Aaron Milliken had been hunting a Kansas 11-pointer for three straight days when a buddy spotted something that made him throw all his plans out the window: A pair of trophy bucks on either side of 200 inches feeding together in broad daylight on a farm that Milliken leased. The experienced hunters threw up a blind and a trail camera and prepared to hunt these newly discovered bucks. Then Mother Nature threw another curveball that challenged them to shift their plan of attack yet again. Learn how Milliken's flexibility--literally and figuratively--helped him seize the day.
Milliken, 31, of Niota, Ill., works as a real estate broker for Whitetail Properties. He came to Lyon County, in east-central Kansas, to hunt the muzzleloader season with buddies Heath Samuels and Matt Winters. From the Sept. 17 opener, Milliken spent the first three days chasing a big 6-by-5 on another farm, but the action was slow. On Sept. 18 Samuels was glassing fields, trying to nail down buck feeding patterns, when he spotted two dandies in a grass field at 6 p.m. “He said one looked like a mainframe eight with a lot of trash and the other was real tall,” Milliken says. Samuels guessed the bucks at 190 and 200-plus, and the friends began making plans to get a closer look.
On Sept. 19, well after deer were back in their beds, Milliken put up a blind in a fencerow that would allow him to hunt the forecasted wind. He also hung a trail camera and spread a bag of BB2 buck attractant on the ground. He hunted out of the blind that night, but spotted nothing but does and turkeys. He wasn’t in the blind the next morning when the 190-class buck showed up well after shooting hours commenced.
An unexpected east wind forced Milliken to make a decision: Should he wait until the wind shifted back to a direction that worked for his newly installed fencerow blind, or take advantage of the buck’s presence and figure out a plan B that would give him a chance to harvest the buck now?
“A lot of times, these big bucks don’t show up a lot during daylight,” Milliken says. “We knew he had been there recently and we had to jump on it. Things change. When you get closer to the rut and bucks are all coming out of velvet, lots of times they get pushed off properties, they move on and establish their own home range and they’re gone. So we wanted to get out there as fast as possible while the buck was still in the area and get an opportunity on him.”
Milliken and his friends studied aerial views of the farm on Google Earth and identified a brush pile on the opposite side of the field where he might get a shot. The pile of trees bulldozed out of a fence line was located south of the brush pile visible in the center of this photo.
“There were some better spots I could have sat,” Milliken says, but he knew he had to include room for cameraman Brian Rennecker. “To have your cameraman with you and find a spot where he can have the same point of view makes it even harder. Brian had a nice chair he could get in that was kind of comfortable. I was sitting on the ground, on a big hump of dirt and roots, with a lot of branches in front of me. It was probably the most uncomfortable setup I’ve ever been in, but it gave us good cover.”
On the afternoon of Sept. 20, Milliken and Rennecker headed straight for the brush pile they’d selected on Google Earth and set up facing the buck’s bedding area, on the opposite side of the field from the blind Milliken installed the day before. Shortly after 7 p.m., they detected movement in the bedding area. They watched the buck jump the fence and knew immediately it was one of their two target bucks. “With a frame like that, it was a no-brainer,” Milliken says.
Milliken went straight for his range finder, not bothering with the binoculars. “I knew I was going to shoot this deer if I got the chance,” he says. The buck paused briefly at the BB2 and continued feeding out into the field. Milliken ranged it at 140 yards, put his muzzleloader–a 50-caliber Thompson Center Encore outfitted with a Brunton Eterna Scope–on a bipod and began preparing for the shot. Flexibility would again prove key. “I had to readjust a couple of times as I was bearing down on him, just because I was so uncomfortable. I was in a weird position: I was sitting sideways, with my feet tangled in the roots and branches, my midsection turned to the right. I felt like I was playing Twister and at the same time trying to shoot a deer.”
The shot felt good when he squeezed it off, but smoke from the igniting powder drifted straight back into his face and the camera lens. “The toughest thing about the whole deal was figuring out if I hit him well,” Milliken says. “We tried to review the video on a small screen, but it was too smoky to tell.” A check of the impact site and the spot where the fleeing buck jumped the fence didn’t reveal much of a blood trail. They decided to back out. This trail cam photo shows the buck fleeing the field after the shot.
Back at Samuels’ house, Milliken reviewed the footage on his friend’s big screen TV. “It was easy to see that it was a good hit. The deer kind of stutter-stepped and you could actually hear the impact. I was really confident after that,” Milliken says. Returning to the field three hours later, Milliken recovered the buck about 80 yards from where he shot it.
“The coolest thing about seeing it up close and personal is that we didn’t know he had all these stickers,” Milliken says of the rack, which turned out to have 18 scoreable points. “I knew he had a drop tine, but I didn’t realize he had all the trash on his bases. It’s amazing. A lot of the points are two, three, four inches. You see those things, you start adding them up in your head, and you know right away its gonna be a high-grossing deer. It was real exciting.”
A green measurement tallied a better-than-expected gross score of 194. “We thought he was probably a 180s kind of deer when we first saw him,” Milliken says. “When we really put the tape to him and took our time and measured him right, it was just crazy to hear him start adding up. He scored higher than we all thought he would, which was a pleasant surprise. A lot of the time it’s the other way around.” As for net score, Milliken could care less. “Nets are for fish, not deer,” he says. “I’m the kind of guy who thinks that taking anything away from a deer…. Well, it’s just not for me.”
Samuels had passed on the buck the previous year, when it was a 160-class 4-year-old. Later he recovered its left shed antler. Milliken says the friends share several leases in the Lyon County area, and they all try to harvest only deer that are 5 or older. “Doe management is also a priority, and we are all big on having little to no pressure on the farms and rarely set foot on them other than to check cameras or hunt,” he says.
A neighboring landowner recovered the right shed. Look closely at the base and you can see the small stickers–which would grow to be much more impressive on the 2012 rack.
Milliken credits his friend spotting the deer as a key to the successful outcome. But his decision to act decisively can’t be overplayed as a reason Aaron Milliken’s Kansas hunt ended with high fives and big smiles. “Seeing those two bucks together in a field like that early in the evening told me immediately that they were comfortable and they were still on a pattern,” he says. “That right there was enough for me to make a move. Sometimes being aggressive doesn’t work, but this time, fortunately, it did.”
_Aaron Milliken had been hunting a Kansas 11-pointer for three straight days when a buddy spotted something that made him throw all his plans out the window: A pair of trophy bucks on either side of 200 inches feeding together in broad daylight on a farm that Milliken leased.
The experienced hunters threw up a blind and a trail camera and prepared to hunt these newly discovered bucks. Then Mother Nature threw another curveball that challenged them to shift their plan of attack yet again. Learn how Milliken’s flexibility–literally and figuratively–helped him seize the day._