Find Your Date-Worthy Recipe for Wild Game
February 13, 2024 •iSportsman Staff
Hunting is a lifestyle of appreciating the natural world. I have shared camps with people from all walks of life and yet we all share a common passion. One year ago I met Justin, a friend of my younger brother. His father was battling a rare form of brain cancer, a crippling disease that was robbing this once active man of life. Justin’s dad was where it all began for a lifelong obsession with hunting and the outdoors. To watch his dad slowly die was devastating. His dad put up the fight for a full year but in the end it was too much. To honor his memory, we embarked on an amazing mule deer hunt in Kansas.
Justin had heard our stories about bow hunting mule deer in western Kansas more times than I can count. He and his father had talked about doing it for years but they didn’t know where to begin. I have been blessed with friends and access to amazing hunting ground in my home state. That made it easy to plan a mule deer hunt in Kansas. I asked Justin to join a annual deer hunting camp at my friend’s ranch. For the next nine months it’s all he could talk about every time I saw him. I was more than happy to give him something to look forward to after his dad’s passing.
The first day in camp was like watching a kid on Christmas morning; I was more excited trying to get Justin a mule deer than I was about shooting one myself. Justin never went to a hunting camp where the worries of the world are put on hold for just a bit. Justin had never even seen a mule deer buck in the wild and asked how he would know if it was a good one to shoot. I assured him he would know and gave him a few pointers. I told him a mature mule deer buck’s body size will astound him compared to a whitetail. They are like a horse.
That first morning of the mule deer hunt in Kansas we saw smaller mule deer bucks along with a couple big whitetails just out of range. The first afternoon hunt I put him in a different stand next to a rock bluff and the river, a perfect bottle neck on a travel route. He had many close calls on several bucks, just not the right one.
As we drove out of the river basin in the waning light we could see an absolute giant of a mule deer feeding in a wheat field. Justin kept saying, “I never knew they could get that huge.” I told him who knows the next morning that deer could just as easily walk by his stand as any other buck.
The next morning I sat in a river bottom before getting down to hang a stand on another part of the ranch. As soon as I crawled to the top of the hill my phone exploded with messages. It was Justin; he had shot his first mule deer buck. I made my way over to help in the tracking job. When I got to his stand he was on the ground with the buck not even ten yards from where he had shot it. Justin had shot the deer under his stand at all of three yards.
Justin said he felt like his dad was there with him in that moment. That feeling of gratitude I will never forget; fulfilling this man’s wish will stay with me forever as one of my greatest hunting experiences.