Rack Magazine

Better than a Gold Watch

Better than a Gold Watch

By Jill J. Easton

Prior to 2010, Kenneth Fields thought trail cameras weren’t fair. His words. But that was before serious back pain diminished the Kansas deer hunter’s trips afield.

At the suggestion of his nephew, Jerry Smith, Kenneth reluctantly set out a camera over the mineral lick at the front end of his property. And the revelations rocked his world.

Lots of deer — big ones — were taking advantage of Kenneth’s hospitality. He knew the deer liked the mineral, but he had no idea how many came, how often, nor how big they were until he saw the photographs.

His spread near Wakefield is surrounded by public land and food sources. A game refuge borders the backside, an apple orchard is next door, and lots of grain fields are nearby. Also, crows don’t have to fly very far to reach U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land and Fort Riley.

Kenneth established the mineral lick 18 years ago in a front corner of his property. He’s never stopped adding salt and minerals, and now the wallow is as big as a pickup truck. The deer have excavated the minerals 10 feet deep.

Over the years, Kenneth has also helped the wild critters with water during dry spells and feed when snow and ice bury their usual foods. He and his wife, Pam, enjoy knowing the deer are nearby. 

Pam often watches the animals through binoculars, and she’s made her husband promise not to shoot their “pets.”

The first year with the camera started a new tradition of naming the deer in the photographs. Thanks to the 24-hour surveillance, Kenneth discovered that dozens of deer they’d otherwise never see were creeping in at night and during the early morning hours to visit the lick.

Kenneth knew almost every buck by name.

“When I saw a hunter on public land down the road hauling Turkey Foot, one of OUR deer, out of the woods, I almost cried,” Kenneth said. “The camera really changed my viewpoint on the outdoors.”

That didn’t mean, however, that Kenneth was ready to mothball his hunting gear, though doing so had occurred to him.

“In 2011, the neighboring refuge was flooded,” Kenneth said. “On Aug. 29, the Acorn Buck appeared for the first time. He was still in velvet, but he’d shed it by the next night.

“He was a magnificent buck with lots of long points and a perfect acorn tip on one of his tines,” he added.

The buck was a regular at the salt lick, documented by dozens of pictures, and he always came either at night or very early in the morning.

Kenneth was recording the deer’s visits.

By October, Clay County was in drought. Kenneth left water and food for the deer, though the efforts took a toll on his rapidly worsening back. 

Better than a Gold Watch“On Oct. 22, I was drinking coffee at daylight when I saw the Acorn Buck and a younger one hanging around the lick,” he said. “Looking through binoculars, I could count at least 15 (of the rack’s 20) points.”

That’s when Kenneth realized he was going to break the promise he’d made to Pam.

“I was afraid my back was going to get so bad that I wouldn’t be able hunt at all,” he said. “I figured if I was going to get only one more chance, after a lifetime of hunting, I might as well get the buck of a lifetime.

“The Acorn Buck was the best deer I’d ever seen,” he added.

Kenneth knew the buck’s habits.

“Acorn Buck followed the same routine: He would come in for five or six days, and then disappear for a while,” Kenneth said. “I decided it was time. The night of the 23rd, I couldn’t sleep.”

At that point, Kenneth’s back was in such bad shape that he couldn’t even draw his compound bow, which is why he carried a crossbow. This meant he’d have only one shot at the buck.

“There’s a stand we use for shooting practice, and that seemed like the best place to be,” he said. “When I got out there before dawn on Oct. 24, I didn’t know if I intended to shoot.”

In 50 years of hunting, it had been Kenneth’s dream to kill a record book buck, but shooting a buck he’d named, one that he’d fed — though certainly not by hand —troubled him.

Was it right to pull the trigger? he wondered.

It was a rhetorical question.

“The buck came within reach, about 30 yards, and then it turned and gave me a shot,” Kenneth said. “I pulled the trigger, but I didn’t know if the shot was good.

“The buck tore away and disappeared toward public land and Fort Riley. When I got down, I couldn’t find the bolt, but I did find blood,” he added.

Kenneth searched the woods into which the buck had disappeared to no avail. The animal must’ve doubled back and followed a hedgerow toward Corps land, he thought.

“It was a no-hunting area, but I had access,” Kenneth said. “I was almost hoping that my shot hadn’t caused serious damage, that the buck would be back at the salt lick the next year.”

But that wasn’t the case. Kenneth found the Acorn Buck about 500 yards from his door.

“I sat with the deer for a while as a whole jumble of emotions went through me,” he said.

After he made his peace with the giant (and himself), Kenneth contacted a ranger to bring a salvage tag.

“The ranger got excited when he saw Acorn Buck,” Kenneth said. “That made me feel better. I knew then that I’d gotten a deer that was really special.”

Kenneth had back surgery on Sept. 5, 2012, and he’s since regained some of his mobility. Regardless, he might not hunt anymore.

“Unless a bigger buck comes along, and then we’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” he smiled.

– Photos Courtesy Kenneth Fields

Hunter: Kenneth Fields
BTR Score: 201 6/8”
Crossbow
Irregular

This article was published in the September 2013 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.

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