By Alex Comstock
I'm constantly fascinated by learning from other's hunting stories. One of my favorite parts of listening to someone's hunting story is learning from how they were successful or what they learned from a "failed" hunt. Today, we talk with Tyler Jones from The Element Podcast on a recent success trip he had to Kansas, and how he was able to put down a slammer of a buck. Enjoy!
Q: Being a Texas guy, have you traveled out of state to hunt whitetails in the past? If so, is there anything you learned on previous hunts that helped with your preparation this year?
Tyler: Yes, I have hunted whitetails in four different states. Last I heard, our economy here in Texas is the 9th largest in the world! Our public hunting land is somewhere between 2-4% of the state acreage and our culture here supports a whole bunch of hunters. Therefore, finding decent bucks in state and at an affordable rate is pretty near impossible for a guy of my social status. Because of this, my dad and I have always looked near our home state, but across the border to find decent opportunity. Hunting north of Texas, I quickly learned that the brush country t-shirt afternoon hunt doesn’t happen. I learned how to pack for cold weather (under 50 degrees for me...) and the biggest thing I do is use an ever-growing list. A list saved on your phone and/or computer can save you time and worry when packing for an out of state trip. I add to it all the time, and just before the trip as I start to pack, I like to print it out and physically mark items off.
Q: How did you decide on what state you would travel to, and how far in advance did you start planning this year’s hunt?
Tyler: I have some relatives in Kansas and my dad and I have been hunting a certain area for almost 15 years now, so I knew I would be spending some time up there this year. In some cases such as this, you are required to put in for a draw in the spring, so technically the planning started then I suppose. But my friend K.C. and I had been talking about it pretty heavy since about August when I found out I didn’t draw Iowa.
Q: Once you decided on what state you were going to hunt, how did you narrow it down to an area within the state? Were there any tools you used that helped you pick out an area?
Tyler: There really is great hunting across the whole state of Kansas, and the entire midwest for that matter. Hunting is more about the good times with friends and family than about killing big deer to me. That said, I knew I would be trying to do a rut hunt with my dad, so we decided to go back to the same area we had hunted in years past. After that, it was a case of map scouting that gave us a plethora of “Plan-B” options.
Q: What was the first thing you did after stepping foot on the ground you were going to hunt? Did you scout this area in the past, or were you going in blind?
Tyler: After approaching the ground that I later killed the buck on, the first thing we did was drive all the closest roads to see what the visual perspective into the public and bordering private looked like. I feel that visual seclusion from humans is a key factor of high deer use areas. In our case, only one small section of road came close enough to bother deer and there was a bit of elevation that helped out with concealment. We then parked and stood on the truck to get the best view while glassing the property. Honestly, a ladder is sometimes helpful. We made assumptions about how the deer would travel through the parcel and again by use of map, picked one or two trees that we would hunt those travel routes based on a specific wind. The next morning we went in on a hang and hunt in the dark which was quite a gamble when it comes to shooting lanes and such. Going in for the first time works much better in daylight.
Q: Take us through the hunts that took place up until the day you were able to shoot your buck. Were you seeing any activity that made you adjust how you were hunting?
Tyler: We started out hunting a private lease that was hit very hard by EHD during the 2011 drought. Having an idea of the mature (5 yo plus) bucks on the property and knowing that there were not enough for all the lease members, I had decided I would probably end up on some public that trip just to try to possibly ease pressure on our place and save a 3 or 4 year old from getting shot. We hunted a stand I hung last summer in an attempt to take a 9 year old named “Floppy” before he disappeared in mid-November like he usually does. We did some “deer drives” as K.C. likes to call them the first evening we showed up and at midday the second day, we drove around looking at public parcels and making hypotheses. When we saw a wind change in the forecast, we decided that messing up a public parcel would be better than spooking deer on the lease. On that first morning hang and hunt, we saw a ton of rut action, likely because we could see a lot of ground, but the deer were in full rage mode. We decided to leave our stands and go grab lunch and do more “deer driving”. The wind was supposed to be much better that evening for us and turns out it wasn’t. The thermals however, were keeping our wind high so we stuck it out. Around 15 minutes before sunset I’m glassing some CRP grass way out and spot a shooter buck, a big framed 8 that turns out to be locked on a doe. He didn’t move for almost a half hour during which at sunset, a switch flipped and the wind turned 90 degrees or more. As the buck started moving perpendicularly to us, I asked K.C. what he thought about just getting down and heading out before the buck ended up in our scent cone. About five minutes, and 67 milkweed wind testers later, we made the move. We lost the last 20 minutes or so and even though we never saw that buck again, I am still convinced it was the right move. Easy for me to say though I suppose!
Q: What went down when you were ultimately successful harvesting your buck? Is there anything that sticks out to you now on why you were able to make it happen?
Tyler: Since we first saw that property two days before, I had been saying if we could just get a south wind, we would be in the money.
It was 34 degrees and blowing icy wind in our faces all morning. At almost 8:00am, I’m sitting there huddled into my clothes, my big Texas toes like frozen veggies, saying to myself, “I don’t think I’m gonna come back here tonight. It’s been so slow.” Spoiled. We had seen a few deer moving and cruising already, but our Texan minds don’t always work well in the cold. Right at 8 o’clock, as I'm looking through my binos, I see antlers moving through the CRP at 400-500 yards. Slowly a buck materializes out of the grass and mills around a bit. I tell K.C. there is a shooter and he sees him, telling me to keep tabs on him as he watches my six. Long story short, over the next 30 minutes this deer makes his way to the left, then right at us, then to the left, “he’s coming at us again…” Slowly cruising until he disappears at about 75 yards. At this point I feel somewhat relieved to know that leaving my rattling horns in the truck may not have hurt us because he’s within snort-wheezing distance at worst. We didn’t need to call. He appeared at 45 yards coming directly at us from our upwind side. At 33 yards away, he raked a cedar limb for a minute and we got all of this on film! K.C. said he would have been flinging arrows at this point, but I knew he would present a much better shot if he continued down the same trail. I didn’t think much of it, but K.C. praised my patience here and I guess that is something that sticks out to me as being an attribute that has helped me in many situations. So at 23 yards, after holding my draw for almost a minute, I released an arrow at the quartering away buck and he ran off, slowing down just before I lost sight of him. Looking back, I think it was important what we did next. We got down, headed to the nearest town and grabbed lunch before looking for the blood trail. When we found him, it was apparent he had been dead for a long time, but he did bed down rather than just tip over.
I think there were a ton of factors that led to our success. It started with K.C.’s relentless map study (something I’m hardly willing to do on my phone and I don’t have internet at the house) and his knack for detailed observance when looking at aerials. We also train our minds and bodies regularly to feel like a mile long walk is nothing. This is huge when you’re hunting public ground. You have to stay positive and a sore, tired body can make it tough. Lastly, I would say that I have been in some high stress situations and have learned to not let the moment be too big to handle. I feel like the best way to do that is to think about all the most possible situations and envision yourself “making the play” before its time to do so. Believe me, it’s better than sitting in the stand freezing cold and feeling sorry for yourself because you’ve only seen a handful of deer!
Q: Describe your emotions after connecting on the buck. After making the long venture from Texas, and being successful, it had to have been a surreal feeling.
Tyler: It was. We nearly shook out of the tree, but some realization didn’t set in immediately. What we had done was pretty rare and the work that we had put in starting in Texas on public parcels last year made this deer hard-earned. Even still, you can put in hard work for years and it may never happen for you. You will kill every deer God intends for you to kill. I am truly thankful for his blessing. I also would like to say it was cool to kill a buck that didn’t have a name!
Q: If someone asked you for advice for an out of state hunt, what’s the first thing you would tell them?
Tyler: If you work hard for your money, don’t be afraid to take time to enjoy it and spend a little. I am not the guy that has some big savings goals (probably not smart) or has a problem justifying spending money on things I love because my wife will be mad, nor do I have to kill a deer every year just because I paid some money. Money is finite, memories of experiences last a long time, and the souls of men last forever. Grab a buddy and go travel.