Kansas' blackpowder season might've kicked off Sept. 21, but only diehard hunters ventured out with their muzzleloaders. It definitely wasn't a day for those worried about keeping their powder dry.
There was lightning, hail and, at times, torrential downpours, but I couldn't bear the thought of staying indoors on one of the five days I might be able to hunt in 2009.
I'd been pining for opening day since the previous spring, when my dad, little sister, Alli, and I stumbled across a battle zone while looking for shed antlers. Or at least those are the words that came to mind.
I'd never seen so many rubs and scrapes in my life. No matter where I turned, I saw a tree with its bark shredded. After also jumping several deer, that grove of cedars was forever etched into my brain.
I returned there a few months later to check the deer trails and to find a cedar suitable for my 15-foot ladder stand. I also set up a trail camera, which I checked after a week, hurriedly swapping out memory cards and rushing home to see the photographs. I had no clue what was awaiting me until I sat down at my computer and began flipping through images.
The first few photos were of does, and I was a little disappointed. But then came two very nice bucks. The smaller one, a 14-pointer, was wearing about 150 inches of antler; the other’s rack had to be pushing, if not well into, the 190s.
I named the big one “Splitter” due to his forked P-2s. The right one had a kicker, too, making it resemble an upside down turkey’s foot.
Seeing that dude really got my blood flowing for the next four months. I watched the two bucks grow even bigger during the summer, until they shed their velvet three weeks before the rainy opener.
Those deer weren’t dummies. As the season drew nearer, they became almost strictly nocturnal, not showing up in front of the camera until well after dark or before daylight.
I checked the weather constantly for about two weeks prior to opening day, trying to figure out if the wind would be in my favor or against me. As the date approached, my prospects looked dim. Not only was the wind supposed to be blowing from the worst possible direction for my stand location, but the weatherman also was calling for a 60-percent chance of thunderstorms.
The dismal forecast, on top of not seeing any daylight pictures of Splitter for nearly a month, sent my hopes spiraling.
Nevertheless, I was up and in the shower by 4:30 a.m. I was planning to meet my friend, Lance Jacob, and we were going to his place. Splitter had passed by my stand in the morning only twice during the summer. We didn’t want to risk spoiling the setup by leaving unnecessary scent well ahead of an afternoon vigil.
Distant lightning flashed as I headed to my truck, and I could barely hear the soft rumble of thunder.
I arrived in the parking lot where I was to meet Lance and listened to the radio, thinking more of a possible encounter with Splitter that evening than what would unfold after sunup. Lance arrived a few minutes later, and I tossed my gear into his truck.
While we were suiting up, the storm was getting closer. At best, we hoped to get in an hour or two of hunting.
We were in place well before daybreak. I was behind the camera, and Lance had his bow.
Shortly after sunup, three does slid out of the trees about 60 yards from us. Lance was going to take one because he was hunting on a piece of property that enforced an earn-a-buck program to keep the deer population in check.
But the does either saw or smelled something they didn’t like and trotted back into the timber about as fast as they’d appeared. The thunder and lightning was on top of us by then, so we decided we’d better get out of the tree before things got any worse.
As we were packing the camera away, it started to pour — rain first, and then hail. After nearly jumping out of the tree from a lightning bolt that I swear struck a tree not 100 yards from us, we safely made it to the ground and immediately began laughing nervously at the situation we were in, jumping from the occasional stings of hailstones.
Back at the house, we rounded up a couple of umbrellas to screw into the tree for the evening hunt. The rain never let up, and on the way to Splitter’s stomping grounds, it started coming down so hard it was nearly impossible to see out of the truck’s windshield.
I told Lance several times that he did not have to go with me due to the atrocious weather. I couldn’t turn down one of the only five days of the season I could hunt during the year. But he said he wasn’t going to miss the chance of getting the hunt on film.
The rain slacked off a bit when we reached the field, which made it much easier to get into our stands and screw in the umbrellas. Lance’s hang-on was positioned above my ladder. We were all set by 3:30, and then a deer started blowing at us.
Maybe 10 minutes later, a doe appeared. We watched her for a spell until she melted back into the cedars. Shortly afterward, two more does and a forkhorn came down the very trail we’d used to get to the stand.
The does split from the little buck and started heading downwind of us. They could tell something was not quite right, but Lance and I smelled like a big, ground-up cedar tree, thanks to the half-bottle of cover scent we’d used prior to entering the field.
The two does stared and lifted their heads, trying to figure out why their lair smelled like a Pine-Sol factory. This went on for about 20 minutes. I just knew they were going to bust us and alert every other deer within a mile. But despite getting right at the base of our tree and looking directly at us, they never spooked, and eventually went on their merry way.
Man, did it feel nice to move again, and Lance finally got to swat the mosquito that had been sucking on his face for at least 10 minutes.
The rain intensified about that time, too.
It was nearly 5:15 when I saw antlers behind a cedar. They belonged to the 150-inch 14-pointer that had been running around with Splitter. I nudged Lance to make sure he was getting it on film. And as soon as I turned back around, there was Splitter.
I started to shoulder my gun, but lowered it when Lance advised me to wait. That was tortuous. There Splitter was, 70 yards and broadside, and my buddy was telling me not to shoot. After a mere 30 seconds that felt like hours, I got the go-ahead from the boss.
I shouldered the .45-caliber Omega and gradually pulled the hammer back. I placed the bead on Splitter’s shoulder, took a deep breath, held it and then slowly squeezed the trigger.
Smoke completely blocked my view. As it dissipated, I saw the 14-pointer bolting south. A few seconds later, I saw Splitter on the ground.
What an amazing feeling to see it all come together and to finally hold that monstrous rack in my hands! It had to be the weather front that roused the deer from their beds so early.
And to think how easy it would’ve been for me — for anyone — to opt for a warm sofa on that miserable rainy day!
Official Score: 187 2/8
Composite Score: 205 2/8
– Photos by Lance Jacob
This article was published in the September 2010 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.