Few riflemen get an opportunity at a buck in velvet.
Louisiana native Joshua Bruce is accustomed to waiting for October before donning his camo and heading to the deer woods. This year, however, he discovered a mid-September window that not only allowed him to jumpstart his season, but also to hunt with a rifle when many Kansas bucks’ antlers are still encased in velvet.
The Sunflower State’s 2014 deer season included a nine-day stretch — Sept. 6-14 — during which kids 16 or younger could hunt with rifles, as long as they were accompanied by an adult. Those same dates were open to hunters with disabilities, providing they had both a permit and the appropriate deer tag.
“I must have called the DNR a dozen times to make sure,” says the disabled veteran.
Joshua, who often hunts public land in his home state, chose to book a hunt with an outfitter for his first trip to Kansas. Long before he set foot on C and S Whitetails’ holdings near the city of El Dorado, he frequently called the owner, Chad Onek, and looked forward to text messages and emails laced with trail camera photographs.
“Over the summer, we watched the big bucks grow into giants,” Joshua said. “My wish list was growing with every email and text.”
The opening-day plan was for the hunters to monitor unpicked soybean fields. Joshua saw nothing during his first sit in the 20-foot-tall ladder, but he saw plenty that evening.
The second morning, Sept. 8, got off to an unusual start.
While Joshua was walking to his stand, a couple of does snorted at him. One even ran closer, stomped her foot, blew, and then ran away again.
“With each step I took, she came running back, sometimes to within a few feet,” he said. “I first thought my hunt would be ruined, but she calmed down and just hung out for most of the day. I even took a selfie with her in the background.”
Joshua saw 14 deer — yearlings, does and a couple of promising young bucks — before calling it a morning. Understandably, he returned to that menagerie for the afternoon. Even though the temperature was in the high 70s by the time he was back in his perch, deer were still on the move.
“With deer all around me, my head was constantly turning,” he said.
Eventually, Joshua spotted a large-bodied deer — mainly its legs — step out of the tree line at the edge of the field. It wasn’t until it lowered its head that he could tell it was a buck. That’s when he turned on his video camera and focused it on an opening ahead of the big whitetail.
“A few long seconds later, buck fever seized me,” he admitted. “I was trying to concentrate on the task at hand when I glanced at those antlers through my new scope, which made them seem even bigger.”
When opportunity knocked and the deer turned broadside, Joshua squeezed off a round. In a blink, the big buck disappeared.
“Fortunately, I’d recorded the hunt, which allowed me to review the footage. Afterward, I called my father and then Chad,” Joshua continued.
“When Chad and I got to the spot where the buck had been standing, we couldn’t find any sign. After Chad received word that one of the young hunters in camp had shot a buck, we decided to back out and resume the search the next morning.”
Soon after the men began looking the following day, Joshua peered over a rise and saw his buck in the nearly chest-high beans, alive and eyeballing him.
“I didn’t have my rifle. I was so sure that we were on a recovery mission, I was wearing my bright purple-and-gold LSU T-shirt,” he said. “I quickly fell to my knees and whispered to Chad, who peeked and told me the deer looked like it had been hit. He then offered to go back to the truck, which was about 200 yards away, to retrieve my gun, a camo shirt and my hunter’s orange.
“A number of things had to fall into place for us to close the distance and to make a shot,” Joshua continued. “That involved a spot-and-stalk without alerting any deer to our presence. To be honest, I thought it was impossible.”
The wind, however, was favorable. And the two men moved only when the deer moved, crouching whenever it stopped or was looking.
“A few minutes and about 400 yards later, I was drenched in sweat and huffing and puffing. Chad asked me if I was okay, and told me to catch my breath,” he said. “I remember the pain in my back and legs was excruciating.”
The buck, meanwhile, was walking away from them.
“With me on the verge of having a heart attack or stroke, we pushed onward down the tree line to within 120 yards. And at that point, a doe saw us. As she bounded away, we realized we were as close as we would get.
“When I was ready, I rose to shoot. But Chad stopped me, looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Stop worrying because this (my state of mind) will not work.’ It took me a second to realize he was trying to calm me,” Joshua added.
They could see only the buck’s head and neck at that point, so there wasn’t room for error.
“Chad let me use his shoulder as a rest for the rifle. After I squeezed the trigger, the buck darted. But then it turned broadside at 178 yards, and that’s when I fired again,” Joshua said.
The deer crumpled, and hunter and outfitter were gleeful.
“We must have looked like two kids dancing around — one of my best all-time memories,” Joshua said.
“When Chad grabbed the 270-plus-pound deer, he realized we needed help. He left me there while he went to round up more manpower.”
Turns out, the bullet from the previous day must have malfunctioned, coming apart before striking the animal. There were lead fragments, but no substantial entry or exit wounds.
“When we were all watching the footage at camp that night, everyone thought it was a dead deer,” Joshua said.
While waiting for Chad’s return, Joshua knelt beside his buck and thanked God. Only then did he realize it was his 34th birthday.
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This article was published in the Winter 2014 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.