By Larry R. Beckett
When the tables, and cameras, turned on videographer Mike "Tater" Haviland, square one wasn't such a bad place to be after all. Photo Courtesy of Brian Godfrey
Mike "Tater" Haviland has spent the majority of his life following the most famous of outdoor celebrities on their adventures, while humbly capturing it all on video to share with viewers. He spends an average of 240 days in the field each year, patiently following close behind the hunters and sharing in their excitement when they harvest the object of their pursuit.
As a videographer, the nature of his work does not allow him the opportunity to be the one pulling the trigger very often. This past fall, on a rare occurrence when he was able to move in front of the camera and despite potentially discouraging setbacks, he took advantage of the chance and harvested a nice 160-inch Kansas 10-pointer, or so he thought.
Mike had a bad feeling when he answered his cell phone during the drive to his north-central Kansas hunt. His intuition was right, as Mike and his hunting partner, Brian Godfrey, found out they would not be able to hunt the property that he had scouted.
"All our scouting and preparation were out the window. It was back to square one," he said.
They didn't let it get them down, as they were familiar with Kansas' WIHA (Walk-In Hunting Area) program and knew there was plenty of public access land near their destination. They arrived that evening, settled in and decided to spend opening morning scouting the walk-in areas.
"We found promising sign at each of the areas, but it wasn't until we were in the middle of the 12th one that we found what we were looking for," Mike said.
While scouting, they jumped a group of bedded does. Shortly after, Mike discovered an impressive rub with sap still pouring out of the gouges and the smell of freshly pawed dirt.
"Brian was about 75 yards away, and I motioned for him to quietly close the gap between us. He had taken only a few steps toward me when a 150-inch buck exploded out of the brush close by," he said.
Mike and Brian scurried back to the truck, grabbed the gun, camera and blind and quickly set up shop. They patiently scanned the draw all evening and the next morning, but no deer returned. They decided to make a change.
They kept their spirits up and moved on to plan C. Mike contacted a local landowner and was granted permission to hunt a 160-acre piece of property close by. The landowner met them and showed them around the area. It consisted of a dense cedar thicket that opened up around a pond. The remaining acreage was planted in wheat.
It's a good thing Tater is better at shooting than he is at judging antlers. He and hunting buddy Brian Godfrey, left, underestimated this Kansas whitetail by nearly 40 inches. Photo Courtesy of Brian Godfrey
"We had some reservations about the small amount of huntable habitat on the property, but the landowner, a hunter himself, told us he had seen two 130-inch 8-point whitetails the night before," Mike said.
Their optimism remained high.
It was still early in the afternoon, so they grabbed their gear and set up their blind in some cedar trees on the edge of the property.
"We planned to stay back the first night, observing the travel routes of any deer that came out, and move in the next day for a closer shot," Mike said.
It wasn't until 45 minutes before dark that the deer began to move, as three does emerged from the thicket. They began cutting across the narrow 45-yard patch of open ground between the blind and the pond, but the unfamiliar shape of the blind made them uneasy, and they stopped to stare at it.
During the gals' relentless stomping and rubbernecking, Mike noticed the doe in the rear looking back in the cedar thicket.
"Her attention was torn between the danger in front of her and whatever was lurking in the shadows of the cedars behind her. I just knew a buck was in there," Mike said.
The trio finally had enough, blew loudly and returned to the safety of the thicket.
"We had only 15 minutes of light left," he said. "Brian and I figured the does had alarmed any deer in the area, so it was probably best if we gathered our things to start fresh in the morning."
But before they could get out of the blind, a doe burst out of the trees at 160 yards with a nice buck hot on her trail.
"I quickly looked through the binoculars and saw what I thought was a very nice 160-inch 10-point buck," Mike said.
As he mounted his rifle and steadied the crosshairs on the buck, the doe stopped. The buck turned away from Mike and began rubbing a cedar tree. As Mike watched it unleash its testosterone on the defenseless sapling, buck fever began to take hold of him.
"I just knew when the buck was done with the rub, he would run after the doe and I wouldn't get a shot," he said.
As the adrenaline-induced weave of the scope passed back and forth over the buck, Mike did not want to look at the rack. Fortunately, when the buck finished its display of aggression, it turned broadside and began slowly walking toward the doe.
"I bleated, and the buck stopped broadside. I tried to calm down and control my breathing, but it took three times before I was able to squeeze the trigger," he said.
The .300 Win Mag dropped the buck in its tracks.
The blind was full of excitement and congratulations as Brian expressed that the deer might even measure 170 inches. As darkness set in, they approached the deer, still not realizing its true size. When their flashlights lit up the massive rack and revealed the extra beam, Mike could not believe it.
"I could not approach the deer for several minutes. My nerves were shot, and I stood in disbelief of what had occurred," he said. "I've been all over the country filming hunts for other people and have always been excited when they harvested a monster deer. I was not sure how I would react if I was ever the one putting the tag on one. I never envisioned it would leave me speechless and affect me the way it did."
Deer hunts seldom turn out the way they are planned. There are often obstacles to overcome, but this hunt seemed to be a test of Mike's and Brian's determination.
Overcoming seemingly endless unforeseen problems on this hunt made the result that much more rewarding. The fact that the giant whitetail had 16 points and a BTR score of 189 2⁄8 inches didn't hurt things, either.
Hunter: Mike "Tater" Haviland
Official Score: 189 2/8"
Composite Score: 208 1/8"
-- Reprinted from the September 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine