Kansas Hunt 2017

I just got back home from bow hunting in Kansas. I like to hunt in either Kansas or Iowa during the Minnesota firearms season, usually after the first weekend when I hunt near home with the kids. This year on the first weekend in Minnesota I hunted with Hannah and also with Dave Ramirez, Heather’s boyfriend. On the first morning, Dave, who had never hunted deer before, had a shot at a nice buck, but missed. That evening Dave got his first deer, and Hannah got one also. Dave got another the next day. All three were antlerless. That’s three in the freezer, plus the better part of one left over from last year, so we are in good shape in the venison department.  Still, I’ll take a couple more with the muzzleloader later this fall. With the kids increasingly embracing the healthy local source of meat that we have on the land, five or six deer are what we need.

So here is the summary of my Kansas deer hunt this year; in a word, it was frustrating. I stay and hunt on Bill Brannan’s property in NE Kansas. Bill is a good friend and a dedicated conservationist, and his land, though not big, has a long history of big bucks. Lots of them. Over the years I’ve seen them; I’ve seen their sheds, their trailcam photos, the big ones that Bill and his family and neighbors have taken, and the ones that are found dead occasionally. But not this year. This year I passed many small bucks, one- and two-year-olds, and a couple small threes. But I never did see any of the big mature bucks that Kansas is known for. Bill thinks that his older bucks are being poached–shot off the road but usually not recovered by outlaw “hunters” who fear being caught if they track a wounded deer. This area, because of its deer quality, has long suffered the poaching scourge, so Bill could very well be right. I tend to think it’s more likely EHD. They had a very serious outbreak in 2012 that greatly reduced deer numbers, and this summer was very dry again, but nobody really knows. I am posting a photo of the dead deer that were found on this property this year, mostly late last winter/early spring. Six nice bucks off 240 acres; it’s no wonder I’m not seeing any this fall.

Still, hunting here in Kansas is always a good time. The cabin where I stay overlooks a really nice small lake. Turkeys, bob white quail, waterfowl and lots of other kinds of wildlife are common, and even an occasional bobcat. Great flocks of snow geese call from the sky, some are high, others are quite low. Always fun to watch. But where are the older bucks…it’s frustrating. Almost like Minnesota!

November 1, 2017

I got my truck back this afternoon and headed out to Augie Williams’ to hunt the “2nd woods.” This has been my favorite place for many years and is where I hunted a couple evenings ago before my truck broke down. This place always has big buck potential, and it is from here that I put two fine bucks on the wall over the years. Unfortunately, when I got there my favorite hunting corner was already taken. As I mentioned earlier, the GSC is now public and there were several hunters who knew where I hunted and had been crowding me out for the last week. With my truck out of commission for a couple days I wasn’t there to defend my place and they took swift advantage of that. It was no doubt going to happen anyway, but I was surprised that it happened so fast. We’ve all been there and I’ll find another favorite for next year, but I guarantee that I won’t tell the bow hunters at the GSC where the heck it is!

October 31, 2017

This morning I set up my decoy again, and used my rattling horns, thinking that the time was right for this to work. I brought in a yearling but nothing more. On the way home, I had a bearing go out on my truck and so I took it into the repair shop in Houston to fix on Tuesday afternoon; it will be Wednesday afternoon before it gets fixed. I hunted from home until I got it back, with nothing interesting happening.

October 30, 2017

When I hunt Augie Williams I only hunt one small group of trees that borders the Girl Scout Camp. It’s only about 5 acres but deer pass through it a lot. Since it is so small I hunt it very carefully, the stands are put up months or years ago, the entry and exit paths are carefully followed, and I let it rest at least a day between hunts. Two or three days’ rest is even better. Because the GSC became public this year it was very difficult to hunt it as carefully as I have in the past. But it’s still my favorite hunting spot so I went there this evening. I saw about ten deer on that hunt, three were bucks, all too young to shoot. One chased a doe close under my tree, with her two fawns following and probably wondering what was going on. There is no doubt, the rut is on.

October Whitetail Hunt

So far this year the deer hunting has been poor, for bucks anyway.  This is not surprising, typically Halloween is the first day that I consistently see daytime rut activity. Before that day almost all the lead up to the rut takes place at night, and almost none of the does are interested anyway.  But everything changes on Halloween. The 30th of October was a day before Halloween, but close enough for me to get excited.  On that morning I put out a buck and a doe decoy on the east end of a long CRP field. The wind was howling from the west, coming down the length of the field and delivering bursts of rain, then sleet, then snow. It didn’t take long for me to be cold.  After an hour or so the decoy blew over; considering the wind I was surprised that it lasted that long. Actually, I was surprised that I had lasted that long in a tree stand as well. So I unbuckled my safety belt and started to climb down to fix it. When I was about halfway down the tree, from out of the woods in back of me a doe charged past and headed out across the open field.  Close behind her were three bucks, all trying hard to keep up and grunting like a bunch of hogs as they passed by.  I never heard a thing until they almost ran me over. One stopped to stare at the decoys for a few moments then turned to catch up with the party, and by then the others were almost out of sight.

So I got the decoy set up again and got back up onto my stand with a new sense of optimism.  I was still cold but now optimistic as well.  After about a half hour more the doe raced crossways across the open field again, only this time instead of three bucks chasing her, now there were five.  Four of them were one, two, or three year olds, but the fifth was much bigger, clearly the kind of buck that I was looking for. They all chased around in circles for a while and then she stopped and laid down. Meanwhile I’m starting to wonder what this old gal might be willing to do for five bucks!  I know it’s an old joke, but hey, what better time to use it.  Besides I can’t help myself anyway.

Back to the story. After stalling for a little while buck number six showed up. This one is much bigger than any of the others and I don’t have to look him over twice to know that I would try for him if I had a chance.  He is a high, wide and very white racked 8 or 9 pointer, with the heavy neck and body of a fully mature buck.  So then the doe gets up and leads the chase again, around in a few circles but staying in sight in the field this time.  Then she stopped and stood to let the new big boy mount her.  All five of the others just stood there, less than twenty yards away with no attempt to challenge or interfere with what was going on. It was interesting also in that he stayed mounted for a long time, perhaps a minute or so, not the few seconds or so that is usual. Was he staying to intimidate or torture the overeager onlookers, or was he just enjoying the moment?  Clearly, I’m starting to overthink this stuff.  But to appreciate this you have to know how rare it is to see wild deer breeding.  Many hunters never see it, and with all my time in the woods I’ve only seen it a few times.  Anyway, after he dismounted she took off again, this time angling towards me with the whole bunch of bucks once again in hot pursuit.  As they raced by, still out of range, two of them peeled off to check out my decoys.  One was a yearling that kept his distance.  The other got close, about ten yards away and right between the decoy and me. Then he got nervous and circled downwind and presented an easy 15 yard shot.  I passed.  He is almost certainly a two or three year old with a fairly heavy, dark 8 point rack with short tines. I hope he makes it a few more years.

The rest of the morning was uneventful, but Chris Knutson was hunting a few hundred yards away and thinks the big buck and doe went sneaking by him a bit later. I think he’s right, they went his way when they left me and the buck he saw had a big white rack.

2017 Pheasant Hunt

Here are a couple of photos of our pheasant hunting this year.

The first photo is from opening weekend. My daughter Hannah and I, my nephew Evan, and family friend Dennis Johnson hunted the Saturday opener and Sunday morning. We walked many miles, missed a few birds, and ended up with seven roosters and an unlucky Canada goose. The dog in the second photo is my yellow lab Bella. She hunts slow and close and we never lost a bird. Everyone got at least one pheasant. They were all good looking, early hatch birds from this year.

We were hunting near Wilmont where I grew up and where our family still has land. We camped on an old school ground that we call the “two acres.” The campground is surrounded by good pheasant country and the birds we got were taken on public WMA (Wildlife Management Area) lands. I was the hired hand on this land a half a century ago when it was still farmed, and so I know the land well. It is beautiful upland rolling prairie, now well-managed for wildlife. The weather was perfect, the country looked great, and the birds were there if you were willing to hunt hard. The company, along with other family and friends, was great as well.

A week later Hannah and I hunted the same area along with her boss Dr. Charles (Charlie) McCann. On Friday we hunted hard in winds that hit 35-40 miles per hour. The birds were wild and tough to hit, and Bella had a hard time tracking them in the wildly blowing grass. Saturday was a bit less windy, but the rain set in by noon. Another difficult day. On this weekend we also hunted on the Fenmont WMA north of Wilmont on the county line. We saw a fair number of birds and finished the weekend with a rooster for each of us and a mallard as a bonus. We had no easy shots, the birds were wild again and the wind made their flight unpredictable at best. Despite the challenging shooting opportunities Hannah made a great shot on a long-range broadside rooster in the strong winds on Friday. Charlie kicked the rooster out of a shelterbelt, it passed by me and I declined to shoot, it continued on past Hannah, and she folded him dead. I was amazed to see him fall. Despite the weather we had a great weekend and all left very impressed with the quality pheasant habitat that is returning to that part of the state.

The next few weeks I’ll be turning my attention to bowhunting whitetails near home. We still have a lot of venison in the freezer after last year’s hunt, and so I don’t feel a lot of pressure to shoot does early. I’ll take a couple later for sure but not right away. I’ll keep you updated on my annual quest to take a mature buck–always a challenge.

Also, mark your calendars for our gallery holiday open house on December 2-3. We’ll say more about that later.


Iowa Buck

2015 Iowa Hunt #1

Iowa Buck
Friday, November 13, 2015
25 Yard Shot
30 Yard Travel

Walking up on my 2015 buck. I watched him fall and could easily see him laying dead from my stand, only about 45 yards away. I waited an hour to go check anyway.

Also note the thick healthy woods, lots of diversity. Perfect deer cover.


2015 Iowa Hunt #2 2015 Iowa Hunt #3

2015 Iowa Deer Hunt, Epilogue

This has been a fantastic week of deer hunting! Yesterday’s hunt, and the days before that were some of the best deer hunting I have ever had. George has a great deer property that he manages for deer and other wildlife as well. The number and quality of deer on his land is incredible, but it isn’t just the land or the deer that have made this such a wonderful hunt. George really wants me to be successful, and to take a great deer. I could go anywhere, take the ATVs, hunt his stands and tap into his enormous knowledge of deer and his land in my quest for a big Iowa buck. And George’s wife Pat was more than I could ask for as well. A cup of coffee in the morning, and a great supper in the evening. Pat told me when I first arrived that she was going to spoil me, and I think she did.

I first met George at Pheasant Fest in Des Moines, Iowa a few years ago, he knew me by my artwork. But like many of the people who collect my work, they have become friends as well. So thanks to you George and Pat for your hospitality, for sharing your great place with me, and most of all, for your friendship. I will cherish this hunt forever.

2015 Iowa Hunt Day 4

The woods are dead quiet today, and seem even more so after the wild and windy day that yesterday was. It is clear and cool, with a slight breeze from the SW. I am in the same stand as I hunted yesterday. Here is what happened.

7:05: A nice buck chased two does around in the woods about 150 yards to the south. Lots of grunting and chasing sounds. Soon they disappeared but about 10 minutes later one of the does ran past me. I got ready and soon the buck appeared. He came to about 50 yards and stopped behind an oak, waited and watched for a bit, then turned to chase the other doe. After a while I could hear him raking a tree with his horns. I never got a good look at him, but he was certainly a good mature buck.

8:30: A very wide, dark racked 8 point buck just walked on a trail about 50 yards below my stand. I tried to call him, he looked, turned and came towards me for a bit, then turned and left.

8:59: Two bucks chased a hot doe below me (east) and to the side. One buck was a nice mature deer, possibly the one that came close earlier. The other one was a much bigger buck. He was heavy with lots of points, probably some were non-typical. He was limping badly but chased the smaller one away, then stopped directly downwind right where the wide 8 walked. Then he winded me and blew…lots of times. Soon the doe ran and he followed. By far the best deer I’ve seen yet.

9:16: A doe came sneaking by from the same place that the great 10 point was yesterday, in the brush downwind of me. She was followed by a nice 2YO 8 or 9 point. I reached for the camera but stopped when I saw what was following. A very heavy bodied older buck with a very nice rack. I took the shot at about 20 yards and hit a branch on the way in. The arrow deflected back a bit but still good. He ran about 30 yards and dropped, but did not die right away. I can see him but I will wait awhile anyway.

9:20: A 10 point buck just tracked by on the path of the doe. Very thin horns. A 2YO? A yearling?

All morning: Lots of turkeys.

9:50: A 2YO 8 point walked past the deer I shot, smelled the air a bit and then walked directly under my tree.

10:18: A weird buck just passed by. On his left was a long very thin beam that forked on the end. On his right was a long, curved spike.

10:42: Just walked up to the buck I shot. A great buck, a perfect 10, old and heavy. He is a bull-necked, beat up mature buck, full of puncture marks and patches of hair missing from fighting. The shot was a bit far back, but all in the chest. He traveled about 25 yards and probably died in minutes. George and I took lots of photos, I’ll post them later. This is a great old buck, the biggest body I’ve seen on this trip. And although not the biggest rack, I’ve seen two that were bigger, certainly not a deer to pass, and I am thrilled to have taken him.

I will follow this with an epilogue and a summary tomorrow.

2015 Iowa Hunt Day 3

7:35: A great buck just came very close to my stand from behind. He came into the wind, from the north east. He stopped behind a lot of brush, about 25 yards away, got nervous and backed away. He was the best looking deer I have seen so far. A perfect typical ten, dark rack, long tines and high. Not heavy but well proportioned. Probably about a high 150s, possibly more. I know some serious Iowa bow hunters who would pass him, but not me. I would be thrilled to take a deer like that, and had the bow up and was starting to draw when he turned. It was a letdown when he walked, but that’s hunting.

8:12: Two Tom turkeys walked by.

8:40: A yearling buck just walked by on the trail that I hoped the deer would go on. Too bad the nice 10 didn’t do that.

8:58: Four longbeard turkeys went by, about 30 yards away. Lots of gobbles. Also pheasants crowing and snow geese calling overhead.

12:00: No action for a long time now. I am on a ridge top in the middle of three tall but narrow oak trunks, about 12 feet up. The wind is fairly strong and gusty, and the tree is in constant motion. I looked straight up at the swaying treetops once and instantly got vertigo. Don’t think that I’ll do that again. I could almost get seasick, if that’s possible in Iowa. I’m going to give it another half an hour and then call it a morning.

Afternoon: I am hunting the north end of the farm this afternoon, from a tree that I took a doe out of the last time I was here. Here’s what has happened so far.

3:50: I wasn’t even set up, I had not pulled my bow up yet when a yearling doe walked up, 10 yards away and downwind. She knew that something was not right, and so she began to move away.

3:55: A 3YO 4 by 5 buck just came into sight and raked his antlers on a small tree for about 10 minutes. He passed by about 20 yards away. The shot was brushy but very do-able. I passed and took his picture instead.

4:15: Another doe walked under my tree.

Quitting time: Another doe walked passed and went into a picked bean field in back of me. Then as I was climbing down a big white racked buck walked by about 30 yards away. It was too dark and too much brush to see well, but I think it might be the buck that I saw earlier. He came from the direction that the earlier buck had gone. I went back to the house in the dark. Pat made stuffed pork chops for supper, they were great as usual, and George and I visited until after eleven. Tomorrow will come early.