By Gary Clancy

Like many seasoned whitetail hunters, I have long suspected that
the reason so few mature bucks are killed on deer drives is that
they do not react like other deer. A mature buck has been around.
He knows the drill.

Just a few days ago, while hunting the early muzzleloader season
in Kansas, I had a ringside seat that confirmed those suspicions.
There were six of us. My old buddy J. Wayne Fears from Alabama, Ken
French, the head honcho at Thompson/Center, and myself would do the
posting. Our host, Rick Thompson, fellow writer Bryce Towsley and
Ken’s son Ernie would do the pushing. Both Bryce and Ernie had
taken bucks earlier, which automatically gets you “doggin’ duty”
when deer drives are the order of the day.

The reason we were attempting to push the deer was easy. They
were not moving much on their own. Maybe it was the full moon. Or
more likely it was the fact that the area we were hunting near
Abilene, Kan., was as green in September as it usually is in April.
Three weeks of late summer rains had seen to that.

With everything green and lush, the deer simply did not have to
move far to find their vittles. That makes for poor stand hunting.
So Rick, a long, lean bundle of energy who humps a 40-pound mailbag
13 miles a day for the U.S. Postal Service, decided that our best
option was to move them.

This country is ideally suited to deer drives through the ample
amount of narrow corridors of timber either in the form of ditches,
creek bottoms, or tree lines. And yet, on many drives, we never saw
a deer. We knew that some of the deer were simply holding tight and
slipping out the backside after the drivers had passed.

But in the heavy cover the drivers rarely saw them. Yet the
drives were our best option. So even with the sun beating down
unmercifully and the temperature in the low 90s, we continued to
push. Like I said, many of our drives produced nothing, but then
there would be a sudden flurry of activity as a buck rammed through
heavy cover ahead of the drivers.

Bryce and Ernie had taken fine eight-point bucks at close range
as the bucks tore past their positions at full speed. Both by the
way, were shooting the new Thompson/Center Encore in the Katahdin
carbine version. With its stubby 20-inch ported barrel and halo
peep sight, this is a fast handling, lightweight muzzleloader. If
you happen to be in the market for a muzzleloader and do a lot of
hunting in heavy cover, or if weight is a consideration, give the
Katahdin Carbine a look.

On the last day of our hunt, Sept. 18, as Hurricane Isabel
pounded the coast, heavy rain fell on Kansas. The rain would not
have stopped us from hunting, but the lightening did. We waited it
out and did not get started until noon.

Ernie, who had missed a giant buck on a drive the day before,
redeemed himself with a fine shot on an eight-pointer on our first
drive of the day. On a later drive, a pair of bucks ran past me,
but neither was the caliber of buck I wanted for my Kansas tag. I
tend to get real fussy in Kansas, because I know its potential. Of
all of the states I hunt, I would rate Kansas as tops when it comes
to having a realistic opportunity of taking a buck in that 150-plus
class. The Kansas deer herd is managed well. It shows.

On one of our last drives of the day, I was positioned at one
corner of a 120-acre patch of cover that consisted mainly of
scattered wild plum thickets. Some of these thickets were no bigger
than your garage, while others were the size of a football field.
Surrounding the thickets was knee-high grass and low-growing buck
brush. Because my vantage point happened to be on a high knob, I
had a commanding view of the entire 120 acres. As Rick, Ernie, and
Bryce entered the far corner of the cover, Ernie and Bryce went
around one side of a large plum thicket while Rick, who I am
convinced is part beagle, plowed right through the middle of
it.

A small fork-horn broke out behind Rick and ran all of the way
to where I stood, before disappearing into another plum thicket not
20 yards from my position. Then another buck broke. This one too
came out behind Rick. Through my 10×42 glasses I could see that he
was a mature buck carrying an impressive eight-point rack. If he
followed the same course the little fork-horn had taken, he was
going to be in trouble.

But big bucks often are cool customers, and this was one of
them. He stood his ground until he had Rick’s position pinpointed
and then simply slipped back around the backside of the plum
thicket and disappeared. All I could do was tip my hat in
admiration.

As the drivers closed in on our positions, Ernie took a nasty
fall while busting through one of the plum thickets. I could hear
Ernie crashing in the brittle limbs. Then I heard more crashing and
Ernie hollered “Holy Cow!” Only it wasn’t a cow.

Ernie nearly had landed on a 10-point buck. Odds are good that
if Ernie had not stumbled and fell, the buck would have held tight
and let Ernie pass within just a few yards of him.

When the buck broke cover, he stopped momentarily in the open
where both Ken and I had a clear shot, but since we knew that Ernie
was somewhere in the thicket right behind the buck, neither of us
took the shot. In less time than it takes for me to type this
sentence, the 10-pointer pinpointed the location of all three
drivers and scooted right back through them. With the drive over,
Rick and Ernie were discussing the buck that had just escaped, when
another big buck, this one a dandy with stickers jutting off of
long points, jumped up a few yards away and followed the 10-pointer
back into the heart of that 120-acre plum thicket.

Four bucks, three of them mature, one of them young. The
youngster plays the game our way. The old boys play it their
way.

Suspicions confirmed.

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