Improved Conditions Put Bucks in Good Shape

It's go time in Kansas. As I write this on September 14, bowhunters and muzzleloaders in the Sunflower State get their first shot tomorrow at bucks they've been scouting all summer, and I'll be joining them. My trail cam photos and reports from other hunters in the past few days suggest deer are moving a little more in daylight as the moon wanes, though most sightings are in early morning rather than evening.

The great thing about an opening day—no matter what the sport—is that anything seems possible: I love opening a newspaper on day one of Major League Baseball play to see the standings 0-0 across the board, knowing that every team (even the hapless Kansas City Royals) is a pennant contender. There's a similar feeling to the first sit of a long deer season. After the hectic flurry of activity to prep gear and take care of the work and family obligations that must be satisfied before we can get away, it feels good to settle into a stand or blind, take a deep breath, and just hunt. It's a feeling to savor.

Amplifying that feeling this year is a sense of relief that deer populations are recovering from major stresses like drought and EHD that have hit herds hard in the last couple of years. Jerick Henley of Chain Ranch Outfitters previously reported that much-needed rainfall in Kansas came at the perfect time for antler growth. A buck Henley calls Big 10 is a perfect example of how mature bucks can recover quickly when conditions improve. A 130-class 2 ½-year-old last year (shown in the top left photo), the Kansas buck grew a whopping 20 inches of antler, putting it in the mid-150s range this year (at right). The downside, though, is that prolonged drought hit bucks like Big 10 hardest of all. "We're seeing at least 50 percent more fawns, but 1.5- to 3.5-year-old bucks are my main concern," Henley says. "There are fewer bucks in that age class due to the prolonged drought; when those bucks are 3.5 to 5.5 years old, we'll be missing the quantity we're used to."

That reality may or may not change your strategy this year, but it's definitely worth noting. The good times can be fleeting; April pennant contenders turn in to basement dwellers by July's All-Star break. But right now it's September, conditions seem prime for an excellent 2014 deer season, and the Royals are in the hunt for their first playoff berth since 1985. Maybe it's a special year after all.