The 2018 Whitetail season has proven to be one that I will never forget. It seems that some years the stars just align for us and this year is definitely one of those years for me. I was fortunate enough to take a gorgeous 169 4/8 in Kansas, a 173 7/8 in Colorado, and I was able to film two hunts with equally as much excitement.
During the Kansas archery season, I had a beautiful 11-point buck with insane mass coming to my hunting area. With numerous pictures of this buck, my cameraman, Kord Etbauer and I spent many hours in the pop-up waiting for this buck to show himself in the daylight. After a few days of no sightings, we were checking cameras and noticed a huge buck with a drop tine showed up. Now with two bucks on our hit list we knew our chances were getting better in our favor. Hunting Midwestern whitetail is different then my home state of Texas. The deer numbers are nowhere near as great in Kansas and the size of land is vastly smaller. Here, in Kansas we had no choice but to sit and wait, in hopes that one of these two bucks would make his way into range during legal shooting hours. As the days drew on, it became hard to not begin a path of negative pessimism, but I won’t allow myself to have these thoughts. It is during these times that I remind myself that each day I don’t have an opportunity is one day close to the day that I will. Finally, the time came for Dustin’s cameraman, Kurtis Blosser, to leave and film another client of his. This left Dustin and me here with one person to film. With my background have much to do with cameras we decided that Kord should start hunting with Dustin and that I would film myself. Still photography is where my background is, I’ve only been professionally shooting video for slightly over a year. Granted, I know my way around a camera and have had some truly talented people help me on the video side of things; but filming oneself isn’t for the faint of heart. I’d dabbled with self-filming hunting hogs back in Texas but this was a whitetail and a big one at that. I had sat for well over a week, daily without the first opportunity so when I did get that chance I needed to capitalize on it. It’s one thing to range the buck, draw your bow, aim, and make a lethal shot. But, it’s a whole new ball game to focus the camera, press record, range the animal, draw the bow, make sure the animal is still in frame, aim, and take the shot. If the animal moves during any of the aforementioned steps one must redo all of the steps. This process causes anxiety to reach new and improved levels. However, Dustin can’t run a camera at all and this was the only viable option we had. The snow was falling hard enough that my visibility was less than four hundred yards. I had carried my bow and camera gear into my pop-up and got everything situated about three o’clock in the evening. With an arrow knocked and my camera aiming out of the window, I was as ready as I was ever going to be for the evening hunt. Secretly, I was hoping that Dustin’s deer would show in his area so that Kord would be free to hunt with me tomorrow morning. Nature had other plans, I would soon find out. Around 4:00PM, a young but nice ten point came walking into my setup in the snow. I used this opportunity to check my focus and get some cool footage for the show. I did this in 120fps just to capture the snow falling in slow motion and it was truly beautiful. Shortly after that, I noticed a doe running toward me. I thought to myself that there must be a buck chasing her considering how she is behaving. No sooner did that thought leave my mind, I saw horns coming over the hill behind her. As soon as the buck topped the hill, I instantly knew this was the drop tine buck. With light fading slightly, I thought it best to change my camera setting back to 4K, which took way too long. Before I knew it, the doe was fifteen yards from my blind. The buck stopped at thirty yards and made a scrape in the snow while I videoed him trying very hard to make sure I focused the lens and didn’t have a stroke. Slowly, he turned, and I drew my bow. Just as I was about to touch the trigger on my release, he walked to his left about three yards. Now the buck is no longer in the frame so I have to left my arrow down to reposition the camera. With the camera back aiming at the buck standing at fifteen yards, I drew again. Once again, as I was about to take the shot the buck walked to his left a few yards. Letting my arrow down again I moved the camera one more time. With the buck standing around twenty yards, I drew my bow one more time. Looking over my screen making sure the buck was framed correctly and the red “Rec” was on I looked back through the peep. Settling my pin where I wanted it, I touched the trigger and panicked slightly when I heard my broadhead hit the window of my popup. My panic subsided as I heard the Rage make that thump as it hit the buck. The next thing I noticed was that I didn’t get the penetration I expected to get. The buck ran straight away and then turned to his right. I could see blood pumping out of his left side but I watched him until he went behind some brush and he never stumbled. I then heard water splashing and to me, it sounded as if he had fallen in the creek and was thrashing as he died. I gave it fifteen minutes and sneaked around the bushes to look down into the creek bottom. There was blood in the snow and on the edge of the water but no deer. I looked a little closer and saw good amounts of blood going up the other bank on the opposite side of the creek. Crossing the creek as the light was fading fast, I knew the arrow was causing him to bleed but I couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t lying there dead. I stopped and looked up the hill above me, which were all grasslands. I noticed a bright green light about 100 yards away. With my binoculars I could tell that this was my lighted knock. I watch through my binoculars as my buck lay down. Twenty minutes went by and I could still tell he was breathing as the green knock would move up and down. It was then that I decided the best action to take was to back out and come back in the morning. The deer had lain down literally on the neighbor’s fence line and I didn’t want to bump him onto land that I didn’t have permission to hunt. That night went by in super slow motion; I was up and 1:00AM, 2:30AM, and finally gave up at four. Once it was daylight, I walked around the corner and glasses up the fence line and saw my buck lying dead right in the same place I had left him. What a huge sigh of relief, it was to see him there. It always amazes me that mid-western deer never shrink. I walked up to this deer with Kord and Dustin and I was truly in awe. Of all the bucks I’ve been fortunate enough to take in my life, this was the first with a drop tine. He was a gorgeous deer and he would be the start of a roll I’d be on like no other year before. The one thing I take away from this hunt is that I will pray that I never have to film myself again.
As the excitement started to subside from the Kansas hunt, I got a text from a good friend of mine, Chip Beinner, saying that he has seen a giant of a buck on some property we hunt in Colorado. It is only a seven-hour drive from our lease in Kansas so I figured I better take advantage of the call. I arrived in Colorado to find it beautiful with some snow on the ground. I would be hunting along a creek bottom that held most of the whitetail in the area. This creek is surrounded by hay fields usually planted in winter wheat or alfalfa with the creek’s edges being thick with willows. It would be impossible to see the deer in the willows but we hoped that they would feed out into the fields late in the day. On the first day my camera man, Nick Weaver and I, along with our guide Mark Evert started parking on the high spots and glassing the fields below us. We saw several great bucks but not the big boy we were after. After the first day’s hunt, I had a good feeling about being successful because we had seen plenty of deer and the rut was in full swing. The second morning was a bit different in that there was a full on blizzard blowing and temperatures had fallen into the single digits. Right at daylight, we were glassing a huge alfalfa field and I saw a buck with a split brow tine. Mark said that the deer we were after had a split brow. Thinking we had him, we moved into a better position and then noticed that he was chasing a doe out of the creek bottom up into the hills. This was the first time I had actually put my eyes on the buck and I could tell he was truly special. That afternoon we sat on the field edge in a blizzard hoping the buck would come back. The buck never showed up and I can’t remember the last time my hands were that cold. The nail beds of each finger felt like they had a nail driven through them. Watching the Weather Channel that night they were calling for the cold and clouds to continue through mid-day the following day. We figured we’d give it a try in the morning but didn’t expect to see anything until the clouds broke and temperatures started to rise. The following morning went as we had thought; we saw a few but nothing big. Every deer that we saw on the morning hunt was bedded and trying to keep warm. At 1:00PM, the clouds broke, and the sun started shinning. It took longer than we had hoped but the deer started pouring out of the willows at around four that evening. We were up on a hill a good distance away glassing when Mark saw a deer walk into a field with his spotting scope. He couldn’t tell what it was but knew that its body was big and that it was a buck. We knew we had to get closer to look but we also didn’t want to lose the last light looking at the wrong buck. With daylight fading we decided to go down to the field and look. As we peaked around the edge of the field, the buck saw us, and we saw him at the same time. I immediately knew that this was the buck we were after. This was one of those moments when seconds count and I dropped down resting my rifle on an old fence. As I settled my cross hairs on the deer, I was asking Nick, “Are you on him, are you ready?”. The second Nick said ok, I squeezed the trigger. I’ve hunted deer a long time and I knew that this buck was about to leave the country and he had ten feet to go and would be invisible. Luckily, he gave me the seconds needed and he dropped in his tracks. This was my first whitetail in Colorado and he was a giant. His mass if what gets to me the most, it literally continues down both main beams and on each point. This bucks brow tines were super long, heavy and split. He scored 173 3/8 and will look amazing in our home.
My third hunt was with Stephanie at our ranch in Texas. This buck was a special buck as we have had a history with this one for three years. We first started getting pictures of him three years ago and he was a giant then. However, regardless of his antler size he just wasn’t old enough to consider taking. Last year we thought seriously about hunting him but then decided to give him one more year. We got our first picture of him this year when he was in velvet and there was no chance we wouldn’t try and get him this season. We decided that rather than hunt him with a client we would have Stephanie hunt him and film it for the show. With plenty big bucks for clients, we thought this one would be better for WildLifers because we had such a history with him. The problem was, he disappeared. No pictures on any of the cameras in that area of the ranch were of this buck. I was guiding a hunter one day and looked down the road to see this buck standing there. That night we went down there and placed a pop-up along the road that I saw him on. I told Stephanie that as soon as I am done with these clients, we would start trying to get him. On the first sit, we saw several good bucks, but we were after one buck and one buck only. Day number two found us in the blind both morning and evening seeing all kinds of deer. In fact, the second afternoon sit may have been the best sit I’ve ever had while deer hunting. That evening, we saw thirty bucks and many of them very close. I was able to get some truly remarkable video and Stephanie loves to just sit and watch the deer. To add to our excitement, we had a bobcat come out less then twelve yards from our blind and sit there for ten minutes. Of course, he made a super star of himself on camera. On the third morning, Stephanie and I got into our blind well before daylight. I was filming the red sky of the dawn when Stephanie whispered, “ There’s a buck.” It wasn’t the buck we were after but it started the flood of deer that we would see. From that point on, we never weren’t looking at a deer. I looked across some open country in front of me and noticed a deer standing there with the sun shinning on his antlers. I could tell at 700 yards that this was a big buck because his frame was so huge. I knew before I focused my binoculars that this was “him”. Stephanie and I quickly got out of the blind and into the brush to begin the stalk. We popped out about 150 yards from where we had last seen him and he wasn’t there. We stood there deflated for a second and then I caught a glimpse of him walking into a thicket heading toward a pond. I told Stephanie that we needed to move up and get positioned in the shade; I was sure he was going to water and would come back. I was right about him coming back but he did so about 500 yards further away. I figured he was going to bed but Stephanie wanted to wait just a bit longer. To my amazement, the big buck stepped back out into the opening three hundred yards away and walking right at us. At 120 yards away and my camera focused on the buck, Stephanie took her shot. The old buck dropped in his tracks. Stephanie was a wreck, she was shaking, she was crying and laughing at the same time, and she was just beside herself. “I just can’t believe they let me shoot that buck”, Stephanie. I knew this buck was a giant but I wasn’t prepared for how big. As we walked up to the deer, I quickly began to appreciate this old warrior. This hunt will be burned into my memory forever and will no doubt be one of the best hunts I’ve ever been a part of.
Last but certainly not least, the rifle season opened in Kansas and Stephanie had a tag. We arrived in Kansas to find favorable winds for the area Stephanie would be hunting and made plans for her to get in the blind on the evening of our first full day in camp. After Stephanie and her cameraman, Shane Roy left I went to shoot some time lapses for the TV show. Back in bow season Dustin, Kord Etbauer, and I went to this property to check cameras and fill a feeder. Kord and Dustin went to fill the feeder while I took the truck to a station to get fuel. When I returned from filling the truck up I saw a buck jump into our property that was big. I guessed the buck in the low 170’s based on the quick glance that I had of him. It was a month before we got that buck on camera but when we did we all agreed that he would be around what I had guessed him to be. This was the buck we wanted Stephanie to try and hunt. Having him on camera two days prior to our arrival made us think that she had a great chance and harvesting this big deer. About twenty minutes after Shane and Stephanie left I went to a place to shoot some time lapses for the show. Setting up a time lapse takes some time and I had just got everything ready to begin shooting when my phone vibrated in my pocket. The text was from Stephanie and it said,” I think I got him.” I thought to myself that, that was awfully quick, they couldn’t have been in the blind more then forty-five minutes. I grabbed my gear and went back to camp to get Dustin and the Can-Am for recovery. As we left the cabin for the half hour drive to the property, I received another text from Stephanie and it said, “I got him.” This made me feel much better, I don’t like those “I think” I got him texts. When I walked up to this deer, I was absolutely shocked; I had badly under estimated the size of this buck. He was well into the high 170’s if not the 180’s. Stephanie was elated and kept saying that she cannot believe that her season had gone this way. What a gorgeous buck and incredibly short hunt. She said she was still setting her gear on the hooks and Shane was setting his mics up on the camera when Shane said, “Stephanie, here comes your buck”. He came into thirty yards where she made a perfect shot. At that distance she should have applied for a bow tag. Either way he is a giant and we could not be more blessed to do what we love. 2018 is going to be nearly impossible to beat but you can bet we will be trying.