December 22, 2015
By the middle of December, many deer hunters are beat down from weeks of chasing deer.
Worn thin from the grind of setting the alarm clock early and climbing up into a stand, some hunters are pushing through to the very end, hoping for the best in a season that hasn't gone the way many had dreamt it would.
Sure, we've had our chances. But one by one, for one reason or another, those chances have gone by the wayside.
Either we weren't there on stand when the buck of our dreams showed up, something we know because of a trail-cam photo that has the date and time of our transgression stamped for all to see.
Or maybe we cut a corner, from not showering in scent-free soap that morning to getting a little bacon grease on hunting clothes to thinking this one time, it was no big deal to hunt a stand on a slightly marginal wind.
Until we heard a twig snap in the wrong direction, heard a doe stomp its hoof to the turf and snort and blow loudly as it exited the stage unseen. Coupled with the flash of huge antlers that were following her down the trail towards our stand.
And finally, perhaps our date with deer hunting destiny passed us by because of an errant shot, one that at best missed our targeted buck completely or at worst gave the buck a non-mortal flesh wound that has turned him into a nocturnal hermit once again.
Whatever the reason for needing a second chance at a buck as the season winds down, there is hope.
Meaning that our paths can cross with the buck of our dreams one more time before the hunting season's sand falls out of the hourglass for another year.
Whitetail Freaks co-host Kandi Kisky hopes for a second chance at this buck they have named Flamethrower. Kandi had an opportunity to harvest the buck early in the 2015 season. (Photo courtesy of Kandi Kisky)
Kandi Kisky, the Iowa-based Outdoor Channel personality and co-host of Whitetail Freaks with her husband, Don, smiled big when I posed this question to her.
"Oh, yes, that describes my season this year chasing a huge buck we call Flamethrower," said Kandi.
Who then proceeded to give me the keys she is following in an attempt to tag the giant Iowa buck before the season ends.
"This may sound simple, but you can't kill him if he's not there," said Kiski. "So I check my Browning trail cameras daily to figure out where to go."
Kisky then added that how a hunter gets into and out of a hunting stand is of paramount importance at any time of the year, but especially in the late season as time is running out.
"Why is that?" I asked. "Because you may have to hunt that particular field 10 times to catch him in there."
Meaning that a hunter will have to get in and out of their stand undetected that many times, if harvesting a buck like Flamethrower is on the agenda.
"I missed Flamethrower in October and he went into hiding," said Kandi. "He finally showed back up here in December. In fact, we just got him on our camera again this morning, so we know exactly where we'll be hunting tonight."
Stay tuned for the continuing saga of Kandi Kisky's hunt for Flamethrower. But knowing how successful the Whitetail Freaks tend to be on buzzer-beater bucks, my money is on Kandi getting the job done as husband Don films all of the action for their show.
While Don and Kandi Kisky are certainly household names in the whitetail hunting world, my friend, Bob McElfresh, isn't as well known to deer hunters around the land.
But trust me, he is plenty well known to the big deer of western Illinois, making a career out of targeting big, late-season bucks that have survived the gauntlet of various hunting seasons on the properties he guides on and eventually hunts.
As a longtime guide for Rick Womble's Hopewell Views Hunting Club near Pittsfield, Illinois, McElfresh typically spends most of the fall helping hunters get into treestands in late October and most of November as the pre-rut and rutting frenzy arrives.
But come December, when most hunters have headed back home to the rut in the southland, McElfresh is able to target those surviving bruiser bucks that have somehow slipped through the Pike County gauntlet.
With a wall full of heavy-horned monarchs to his credit – many from December – this hunter certainly knows how to practice what he preaches.
And what he preaches for the late-season hunting for second-chance bucks – the kind trail cameras have captured images of and that guided hunters have targeted unsuccessfully for several weeks now – is simply to find the local chow hall.
"I'm always trying to figure out where they are feeding," said McElfresh. "Most of our farms are CRP lands and there are just a few places with crops."
When the guide discovers where the current whitetail banquet table is, he will then hunt the late season much as he does the early season.
And that's by climbing into a treestand near a food source in the evening and into a stand somewhere between a food source and deer bedding areas in the morning.
The colder the temperatures get – something that is admittedly a bit problematic in El Nino years like this one – the more likely deer are to spend time out in the open during daylight hours.
They'll do so, of course, to feed heavily on hot food sources that will help them keep their internal combustion engines stoked up against the deadly chill of Old Man Winter.
In the Midwest where the Kiskys and McElfresh hunt each season, in typical winters, such hot food sources are often picked corn and soybean fields where leftover nuggets await hungry deer.
But winter food plots planted by hunters – can you say brassicas? – can also lure a hungry and cold whitetail in close to a treestand or a ground blind.
So can natural food sources like the beans from thorny locust trees, a food source McElfresh has used to his advantage more than once in the late season.
In fact, the Land of Lincoln big-buck guru has killed some of his best bucks – his current wall-hanger collection has more than a dozen Pope and Young qualifiers and several Boone and Crockett qualifiers in it – while hunting over such food sources in bitter cold conditions.
Some of those hunts have been with plenty of snow on the ground, temperatures hovering near zero and brutal wind chills ripping across the landscape.
Sounds like a commercial for Sitka Gear or Under Armour gear, doesn't it?
And that's exactly why you'll find McElfresh nervously watching the Weather Channel during most December seasons.
As he gets ready to head out the door, with an empty buck tag in his back pocket and hope rising high in his heart, all in the intent of tagging a second-chance whitetail monarch.