The perfect hit doesn’t always leave the perfect trail.
I returned from Iraq to Fort Riley, Kan., two years ago, just in time to buy a deer tag and jump into the second week of the 2009 archery season.
I didn’t want to bumble into other guys’ well established honey holes, but I had no idea where to start. This meant I would be striking out blindly in places less obvious.
While most of Kansas is flat, Fort Riley isn’t. It’s pocked with steep hills, deep draws and eroded riverbanks exposing the raw stone underneath the soil. Hardwoods flank the many tributaries to the Republican and Kansas rivers, and that’s where most bowhunters seek their trophies.
I ventured into a section where mature and climbable trees were scarce. I scouted along creeks until I stumbled upon a long-overgrown food plot that showed signs of being a hub of deer activity. A small creek, sheltered by a strip of hardwoods, ran alongside it.
I hung my stand up the first suitable tree I found just off the small opening. I’d be able to watch a massive and fresh rub.
I was pleased with the setup and was soon entertained by a spike and several does with yearlings. I watched them for the next few weeks and, eventually, the does began watching me.
Every time they came near, they would stare up my tree and begin their anxious stomping and snorting. In my rush to establish a stand, I’d settled for a tree that was too thin to reach an adequate height. It was also too close to the main trail, and not particularly good for the predominant wind.
My heart sank with the thought of packing it in and finding a new location, but it had to be done, though I held out a few more days.
One moonlit night, while walking back to my truck, I flushed a massive deer out of the food plot. It was only 15 feet in front of me, and I was awestruck at its towering rack that also extended well beyond its ears.
The giant buck gave me a nasally snort before leaping into the shadows.
Encouraged by what I’d seen and excited about the rut’s onset, I decided to stay put in my spot. The does learned to avoid my stand, but they still came into the food plot with their yearlings every evening.
Just as I was beginning to doubt the magnificence of the deer I encountered under the moonlight, it chased a doe into the clearing. I was shocked to realize I might’ve underestimated its rack.
The buck appeared to be a typical 12-pointer that would easily score in the 170s. I gave a few grunts and managed to turn its head, but breeding’s prospect was too strong an incentive.
I waited the rest of the season for that deer, passing up everything else in range. I even sat through the wintery days of December. But I ended the year with an unpunched tag.
I got a much earlier start in 2010. I ventured deeper into the thick summer undergrowth, following the creek back into the woods. Covered in ticks and constantly dodging poison ivy, I went beyond the spot I hunted in 2009.
I found a great bedding area off the backside of the old food plot. Beyond that was another section of woods that looked really promising, plus there were several suitable trees well away from the main trail.
I opened some shooting lanes and mounted a trail camera.
My second season on Fort Riley started out promising with lots of deer activity, but I was discouraged because no mature bucks were afoot. I didn’t get the first shooter buck — a 150ish 11-pointer — on camera until 10 days into the season.
Another, even bigger 11-pointer mugged for my camera not long afterward, and many others followed. I had photos of several great bucks, from spectacular 4x4s to handsome basket 10-pointers. I was surrounded by bucks, but not a single one was passing in front of the lens during daylight hours.
The first exception was the 11-pointer. A bad angle and a squirrel spared that deer.
I saw it again the following week, shadowing a doe. She came down the trail and walked directly underneath my stand. Her boyfriend, however, veered out to 35 yards and kept a screen of brush between us.
When I pulled my camera photos later that day, I was amazed to see a new buck, one whose antlers had to be pushing the 200-inch mark. It was the biggest yet, but it also looked oddly familiar.
After studying the 6x6’s long tines, I realized it had to be the monster I’d seen the previous year.
I had a new obsession, fueled by two more photographs in the ensuing days.
With a cold front moving in, Nov. 14 held a lot of promise. My first hunt, however, was spoiled by a unit training around my hunting area. This is a recurring inconvenience on a military post, but we all take it in stride. They’d finished maneuvers by the time I returned that evening.
About 20 minutes before dark, I heard a deer crashing through the woods. As it got closer, I could hear what sounded like antlers snapping off branches.
When it cleared the brush, I saw the wide and massive rack. I wasn’t absolutely sure if it was the monster I’d been dreaming about, but it was definitely good enough.
The buck came in directly underneath me, but then turned away. It was obviously looking for does and wouldn’t be there long, so I had to act fast, even if the only shot I had was at its back.
When I lined up the sights, I couldn’t discern the peep. Nevertheless, since it was at chip-shot distance, I centered the bead on the deer’s back and let the arrow fly.
The buck took off running hard and low, and I lost sight of it after 60 yards.
I didn’t bother searching for it until a few hours later, when I returned with a friend. The trail went dry after 25 yards and caused us to go back to drop one.
After losing the trail a second time in the same place, we looked even harder until we came across a pinprick drop of blood, which signaled the abrupt turn the wounded buck had taken.
With sighs of relief, we followed the nearly microscopic drops for another 15 yards to where the wound reopened. I have never been so happy to see a full, single drop of blood in my life. Plus, we could smell the buck.
We found my deer in the brush a mere 60 yards from my stand. I couldn’t believe it had fallen right where I’d lost sight of it.
My shot, which I’d second-guessed the entire time we were looking for the animal, had been perfect.
Hunter: Trevor Lumadue
BTR Official Score: 187 3/8
BTR Composite Score: 207 5/8
— Photos Courtesy of Trevor Lumadue This article was published in the July 2011 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.
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