Thirty-minute hunt yields 20-point buck in Kansas
By Mike Handley
Jason Kirkland once was smitten with bowhunting in Illinois. Now he's found a new love.For at least three decades, better-than-average prospects of tagging an exceptional whitetail have drawn nonresident hunters to Illinois like bees to pollen. As a result, the cost of leasing land has risen sharply, and the foot traffic at public tracts has increased to the point that merely seeing a couple of trucks at the parking areas is no longer reason to keep driving.
Yet the ebb and flow of deer hunters doesn't alone drive a man away from paradise. It took lots of dead deer to convince Jason to throw another dart at the map.
Outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) aren't unusual in Illinois or its neighboring states. But the disease dealt a severe blow to the whitetail populations from the state's midsection southward in 2004.
EHD is spread by biting gnat-like midges from late summer until the first frost. The midges transmit the virus from infected to uninfected animals. There is neither a vaccine nor an effective treatment.
Symptoms develop about seven days after exposure to the virus and include muscle weakness, loss of appetite, excessive salivation, lameness, depression and rapid pulse and respiration rates. In acute cases of the disease, animals enter a shock-like state, become prostrate and die within eight to 36 hours.
Disgusted by the effects of EHD where he hunts, Jason began looking to Kansas. It took three tries for him to draw an archery tag in the unit he wanted to hunt. The first time he made the 10-hour drive with a bow tag in his wallet was in 2007.
He booked a hunt with Prairie Wind Hunting Club about 50 miles northwest of Wichita. He was outfitter Terry Velten's only bowhunting client that year.
Jason saw numerous bucks wearing 150 or so inches of antler, including one that caused him to hyperventilate, but all were well beyond range of his bow. He wound up taking a doe back home to Lake Providence, La. That trip hooked him on the Land of Oz, and he applied again for a bow tag the following year.
After drawing his tag, he called the outfitter to ask him to put out a trail camera in a pasture. The man thought it was a waste of time to hang one in that location, but he obliged.
Three days before Jason struck out for Reno County, Kan., the outfitter checked the device and got a photograph of a dandy buck.
Jason arrived on the evening of Nov. 12, and he and Terry discussed various options for the following morning. Jason wanted to hunt a different spot, any other spot, because he wanted to save the pasture site for a favorable wind. But Terry, fueled by the image of the monstrous buck, kept insisting he go to a metal ladder stand attached to a big cottonwood in the pasture.
"I finally just gave in, even though the wind was completely wrong," Jason said.
Jason was in the ladder early, and he wasn't a happy camper, at first.
For starters, it was a balmy 40 degrees (for Kansas in November). And the southwesterly wind, just as he suspected, was wrong for the setup. Plus, the cows were moving all around the pasture.
Just before dawn, however, he heard a buck or bucks grunting back in the direction of a gravel road.
"It was nonstop," he said. "But I couldn't see anything ... until I spotted a doe feeding near a honey locust tree."
The second time he saw the doe, barely 20 minutes after sunup, she was being chased by a buck with a familiar face. She thought she'd lose her pursuer in a plum thicket about 100-150 yards away from Jason's stand.
"It was funny," he said. "She was wiggling through there, while the buck just bulldozed its way into the thicket. It eventually pushed her out of the sanctuary, and she came within 25 yards."
As the doe neared Jason's stand, she spotted him, reversed course and ran back into the plum thicket. As a result, the buck never made it to him.
"I thought I'd really messed up," he admitted. "I probably grunted two dozen times, trying to bring the buck my way, but it wouldn't leave her. And then they were gone."
About 30 seconds after Jason had given up trying to lure the buck away from the doe, he heard it coming.
"It was grunting like a hog ... every time its feet hit the ground," Jason said. "Its tongue was hanging out, and it was coming at a good clip."
Jason's shot was almost straight down as the buck passed him. As soon as the arrow struck home, he heard the buck gasp and a sound like it was being deflated.
Ten minutes later, Jason got down and retrieved his blood-soaked arrow.
When he began following the sign, the search was short. The buck had expired about 75 yards down the cow trail.
Editor's Note: For more information about Jason's outfitter, log on to www.prairiewindhunting.com.
Hunter: Jason Kirkland
Official Score: 196 6/8"
Composite Score: 218 6/8"
-- Reprinted from the July 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.