I started deer hunting west-central Kansas about 11 years. The first 6-7 years was some of the most incredible deer hunting I have experienced in over 30 years of deer hunting. A good buddy of mine and myself first had access to two different farms and that grew to 5 over the next year. All of which was arguably some of the best hunting land in Kansas — at the time. During those initial years, it was not uncommon to see 15-30 deer per sit and we typically had several mature shooters that were on our “hit list.” We were very methodical about our scent control, stand site selection, wind direction, etc. We limited our hit list bucks to 4 1/2 years old and older. Because of this we routinely harvested bucks in the 150”-170” range with some larger than that. My largest was a 7X13 grossing 200 4/8” that I actually had to pass the previous season because I had already shot my buck and was just hunting for a doe.
So, what has happened to the great hunting along that once incredible stretch of river bottom? What has changed so drastically to go from once experiencing the most incredible hunting season after season, to repeated frustration season after season?
Most veteran deer hunters know that to grow true trophy class bucks it requires a number of things. To name a few…genetics, quality food, cover, limited hunting pressure and age. Oh, did I mention limited hunting pressure and AGE? Oh, by the way, don’t forget limited hunting pressure and AGE!
My personal experience over the past 5 years that has taken a “once” phenomenal stretch of river bottom whitetail hunting and turned it into a very mediocre, hunting area has come about by two factors:
- Outfitters– About 5 years ago the outfitters started moving into this area and leasing up every bit of farm ground they could. I am not against all outfitting, in some areas, when done correctly, it can actually improve the hunting. The problem with these outfitters is the mentality of “get it while the gettin’ is good”. One of them is not a hunter himself. He is doing nothing other than capitalizing on a “commodity”. He recently leased a very large stretch of river bottom that borders one of our properties that in the past routinely produced record book deer. In just the past two years we have found 7 dead bucks on our property after the rifle season…all of them were 2 1/2 to 3 1/2-year-olds. We have trail cam pictures of his hunters coming on our property and have even caught his “guides” with their clients trespassing. Amazingly high-powered attorney relative has gotten over 100 violations against him mysteriously dropped. (Words spoken directly to me from the game warden). So his hunters are not only slaughtering a lot of deer, they are shooting a tremendous number of young deer.
- That leads me to the second big issue. AGE! A buck is not going to grow to its true potential when hunters keep harvesting them at 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 years old. Let me give you an example. Another property I have hunted along that river bottom, the property that produced my 200” buck and several others for friends and some locals over 160”-170”, has now turned into a property full of does and 125”-135” deer. Two seasons ago there were 14 bucks and only one doe killed on the property. I shot the doe and my buddy shot a very mature 5 1/2 year old, massive nine point. I had the unpleasant experience of seeing the carcass pile from two groups of out of state hunters who shot nothing but 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 year old bucks. Most of these guys had the same mentality…”I’ll hold out for a nice one the first day or so, but I’m not going home empty handed!” So, instead of shooting a doe for meat, they feel the need to shoot a young buck so they can head back home and brag to their buddies about killing a 10 point Kansas buck…with no regard to the age of the deer. This mentality has ruined a once incredible farm. If these guys could put their pride aside and shoot a doe or hold out for mature bucks, they would see that their patience and self control would eventually yield true trophy class bucks.
This season, my last day of hunting on that property I saw 11 does, 1 ten point, 11 eight points and a six point. All the bucks were 2 1/2 to 3 1/2. The largest eight point was close to 17” wide, had very long main beams, and good tine length. His body was smaller than the largest doe and appeared to be only 2 1/2…he also had an arrow hanging out his right hip! The arrow was just under the hide for the full length of the arrow. This was another deer that should not have been shot at. Another deer with true trophy potential that most likely will not survive.
I realize that not all hunters care about trophy class deer the way I do and they say they have the right to kill whatever they legally are able to kill. Yes, this is correct. But it’s also funny how the same ones who are so quick to criticize trophy hunters will almost always shoot a trophy deer over a little deer if given the chance. I would wager that over 95% of those critics would shoot the 150”-170” deer instead of a little buck year after year if given the chance. Maybe, just maybe if they would continue to let the little ones walk, then would shoot the big ones year after year…just like my buddy and I “use” to! There is a lot of truth in the saying, “nothing stays the same.” Unfortunately, for that once incredible stretch of river bottom, the change has not been for the better. All that I can hope is that hunters educate themselves and do their part to help educate other hunters on this topic so we can continue to enjoy deer hunting as it is supposed to be.
For more info on this topic check out the Quality Deer Management Associations website: QDMA.com