I was able to share two amazing Kansas hunts with a couple of great friends. On September 18th I harvested a beautiful pronghorn exactly nine minutes into the season that came very close to cracking the state's top 10. Something I would have never dreamed just a few years prior when this central Kansas boy finally learned there were actually antelope in this state and that the tags were over the counter!
The high certainly hadn't worn off when it came time to switch gears and focus on some Flint Hills whitetails. Another friend and I had spent all summer tracking a true 8x5 giant on his family's farm. In mid July we were lucky enough to catch a set of pics on a very hot afternoon of another amazing buck traveling with the 8x5. He was a main frame 12 with matching kickers sprouting out in three spots. Between the two we knew we were into something special. Stands were hung and the hunting began shortly after my antelope kill. October yielded us one daylight picture of the 8x5 and no sightings. The main frame 12 had disappeared as quickly as he showed back in July.
Next thing we knew, it was November and the switch turned seemingly overnight. We headed out the evening of the 3rd. I reminded my buddy that exactly 5 years prior he had helped me track down my second buck ever. Both of us felt pretty good about our chances. After five bucks had passed by, one a 6 1/2 year old+ freak, just out of range and a text from my buddy telling me he was about to call it good I was losing faith in what I considered my "lucky day". That all changed when the main frame 12 appeared out of thin air with mere minutes left of shooting light. He decided he'd give me a couple more trail cam pics, only our second sighting ever, before trotting over to check out the grunting I was throwing at him. He stopped at 25 yds and was dead in another 40.
Fast forward to the summer of 2011. How do I top that? I don't, but I have to try, right?
I finished school, moved to northwest Kansas, and began brainstorming for the fall. Plans were made for a short mid-September Colorado antelope trip at 8,000 feet. My first out of state attempt with yet another good friend. In the obsession that had spawned after my 2010 antelope hunt I stumbled across Heads Up Decoy while reading and watching everything I could about hunting these guys on the go.
Along with the tiny antelope population, western Kansas holds a good number of quality mule deer. A first muley seemed much more attainable than topping last year's buck. I decided my 2011 season would be spent almost entirely on the ground and pursuing instead of in trees or blinds. Heads Up Decoy seemed like the perfect fit in the instance that I'd need a decoy.
The Colorado trip came and went. Beautiful country, many close encounters, and some good practice with the decoy left me pleased. However, the rut was still a bit off, and the big bucks weren't running off youngsters.
The following weekend I was back at my Kansas spot. Day one started off intense. I spotted a small group of 5 or 6 does and a very nice buck. I worked through a corn field for a 1/4 mile or so, and popped out with the decoy attached about 250 yards from the group. The buck picked me up immediately while the does were clueless and continued grazing. He started toward me with a cautious walk and continued all the way to about 50-55 yards. It was obvious this was his stopping point. I was drawn and let it launch. The arrow sailed right under his chest and he trotted back to his girls. When going to retrieve the arrow I walked off the distance and found I had misjudged by about 13 yards. Oh well, the sun was only half way up and I was in one of my favorite places in the world.
The next day and a half proved to be grueling. It was hot and windy, I spent a lot of time covered in stickers and sweat, had two more incredibly close calls, and was about to call it a weekend. On the way past my last spot I picked out four antelope from a mile away through the afternoon heat waves. After a quick circle with the pickup and a half mile jaunt on foot I came to them. Three had gotten up to move towards water, but one, a mature though not giant buck, still laid on the gradual slope in inch tall grass.I affixed the decoy with the thought he may awaken and it could hold him in place just long enough. I crawled to where the one yucca plant in our vicinity was between me and his head. Next I knew he was 50 yards and still had no idea I existed. This time the shot was true and he tipped over backwards in no time.
The next two months I spent tromping around corn fields, pasture ground, deep rock draws, and even bare dirt in my attempts for muley number one. Countless close calls, successful decoy set ups, and one major whiff later I still had a tag on Nov. 20, my last day to hunt before rifle season began.
I spotted what looked like a very large framed buck heading into a draw that morning. In checking the rest of the huge pasture before taking after him I stumbled on what looked to be another huge buck. While closing in he mysteriously stood up, left his 7 does, and trotted towards water. He had no idea I was there. I headed back to the truck, and on the way for lunch I caught the first buck bedded under a tree in the draw. He was still up and down trying to find the perfect bed, so I continued towards town. After a quick lunch I returned to find him motionless and in what seemed like a good spot to come in directly above him. The wind wasn't perfect, and I spooked a couple does on my way around and through a different draw.
Having no idea whether he was still there, and with the terrain looking increasingly different than what I pictured, I stuck the doe decoy in the bracket assuming he may very well pick me off before I catch his location. Again I hoped the decoy would relax him just long enough to finish the season. As it was with my antelope, he never knew what was coming. I popped up in the perfect spot, and my Hoyt sent the arrow up through his rib cage for a quick kill.
2011 had officially lived up to 2010.