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Kansas Kings: Early Season Giants in the Sunflower State

Big Buck Report: 2 hunters, with assists from their fathers, fill tags with a pair of dandy deer.

Kansas Kings: Early Season Giants in the Sunflower State

Photos courtesy of Clay Craft (left) and Blake Lassiter.

Kansas has one of the best deer-hunting reputations in the country, frequently producing awesome hunts for monster bucks. It should come as no surprise that the early season of 2021 delivered these two brutes.

A Monster in Oz

Hunter: Clay Craft

Date: Sept. 15, 2021

Location: Douglas County, Kansas

Method: Compound bow

Score: 189 6/8 in.

Kansas Kings Big Bucks
Clay Craft's 189 6/8 inches is a Kansas buck to remember. (Photo courtesy of Clay Craft)

As a co-host of Heartland Bowhunter, Clay Craft is no stranger to giant whitetails. He's knocked down quite a few of them, especially for a young fellow. This year, when his family purchased a nice piece of ground in Douglas County, Kansas, this massive 6 1/2-year-old whitetail was one of the first to show up, and it became a regular.

"I have been hunting since I was 4 years old and started bowhunting when I was 7," Craft said. "My dad is the one who got me into it, and to go hunting with him and spend time with him means everything to me."

Sept. 15 brought a 10-degree temperature drop and a southeast wind that worked well for the treestand Craft wanted to hunt. It overlooked a field planted in corn and soybeans, with a food-plot strip separating the two. That afternoon, he climbed the big cedar tree and settled into the stand. Cicadas sung all around him.

Thanks to the temperature drop, Craft was confident he'd see his target buck. Deer began to move as the afternoon sun dipped closer to the horizon. Five does and a small 8-pointer milled around the food plot and soybean field. Then, the giant appeared.

"My heart started racing," Craft said. "I knew from trail camera photos that he was a big deer. I thought he would end up scoring in the high 160s to low 170s. But I was wrong. He was a lot bigger than I expected. His body was way bigger, and his rack was much more massive than I thought."

Kansas Kings Big Bucks
This deer showed up earlier this year. After planning the farm around this deer, Craft eventually got an opportunity at this giant. (Photo courtesy of Clay Craft)

The buck slowly worked toward the food plot. It carefully surveyed the scene, flicked its tail signaling all clear, and carefully picked across the landscape.

"Like every hunter, my heart started pounding," Craft said. "I didn't want to focus on his rack because I knew I would just freak myself out. So, I just looked down, took a few deep breaths and then it was time to draw back."

The buck entered the plot, turned broadside, and stopped. Already at full draw, Craft settled his 30-yard pin and took the shot.

"All the off-season work planting and hanging stands really paid off in a big way," Craft said. He attributes the success to only being on the property when he had to be, hunting on correct winds and the strategic planting of corn, beans and plots.

After giving the buck some time, Craft and his father Bryhn recovered the deer.

"I still haven't quite soaked it all in yet, I still can't believe it," Craft said. "Most hunters don't even get to see deer that big. To be able to hunt and harvest one of this size means the world to me."

Opening-Day Dandy

Hunter: Blake Lassiter

Date: Sept. 13, 2021

Location: Kingman County, Kansas

Method: Muzzleloader

Score: 172 4/8 in.

Kansas Kings Big Bucks
After his cousin spotted this giant, Blake Lassiter and his father moved in to scout and hunt it. (Photo courtesy of Blake Lassiter)

When Kansas deer hunter Blake Lassiter started getting photos of this monster 4 1/2-year-old buck a week before deer season, he and his family members started crafting a game plan to pursue it.

"My father, Jack Lassiter, is the brains of the operation," Blake said. "He always keeps track of the deer and makes the sets. I run the restaurant he owns and work lots of hours. He makes sure to take care of me, as I usually only have three to six days to hunt during Kansas muzzleloader season. My cousin, Jon, owns all the property that we hunt on out there and runs a petroleum business. He was the one to first get a glimpse of the buck while out checking wells."

Sept. 13, Kansas' muzzleloader opener, brought steaming temps in the mid-90s and a stifling southerly wind. It wasn't the optimal opening day. Still, Blake hoped for the best.

The property is mostly farm ground and prairie. Other than plum thickets, it's ultimately devoid of trees, so he decided to hunt a ground blind he'd brushed into the edge of a thicket. Working wind turbines buzzed in the distance. Bellowing cattle filled the air with additional decibels.

Kansas Kings Big Bucks
This deer was living in a relatively small area, but Lassiter and his father put together an approach that worked. (Photo courtesy of Blake Lassiter)

The hunt started slow, but gradually improved. Several does and small bucks worked in and out of view. Then, about 10 minutes before legal light ended, a bachelor group appeared. In it was the monster he hoped to arrow.

The group of deer milled around casually. After a bit, they walked into range. The deer finally stopped broadside just 56 yards away. Lassiter settled his crosshairs and pulled the trigger, hitting the buck hard.

"After calling my dad and waiting for him to arrive, we went to investigate the scene," Blake said. "There was no blood to be found, but I knew I shot him high-shoulder and likely didn't get an exit. Fortunately, I knew the general spot of the crash. We walked a few yards into the trees before seeing those tines. We both embraced in a hug, followed by some shouting in excitement and fist bumps."

His cousin, Jon, was excited, too, especially given that without him the Lassiters wouldn't have placed a camera in that area to capture images of the 170-plus-inch buck. He'd spotted it first and nailed the description and score "guestimate" of the rack.


"This buck is a deer of a lifetime," Blake said. "I was very fortunate to tag him opening day. I'm beyond blessed to have an opportunity to take a buck of this caliber. Not only is it a true trophy and my biggest yet, but the story and memories connected will last a lifetime.

"Not to mention, the hunt was set up by my father, and I got to spend some time with him traveling out there," Lassiter continued. "My dad had me and my brother hunting as soon as he could. He has taught us so much about many things through hunting and we all have made so many wonderful memories together in the woods. The hunt was a solo hunt, but aside from time in the blind, I was making memories with my dad and that’s always special."

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