There’s a lot that can go wrong when you take off to sneak within archery range of a western Kansas mule deer. Their radar-like ears can hear you coming even when you can’t hear yourself walking, and hawk-like eyes can spot even the tiniest movement that seems out of place.
Big bucks are often saved from being shot, or at least missed, by the herds of does they usually bed with or some smaller buck that’s hidden just out of sight, but right in the hunter’s scent stream. Sometimes there also just isn’t enough cover to sneak within the 30 to 40 yards most of us prefer for shooting an arrow at a living creature. And I honestly swear sometimes it’s like the big boys have ESP, and can just sense when you’re about to pull back the string.
Especially in my case, there’s also the little issue of getting excited and flat missing the shot you’ve spent a few hours trying to set-up. Oh, it’s not like I’ve missed dozens of times, or even double-digit times, but the fact that simply sneaking to within range is so difficult makes missed shots very memorable and painful.
But, if you do enough sneaks, and cover enough country, sooner or later it will all come together. It did for me on a recent trip out west.
The wind was howling and the ground damp from heavy mist, which makes staying unheard much easier. Somehow we found a mature buck bedded by himself, in a perfect place for a sneak.
A friend and I had been in the same valley the day before, trying to get close to a herd of several does and at least four bucks. Fifty yards was the best we could do with a buck, and even then he had us pegged and would have bolted when I drew.
So we were both thrilled on the windy, damp day to see one of those four bucks bedded in a series of canyons, backed into a cutbank by itself. Usually such deer bed with the wind at their back so they can smell danger from behind. This buck probably had earlier that morning, but the wind had changed and was then in our favor.
It took some slow searching, but we found the tips of his antlers poking barely within sight. He was bedded back so far in the cutbank we couldn’t see much of his body.
I have no doubt I could have slowly crawled up, reached out and touched the tips of his antlers with an extended arrow…but that’s not why we were there.
Rather than force the issue, I took a knee along the ridge while my friend circled to the north, staying just out of sight, and started making coyote barks and deer bleats. Perfect!. Curious, the buck turned his head in that direction and I drew my bow. Just as I reached full-draw he stood, and took a few steps forward into plain sight. The distance was well under 20 yards and the shot was easy, and on the mark.
The big-bodied deer passed probably within 8 yards of me in a full-speed run after he was hit. He covered a lot of ground before falling, but from impact to end was no more than six seconds. No trailing needed, no hard recovery, no drag out of a steep canyon…we saw him fall and were able to drive right to the spot.
We’d seen better scoring deer on the ranch, but this buck’s antlers had a lot of character because of mass on points and main beams. Such characteristics only come with age.
He was a tad less than 24-inches wide on the outside, and short main beams and front forks means he won’t quite make Pope & Young.
But he’s a big deer, an old deer, I shot him in my favorite part of Kansas with a great friend on one of the few times in our many years together when everything worked perfectly.
I’ll take all of that over another few inches of antler score, any day.