By Kevin Orton
My cameraman and I had been in our tree stands for over 30 minutes by the time the sun started to slowly light up the Kansas sky. It wasn’t long before we could see a buck chasing a doe in an adjacent field, slowly inching their way to the milo field we were sitting on. She wasn’t ready and wouldn’t stand for the buck, so he continued to chase her out of our sight. About 15 minutes later the doe magically appeared at the far end of the field we were in. She stared our way for a while and then started making her way right to us. My heart started skipping beats as the buck appeared, hot on her trail. He was a great looking 8 point with very long G2’s and G3’s. His mass was his most impressive feature and for the first time in my life I was looking at a real opportunity to harvest a solid 150+ class whitetail with archery equipment. I slowly stood up and knocked an arrow. They were still headed my way and with a little bit of luck they were going to walk directly under my tree stand. The buck was lagging about 30 yards behind the doe and my heart was now pounding out of my chest. I knew the moment of truth was just about to happen. At 22 yards the doe turned and walked into the trees to my left. If the buck continued to follow her I knew I would be taking pictures with him shortly. Of course he did not. As luck would have it another buck came into the field and the big 8 pointer stopped at 37 yards and started to stare the other buck down. Being from the wide open West I practice at distances well beyond this everyday, so that wasn’t the problem. However my buck started heading towards the other buck across the field and that was a problem. I doe bleated and he stopped in his tracks and stood perfectly broadside. I knew it was “now or never” and I touched my release only to see that in fact it was “NEVER” on this buck as I watched my arrow sail just over his back. And just like that, he was gone.
I think if you were to take a poll among deer hunters and have them name their top three states to hunt whitetail in, every single hunter in the world would list Kansas. Everyone knows it is the destination of choice for big whitetails. The current population of whitetail deer is around 500,000 with about a third of them being bucks. That gives the state a very healthy buck to doe ratio. On this adventure we would be hunting in units 7 and 8 with Donovan Huhel and Brian Bachman of Arrowhead Wilderness Outfitters in Lincoln, Kansas. When we arrived at the lodge we knew right away we were in for something special from the size of the mounts on the wall. These guys kill some absolute toads every year, not to mention all the hunters that do what I did during the season, and have a giant get away. The lodge is very cool with lots of mounts, a collection of old bows hanging on the wall, satellite TV, great home cooked meals and hot showers. They have room for 12 bow hunters a week during the pre rut and rut in November. They also take two groups of ten hunters in December for a post rut rifle hunt. Since Kansas has changed the way their tags are distributed, you can easily draw a tag and most of the time buy a leftover tag for about a week after they are offered. The harder part will be getting your dates booked with Donovan and Brian as they fill their spots very quickly. Donovan has grown up hunting in Kansas and now has some of the most premium properties leased for hunting in the area, including some of his father’s land where the lodge sits. They have over 60 tree stands out during the season and they scout the properties hard in order to know which stands to hunt from during each week. Arrowhead Wilderness Outfitters success rates are very high and the week we were there the hunters got 100% shot opportunity with eight of 12 harvesting a deer, the largest one being a giant 174+ ten point. The bottom line is that you won’t find two nicer guys that will work harder for your success than Brian and Donovan. They have a saying at Arrowhead which is, “Come as a client, leave as a friend”. They make sure that happens with every hunter in camp. I know it happened with me and I can’t wait to go back, not only for the hunting, but to visit good friends as well.
Our last night was upon us and Donovan decided to try something a little different to see if we could harvest a great buck on video. He had a place where two big fields came together and created a pinch point that the deer funneled through. We decided to set up a ground blind in a spot that would allow us a great shot on camera at that point. We got the blind set up and about 10 minutes later we spotted a buck that would go around 150 coming right to the pinch point. Unfortunately he took a turn and slipped off into the trees. What a great looking buck! I went from being sleepy to “eyes wide open”, very quickly. Then in the exact same spot we saw another buck. Our first thought was that the big buck was back. Donovan hit the grunt tube and the buck turned and started coming right to us. He got into the open and we could see he was just a small six point. He circled around perfectly for us and gave us several shots if we wanted them. We did get some good video, but passed once again on what would have been an easy shot.
With about an hour of light left Donovan spotted a couple of deer at the top of the field to the West of us. We both got very excited when we realized that one was about a 140 eight pointer and the other a giant 165+ ten point. They were not exactly in the best spot for us in the ground blind with our camera, but we thought we might get lucky and have them feed down in front of us so we could get a shot at one of them. But we all know that wild animals rarely do what you need them to do and that applies here. The bigger buck started heading out of the field to the North. Donovan decided we had nothing to lose and started hitting the grunt tube pretty hard. At first the deer continued on his path, out of sight. I had my binoculars on the deer and was reporting to Donovan what he was doing when all of a sudden he stopped and turned towards us with his head in the air on high alert. I told Donovan he must have heard us and then a small miracle happened…he started trotting right at us.
You know that moment when panic fills your body from head to toe and you realize THIS IS REALLY GOING TO HAPPEN. Now I am trying to figure out if I should kneel or sit on the edge of my chair, making sure my broadhead is tight and my arrow is knocked on my string when Donovan says, “Don’t move, he is exactly 50 yards away and he is staring right at us. You have to be quiet and you can’t move a muscle.” Well, now my whole body starts shivering like I was freezing to death. I am thinking, what the heck in going on. I think I was experiencing a deer seizure of some kind and holding still was very tough to do. This deer was an absolute “pigasarous” and I just couldn’t believe he was still coming. The next thing I knew, Donovan whispered he is right outside the blind at 18 yards. All I needed him to do was move to his right about 10 feet and I would be able to get the shot as well as get the whole thing on film. You may want to get a tissue for the rest of the story.
Unfortunately he decided to slip off into the trees without moving that 10 feet I needed and I never got the shot. For those of you reading this that hunt in front of a camera you know this happens all too often and many a great trophy walks off unscathed because, if it can’t be done on camera, it can’t be done. For the rest of you not hunting in front of a camera, you would have killed that deer at 18 yards for it was truly a trophy of a lifetime. For me, I just tried to hide the tears so Donovan wouldn’t see me crying. WHAT A WEEK! I saw two bucks over 140, two bucks over 150, and one absolute giant in the mid 160’s. This has become one of those destinations for me written in permanent marker on all the Novembers for the rest of my life. I absolutely can’t wait for next year to see if I can redeem myself and finally harvest a Kansas giant. On a side note Arrowhead did have a hunter that harvested the big buck that almost was during the rifle season…he scored just over 170.
The trip was one of my best I can remember in a long time. Along with the incredible deer hunting, Arrowhead Wilderness Outfitters also offers spring turkey hunts. I will say the sheer numbers of turkey on their properties was really quite ridiculous. One morning I counted over 200 birds in one group. They walked single file out of the trees and into the field I was hunting for what seemed like 30 minutes, non-stop. I even saw some Toms that were true “beard draggers”. There were turkeys everywhere and we at the Sportsman’s News Team can’t wait to go back this spring to hunt turkeys. I should also mention that Arrowhead Wilderness Outfitters offers Spring black bear hunts in Minnesota as well. Brian lives in Minnesota and is the current president of the NABF. They have incredible accommodations and hunting to match. They harvest great bears with awesome fur and a lot of them each year. It takes a point to draw, so you need to plan on putting in for a point your first year if you want to hunt with them the following year. Please visit them on the web at www.ahwoutfitters.com or give Brian (218-330-1353) or Donovan (785-488-5120) a call to talk about all of the possibilities. All in all it was a hunt for the ages and we are proud to endorse Arrowhead Wilderness Outfitters as our newest Platinum Approved Outfitter.