Kansas' Late Archery Hunts

Kansas' Late Archery Hunts

Sure it's cold, and the rut's over. But get in on an antlered buck bow-hunt right now for another shot at a dandy. (December 2009)

Kansas deer hunters are privileged to hunt some of the biggest bucks in the nation. In fact, several deer prognosticators believe the Sunflower State could produce the next world-record buck.

Mick Bowman waited near a soybean field to take this Pope and Young trophy deer. In December, look for bucks in tight cover near food sources. They'll be hunkering down and putting pounds back on after the rut. Photo courtesy of Mick Bowman.

Serious buck chasers are flocking to the state now in droves, just for a chance at one of the giant bucks that inhabits the varied landscapes.

However, if you're an archer, I've got even better news for you. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has done several things to help stack the odds in your favor. They have a one-buck limit, and allow only archers to hunt during the November rut -- that factor alone has made the biggest impact in the size of headgear the bucks are wearing!

Remember, there are three factors necessary to produce a monster buck -- nutrition, genetics and age.

First off, with the rich agricultural areas dotting the state, the vast majority of bucks grow huge bodies.

Second, the genetics for huge antlers are already present, statewide.

Third, with the state going to a one-buck limit, the odds are higher that more bucks will reach older age-classes. So, rejoice deer hunters, the good ol' days are now!

If you're an archer you have the longest season -- beginning Sept. 21 and running until Dec. 31. Archers have the rut all to themselves, and some will no doubt encounter some enormous love-crazed bucks that will throw caution to the wind. Many bragging-size bucks will be arrowed in November.

Gun season begins Dec. 1 and runs for 13 days. Undoubtedly, some gun-toters will get a crack at a rut-worn monarch trying to recover from the November love fest. After gun season ends, most hunters will stow their gear away until next season. But archers are still in the game: There's still some good bowhunting still going on.

Whitetails adore acorns and other tender orbs strewn about the forest floor. But you can bet by late season, these delectables will be gone. When whitetails can't feed within the security of the forest canopy, they are forced outside to other food sources and become more vulnerable to hunters.

Though whitetails feed a considerable amount at night, nonetheless, when deer are on their feet in the daylight they are opportunistic feeders.

In December, deer must turn to food sources for energy to endure winter. That is when automatic corn feeders, like Moultrie or American Hunter feeders, can be real assets. Those insatiable yellow nuggets supply nothing more than a carbohydrate fuel, to give them short bursts of energy.

Feed fields are usually invaded by whitetails in December to rebuild lost mass expelled during the rut. It is not uncommon for a 300-pound buck to lose 70 pounds while he is chasing does. The most common feed fields are alfalfa, corn, wheat, soybean and oats just to name a few.

Shawn Stratton of Republican Valley Whitetails said bowhunters who keep hunting through December get good opportunities.

"The deer concentrate on feeding, and it is usually pretty easy to pattern them," said Stratton, who works as a supervisory fish and wildlife biologist at Fort Riley.

Seven years ago, Stratton started his own guide service out of Clay Center. His clients have taken some giant whitetails.

Stratton said many bowhunters write off the late season because the rut is over, and they figure the bigger deer are nocturnal.

"The major exception to this is when that weather turns nasty. If you're willing to bear the elements, you put yourself in a pretty good position of seeing one of Kansas' trophy whitetails," he said.

If the name Jeff Danker sounds familiar to you it's probably because the ardent outdoorsman is the host of "BuckVentures" television show.

Danker spends a fair amount of time chasing Kansas whitetails, and if you've watched any of his shows, you will see that he and his pro-staff take some dandy bucks here. In fact, last season, James Roberts, a pro-staffer, took a 171-inch brute while hunting with Republican Valley Whitetails.

Danker is a big believer in hunting late-December bucks, but advises that you should change your hunting tactics to be successful.

"December bucks are worn down after rutting as hard as they do," Danker said. "They like to conserve energy and bed as close as they can to a food source."

For that reason, Danker believes that hunters will have their best success hunting directly over food plots like corn fields, wheat fields and soybeans.

Kansas resident Mick Bowman knows a thing or two about bowhunting. In fact, his deer-hunting prowess has landed him on the pro-staffs of Knight & Hale Game Calls, Code Blue, Moultrie, Summit Tree Stands and Carry-Lite Decoys.

The soft-spoken Kansan is not seeking notoriety. In fact, the 42-year-old Bowman humbly admits to have taken his first buck when he was 14 or 15, and has probably taken 50 to 60 deer since. His best archery buck scored 196 5/8 as a non-typical or 181 2/8 as a typical.

With nine bucks that would easily make the record book if they were entered, Bowman prefers to take a low-key approach.

Bowman said the northern units are better during the late season.

"Due to the fact that it gets so much colder in the northern part of the state, the northern units are the best choices for late-season archers," he said. "When it gets real cold, the bucks will move more to feed, and if you are hunting around food sources, you can score."

Bowman also suggested that late-season hunters would have better luck hunting in the evening.

"Normally, when you try to go into a stand location on the edge of a field in the dark, you will always spook deer that are already in the field eating," he said. "Instead, if you go to a

tree stand during mid-afternoon, the woods can calm down and you are in a prime position to ambush an evening whitetail."

Recently, I met two Oklahoma bowhunters who have a big obsession for Kansas whitetails -- Rob Spencer and Jeff Gowens. Both guys have demanding jobs in the medical field that keep them busy until the weekend comes.

These passionate archers spend a great deal of their free time bowhunting the state's big bucks. One look at their trophy rooms shows that these two archers know a thing or two about tagging late-season giants.

Both Spencer and Gowens agreed with Danker that late-season bucks like to bed in areas where they feel secure, close to a food source.

Outfitter Steve Purviance of Mt. Hide Guide Service said that the southwest region of the state usually has some good late-season hunting.

"Actually, I prefer late-season hunting because the bucks are more predictable then," Purviance said.

Hunting pressure will be lower during late archery season, said Lloyd Fox of the DWP. He presented the situation in a "good news, bad news" scenario.

"The good news is most hunters have already taken their deer, and those hunters aren't in the woods," said Fox. "The bad news is, not too many deer are taken during late season."

Fox said that number is actually fewer than 10 percent.

"Our bucks post-rut are actually quite hard to hunt," Fox said. "Their movements are dramatically restricted. Some of them become nocturnal. Others live a very sedentary life. They like security -- they won't move long distances. They are definitely evasive!"

Fox echoed what some of the other experts alluded to -- deer in December will hole up in the thickest cover they can find near a food source.

Kansas' non-resident hunters are restricted to hunting the units they applied for and drew. Residents hunt the units they designated when they bought tags.

Here are some good public hunting areas that might be worth looking into for late-season archers.

In the northwest, one of the best public lands is the Cedar Bluff Wildlife Area located near Ellis. This Trego County hunting area can be very good and records the highest success rates.

"The Cedar Bluff area holds a lot of deer, but I would like to see more deer taken there," Fox said.

The area fluctuates in size according to the level of Cedar Bluff Reservoir -- at full pool there are 7,000 huntable acres. However, the current status of the reservoir is lower, providing about 9,800 acres for hunters. You'll need a free daily hunting permit.

One of the best bets for public hunting in the northeast is the Perry Wildlife Area near Valley Falls. This Jefferson County hunting area spans 10,500 acres, though 1,000 acres are designated for marshes and wetland development. This public area is around Perry Lake.

Deer are plentiful there. But it's close to a major metropolitan area. Hunting pressure can be heavy.

For late-season archers, you could do no better than Mined Land Wildlife Area in the southeast near Pittsburg. This public area lies in three counties -- Cherokee, Crawford and Labette -- and features 13,000 acres of dense bottomland habitat, where a late-season buck would surely retreat.

The southwest features very few public areas that would interest a deer hunter. The Pratt Sandhill Wildlife Area is one possibility. Located near Byers in Pratt County, this area spans 5,715 acres. This public area is a popular spot for upland bird hunters. Though deer are present, Fox suggested hunters instead might opt for a Walk-In Hunting Area nearby.

Walk-In Lands
With more than 1,000,000 acres and growing, the WIHA program offers lands that are loaded with deer statewide. A look at the Kansas Fall Hunting Atlas reveals the reason this program is so popular. Though a lot of these tracts are small, they can be dandy spots that are often overlooked. A copy of the atlas can be downloaded at www.kdwp.state.ks.us.

December hunting can be pure misery, that is, unless you are prepared for it. I have had to learn the hard way about not being prepared for a multitude of weather conditions. Case in point, I was once on a hunt where the weather was expected to be mild, so I took the bare minimum amount of clothing. As you could guess, the weather even fooled the weatherman, and I about froze.

My clothing left me shivering. Since then, I've learned ways to stay warm and endure the worst weather the winter has to throw at me.

Most experts agree that the secret to staying warm lies in layering your clothing. Start with a good base layer, following that with polar fleece or wool clothing. But don't overdo it: Remember that if your garments are too bulky, they can hinder pulling a bowstring.

Warm boots are a necessity. I learned this lesson years ago when my feet went numb while I was perched over an active deer trail. I now wear boots with 800 grams of Thinsulate and a good pair of wool socks. My feet haven't been cold since.

Headwear is one of the most overlooked but most important areas of winter dress. The human body loses most of its heat through the head, and so a good covering is essential to prevent loss of excess body heat. I like to wear a camouflage polypropylene stocking cap. On really bitter cold days with wind, I wear a polar fleece facemask.

An absolutely critical item on our list of necessities is a good pair of gloves. This is a crucial aspect of an archer's attire because an archer has to be able to use hands and fingers to hold and shoot the bow.

I am a right-handed shooter. I rely on a Gore-Tex glove on my left hand and a fingerless glove on my right hand to do the trick.

My secret weapon for late-season hunting comfort is disposable handwarmers. In fact, I keep several in my fanny pack at all times. These inexpensive hand heaters, activated by exposure to air, are a lifesaver while you wait on stand for a shot at a deer on a cold morning.

Don't forget to practice shooting your bow while you have heavy winter clothes on. I've been asked if archers should lower the draw weights of their bows in the winter. My response is that if you can't draw your bow while sitting down in a chair with your heavy winter clothes on, then you're probably trying to shoot too much draw weight anyway.

With the faster speeds of modern compound bows, shooting heavy draw weights may be a macho thing, but it's rarely needed to k

ill a whitetail humanely. Rather, the accurate, well-placed shot is the key.

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