By Dave Stuewe

I hunt a series of small family farms in northeastern Kansas. The last 10 years have brought a lot of changes to the way my family approaches deer hunting. Several years ago the deer were plentiful, and we didn’t have any problems getting access to hunting ground. Things changed the past few years, however, and seeing quality bucks and getting access to hunting land became extremely difficult.
The landscape in northeast Kansas where I bow hunt is not the most fertile ground for growing crops, in fact that’s probably one of the contributing factors why you no longer see large milo and wheat fields in this area. Most farming operations include running large ranches and haying brome fields with a few alfalfa hay fields. The small family farm has been decreasing for the last several decades as well and with it has gone the edge cover and places for wildlife to feed.

I feel the reduction of prairie chicken, quail and deer in this area has been a direct result of this trend. The increased harvest of deer in this area over the last decade has also led to very tough hunting conditions. But one thing has stayed true. There are still some of the largest-racked whitetail deer in North America living here. The problem is getting them to come out of the deep draws and canyons during daylight hours to areas where a bow or rifle hunter can get an opportunity to harvest one.

I’m often asked by folks when I’m traveling on business “what keeps you in Kansas?” My answer is simple — two things, family and giant whitetails. As the hunting has gotten tougher my dad and his four brothers have taken steps to increase the odds of seeing and harvesting more bucks. I owe all my opportunities to hunt deer to their efforts. They have been teaching me the “ins and outs” of being an ethical and successful deer hunter for the past 20 years.

Four years ago my dad and his brothers started experimenting with small food plots planted in Imperial Whitetail Clover. The results have been awesome, and lessons they have learned over this time continue to show better results each year. The products that have shown the best results are Imperial Whitetail Clover in areas with decent run-off and pH soil and Imperial Whitetail Extreme in areas where poor soil pH and moisture content exist. We have also had great success with Chicory Plus in our operation.

In the very first year it was evident that the planting and preparation they put into the Imperial Clover fields was a very wise management choice for the wildlife in our area. The deer and turkey were eating it as fast as it was coming up. This landscape is made up large prairies and I have witnessed deer traveling several miles to these food plots to feed. Being able to draw deer from neighboring property to these clover fields is just another added benefit. They have also done a very good job of managing the deer harvested off these fields and didn’t even hunt them much the first couple years.

My dad and uncles really spent time scouting and hunting these areas two seasons ago and around Thanksgiving my son, Hunter, and I were hunting fall turkey near one of the Imperial Clover fields and saw a very nice mature buck that had a main-frame 10-point rack and some abnormal points. Hunter said he thought he could see 14-points. Less than two weeks later during rifle season my Uncle Mark took a nice 130-inch buck off one of the Imperial Clover fields. And then my Uncle Gerald provedmy son correct when he shot the buck we had seen sneaking into the Imperial Clover field while turkey hunting. The buck had 14 scoreable points and grossed nearly 160 inches. Not bad for the first year. But the hunting would get even better.

The opening day of last year’s black powder season had my dad sitting on one of the Imperial Clover fields. The first night he saw five or six bucks come into the clover field with one true giant Boone and Crockett, as he described it. The bucks were all just a little too far for him to take a shot with open sights on his black powder gun. He repositioned a ladder stand the following afternoon to try and get himself in better position, but the big buck didn’t show up that evening.

Archery season opens Oct. 1 in Kansas, but I chose not to hunt until the rut started to fire up in November. I scheduled some time off and planned on spending most of it in my tree stand. I spent my first evening, Nov. 8, sitting on the Imperial Clover field. I only saw a couple small bucks and a few does but a cold front was moving in the next day and I was anticipating the action to heat up.

The next morning I headed back to the Imperial Clover field well before daylight and was frustrated that I bumped a deer off the field while climbing into my stand. I did see a very nice buck out cruising in the open at about 9 a.m., which was a very encouraging sign. I hunted a different location the next couple days without seeing much. But each time I would drive back to the lodge I would see bucks out cruising at all times of day and my Uncle Ervan had told me he had seen really nice bucks out running in the hills around noon. That told me it was time to get in a tree and stay put.

The next morning I chose not to hunt the Imperial Clover field for fear of pushing deer off the field in the early morning darkness. That afternoon the wind turned in my favor and I headed back to the Imperial Clover field right after lunch. I decided to cut right through the middle of the field to get to the ladder stand my dad had put up two months earlier and used a scent drag soaked in dominant buck urine to cover my trail.

It was a clear cool afternoon with the wind in my face. The first deer I saw was a nice 8-pointer approaching the field from the timbered ridge behind me. I was worried he would wind me as he circled the field down-wind and that’s exactly what happened. I hadn’t anticipated the deer coming in from that direction and was in the middle of the thought process telling myself that the hunt could still be a success when I looked out in the Imperial Clover field. There was a massive buck 200 yards out and headed my way.

I reached up and grabbed my bow and stood up in the stand. The buck had his nose down and hit my scent drag trail I had made walking to the stand. He kept his nose to the ground and came directly at me like he was on a string. It took little time to decide that this deer was a shooter and when he stopped quartering away at 30 yards I was already at full draw. I placed the 30-yard pin on his shoulder and touched the release. The arrow hit a little high but I could tell it went in at a good angle. The deer spun and ran away from me into a small milo field adjacent to the Imperial Clover field.

I know that deer always look bigger from behind but after seeing his mass and width from that angle I had to sit down because I was shaking uncontrollably. He only ran about 50 yards into the uncut milo before stopping. He stood still for a few seconds; then staggered and fell. I couldn’t believe what had just happened — a buck of that caliber gives me that shot opportunity and then goes down within sight of the stand. Unbelievable!

There was no ground shrinkage on this buck; his bases were 7-1/2 inches. I couldn’t wrap my hand around either side and he had a solid 20-inch inside spread. The buck grossed more than 180 inches. I know that to harvest a deer like this you need some luck on your side but I had more than luck that afternoon. I have a great dad who let me sit in his tree stand and some great uncles who plant and maintain these Imperial Whitetail Clover, Extreme and Chicory Plus fields.

Without these things I would have never been able to harvest this buck of a lifetime. Thanks guys and thank you to the Whitetail Institute of North America for making last hunting season one I will never forget.