The outdoors has special meaning to me. I caught my first fish at age 4 and shot my first duck at age 9. Nearly four decades later I still get excited when I get to spend any time outdoors. A lot has changed during that time but the anticipation and experiences are still similar and just as exciting. It’s a great place to be....Read More

Thursday, December 15, 2016


A deer hunter's first deer is memorable.  A deer hunter's first buck might be even more so, as antlers are a magical thing.  These "firsts" only happen one time and the sights, smells and sounds of a successful hunt are etched forever in the mind of a someone who puts their first tag on a Kansas whitetail.  My soon-to-be-son-in-law, Jake, did just that and will remember all the details of these experiences for years to come.

In addition to his deer permits, Jake had to buy the Apprentice Hunting License as he hadn't taken the Kansas Hunter Education Course yet.  That was fine, as I'd planned to help him anyway since he was new at it.  He started out using my crossbow and just 40 minutes into his very first hunt had a close encounter with a doe at 15 yards that just didn't work out.  And after only another 50 minutes or so on our third trip to a ground blind he shot a nice-sized adult doe that barely went 75 yards or so.  He was thrilled and I was proud to witness his first deer.

He was likely even more excited for his chance to take an antlered deer.  He'd seen pictures of bucks taken by his friends and me and the antler allure wasn't lost on Jake.  However, I put no pre-conceived notions in his head about antler size and told him he would be the judge of what he'd be happy with as his first buck.

As easy as filling his antlerless tag was, filling his buck tag proved more difficult.  We had some hunts where we didn't see anything and others where we saw plenty of deer just out of bow range. One of the most memorable outings had Jake watching two really nice and big bucks, about two hours apart, that nearly gave him a shot but it never materialized.  And he'd observed, on several occasions, a small, half-racked 4-pointer walk right under our stand he chose not to shoot.

"I would have shot him if he had the other side," Jake laughed.  "But I'd like to have something for BOTH hands to hold on to for a photo."

I understood completely.

The firearm season opened and Jake borrowed my Remington 30-06.  A buddy of mine was gracious enough to offer up his prime property to set up a ground blind for us to try to get Jake's first buck. We hunted the first Saturday morning of the season and surprisingly, never saw a deer.  We hunted the next Tuesday, both morning and evening, with a close call at last legal shooting light but a nice buck made good on his escape thanks to a doe and a fawn that spooked.

It was coming down to the wire for the firearm's season when we headed back out the last Saturday morning.  We popped up a ground blind on the edge of a bean field in nearly the same spot where the buck stood on Tuesday evening.  We had a great vantage point in three directions as daylight came and the woods began to wake up.

I saw deer first, several does, on the wooded hillside over 200 yards away.  Jake got his binoculars up and said excitedly, "There's a buck behind them!"

It took several minutes before I could finally see the buck and his antlers as he was statuesque standing beside a tree with his rack obscured by limbs.  He started after one of the does and I could clearly see antlers.  I told Jake to get his gun on the shooting sticks thinking we'd have to try a shot at about 210 yards. But as we watched, over the next 5 minutes, each doe made their way to the edge of the bean field and started trotting across headed right at us.

"Uh, oh," I said to Jake.  "They're liable to get downwind and smell us and spook."

But luck was on our side as the first couple passed by within easy bow range.  I was watching the last one disappear from my sight to our left when I thought Jake whispered, "There it is," referring to the last doe.  I told him to be still and he didn't twitch.

I moved my eyes ever so slightly to the left, looking past Jake in his stoic position and the buck was standing there in the only open window on that side, nearly filling it up as he was less than 20 yards away.  Jake could see it for the last few seconds and he'd whispered, "There HE is!"  He'd covered 200 yards just out of my sight as I couldn't see from my angle in the blind!  My heart rocketed.

As quietly as I could I whispered to Jake to get his gun off the shooting sticks as he would have to get it out the side window and shoot off-hand.  The buck sensed something was up and started to head back the way he came taking a couple, slow steps at a time, then stopping to look around.  Jake moved perfectly when he wasn't looking and got the gun out the window.  The buck started to trot and I grunted to stop him and he turned perfectly broadside at only 30 yards.

"You're going to have to hurry," I told Jake.  "He's not going to hang around."

Jake shot and the deer buckled but took off on a dead run in a looping arc away from us as Jake racked another shell.  He'd run more than 100 yards before starting to falter.

"He's stumbling!" Jake said ecstatically.

And down he went running full-stride.

Jake was on Cloud 9, fist pumping and reliving the experience verbally over and over talking a mile a minute.  His excitement was contagious and I was thrilled, too.  We continued chatting about how fortunate we were to have it all finally work out this time as Jake's first buck was truly earned.

"How long do we have to wait to go get him?" Jake asked.

"Whenever you quit jabbering," I teased him.

Jake's feet barely hit the ground as we made our way to the downed buck.  His reaction was priceless and he was beyond happy to grab the antlers of his first buck.

"That was SO cool!" he kept repeating.

It was even more rewarding knowing we'd worked for it and put in our time.  Jake never got discouraged and was excited each and every hunt about something different as it was all new to him. His first buck was indeed, very cool, and I was happy to be a part of it.              


Friday, December 9, 2016


It's often said timing is everything.  While that's true in life, it's also true in the outdoors as well. Sometimes the timing is good and everything works out and other times not so much.  I recently encountered a close-but-no-cigar timing issue on a rifle deer hunt.

I wasn't the one hunting, actually, but I was assisting my soon to be son-in-law, Jake, with his first deer hunting season.  He was successful taking a doe with a crossbow earlier in the year and we'd been working on trying to get him a buck when rifle season came along and we broke out my trusty Remington 30-06.

Jake's off work on Tuesdays so we decided to hunt both morning and evening.  The morning hunt was a bit brisk, okay it was downright cold, with a 20-some degree temperature and 20 mph north wind. We sat for about 3 hours near a bedding area with the only sighting being a doe and fawn that sauntered within 25 yards of our ground blind.

We used another pop-up ground blind for the evening hunt and placed it at the edge of a bean field bordered by timber on three sides.  It was an ideal setting and I liked our odds for seeing and even killing a deer.  The wind died and it got eerily quiet and still.  We were entertained by squirrels expressing their displeasure with our presence, some sitting and scolding us just a few feet away.  One climbed the tree above our blind and seemingly purposefully dropped twigs and acorns on our blind.  I whispered aloud I'd be back this summer to even the score and Jake chuckled.

As we got closer to sunset at 5:06 p.m. we still hadn't seen any deer and I was surprised.  Finally, at 5:16 Jake whispered he saw a deer in the tree row to our left.  Another deer was with it and a doe and a fawn slowly fed out into the field over the next 15 minutes or so.  Jake kept a watchful eye on them hoping a buck would follow.

The doe got far enough out into the field she either saw us moving inside the blind, or realized our blind hadn't been there before.  She started the usual doe 2-step stomp and head-bob routine and worked her way in until she was standing broadside at 16 yards with the fawn just behind her.

"Do you think you could hit that one?" I whispered to Jake.

"I think I could hit it with a rock!" he laughed.

Jake was amused by her antics and our attention had been solely on her as she got close and daylight quickly faded.  He was watching her with binoculars when the fawn bolted and the doe blew a warning and followed it back across the field.

"There's a BIG buck!" Jake whispered loudly as he watched their retreat.

I glanced at my watch and it was 5:35 p.m.

"Get your gun up," I instructed.  "We've got less than a minute!"

I got my binoculars focused just in time to see the doe and fawn reach the buck standing at the edge of the woods and he turned tail to run with them.  I bleated loudly trying to get him to stop.  He was a nice one and I would have loved for Jake to shoot it but in just a few bounds he cut left into the timber never offering a shot.

"He's gone, Jake," I said dejectedly.  

"That was cool!" was his reply.

Jake had enjoyed the show and shenanigans of the antlerless deer.  He'd never seen anything like it and he might have been as excited about the close encounter with a nice buck than some hunters are when they actually shoot one.

We'd hunted nearly 6 1/2 hours that day and our opportunity came down to the last 60 seconds of legal shooting time.  It didn't work out but we'll be back at it again this weekend trying once again. Timing is everything and here's hoping it works out in Jake's favor this time.