Long pokes don't normally rattle this Texan, but then targets don't normally wear a record-book rack!
By Bryan Davis
Photos Courtesy: Bryan Davis
I am very fortunate in that my wife and I own our own real estate business, which means I get to spend a lot of time deer hunting. My wife says she doesn't get to spend any time with me from November to mid-January.
It helps, too, that we specialize in recreational hunting properties, many of which I'm allowed to sample.
In 2007, I ordered a replica of a world-class whitetail just to have a set of antlers that I and my customers could see, feel and touch - a reminder of what it would take to have our names in the record books.
In the spring of 2008, I had the distinct pleasure to do some business and become friends with a rancher from Kansas. We were working in my office when the subject of deer arose. I asked if anyone hunted his land, and he said no, although he'd like to generate some income from leasing the hunting rights.
When I asked if he had any good deer, he looked around the office at some of my mounts, pointed to the big replica and said, "We have deer like that, but ours are heavier and maybe a little wider."
The man had just looked at a book deer and implied it was AVERAGE!
He then dropped the real bomb. With a glint in his eyes, he added: "But we do have a BIG ONE."
I didn't even know how to respond.
My next question was if I could work out something for me and a partner to hunt his holdings in Kansas. He said he would speak with his wife and get back to me.
A few days later, he came back to my office and we closed the deal. In the interim, I contacted the Kansas Department of Wildlife and found out that we had to go into a drawing to hunt in the state. My friend had properties in two different units, so we sent in for one as our preference and the other as a backup.
When the drawing was complete, we were surprised that we had been chosen for both units, which would allow us to hunt any of the properties.
Kansas' 2008 rifle season opened on Dec. 3, a Wednesday. I met with the rancher on the Friday before, and we pulled up satellite photos of his land and created detailed maps that would serve as starting points.
My partner and I had planned to pull a horse trailer for living quarters, but I found a reasonably priced motel room with twin beds, a hot shower and a continental breakfast. We arrived there on Tuesday, ready to scout.
At about 5:00 that evening, we drove past one of the tracts and saw some deer at the edge of a small field flanking a vast draw. One was a very large buck.
I stopped to retrieve my camera from behind the seat, while my partner glassed the deer through his binoculars. "I can see at least 14 points!" he gasped.
I took three pictures before deciding I needed to change to my telephoto lens. After screwing on the zoom, I got about 20 more before the buck followed a doe down into the draw.
After the deer were gone, we just sat there dumbfounded at what had just happened. We looked at the viewfinder in the camera, looked through the pictures, and realized just how big the buck really was. It even sported a drop tine.
There was no doubt as to where I was going to spend the next 13 days.
I got very little sleep that night. I pored over the map, trying to decide how to hunt that buck without pushing it onto the adjoining property. I ultimately chose a high point that would allow me to glass the mostly open country with the wind in my face and the sun at my back.
A cold front moved in while I was devising my plan and sleeping fitfully. The temperature dropped 20 degrees into the teens, made even worse by a howling wind.
We got to the pasture around 6 a.m., parked outside the gate and waited for daylight. We were at least an hour early, so we sat in the car and enjoyed the heat while the 40-mph wind rocked the car.
When it grew light enough to see, we scanned the countryside with binoculars. We were about a quarter-mile east of the draw where the big buck had disappeared the previous day. We began slinking toward the canyon's edge before the sun crested the horizon.
We would ease up five or 10 yards at a time and make another survey with our binoculars. When we got about halfway to the edge of the draw, I scanned the 10- to 12-acre woodlot to our left. The rest of the place was open grassland.
Every now and then, I glassed the grassy ridge in front of us. But it wasn't the kind of place one would expect to see a deer. Just as the sun broke over the horizon, however, I caught a glimpse of a couple of lighter colored blobs in the tall bluestem.
It took a few seconds for my brain to tell me they were deer. One was the big buck, lying down and looking at us from about 450 yards. The other was presumably the hot doe it had shadowed the previous evening. She was standing. It always amazes me how deer can be in the open like that, and yet remain almost invisible.
I spend a lot of time at the range. I sight-in my hunting rifles at 300 yards and practice out to 600, where my three-shot groups are within 6 inches. But that's when I have a good rest.
On that bone-chilling morning, however, I was shivering from both cold and a severe case of buck fever. Not only that, but I was also facing a fierce crosswind. Although 450 might've been doable back home, I wasn't about to chance a miss at the biggest buck I'd ever seen.
I made the decision to close the distance. I had the sun at my back and the crosswind to my advantage, but the deer were watching us. It made sense at the time, but the brazen move could have cost me.
I whispered to my partner that we were going to ease forward, straight at the deer, with as little movement as possible. The deer would have to look directly into the sun to follow what we were doing.
I also asked my partner to watch the doe, while I focused on the buck.
They were only about 12 yards apart, but there was no way either of us could concentrate on both. If the doe broke and ran, the buck would follow, and they would probably run onto another property. I also knew that if it ran, I wouldn't take the shot unless it happened to stop.
When we were within 350 yards, I tried to put the crosshairs on the buck's shoulders. It was a decent hold, but I was breathing like a first-timer. My partner actually grabbed me by the arm and said, "Bryan, settle down. You can do this."
The buck still seemed very calm, so I decided to get a little closer. As we crept forward, my partner said, "The doe took a step. She looks nervous."
The rangefinder showed 310. I was going to give my .280 an 8-inch drift because of the crosswind. As soon as I had made this decision, the buck stood up and took two steps to the left. I placed the crosshairs where I thought to be around 8 inches to the right and touched the trigger.
Even with the wind roaring, I heard the welcomed thump of a solid hit. The next thing I saw was the antlers in the grass, ahead of a tremendous white belly.
My partner and I tried to exchange high-fives, but we missed!
I was able to harvest this deer because of preparation and a whole lot of luck. Not only was I allowed to hunt in an area that had the potential to grow deer of this caliber, but I also was in the right place at the right time. If we hadn't driven by that place the day before, at exactly the right time, we would've never known this buck existed.
My wife says it best: "It was like the stars aligned, and you and that deer were destined to meet!"
Hunter: Bryan Davis
Official Score: 213 1/8
Composite Score: 232 3/8
-- Reprinted from the November 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.