What was I thinking? The extravagance of the pre-rut was in full display yet I was powering through eastern Kansas and Missouri to land in southwest Iowa for an afternoon archery hunt. Images of a long-beamed Kansas buck with axe-handle mass kept swirling through my mind as I sped away from it in attempt to utilize an Iowa tag I had waited years to acquire.
The reason I left one real buck to chase others I had never laid eyes upon focuses on an earlier outfitter conundrum. An outfitter contact urged me to apply for my Iowa tag and then throughout the following summer dodged and ignored my attempts to set up hunting dates. In a last-ditch effort I reached out to another contact who said he had land to hunt. There was one hitch. I could only take advantage of the opportunity in a short window during early November before he had to guide other hunters in Missouri. That’s why I was driving away from a giant I had actually glimpsed on two separate occasions in addition to watching the buck on video my buddy, wildlife property specialist Greg Gilman, had filmed.
Cordell Turner, Circle Cross Outfitters in Iowa, was the outfitter who bailed me out. That afternoon he set me up in a beautiful, creek-side stand in the heart of Iowa, monster buck country. Nothing showed that night, but over the course of the next two days the rut activity was ticking up steadily like shoppers showing up to a Black Friday sale. Although I forced my attention toward the Iowa bucks before me, my buddy Greg kept sending me trail camera pictures and actual eyes-on accounts of the beefy, Kansas buck. How long would the buck keep this pattern up before the intoxicating scent of an estrus doe would cause him to wander into the sights of another bowhunter?
The other fact I couldn’t ignore was the possible score of the buck. From unbelievable fight footage Greg had captured I was able to place an approximate score on the buck in the mid-170s. Another official Pope and Young scorer verified my math, and yet another veteran bowhunter thought the buck would hit 180. Even when I deducted inches for my enthusiasm, I still was tallying in the mid-160s. Score possibilities aside, this buck was the area bully and more dominant than President Trump in a press conference. A split brow, another dagger point and above average mass meant even more than any score could reflect to me.
After passing on several good bucks in Iowa the reality of the Kansas giant was too much. I thanked Cordell for the hospitality and he wished me well with a message that he would do the same if he had a monster buck on pattern.
After dodging deer much of the night on the drive back to Kansas I slept a couple hours and then headed to a blind situated on the edge of food plot the axe-handle buck, we now called Heavy Duty, claimed as his own. At dawn a few small bucks and does braved the steady rain to feed, but HD was a no show.
Greg has a network of stands throughout the properties he manages so finding another stand to potentially intercept HD wasn’t an issue. Interception though was becoming questionable as HD’s trail camera and reality presence began to sputter. I was again questioning my decision to juggle hunting in two states for the chance at a trophy. Was I simply bouncing around like a 5-year-old in a bounce house with no real focus?
I was now pushing nearly a week of boots-on-the-ground in Kansas with a short vacation in between to Iowa. HD had been a no-show except for one quick glimpse on a trail camera since my Kansas return. Prospecting, I picked a favorite treestand of mine that had produced two other Kansas, Mathews' memories. In the stand 30 minutes before shooting light, I was just settling when a buck fight broke out on the hillside above with a volume level that screamed “Mature Deer!”
As much as I strained to see into the dark timber I couldn’t make out the “Rocky” fighters. The fight ended and the rest of the morning a bevy of young bucks chased around the stand. Was the fight I heard above from HD and another of the mature bucks in the neighborhood?
Since the timber above led to the food plot HD loved to visit earlier I gambled that he’d make an appearance there in the afternoon. Arriving early, I set up my video camera in a blind to accommodate the wind and it wasn’t long before deer returned to the buffet. An hour before sunset a young buck was bothering does in front of the blind when all eyes directed north. I looked the same way. It was HD arriving on the scene with an assertive attitude.
HD was bee lining straight to some does nibbling on grain. The young buck stepped aside as I turned on my video camera and seconds later HD stepped boldly into the shooting lane with a focus of love toward the does. With his attention diverted I drew my Mathews Triax bow and in autopilot mode released.
I admit I was a bit jacked up on buck fever and the overpowering dose sent my Sevr broadhead a bit back further than I would like. Nevertheless, the buck raced off after the shot with obvious uncertainty. Luckily the wide swath of the mechanical carved a devastating wound channel through the buck and I watched him teeter to his end under a distant cedar tree.
Did that just happen, I thought? I watched the lifeless body for approximately 15 minutes before hiking over to see the giant up close. There was no ground shrinkage as I hoisted the hefty beams from the Kansas tall grass prairie. After a hands-on feel of every point and mass circumference I immediately texted pictures to my wife, kids and Greg.
A later unofficial gross measurement tallied an impressive 180 and change on HD. Regardless of the score I was grateful my gut told me to abandon Iowa and head back to Kansas for a try at the buck of a lifetime. It will be another long wait for an Iowa tag to find me, but in the meantime I can gaze up at the wall with a good feeling about deserting one big buck state to roll the dice in Kansas. Bouncing around proved to be the winning lottery ticket.