A lofty longtime goal. A killer whitetail state. An obliging outfitter. When an adventurous bowhunter ties them all together with some help from HuntStand, the result is rut-time magic.
Are you among the fortunate outdoorsmen whose home state harbors some solid deer hunting? Heck, your home turf might even be eye-popping great, and your den walls might hold a bunch of jaw-dropping, trophy-class proof. In either case, the quality of your local hunting doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a goal of exploring deer-hunting options elsewhere. Both neighboring and far-away states can hold your hunt of a lifetime, not to mention legendary Canadian provinces. So start planning. There are many benefits (and relatively few pitfalls) for making an out-of-state hunt, as long as you do some research and keep your expectations in check.
I’m fortunate to do a fair amount of traveling to hunt various locales each year, but last fall I ran into a guy who was just starting out, and his experience, top to bottom, represents a near-perfect blueprint for experiencing out-of-state whitetailing success.Seth Cole, 29, hails from southeast Mississippi, and last fall hitched up his trailer and hauled his Polaris Ranger UTV all the way to north-central Kansas, where I met him in Jeff Rader’s Rader Lodge camp. Cole would leave Rader Lodge a few days later toting a beautiful 10-point whitetail that would easily make the Pope and Young Club recordbook, but of course that’s the short version of Cole’s adventure. Here’s the step-by-step route Cole took to find success in Kansas.
Step 1. Narrow Your Preferred Destination Quickly To Create Laser Focus. “I’m 29 and have lived in southeast Mississippi my whole life, and I’ve dreamed about hunting Kansas, ‘The Land Of The Giants,’ since I was a boy,” Cole recalled. “I had seen all my favorite hunting show hosts hunt Kansas for years with great success during the rut; those videos and the glossy magazine photos of great Kansas bucks cruising the oak draws and CRP brush were burned into my imagination.”Step 2. Hunt On Your Own, Go Guided, Or Choose A Combo Of The Two? Cole smartly chose the third option above, a “semi-guided” hunt offered at Rader Lodge. The choice not only allowed Cole to save some cash, but also take some “ownership” in his hunt success. Because he realized he was a capable whitetail bowhunter who was really interested in gaining access to some great whitetail ground, Cole liked the option to set his own stands and move them as he saw fit, and Rader Lodge provided that opportunity.
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“I spent hours online looking at different outfitters/guides,” Cole recalled. “I wasn’t looking for a flashy 5-star lodge with a chef and spa that spends more time worrying about their appearance than their clients’ hunts. I was looking for a hunt not a luxury vacation, and didn’t need an outfitter asking for my life’s savings for a 5- to-7-day hunt. In the end I contacted a few different outfitters and Jeff Rader stood out as a friendly, informative, easy-going guy to talk too. Customer service is one of the most-important things to me when it comes to spending my hard-earned money.” Step 3: Timing Can Be Critical. “I had previously figured out my fall work schedule, checked the upcoming moon phases and pinpointed my desired hunt dates for the November rut. When I learned that Rader Lodge could accommodate my timeframe, they won my deposit for my first-ever midwest whitetail hunt.” Step 4: Prepare For Success. “I booked my deer hunt during the winter of 2017, so I knew I had many months until my hunt,” Cole remembered. “But I was so excited I felt I had to get up there and scope the place out before my hunt. So I talked my wife into a spring turkey hunt at Rader Lodge, in part to help her harvest a Rio turkey as part of her grand slam quest. Of course, the spring hunt would also allow me to see some the of the ground that I might be hunting that fall. We had a blast, and although the weather wasn’t very kind the place looked great. We discovered plenty of big rubs from the previous fall, and even some scrapes. I really liked what I saw. I used those fond memories to fuel my bow-practice sessions the rest of the spring and summer, shooting regularly, untold thousands of arrows, to prepare for my big adventure.”
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Step 5: Gearing Up For Adventure. “After the longest summer known to man, Fall and then November finally arrived. I loaded up my 2500 HD Polaris Ranger, Hoyt Carbon Spyder Turbo compound, a few Yeti coolers and a trunk of camo clothing for every possible weather condition. And because I’d booked a “semi-guided” hunt I also brought my favorite Millennium hang-on stand and ladder sticks, along with my Old Man climber, and a Primos Double Bull ground blind. I wanted to be prepared for anything.
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Once in camp I learned I would be hunting the same ground where my wife and I had hunted spring turkeys, which was my first choice. I was elated. That first night, shortly after I unpacked and took some time to shoot my bow, Rader used the HuntStand app to show me my first morning stand location, using the app’s detailed, aerial topographic images. I went to bed that night more eager than a kid on Christmas Eve.”Step 6: Make The Most Of Your Hunt. “I’d timed my hunt for the peak of the rut, and my plan was to make all-day sits, so I knew I needed to pack a lunch, snacks, drinks and pee bottle, and also, a portable charger to ensure my phone was fully juiced,” Cole recalled. “I wanted the ability to call my wife if I was able to get a shot off.
“My first morning began with a predawn drive in thick fog and the temp right at 28 degrees, with the day dawning overcast with a very light breeze. Shortly after legal light a doe came down the ridge into my oak draw out of the CRP grass field above me; my first Kansas whitetail was alone, but must have been hot because not two minutes after she wandered out of sight she came running back, now with a young 8-point in tow! The buck wasn’t a shooter but it certainly was exciting to watch the pair race back past me, the buck grunting loudly and right on her hooves. The rutty youngster put on a serious show, pushing the doe up and down my oak-filled draw for some 45 minutes; they finally drifted off somewhere behind me.
“Then came the unexpected. A few minutes later I thought I heard the pair returning on another sprinting run, but when I glanced to the left my eyes bugged out. Here came the doe followed by the young 8, but also a hard-charging 10-point, a solid Kansas shooter! My jaw dropped as the trio sprinted past at what seemed like 40 miles per hour. There was no shot even if I had been at full draw, and again I watched a protracted game of chase for several minutes. During the heat of the morning action I noticed what seemed to be a “center hub” of activity in the wide draw, where several deer trails came together. Even better, all the deer seen that morning had crossed there at some point or another.
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After all the deer cleared out and the morning’s action finally ceased, curiosity got the best of me. I climbed down from my ladder stand to investigate the “hub” area, and immediately hit paydirt. I’d found an ideal stand tree just 20 yards off the hub’s center. A quick text to Rader confirmed my ability to hang one of my own stands, and it wasn’t long before I’d made the trek back to my truck to pick up my trusty Millennium hang-on. From my new perch I saw just one small buck the rest of the day, far off in the distance, but my confidence was soaring.”Step 7: Keep Your Focus, An Open Mind, And Enjoy Your Hunt. “The next morning I was back in my hang-on a good 30 minutes before daybreak, where I watched just two does all morning. After eating lunch on stand I refocused and got into a pattern where I would stand against the trunk of the tree until I couldn’t anymore, then sit for 10 or 15 minutes, and repeat. My uncle and bowhunting mentor, had always told me, “Get high, get small, get still, and think kill!” Good advice that over the years has paid big dividends. Deer movement was slow until about 1 p.m. when I suddenly noticed what appeared to be a heavy wide rack, attached to big blocky body, approaching down the draw. The Kansas brute was walking down a trail that ran left to right in front of me, straight into my “hub.” My heart was pounding!“Having previously ranged all the trees around me my confidence was high as the buck closed the distance, and up close I could see he was a really nice 8-point scoring in the mid 120s—a solid deer, just not what I had come to Kansas for. I passed, but now the confidence in my new stand was sky-high. After the encounter things were quiet until about 3 p.m., when a loud “crack!” broke the silence somewhere behind me. I turned slowly to see a massive left-side antler beam wrapped around a tree, freshening a rub. Was it the big 10?
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I spun quickly around and clipped on my release knowing instantly I was watching a shooter, and just 30 yards away. Just as I started to draw the buck raised his head to smell his new rub… revealing a much smaller, broken, right-side beam. Again, I chose to pass, but that decision haunted me on into the night, wondering if I had made a mistake.
“The third morning I texted my wife that I had a good feeling about the day, a statement that would prove prophetic. As the sun slowly rose over my left shoulder deer were already moving. Two does came by, straight through my hub, then the familiar young 8, then a small 6. Soon something moved me to grab my bow off of its hook, and in the next instant I caught movement far down the draw. It was a large rack glistening in the sun!Grabbing my Nikon bino I glimpsed the big 10 I had been waiting for. My quick prayer was answered when the buck continued on its path straight toward me, and once again I clipped on my release. The buck had read the script! On he came, stopping briefly behind a big oak 35 yards to my
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left, allowing me to come to full draw. At 20 yards, he was perfectly broadside, and I let out a mouth bleat. I touched off my ‘good luck charm’ release my wife had bought me just before my hunt, and I watched as the arrow flew straight into his heart. The buck made it just 40 yards and collapsed, and my dream hunt had delivered my long-awaited Kansas buck, my biggest to date.”If You Go. “I would definitely recommend Rader Lodge and its ‘semi-guided’ option for bowhunters who like to experience most every aspect of a challenging bowhunt,” Cole said. “Many veteran bowhunters will tell you that time in the stand is what makes the difference, and I certainly found that out in Kansas. I can’t wait to get back.”