John Payne poses with one of the most impressive whitetails taken in Kansas during the 2003 season. The buck was an estimated 4 1⁄2 years old.
By Mike Handley
John Payne of North Huntingdon, Pa., wasn't supposed to go to Kansas in 2003. He wasn't supposed to be carrying an unfamiliar rifle. And he wasn't supposed to climb into the treestand he sat in on opening morning of the Sunflower State's rifle season.
But he did.
Only by a twist of fate did the 37-year-old make his first-ever hunting trip to the Midwest. He was standing in for a guy who couldn't make it. Even then, he wouldn't have gone if the outfitter hadn't possessed another transferable landowner tag.
John was the third member of a gang of three that had booked the hunt with Stan "Griz" Brustowicz of Kansas Trophy Whitetails.
It's not often that an Irregular carries almost identical measurements from left (118 2⁄8 inches) to right (119). Also, for every typical point, there's an irregular one - seven and seven on one side and six/six on the other.
John's lucky streak began before he ever left home. He won a new rifle in a raffle. And this was going to be the first time he'd hunt with it.
The streak continued after John got there. Before 9 a.m. on his first morning out, he shot one of the grandest whitetails ever to be felled in Kansas. If he'd shot the same deer back home in Pennsylvania, or even New York or Michigan (other places he's deer hunted), it would've been much nearer the top in their rankings.
Go on and call him lucky. John's okay with that, because it wasn't always the case.
Prior to 2003, the biggest buck he'd collected in 23 years was a 4-pointer. Thus, he doesn't much care if someone dismisses his accomplishment as luck, because he's put in his time. And nothing can diminish the satisfaction he gets whenever he glances at the mounted 26-pointer on the wall.
Griz knew it was possible. The night before he dropped John off at the stand, a neighbor told him that a giant buck had been in the nearby bean field the previous evening. Hoping the deer might still be in the vicinity, Griz took his client on a circuitous route to the tree - to avoid spooking the buck, if it was in the field when they arrived.
On any other day, assuming he'd even go to that particular stand, he would've taken a far more direct approach to it.
But the neighbor's sighting piqued Griz's interest. He already knew that the piece of Washington County real estate held potential for a world-class buck.
"Two years before John harvested this deer, we found the sheds of a 2 1⁄2-year-old buck that would score in the 160s," he said. "That was in 2001. And in 2002, a bowhunting client and I spotted a 200-class buck during a foggy morning drive back to camp."
The last time the buck was seen - by a couple of bowhunters - was during the 2003 archery season. It was 3 miles away from where John shot it on Dec. 3.
John's hunt was short and sweet. He was in his stand by 6:30. Dawn broke extremely foggy, limiting visibility for the first couple of hours. But the deer didn't seem to mind.
Early on, a decent 8-pointer - twice as big as anything John had ever shot - chased two does past his stand. Allowing the deer to keep on trucking had to be gut-wrenching, though the Pennsylvanian shrugs it off.
"It was the first day," John grinned. "I wasn't in a hurry to fill that tag."
Turns out, the deer he passed up actually was a 10-pointer wearing more than 140 inches of antler. One of the other guys shot it later in the week.
The next deer to appear was another pair of does, followed by two more. The buck with the wide and tall rack stepped onstage after that.
John couldn't squeeze the trigger fast enough. He took the 150-yard shot and dropped the buck. The deer jumped up and made a mad dash for a nearby ravine as John approached it, but a second shot cut short its retreat.
Editor's Note: To book a hunt with Kansas Trophy Whitetails, call Stan Brustowicz at (785) 265-3360. For more information about the place, log onto www.kansastrophywhitetails.com.
Official Score: 237 2/8"
Composite Score: 259 1/8"
-- Photos by: Griz Brustowicz
-- Reprinted from the December 2006 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine