For three days, Evan Theis had a hard time sleeping,
The scene from his Sept. 30 deer hunt was haunting him. A buck of a lifetime had stood at about 30 yards in front of his stand in rural Reno County, and the longtime bowhunter shot an arrow right over the top of him.
Theis called his fiancee, Kiley Gates, as a sinking feeling grew in the pit of his stomach.
“I’m done,” he said. “My season is over.”
This wasn’t any buck, after all. The massive nontypical was one he and others in the area had seen on trail cameras. A clean five points graced his left side. The right, however, was a mess of 14 points, which included two drop tines.
“You feel sick,” said Theis, adding he didn’t think he’d ever see that buck again.
If Theis didn’t believe in second chances, he does now.
Three days later, Theis decided to give it another try. At around 6:45 p.m., in walked the 19-pointer. And this time, Theis didn’t miss.
“I thought 'No way,'” Theis said, adding he called Gates with the unbelievable news.
“I probably asked him five times, ‘It was the big one? Are you sure?’” Gates said.
“I still couldn’t breath at that point,” Theis said.
Big bucks in Kansas
Kansas, it seems, has been a big buck haven this year.
During muzzleloader season, a hunter shot a 14-point buck in Comanche County. The buck, aged at 6.5 years, had a score of 189 4/8 inches. That could put the buck among Kansas’ top 20 deer typical whitetail taken with a firearm.
Two more 180-class deer were report taken this fall, one in northwest Kansas and another near Minneapolis.
Meanwhile, Hutchinson resident Cody Bryant harvested a potential record-breaker in November. According to Smoky Valley Shooting Sports, the typical buck had a green score of 208 2/8. The net score will be different, as the rack cannot be officially scored until after the 60-day drying period is over, which for Bryant's buck, will be in January.
Brad Henry, Topeka, has the record typical buck during archery. The deer, which scored 193 ⅞, was killed in Wabaunsee County in 2001. Dennis Finger of Netawaka has the top typical buck taken with a firearm. Scoring 198 2/8, Finger shot the deer in Nemaha County in 1974.
Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism staff are getting more calls about big bucks harvested.
“It sure does seem like we have had some really nice deer taken - more so than normal,” said Levi Jaster, the state’s big game coordinator.
Jaster said a couple of good years of habitat could have helped boost populations.
Deer numbers are steady, he added. Whitetail and mule deer surveys at the end of 2016 showed 636,000 deer.
Meanwhile, more bucks might have survived the 2016 season. Harvested deer were down, with hunters last year taking about 86,000 deer, compared to the average 95,000.
“It seems like we’re hearing about a lot more bigs this year,” Jaster said.
A second chance
As for Theis, he admits he is lucky to have another crack at a monster buck.
He had a little bit of hope the deer might be back. The night he missed, Theis had set his pin for 50 yards instead of 30. When the arrow went over the buck, the deer ran a few yards then walked out of sight.
Theis gave his hunting area a break - waiting three days before he ventured back out to the wilderness, thanks to the prodding of his fiancee, who wasn’t feeling well that day.
“He wasn’t feeling good either,” Gates said. “He was still feeling sick about that deer.”
Theis headed to the blind - even though the conditions weren’t right. It was Oct. 3, and the wind was in the wrong direction. Then, he kicked up a couple of deer as he headed to the blind.
“I thought my hunt was done then,” Theis said.
It didn’t take long for the deer to start moving, Theis said, adding with a smile that maybe it was the wafting smell of barbecue from down the road that helped cover his scent on this foggy evening. Does came in, followed by a few bucks, including a 160-class-sized deer that Theis would have considered harvesting on a different day.
But along with the other deer stood his second-chance buck. Theis arrowed it at 21 yards.
Theis said he thinks it might be the same deer he and neighbors had on their trail camera last year as a typical 10 point without all the abnormal antler growth.
Interestingly, Theis found a .38-caliber bullet just under the spine. Some have told him that could be the reason for the non-typical growth.
“It didn't walk in with a limp or anything,” Theis said.
The buck green scored at 225 ⅜ - just shy of making the state’s top 20 list for nontypical bucks.
The biggest nontypical whitetail harvested with a gun had a score of 280, harvested in 1987.
The archery record stands at a score of 264 - harvested by Dale Larson in Pottawatomie County in 1998.
Today, the deer - already back from M and W Taxidermy near Mount Hope - sits on a stand in the Theis family home. And Theis, who proposed to Gates Oct. 13, is sleeping well.
“All over a deer,” Gates said.