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The Best Time For Big Whitetails In The Sunflower State

Leaving the Rockies for a first-time midwest whitetail in Kansas.

The Best Time For Big Whitetails In The Sunflower State

Heading east for whitetail hunting is foreign to me. Being born and raised in the West, spot-and-stalk hunting in big mountains and coniferous forests is the only thing I’ve known. We have whitetails, but hunting them here is different from how they do east of the Rockies. When I landed in Wichita, Kansas, I had no idea what to expect. I had my 6.5 PRC Springfield Waypoint in tow, two boxes of Federal Premium Terminal Ascent in my bag and a late-season Kansas buck tag in my pocket. I was going to make the best of it.

Heading west from Wichita, I quickly left the city behind and cruised through flat farmland coursed with hardwoods in low-lying draws. As I came across some badlands type of country further down the road, I pulled through a small town—blink and you’ll miss it kind of small—called Sharon. This dot on the map was barely noticeable but the large sign on the side of the road proudly called out its attachment to country music star Martina McBride. Being a country music fan, I scrolled through Spotify (more like Spotty due to lapses of phone service) and played “Independence Day” before exploring some of her other greatest hits to get me through the rest of my drive to Protection, Kansas.

When I rolled into camp at Tall Tines Outfitters—Martina still blaring through the speakers—I was pleasantly greeted by owner Ted Jaycox and J.J. Reich of Federal Ammunition, along with fellow writers Jon Draper and Chris Olsen.

The old farmhouse converted into a lodge was going to be our residence for the week as we traveled from lease to lease and stand to stand in search of a famed Kansas giant. It was quaint but comfortable, and we settled in before checking zeroes on our rifles to ensure the long trip didn’t knock them off their mark.


Chasing 150

Most hunting leases and outfitters in the Midwest practice quality deer management and that means the hunters need to take mature bucks only. In our case, the leases required—instead of a standard age requirement—a buck to have antlers that scored at a minimum 150 inches during rifle season. The first deer I ever killed was a whitetail and I have killed several bucks since, but I never paid much attention to the antlers or their respective scores. Heading afield, I was lacking the confidence necessary to judge an appropriate-sized buck—even though Jaycox did his best to describe a mathematical formula he uses to judge bucks within mere inches of their actual score.

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Beyond feeling like a worthless hunter and carrying that feeling with you throughout the following year and season, if you misjudged a buck there was a stout $1,000 penalty that must be paid to the outfitter for taking a deer out the population before its prime. I know, it sounded weird to me, too. But, apparently, it’s a standard practice in the Midwest and these folks care about keeping the quality of their deer herds as high as possible and don’t want just anybody coming in and shooting the first two-year-old buck they see. Hunting alone, with no guide or expert to help me judge bucks, I was fairly concerned that I would be leaving Kansas with an extra $1,000 invoice in my back pocket.

On The Stand

As most of you know, hunting whitetails consists of a lot of sitting and a lot of waiting. We were given the location of stands that we could hunt and the best times of the day to hunt each one. Each of us hunted solo, sitting still for hours on end, just waiting for a big buck—one we believed would beat the 150 mark—to walk by. Most of our stands were tall box blinds offering great concealment and a break from the wind when it would decide to blow uninterrupted across the flat landscape.


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The days dragged on, slowly. They were entertaining, though. Not a day went by when bucks didn’t wander into view of my stand. Honestly, on the first sit, a probable shooter walked out, but my nerves and wallet told me not to take the shot. For being early December, the weather patterns were exceptionally volatile. One day would be cool, the next cold, the following after that, hot. The changing weather made my pack fuller than I would have liked. Extra layers were donned after walking to the stand, only to be stripped off again when the heat of the day would roll around.

Day after day went by. I practiced resting my rifle on the edge of the blind so I’d be ready when a shot opportunity would present itself. Each stand offered a similar view with a window or two that yielded open fields where deer might cross moving to feed or heading to a bed in the thick hardwood cover that bordered the farm fields and grassy hill country.




On the third evening of the hunt, my blind setup changed. I went to some rolling hills nearly an hour drive north of our lodge and snuck into a haybale blind that overlooked a small drainage with one stand of timber. It was an interesting place, one that I would’ve thought I could see any deer in the area approaching. That idea was sure wrong. As the evening progressed and the sun began to dip behind the hills, deer began popping up out of nowhere. It’s as if they were spirits, materializing from nothing to come out and feed. It was astonishing to watch so many deer appear before my eyes. One buck stood out from the rest. He was mature, with a sagging belly and rounded nose. His maturity also showed as he pushed younger bucks around to ensure his position on the best feed.

I steadied my rifle multiple times, not sure if excitement was getting the better of my judgement or if he was truly a mature 150-class deer. At the end of the evening, the buck lived. He disappeared over the hill into the setting sun. I would return to the same spot the next morning, hoping he or another buck would return. That hope didn’t pan out, as the next morning was the only sit when not a single deer made an appearance. Dejected and feeling the pressure of the last few days of the hunt, I returned to the lodge before switching stands for the evening.

That stand really put on a show of what Kansas is all about. Deer came out early, pouring out of the hardwoods like ants. Expecting a shooter to appear at any minute, my nerves were through the roof. But that’s when I realized there was a new issue. As bucks continued to come out of the timber, I noticed that most, if not all, were scarred from the rut and sporting broken antlers. The most mature—in regard to body characteristics—had snapped off main beams. One old, Roman-nosed buck had a long main beam that looked as if someone took a Sawzall to every tine at each of their bases. The night ended with no shots and the pressure was on.

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The Old Oak

On the fifth morning of the hunt my stand location changed yet again. I drove more than an hour to a new property that had a treestand in an old oak tree that was framed by ag fields. Jaycox showed me to the stand and helped ensure I was in position well before the sun came up. In the hours predawn, my mind raced as I listened to the sounds that echoed through the woods. Most of them were unfamiliar, I let the sounds overwhelm my subconscious as I waited for enough light to start glassing.

The dawn began to pierce the morning sky just enough for my Leupold BX-5 Santiums to see the shape of a deer far and away in the field. There was only one and it carried itself like a buck. Still several minutes before legal shooting light, I watched intently to see if I could accurately judge the beast as he walked towards my stand. Every step closer, and every second of added light gleaned new information about the animal. Before noticing any size of the rack, the body stood out. A swayed back, a sagging stomach and a flattened wide brim on his nose that was ensconced in gray fur. An old beast for sure, but I needed more light, to garner enough information about the rack to ensure he was a shooter.

As the buck worked my direction, I used my time to find a solid shooting position. Though most whitetail encounters offer close shots, this buck was skirting the edge of the field, the closest point he would come seemed to be roughly 200 yards from my position. Kneeling in the stand with the forend of the rifle perched on the rail and using my knee as a support for my shooting arm, I felt steady. The only thing now was to estimate inches to make sure this buck was a shooter.

He was moving slowly. Legal shooting time had arrived, and enough light was present that I could now see antlers—not with much detail, but enough to see the caliber of deer he was. At first look, I was astonished by the mass of entangled antlers on the buck’s head. The coke-can-sized bases ensured he was a shooter. I prepared for the shot as he moved through the scattered timber. He paused at 206 yards. The safety clicked forward, the crosshairs settled and the trigger broke clean.

The unmistakable sound of the Terminal Ascent bullet making impact was deafening. I knew it was a good hit, but the buck lunged forward into thicker timber and out of sight. I stayed in the stand waiting patiently for Jaycox to return to begin our tracking job. He brought with him both Draper and Reich who tagged out in the days prior.

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Upon leaving the stand, I hurried towards where the buck was standing at the shot to check for blood. On the way over, Jaycox had already spotted him lying dead not far away. “What side did you shoot the deer on?” asked Jaycox. “The left side. Why?” I responded. “Well, deer always die on the side you shoot them on,” he said.

Confused by the cryptic conversation, I stood skeptically looking at my companion. I then realized that Jaycox had seen the downed deer and was joking with me. Excited, we hurried to the deer and were all in awe at the massive rack. After the excitement settled, we loaded the buck in the truck and took him back to the lodge to dress him out.

Just as the last bit of skin was coming off, the wind started to pick up. We secured the buck in the barn to finish cooling as the skies to the southwest took on a green hue and the wind really began to blow. Unbeknownst to us there were deadly tornados tearing through towns to the south. While we were being battered by the wind at the lodge, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the morning’s happenings. And my mind kept going back to the old oak I was sitting in: How many windstorms like this has the tree weathered and how many more can it withstand? As I had these thoughts, I could only hope that the old oak would serve as a stand for many hunters for years to come. And maybe one day, I’ll be back in the stand once again with another Kansas buck tag in my pocket.

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