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Soldier of the Hardwoods
Groups: Tribe Stories
Categories: Best of | Hunts
Dec 7, 2012
Thirty years ago I moved from a little town in Southeast Kansas to Reno, Nevada.  At that time in Kansas the deer were scarce, hunting primarily focused on rabbits and quail, and my hometown was nestled in country that was more suited for farming than anything else.  I have been back to that little corner of my past five times since moving – mostly to visit family, and once to see my grandfather (a WWII vet) in his last days.


He was a huge influence in my life, and still is. We hunted together from time to time, and all our conversations focused on the birds and animals I had the chance to hunt. But I have never hunted whitetails, and never hunted in Kansas since the "deer boom" of about fifteen years ago. Everyone knows that whitetail hunting in Kansas is about as good as it gets, and this year I finally got a chance to see what it was all about.  
Two years ago my cousin and I agreed to host each other on hunting trips. I took him elk hunting in Montana last year, and even though we didn't get him on many elk he did manage to harvest a mule deer, which was his first. His turn to be the host came over this past Veteran's Day. He works with Powder Burns Outfitters, and while they primarily hunt turkeys they have some exceptional whitetail country.


It had been ten years since I had seen Kansas, and so much has changed. There are run down buildings and empty homes.  Signs of a broken economy are everywhere. But there are also incredible military monuments. One at the American Legion is dedicated to all the veterans from the area that served in wars, and another on the town square next to the county courthouse is dedicated to those that served in Vietnam.  Despite the economy and the troubles everyone is facing, the heartland is filled with folks that remember those who risked everything for our country.

I was in a tree on Veterans' Day. It was the very first time I had ever been in a tree stand, the first time I had hunted whitetails, and the first time I had hunted in Kansas since my grandpa had passed away. I miss him. And I reflected on him often during the week I was there. The time spent in a tree stand is nothing like I thought it would be. I thought about many things, took in all the sights and sounds, and made sure to enjoy every moment. It was tough getting used to being so high off the ground. I hate heights, and spent most of the first day getting used to my feet dangling off the front of the stand and trying to pull the seat cushion from between my tightly clenched cheeks. But I started to enjoy everything around me and quickly forgot the distance between me and the ground. The cardinals were working hard, red squirrels chattered and fed, turkeys slipped from field to roosts and woodpeckers hammered the trees. And there were deer. Lots. Small and big, does and bucks.  I was surprised at how quickly and quietly they worked through the newly fallen leaves on the ground. Just roaming about, not making a noise. This was going to be tough even though the rut was about to explode.


Day two passed with a few sightings and a close encounter with a yearling that has potential. Powder Burns will help him grow to be a stud one day. On Day three it was clear and cold. The morning was slow, but the afternoon had the promise of good weather and buck activity. The only problem was the wind. I did everything possible to kill my scent, and hit the tree on a very bad wind. It was risky – a south wind that took my scent right up the trail these bucks worked all fall. But I was committed to this spot and wanted to make it happen. At 4:30 I got a weird sense that the "witching hour" was upon me. A doe popped up, then a small buck.


And then from behind me, I saw a broken up buck with so much character that I knew I was in business. We had trail camera photos of this guy fighting, and he had the scars to prove it – his right eye guard and G2 were broken off and his back had a deep scar.


He wasn't a giant Kansas buck like you see in the magazines or on TV, but he was a brute. Like so many of those vets commemorated around town, he had battle scars to show what he had been through in his life. I didn't hesitate to draw my bow, and I kept my eyes focused on his shoulder instead of his antlers. He walked in on a trail, I stopped him, and double lunged him at 24 yards. He died about 30 yards away behind a cedar. My hunt was done, and I was a happy man.
Going home was more than going hunting for me. It was about realizing what had come before me. So many great generations of Peaks had given up so much so I could have the opportunity to enjoy this magnificent hunt. And it certainly wasn't lost on me that this battle buck gave up so much for me to enjoy it, too. I am honored to have hung my tag on such a Soldier of the Hardwoods.


I'll be back. I now see why people love to hunt whitetails so much. It isn't easy. It isn't physical. It is a mental fight that I enjoyed very much. Maybe next year I will cross paths with that little buck again, and let him walk. Maybe another bruiser will come out, or one of those giants we all see on the internet. Or maybe I will just quietly sit in a tree stand again and enjoy everything around me and remember to appreciate those before me that gave me so much. 
Thanks to all you veterans. Thanks, Grandpa. Go easy. 


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Great Story and well written Peak. So cool that you appreciate what has been done before us.
Posted by Greig McAlpin on Dec 12, 2012 1:49 PM
Nice write up Peak. Thank you to your family that fought for our freedoms and all who continue to do so today.
Posted by Dale Pearson on Dec 9, 2012 5:54 PM
Nice story Peak. It's always good to take the time to be thankful and remember ones who were an important aspect of who we've came to be. Go easy Grandpa Bill and keep pushing brother Peak.
Posted by Luke Johnson on Dec 8, 2012 9:15 PM
Loved reading this Jay. Lots of love, memories & history in this area of the USA. I would imagine you had plenty of "angels" with you that day!
Posted by Pam Senecaut Varone on Dec 7, 2012 8:30 PM

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