Well, I headed back to the Goodland Kansas area a couple days early to scout and to get ready for the November 29th opener of the regular firearms season there. I was allowed to hunt again, but was restricted to using my muzzleloader instead of a centerfire rifle. The rut had peaked between the 8th and 16th, but we were still plenty close timing wise, and maybe a doe would come into second estrous. It's about a 780 mile drive from my house, but it can be done in one long day. Settled in for the evening at the motel with a gin and tonic, and a Tylenol for the headache that was developing from driving tension. Getting up the next morning at the butt-crack of dawn to go scout was tough, but I got it done. Big thermos of coffee and enough junk food to feed Patton's army , and I was good to go.
I got a great deal at Cabela's on a new Bushnell 14MP trail camera, and brought it along with me to do some before-the- hunt scouting. Found a perfect tree where I had seen deer in the past (for 10 days in Sept.) and got it set up. Was supposed to be really windy that day and into the night, so I set it down in the bottoms, hoping to be more protected. There is some beautiful country there for deer.
Cottonwood River Bottom
Fresh rubs on willow cover
Fence post rubs
The Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is set up nicely for both upland birds and big game. I saw a few skunks and raccoons also, and it is loaded with pheasant. They run from 500 to 1500 acres in size, and the Walk-In-Hunt-Area (WIHA) totals another 10,000 acres in those units I could hunt. Lots of food plots, developed cover patches and sunflower fields, and nice clean water sources.
Solar powered well pump and waterhole.
While driving around, I was amazed by all the historical information signs and postings. They like to paint up old plow disks, and display them for tourists. Here is one that was particularly interesting. As an old prayer site to native Americans, I decided to offer up some prayers of my own for a safe, enjoyable, and successful hunt.
Opening morning I got into the bottoms a half hour before daylight, and was surprised to never see another hunter in there that day. Totally different from what we would experience in Idaho! In Kansas you have to have an orange hat and several hundred square inches of hunter orange on both your front and back. I felt like a neon pumpkin, but it didn't seem to bother the deer if you didn't move. I pulled up my facemask and they walked right on by, many times within 50 yards!
After sitting still for about an hour, I decided to go collect my camera and see how successful I had been. Boy, was that a funny joke when I opened it up to check the card. 3756 pictures, and the message on the screen said "OUT OF MEMORY". Seems I had set the sensitivity too high and also angled the focus point right at some close weeds that blew in the wind all night long. Did get beautiful photos of the changing shadows but no animals. Hunted out the rest of the day, still hunting some cat tail swamps, and saw quite a few does and small bucks. I saw one fairly nice 8 point, working his way from private land back into public river bottoms. I do not need the meat with a couple cow elk tags left to fill, so I had already made the decision not to shoot any does at all, and to only shoot a buck if it was better than the ones I had already taken this year. That would prove to be a little difficult in the long run.
Deer in Corn
Cornfield at WMA
Corn Cob out in the winter wheat
Throughout the entire time of my hunt, I was amazed by the sheer number of turkeys I saw in the bottoms. It appears they gang up and move closer to town for the winter. I saw literally hundreds of birds in several large bunches; i managed to get a few minutes of video where about 300 of them were stretched out in a line for 500 yards!!! Huge groups of hens, but respectable numbers of toms also. There is a Fall turkey season, but it closes the day before deer season opens, and re-opens the day after deer closes.
Turkeys in Field.
There are more mule deer than whitetails in this part of Kansas (Unit 1 and 2), and you can only hunt them if you are successful in the lottery draw for an either-species,either-sex tag. For non-residents, you can only apply for that tag is the muzzleloader only season. Most are your typical 3 and 4 point bucks, but I saw a few in Sept. that were monsters!!! There was one 28" typical who made frustrating me a nightly event. I will definitely try for the MD tag again next year.
Mule deer at dusk
Mule deer in bottom
After I learned the correct way to locate some of the bigger bucks (binos first in the dark, then spotting scope the fresh cut corn fields) I got much better at finding big bucks. You would have to wait until all the deer bedded, then get into the standing corn and start to crawl!!! Bend over 4 stalks so you could fit thru, advance 16 inches, and repeat the process for the next 2468 times. This would eventually get you across these mile-wide pivot irrigated fields, and hopefully to within 200 yards of your quarry. I missed both a 140"+ eight point and a 150"+ ten point on two different occasions, because they would either jump and run, or the does would just decide that was the right time to get up and wander away, taking your buck with her.
Here I am, trying to cover rifle distances with a short-range muzzleloader. I have a lot of confidence out to 200 yards with my Whites, whether they have open sights or low power scopes. Because of the excessive drops of typical muzzy bullets, this would be a perfect situation for a Remington Ultimate or CVA/Traditions Long Rage rifle with Blackhorn powder and stream-lined bullets.
Covering rifle distances with a muzzleloader
The final evening I had to hunt, I went to a usual spot but there was another NR from Michigan there first. Not being able to locate him, and not wanting to blow someone elses hunt, I moved on to a different area. Set up at the top of a hill with a mile view, I glassed for about an hour with no success. There was a huge sunflower field, between two cut corn fields and just a couple of trees on a levee. Suddenly we went from no deer to does/fawns popping up all over out of the sunflowers. With 5 minutes left of shooting light, these 3 bucks stood up and one of them was a true Kansas giant. The image of those massive white antlers appearing out of the cover will haunt me until next year. I flew down the hill in the truck, caught the county road up to the next parking space and ran my guts out trying to cover the mile to them. Before I got there, darkness descended like a cloak and they all moved into the middle of the corn. From none to 17 deer in a manner of minutes!!!
I had another great time, made some new friends and learned so much from this trip that I am sure I could start out correctly and kill a nice deer. The one million acres of WIHA that land owners enroll provides a great resource to all hunters. The early Sept trip for me was a bust with the 95 degree heat, and this one was also unseasonably warm at 60 degrees in the day times. Think the normal should be more about 20 at night and 40 during the day, that would be pleasant.
I definitely will be trying for this tag again, and either WT-only or Either-species upgrade will be just fine. Then when I found out the Nebraska mule deer tag is OTC, it just increased my determination to check out these areas in the future.
Now I just have find one of those pesky cow elk so that I can pack up and leave for my Choke Canyon archery deer hunt in Texas. That hunt is Jan. 2-5 so myNew Years resolution will be to shoot straight if given an opportunity and make the most of the hunt. That might be the start of the 2018 HAC!!!!!!!!