My fascination and love for deer began when I was a small child living in the Adirondack Mountains in New York. One particular encounter sparked my obsession with whitetails. When my father was building our house, I would accompany him to the build site nearly every day. One day in the early fall, while I was sitting outside by the foundation, a yearling doe appeared at the wood line of the property. I was only four years old, but I remember her vividly—I remember looking into her chestnut eyes and admiring her long eyelashes. I reached out my hand and she allowed me to stroke her. Being a small child, I didn’t realize how uncommon this was until my father came up behind me utterly surprised. He went to his truck and came back with a sleeve of saltine crackers. She ate them from my hand, and my father chuckled in astonishment. I named her “Baby Crackers”.
From that day on, when I went to the house with my father, I brought crackers for her. Hunting season came and went, and I never did see her again. I grew up in an area where hunting for meat is a necessity and I accepted the fact that someone was probably happy to harvest her, despite her size and age. As I got older, I realized this nonselective mentality was common, and my goal of laying eyes on a mature buck would likely remain a fantasy. That is, until I met Bobby Kendall.
Bobby introduced me to the Midwest and I have been addicted ever since. Hunting the Midwest is everything I dreamed of. The biggest deer I’d put my hands on prior to hunting the Midwest was a 110” 8 point. I have been with Bobby when he’s harvested several giant whitetails, and I was getting anxious to get one of my own. I quickly learned that, although the opportunity exists to kill a buck of a lifetime, it does not come easily.
I had been hunting almost every day from the beginning of Kansas’ early muzzleloader season, well through the rut. I was spending nearly all of my time in the woods and only came out to eat and sleep. EHD hit extremely hard in our hunting area and deer were scarce. I was beginning to burn out, but refused to throw in the towel.
On December 7th, I elected to sit over a standing bean plot that Bobby over-seeded with rye. We had littered the field with trail cameras and there was a nice 8-pointer frequenting it during the night. It was 15 degrees outside and I knew the deer would have to feed. Bobby agreed, and we immediately hung a stand for an east wind, returning at 1 o’clock for the evening sit. Shortly thereafter, I heard rustling in the woods to my right. A doe appeared at the field edge and stood behind the barbed wire fence surveying the bean field for danger. That was when I heard it—the deepest, longest, most guttural grunt I had ever heard in my life. The hair on my neck and arms stood on end, and my heart began to pound. I slowly turned my head so that the doe wouldn’t spot me only to see his a buck coming down the dry streambed. The doe jumped the barbed wire fence while he stood on the edge of the timber staring at her. He had a ghostly white face with a red patch on the top of his head, ivory antlers with dark, heavy bases, and a wide spread. I didn’t recognize him from the hundreds of trail camera pictures. He continued to feed facing me when suddenly, I caught movement in my peripherals. The doe was on the move. He raised his head, green blades of winter rye hanging from his mouth, and I knew he was going to follow her. He made his move, and I made mine. I found him in my scope, broadside at only 40 yards, looking at his doe. I couldn’t believe how close he was—I could see his breath escaping his mouth. I cocked the gun, put the crosshairs on his heart, and squeezed the trigger. The shot was perfect. He ran about 20 yards into the Egyptian wheat screen that surrounded the field and expired. I was in absolute disbelief, and my legs began to shake uncontrollably.
After waiting for about 20 minutes, the time it took for me to regain strength in my legs, I climbed out of the tree and began walking across the field to where my buck lay. When I approached him, I just stared at his body and didn’t touch him for a few minutes. The experience didn’t seem real. When I finally put my hands on his antlers, a million emotions came over me. He was so beautiful and I was so humbled. I took in all of the little details about him that I couldn’t see from the tree. He had a few kickers at his bases that I hadn’t noticed previously. His right eye was scarred, fresh bark covered his bases, and his worn down body suggested he had rutted hard.
With his antlers in my hands, I knew that every all-day sit, every rainy day, every cold spell and every early morning had been worth it. After reviewing trail camera pictures from last fall, we found one picture of him. He had been off the radar for over a year. You never know what’s going to happen and that’s why I love it. It’s mentally and physically exhausting, but when something like this occurs, the addiction is stronger than ever.