We may not be celebrities, but we’re rich in patience this deer hunting season

Earlier this week, a picture was circulating on social media showing Kevin Costner — Mr. Dances With Wolves himself — rocking a hunter’s orange hat at a Kansas cafe.

When I zoomed in on his hat, I could make out what looked to be the logo from Flint Oak, a big lodge near Fall River that offers hunts for quail, pheasant, waterfowl and deer.

Kevin Costner apparently bought a quail hunt in southeastern Kansas. Sounds fun. I’m just old enough to remember when that entire area was crawling with quail.

I’ve stopped by Flint Oak. It’s impressive, and I’m not at all surprised a celebrity would be there.

What surprises me is that Kansans continue to be flattered every time a celebrity makes an appearance in the Sunflower State. Of course they’re here. Like I wrote in the first Open Season column: If you’re rich, Kansas has the best hunting money can buy.

For the rest of us, it’s a challenge. For Michael Stavola and I, apparently, it’s a HUGE challenge, at least on the whitetail front. Maybe it’s time for us to take some acting classes. Or stop acting like hunters.

Something’s got to give.

Congratulations to all the bowhunters who filled their freezers with deer meat before the Orange Army took over the woods.

For the rest of us, there’s still time.

Michael Stavola and I both have buck tags going into rifle season, and I know we’re both feeling a bit defeated. But this isn’t my first December with a buck tag (see photo below). I’m hoping this year is as great as some of those years past.

Eagle reporter Chance Swaim poses with a whitetail buck he shot with a bow in December, after rifle season, a time many bowhunters write-off as a lost cause.
Eagle reporter Chance Swaim poses with a whitetail buck he shot with a bow in December, after rifle season, a time many bowhunters write-off as a lost cause.

In my experience, the key to successful December bowhunting is getting to my treestand at least an hour before shooting time. I usually see heavy buck movement during the first 15 minutes of shooting light in December, often followed by hours of empty fields. So it’s important to be ready and waiting when they come by.

December hunting is just like November hunting. Except it requires more layers of clothing, more stealth, more careful attention to scent and wind direction, and you’ll likely see fewer deer.

I’ve taken some big bucks in December. My dad has taken even bigger bucks in December. I’ve seen — and not gotten a shot at — even bigger bucks in December.

Here’s to hoping the best hunting lies ahead.

— Chance Swaim

Don’t scare the bait

Sunday reinforced a valuable lesson in my young bowhunting career: Don’t scare the bait.

The forecast had the area I hunted getting 2 to 4 inches. Little did I know until I hit the road that it ended up being closer to 8 inches.

It was a terrifying 45-minute drive.

A young whitetail deer at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Stafford County.
A young whitetail deer at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Stafford County.

Besides that, it felt like it was meant to be. Church canceled service. The wind was out of the west for the first time this season. I would be able to get to a spot I had wanted to try and sit all season, a clearing with paths going all directions, surrounded by cedars.

The fresh snow would allow me to get in silently.

Everything was covered in snow. The cedars blocked the wind and my spot had the sun shining against my back. It was beautiful.

It took deer awhile to get moving, but it’s amazing how much they stand out in the white snow.

The first movement was a small buck who immediately chased off a doe while doing a tending grunt, a short, low grunt.

A minute after that, a doe started heading down the path that would lead right by me. The sun was in her eyes for most of it. She did her potty business eight yards from me.

Then, just before she moved out of view, a tree provided a window of shade. She pegged me. She looked up and down, side to side, as I held still.

She was to my right. Out of the left corner of my eye, I saw antlers through some thick brush. He was moving toward me. A small opening gave me a look at him. It was the 10-pointer who demolished my decoy (in photo below) earlier this season.

My decoy got blown up by a 10-point buck. At the top of the picture is a cedar tree where the buck stood broadside at 35 yards.
My decoy got blown up by a 10-point buck. At the top of the picture is a cedar tree where the buck stood broadside at 35 yards.

Here he was coming right down the lane toward her. Fifteen yards. Ten yards. He was just about to step into the clearing in front of me. I already had my bow up but didn’t have my trigger-release clipped in. I could see her still staring at me out of the corner of my eye but decided to move very slowly the 10 inches to clip in.

She took off. He stopped in his spot and watched her as she ran around the cedars and then popped back up through some trees 50 yards away. He stood there for a minute or two.

I had a roughly one-foot diameter circle where I could see him standing quartering away. It was tempting to shoot, but I really didn’t know what would happen to my arrow going through the opening toward him. I practice at different distances but not shooting through small openings to get to the target.

The doe trotted off down the same path as the other doe and small buck. The 10-pointer followed her.

It feels like my opportunities are running out. But I’m still learning the do’s and don’ts. I’ve learned not to draw early, that my best bet is to be prepared and do one motion and release, but now I know that last prep is best left for when he is in a shooting lane.

— Michael Stavola

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