It is day four of our hunt in southwest Kansas, and things are looking up. The weather has turned markedly colder and hopefully that means this evening the deer will be moving to food during legal shooting hours.
My buddy Mike Strandlund, the long-time editor of Bowhunting World magazine is sharing camp with me. We’re hunting with my friend Jeff Louderback of LL Outfitters. This will be my third consecutive bow season hunting with Jeff on his ranch near Liberal, Kansas, in the extreme southwest corner of the state. I love hunting here because Jeff and his family are outstanding folks, and the deer hunting is superb.
For the past three days Mike and I have been getting ready for the day when the mercury drops. We’ve tweaked stands and passed several two-year old bucks, hoping for something better. After seeing what was going on here and hearing about the history of the ranch, Mike has decided to stick with a stand on the edge of the property. A week before he arrived another good friend, Steve Sam of Pennsylvania, arrowed a gross 154 buck from this same area. It’s a classic funnel set against the edge of the cottonwood riverbottom, with the deer crossing the barbed wire fence from a neighboring bedding thicket to the food. It’s also within a quarter mile of where I arrowed a gross 164 buck two seasons prior. I have been hunting a small, isolated food plot a half mile to the east, a spot that can be hunted in any wind except one blowing from the west.
By setting a Lone Wolf stand 6 feet above a low ladder, Mike Strandlund gave himself additional cover in a bare cottonwood. It made the difference when his buck snuck in through the back door.
Despite the colder weather – my truck thermometer said it was just 5 degrees when we headed out – our morning hunts produce the usual breakfast fare: few deer and a couple of small bucks passing through. So we spent the day scouting, shooting a couple of practice arrows, washing some hunting clothes. At 3:00 p.m. – it is slap dark by 5:00 p.m. – we head to the trees.
The wind is perfect for my stand, and though the action is steady I do not see the buck I am looking for. When I hike back to the truck Mike is already there. The grin on his face says it all. “I had a pretty good evening” he said. “I got one.”
Despite Mike’s understated tones, I know it has to be a good deer. Both of us have said we are done shooting 2-year olds just to “have something” for magazine stories or to punch a tag. “It’s a pretty heavy old 10-pointer” he grins.
Are you kidding me? Let’s go see him!! And so we do, and guess what? This is the same buck I saw walking right past my tree stand three days earlier before I reached the stand but could not put a sneak on. I’d let it walk off hoping it would strut past Mike’s stand, but when it didn’t that same day I thought it had walked out of our lives forever. Who would have thought this magnificent buck would have given one of us another look?
We aged Mike Strandlund’s old Kansas buck at 7 1/2 years of age. His chipped antlers gross-scored 157 7/8 P&Y points.
The story was a classic. Because the original stand was a short ladder in a bare cottonwood, Mike decided after his morning hunt that he would be better served if he ran a fixed stand higher above the ladder to give him more concealment. And so he had taken one of his own Lone Wolf stands and set it about 6 feet higher and also on the backside on the tree.
“I was watching a lone doe coming down the riverbottom from the west heading for the fence and my stand, like they always do” he said. “I was focused on her, thinking that maybe there’d be a good buck trailing her. For some reason I looked over my left shoulder and there he was, coming from the east. I didn’t have to think about it, I just drew the Mathews and let the Easton Full Metal Jacket shaft fly. The Grim Reaper blew right through him; he only went about 10 steps before piling up.” Later we aged the deer at 7 1/2 years; it’s chipped antlers gross-scored 157 7/8 P&Y points.
Mike Strandlund’s old Kansas buck had very heavy antlers, with bases measuring over 6 inches around.
And so we celebrated that evening! We took our pictures the next morning, then Mike took his cool dog, Maggie, out quail hunting that afternoon before heading back to Minnesota and his day job the following day. As for me, the quest would continue. I was hoping to get a crack at one of the real giant bucks that roam the area, and had another week to spend if necessary.
Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you how things went.