One for the Books

One for the Books

If you want to put a Kansas whitetail in the record books, then maybe you should take a lesson from a couple hunters who did just that last season.

by Tim Lilley

Kansas deer hunter Ron Sleisher knows that the old cliché is true: If you snooze, you lose.

Fortunately, however, the loss in question proved to be Sleisher's gain. Sound confusing? Well, maybe we can make it clearer.

"I'd like to tell you some great story about this buck, or about the hunt," Sleisher said of the huge whitetail he took on the second day of Kansas' 2001 firearms season. The deer netted 185 0/8 points and ranks in the top 20 of all time for Kansas typicals.

"Around here, we don't make things up," Sleisher added. "We don't make things up, and I'm afraid there's just not much of a story to this buck."

Some people probably would disagree.

"He looked like a moose to me," Sleisher chuckled. There's no doubt about how he regards this deer - the buck he calls his deer of a lifetime. "If a guy ever was to take two deer this big, he'd have to be awfully lucky, I believe."


But listening to Sleisher's story makes it clear that luck was only part of the successful equation.

Ron Sleisher's trophy hangs in a place of honor in his Kansas home. It has 21 points and a spread of 26 5/8 inches. Photo by Ron Sleisher

"I was hunting with my nephew, Jamie Adams," he recalled, of that November afternoon. "It was a pretty nice day for that time of year. Jamie is my best friend and my hunting buddy, so I really do feel lucky that he was by my side for this hunt."

By his side? Uh, huh. They were hunting on the ground . . . walking.

"We were down behind Jamie's; it's a place we always hunt," Sleisher explained. "Around here, about all you have is timber and pastureland. This place is kind of a safe haven for the deer once the season starts. It's a big pasture with a nice draw running through it."

Although they encountered the buck only a quarter-mile from Adams' house, and less than two miles from his, Sleisher said neither hunter had ever seen this monster buck before. "I have a neighbor who'd seen him," he offered. "He almost hit him when the buck was going down into that draw one time."

That day, it seems, ol' big boy was taking a nap.

"It was about 2:30, maybe 3 o'clock in the afternoon," Sleisher recalled. "Jamie and I were walking that draw out, and we both caught sight of him about the same time.

"Jamie said, 'Unc, is that one big enough for you?' All I could see was that rack, and I said, 'Yeah, I think it is,' " he said. Instinctively, Sleisher raised his Browning .25/06 and quickly found the buck in its scope. "I was using a handload," he offered. "Jamie and I both reload, and my load used a 100-grain Nosler bullet."

He only needed one round.

"I dropped him right there," Sleisher said. "It was about 100 to 125 yards, and he never moved." That's the kind of clean kill every hunter hopes for. And when the pair got to Sleisher's tag-filler, they realized he had the kind of rack every hunter dreams of.

"He really did look like a moose," Sleisher chuckled. "He has 21 points total, and his inside spread is 26 5/8 inches."

Yes, you read that right. This amazing buck's inside spread is more than 26 inches!

"His tines aren't all that tall, but he's real wide," Sleisher said. "A friend of mine says the deer from around here tend to have really wide racks like this one. But once you get south of Hartford (less than 20 miles south of Reading), the tines tend to get real tall."

This deer is only the second big buck to make Kansas' top 20 from Lyon County, but some other central counties have given up some really nice bucks, too.

Sleisher decided to have the buck scored both ways - as a typical and as a non-typical. Either way, this is one amazing buck.

He grossed 236 4/8 non-typical points, netting 226 2/8. As a typical, he grossed 215 7/8, netting 185 even after deductions.

"The scorer started writing up the application for Boone and Crockett to register him as a non-typical buck, but I told him I didn't want that," Sleisher explained. "I figured that over time, there would be more non-typical big bucks taken in the state than typical. I decided I'd rather go with the typical score . . . register him that way."

And who can blame him? No matter how you view this rack, it is amazing. Although his buck is registered as a typical, Sleisher is quick to note that his fantastic trophy is not typical of the bucks he's used to seeing near home.

"Don't get me wrong," he said. "Jamie and the other guys I hunt with have taken some nice deer around here down through the years, but nothing like this. I still believe my getting him was the luck of the draw more than anything else. He is something else."

Hunters who frequent this part of Kansas generally don't have trouble finding deer to fill their tags, according to Sleisher, who spends his workdays behind the wheel as an over-the-road truck driver.

"I don't have anything against the folks down in Texas," Sleisher offered. "But I cover parts of 15 states in my truck, and I've seen deer mounted in places down there that we wouldn't even save the horns off of around here. There are some nice bucks, but one like this definitely is unusual.

"I have hunted every year since we were allowed to deer hunt again in the 1960s, and I've lived here for the past 15 years. To be honest, we don't have the deer that we once did, but there are still a lot of deer around here.

"They're pretty smart, too," he continued. "They know where they can go . . . a lot of them stay down on the (Neosho) river."

Certainly, Kansas deer hunting has changed a lot since the seasons when Sleisher drew his first permits. Two of the biggest differences involve efforts to control an ever-expanding population through a focus on antlerless deer harvest, and the arrival of non-resident hunters onto the scene. It's a safe bet that those two changes have combined to leave Sleisher and other Kansas hunters feeling that deer numbers aren't what they used t

o be.

Undoubtedly, management has done enough to keep truly large bucks growing and healthy in many parts of the state. Sleisher's was not the only big deer taken last season - and not the only big deer taken by ground-bound hunters.

A couple hours north of where Sleisher lives, near Frankfort in Marshall County, another Uncle-nephew pair took really fine bucks from the same ground blind on consecutive days last season.

"We kind of fell into this hotspot this last year," said Shannon Colvin. He and his nephew, Chance Slifer, teamed up on a couple of really nice bucks last season.

"We have hunters going into an area adjacent to this practically every night. When they show up, the deer head the other way. We just found a spot to build a ground blind, and it paid off big for us."

Big, indeed!

Slifer walked out of school on the last Friday of the 2001 gun season to find Colvin waiting on him and ready to go for an evening hunt. They hurried to their blind and set up, unaware they wouldn't have much of a wait.

"I guess Chance got out of school around 3 that afternoon," Colvin said, "and he took his buck between 4 and 5 o'clock." His .243 barked once, and the two hunters were quickly standing over a buck that ultimately scored 158 3/8 typical points.

Few hunters will ever complain about taking a near-record buck. Even fewer will have a chance to witness a second kill - of an even bigger buck - from the same stand little more than 24 hours later. But that's exactly what happened for Colvin and his nephew.

"We went back out there the next day, and this buck came in from a long ways off," Colvin recalled. "I waited as long as I could, and there were just a few minutes of shooting light left when I finally drew on him."

Colvin squeezed the trigger on his rifle when the buck was about 125 yards away, and the deer dropped at the report of the .300 Win. Mag.

"When I shot this deer, I thought he was another buck," he said with a laugh. "We had seen a big buck in there before that had a huge drop tine; the biggest either of us had ever seen.

"This deer's rack looked very similar, but I wasn't able to tell from my angle whether he had the drop tine. When I shot him, I figured he did. I thought he was that buck we'd seen before."

He wasn't.

This trophy sports 12 main points with a lot of smaller stickers - 23 measurable points in all!

"He scored 198 gross, and he netted 181 5/8," Colvin reported. "He wasn't the buck I expected because I thought sure he was the one we'd seen Thanksgiving morning with the big long drop tine, but I'm sure not complaining."

Indeed! What Colvin is doing -what all three of these hunters are doing - is suggesting some things Kansas deer hunters can use to their advantage when looking for the kind of buck that will earn spots in the Boone and Crockett record book and on Kansas' all-time big-buck listings.

"Well, like I said, we kind of fell into this place," Colvin said. "It's out in the middle of a big open field. But when hunters go into the areas adjacent to it and the deer feel pressure, they're going to go the other way. When they do, in this case, Chance and I learned that they were going to head toward where we had our ground blind. It's along one of the major escape routes from areas that get a lot of hunting pressure."

For Sleisher, it's simply a matter of hunting with his nephew in an area that other hunters don't frequent. They just get close to it.

"There are a lot of hunters using the timber around the area Jamie and I hunt," he explained. "When they go in there, they move the deer around. And some of them come into that draw in the pasture, where we hunted. That is a pattern that has been going on for years."

So from here, one of the best moves a Sunflower State hunter can make is to look beyond the "traditional" deer hunting spots he or she has been visiting for season after season. Think about how deer will leave an area when they feel pressured.

And for heaven's sake, don't avoid a little patch of cover surrounded by the wide-open spaces. I learned that lesson personally, first-hand, from one of the biggest Kansas bucks I'd ever seen. And I wasn't even deer hunting.

Early one November morning, I joined several other wingshooters on the edge of a Butler County grain field to enjoy some sunrise pass-shooting for prairie chickens. We had settled in and were waiting for the first of what would be several groups of incoming chickens that morning when one of the guys just blurted out, "Well, look at that!"

Opposite us on the far end of the field, a huge buck was sneaking across the great wide-open toward a tiny finger of cover. Have you ever seen a buck tiptoe through a field? I swear, that's exactly what he looked like he was doing.

Sporting a rack not unlike that on Sleisher's big buck (he did look like a moose, even from more than 200 yards away!), this big ol' boy was acting as if he had to tread as lightly as possible to complete his unmasked journey with good fortune.

Moving with a purpose, he covered the far edge of the field quickly, settling easily into the cover for a rest. I imagined him stirring several hours later, probably under the cover of falling night, to venture out for some food and exercise.

I also thought about what it would take to stalk that deer. His vantage point was perfect, and he likely would have been gone in a flash at the first hint of danger. But, then again, maybe not.

Consider Sleisher's buck. He had found a spot that provided the ultimate sense of security and, as a result, of whitetail confidence. Sleisher and Adams weren't trying to be all that stealthy. They had walked up deer in that draw before. The whole concept involves forcing deer to move, offering a shot in the process.

His buck, however, apparently never knew these two hunters were anywhere in the area. That fact also suggests something to think about as you plan your hunt this season.

Approach can play a big role in your ability to take a big buck like this - or even just to fill your tag. Maybe the wind was just right. Maybe the buck had just dropped his guard. But for whatever the reason, it is apparent that the buck Sleisher and Adams walked up on never expected a threat to materialize from that direction.

Do you know of a place like that? If not, can you take the time to locate a couple? Chances are good that if you do, you're likely to get a chance at a nice deer that isn't expecting you to show up.

One final thought: During the firearms seas

on, you don't need to be in a tree stand to take a record-book buck. Colvin, Sleisher and Slifer all proved that last year. Instead, you need a good ambush point that will provide the chance for a good shot at a range that matches your abilities with your chosen weapon and the ballistics of the load you use.

All three of the loads mentioned in this story are relatively high-velocity, flat-shooting loads that will prove effective at the ranges encountered in this story. Most any acknowledged whitetail round is going to be effective on Kansas's deer in the 100- to 125-yard range. And getting shots like these will not be uncommon, even for hunters who choose to stay on the ground.

One extra step you might take, once you have located an area that might offer either a safe haven like Sleisher and Adams hunted or an escape route like Colvin and Slifer hunted, is to locate good hunting spots that will allow you to use prevailing winds to your advantage.

You're not always going to be downwind of moving deer if you always hunt from the same spot. Your best bet, then, is to locate some ground-based stand locations that will give you options no matter what the wind is doing on the days you decide to hunt.

Sleisher added one other thought to be considered. "If you have a favorite place you've hunted for years, or if you locate a place that just looks like it's a good one, don't give up on it," Sleisher suggested. "Jamie and I have hunted this same area for years. We have taken deer from there. We knew it was a good spot. But neither one of us expected the buck I took to be laying down in there just waiting on us."

That element of the unknown relates here in one other important way. This story reports the harvest of three Kansas bucks last season. In at least two of these three cases, the hunters had never seen the deer before the day they harvested them.

No matter how well you know an area, no matter how much time you spend scouting, you shouldn't ever make up your mind that you know about all of the bucks using a given location. You don't; you never will. None of us will.

And when you least expect it, one of those unseen monsters just might present you with a chance to get your name in the book next to that of Colvin or Sleisher or Slifer.

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