initial stands. Situated at a “T” intersection of two treelines, this stand was at the northeast corner of a grassy pond area.
It wasn’t long before I heard something walking behind me in the grassy field. I turned my head slowly at first, but then almost gave myself awestruck whiplash when I saw him. The buck I was after was walking slowly only 20 yards away! I got a good look at him for the first time, and he was awesome! I didn’t count points, but he had character with several non-typical points around the bases, a forked right G-2, and a linebacker-like body. It seemed as if he was unknowingly taunting me for not yet shooting a doe. I had to get a doe—and soon!
My inability to harvest a doe convinced me to try a practice I’d never used before—hunting over bait. This practice is legal in Kansas, and the city even encourages baiting to help hunters meet the program’s harvest goals. I placed the setup on October 17, along a wooded point that stretched northward from the creek-bottom. I felt confident the feeder would help me harvest that important buck-qualifying doe, but I’d have to allow a few days for deer to begin using it.
October 23 was cold, rainy and very windy. Against better judgment, I hunted the feeder stand for the first time. With the tree swaying wildly, I was beginning to question my sanity. Then, two does meandered through the thick cover toward my perch. I stood, but had to brace myself from the wind by leaning against the tree. I drew and took aim, but I was swaying so hard that even the close shot would be tricky. Suddenly, there was a brief period of calm, and my 20-yard pin settled solidly on the doe’s vitals. The wind noise covered the bow’s discharge, resulting in a quick kill. I had earned my buck tag, and I’d never been so thrilled to shoot a doe!
The wind wasn’t right for any of my three primary stands on October 25, so I headed for the feeder stand and experienced a deerless evening. I normally walk the bottom of a deep ditch to access this stand, but due to the recent rain, I walked out on a grassy strip along the ditch. Suddenly, I tripped on something in the grass. I couldn’t believe it when I picked up a shed antler with a forked G-2! It had 9 points and the same non-typical characteristics of the Leavenworth buck I was hunting.
The wind finally cooperated and conditions were right to hunt the treeline “T” stand on October 27, the same stand where I’d encountered the Leavenworth buck 11 days earlier.
After climbing into the stand and reaching to untie my bow from the hoist rope, I froze at the sudden sound of a leaf crunching directly behind me. The Leavenworth buck walked into view at a mere 11 yards, and the surge of adrenaline hit me like whiplash again. I now have a buck tag!
Amazingly, the brute appeared from of the same treeline I’d passed through less than 3 minutes earlier. I waited until his view was obscured by the limbs of the next tree, then I quickly untied my bow, nocked an arrow and fumbled for my grunt tube.
The heavy buck resembled a rodeo bull as he walked with calculated steps 25 yards away. He stopped abruptly at the sound of my grunt, head whirling around to identify the challenger. I followed with a softer grunt, and he bristled and turned toward me, searching. Muffling the call under my arm, I blew a third soft grunt. The buck immediately advanced with a stiff-legged gait, but then turned downwind, stopping abruptly at the corn field’s edge. Had he scented me? I was certain the hunt would soon be over with a big white flag waving goodbye as he bounded away. Instead, he stood at the field’s edge. With nothing to lose, I blew a fourth soft grunt, closely followed by a fifth. The buck advanced to the corn field, crossed a few rows, then angled left to complete the semi-circle he’d made around my tree.
I drew my bow as the buck entered the shooting lane and stopped—broadside. Time stood still: It was just the buck and me.
I watched the lime-green nock disappear through his ribs even before I consciously realized I’d released the arrow. The clamor of the huge buck disrupted the quiet evening as he bounded away between the corn rows. Then it was quiet. I had done it! I had just killed the buck I had set out to pursue!
After the short drive home, I completed the field dressing under a floodlight in my back yard. As I reached deep inside his chest to sever the windpipe, I felt something unusual. I removed a mass of scar tissue about 4 inches long and 1 inch in diameter that was lodged just below his spine. Carefully dissecting it, I was amazed to find a mangled Muzzy broadhead and 3 inches of broken arrow! The buck had been shot before and had lived. I imagined some nearby archer taking the errant shot a year earlier at the buck that then wore the shed antler I’d found.
Like many hunters, I prefer to drive less to make the most of my time in a treestand, and to hunt where deer densities are high and buck quality is high, too. Who knows, maybe my next trophy buck is currently living only an arrow’s-flight away from my suburban doorstep.