Archery World September 1984
Big Deer In The Dust Bowl – By Wayne Van Zwoll
The Rules On Big Bucks
Dust bowl. Wheat. Prairie. Such are
the things we think of when someone
mentions Kansas. If you’re up on your
history, you might also remember the Dalton
Gang and Carrie Nation. But what isn’t so
obvious about Kansas are the spectacular
bowhunting opportunities it offers today.
Dennis Rule knows about those opportunities.
His home state tendered him a whitetail
buck in 1982 that scored an even 202 Pope
and Young, making it the second largest ever
taken in Kansas — and number 15 on the alltime
non-typical Pope and Young list. It happened like this:
Rule, a 31-year-old Wichita resident, was
hunting in Clark County, in the western part
of the state. He and his brother Bill are seasoned
bowmen and had scouted their territory
well, putting up portable tree stands as early
as August. Some of the stands had proven
more productive than others, of course, and
by rut the brothers knew where to spend their
November 13 was a cold, windy day, especially
in a tree stand. But Rule is a persistent
archer and believes that time in the woods is
often all that separates successful from unsuccessful
whitetail hunters. He shivered and
By 4 p.m. he had passed up numerous
does and four mature bucks, including one he
thought would have scored 150, well over the
P&Y minimum of 125. “It was a big, even
eight-point,” he reminisced later. “But the
wind was strong, and I didn’t think I could
make a clean shot. Besides, the rut was just
reaching a crescendo and I didn’t want to set-
tle for a mediocre buck yet.” Mediocre, in-
deed! But this is Kansas.
At about 4:30 a movement in the surrounding
thicket resolved itself into a deer
a big one, “This buck’s rack was enormous; I
could see that right away,” Dennis remembers.
“Wind or no wind, I had to take a shot at
Slowly the archer drew and anchored.
When the buck stopped, he released the string
on his 55—pound PSE Laser and drove a four-
blade Rocky Mountain Razor toward his tar-
The wind tugged at the arrow and the
broadhead entered too far back. The buck
wheeled and bolted, then halted in a tangle of
brush. Rule could barely perceive the outline
of his quarry, but he saw the animal reach
around and bite off the shaft.
Within minutes the deer joined a group of
lesser whitetails feeding in a green wheat field
just outside the perimeter of the thicket, but
before long the big buck left them and headed
across the field toward some heavy brush.
“I was really afraid I’d lose him if he made
the trees,” Rule recalls. But he needn’t have
worried. The broadhead had nicked the
buck’s femoral artery and the animal collapsed short of the timber.
“I didn’t see him go down, so after gingerly
trailing him for a few yards across the
field I decided it would be best to finish the
job in the morning.” Like all savvy bowhunters,
Rule is almost paranoid about pushing an
animal that has sustained a hit. “When in
doubt, it’s always better to leave the trail and
come back to it later,” he says.
The next morning Rule trailed his buck to
where it had fallen and claimed the huge 17-
point rack. “It was a dream come true. I knew
there were bucks like that in the area, but I
have a great deal of respect for such monsters
and wondered if I’d ever get the chance to
arrow one .”
Dennis’ hunt was over, but brother Bill
still had a tag to notch. He wasted little time.
While his brother was hauling his trophy from
the field, Bill downed a fine typical whitetail
that also made Pope and Young. He would repeat
the performance a year later — in 1983
— with an even bigger buck!
Are the Rules hunting on a private deer
preserve? What is responsible for their success?
I was curious. So I asked Dennis. His
answers are valuable, not only for Kansas
bowmen, but for others hunting the agricultural Midwest.
First, Dennis, like many ambitious
archers today, is finding big bucks in places
that weren’t given much consideration just a
few years ago. The entire state of Kansas
might fall into that category! It wasn’t until
recently that the Sunflower State even had a
firearms deer season, and now more rifle permits
are being issued each year. Bowhunters
have an advantage here. in that there is no tag
quota for archery permits. Still. no over-
counter sales of any big game tags are allowed
in the state; even bow licenses must be purchased
(before October ll at regional fish and
game offices or at the headquarters (Rt. 2,
Box 54 A, Pratt, KS 67124). The 1983 bow
season ran from October l through November
30, and December 12 through 31. Dates for
1984 are similar.
Kansas’ deer population is on the up-
swing. Biologists estimate there are approximately
15,000 mule deer in the state now, and
80,000 whitetails. Like deer in other farmed
areas, Kansas bucks grow fast and big. It is
not unusual for a yearling to sport an eight-
point rack. Really massive antlers are more in
evidence at locker plants each season. It’s not
surprising that Fish and Game Commission
big game specialists expect the state whitetail
record to be broken any day.
“We’re always looking for new areas to
hunt,” Dennis explains. “The first year in
new territory is always a little tough. because
you are unable to draw on past knowledge of
buck movements there during the rut. Sure,
we do a lot of preseason scouting, but scouting
in summer and early autumn isn’t nearly
as beneficial as being in the woods when the
deer are rutting.”
Dennis and his brother build some of their
tree stands and use commercial ones as well.
“If we’re hunting a familiar area, we place
our stands where they’ve been effective before.
In new country, we locate them on the
main trails and near likely scrape pockets and
secondary trails. One of our most successful
ploys is to use a “bottleneck” in a shelter-belt
or creek bottom to funnel the deer to us. The
strips of timber bordering farmlands nearly
always have a narrow spot. Deer will stick to
the brush when moving during daylight
hours, and a stand at a bottleneck will give
you coverage of a large patch of cover.”
The Rules have been known to construct
their own bottlenecks — with spectacular
results. “Several years ago Bill had a tree
stand in a very good location and had spotted a
fine buck from it repeatedly during the season.
But the animal just wouldn’t come close
enough. Or the angle would be wrong. Or
brush would be in the way. So in mid-season
Bill constructed a brush barrier out of natural
materials he found near the stand. Normally
we don’t like to disturb a stand site once we’ve
started hunting from it, but Bill was desperate.
His efforts paid off. He arrowed that buck
the next time it came in. It was really a beautiful
animal – didn’t score well typically be-
cause of all the deductions, but a bragging-
size buck nonetheless.”
Bill and Dennis install their stands early —
usually in late August or the first week in September.
“But I like to save two or three for
emergency placement after the season
opens,” Dennis notes. “Especially if I’m
hunting a new area, the added flexibility pays
off. Sometimes buck movements during the
rut just can’t be predicted early. Extra stands
erected at last-minute notice near scrapes
have produced handsomely for us
The brothers like to hunt from tree stands.
Dennis maintains that in much of the Kansas
brush, still hunting trophy bucks is all but futile.
“I’m not saying it’s impossible to kill a
big buck that way, but it’s probably 10 times
as hard as from a tree stand ,” he asserts.
Proper camouflage is vital to success, according
to this bowman. “I wear camo clothing, of course.
And I mask my scent with a
commercial preparation that smells like prairie
vegetation. Skunk scent will also cover
your odor, but a skunk only sprays when it’s
alarmed. I think deer may be more alert when
walking into a scent pool left by a skunk then
when sniffing the odor of natural vegetation”
When not hunting, the Rules store their field
clothes in sacks, adding a bit of this scent before
sealing them. That way, their entire wardrobe
smells like prairie plants.
Though both men hunt most of the season,.
Dennis says he prefers the last week in October,
the first two in November. Why?
The bucks are a bit more predictable then.
They’re all fired up for the rut, of course. and
are beginning to make scrapes. But most of
the does haven’t come into estrus yet, and the bucks are
methodically making their rounds
in search of those that have.
Later, during the peak of the rut, bucks may be just
a little active, but they’re a whole lot less predictble.
A hot doe may draw a buck away from his
travel patterns; he may not behave at all like
you expect him to. He’s crazy.”
During the rut Bill and Dennis use scent
pads soaked in doe-in—heat scent to lure bucks
to their stands. “We hang the swatches on
bushes about 20 yards from the base of our
trees. I like to put my stand about 15 feet
up. This arrangement guarantees an easy shot
if the buck stops to sniff the scent pad.
Many hunters handicap themselves unnecessarily
by climbing too high or putting scent pads too
close to their trees. Either tactic makes for a
steep-angle shot and often a poor presentation.
Bill Rule frequently uses shed antlers to
rattle in his buck. Over the last three seasons
he has rattled in 12 trophy-class deer. “I rattle
for about 45 seconds, then wait 15 to 20 minutes
before repeating,” Bill explains. “If a
buck is going to come, he’ll generally show
up by the third rattle. Sometimes they come in
right away, throwing caution to the wind.
Bill’s 1982 buck was a huge 13—pointer
that scored 134 on the Pope and Young scale.
The buck came to his rattling at a dead run
and Bill arrowed the deer at 15 yards. “It was
an easy shot,” he recalls. “The four-blade
Rocky Mountain Razor from my 55-pound
Bear Kodiak went through both lungs. The
morning before I took this buck, I’d rattled in
two smaller, 10—point bucks and a nice six-
Bill maintains that, to be effective in rattling,
you must use large antlers and make the
clashing sound like two dominant bucks engaged
in serious battle. “Mature bucks that
may be listening just won’t pay attention to the
light ticking of little antlers,” he says. Bill of
ten uses small elk headgear to get the desired
effect. “Dennis has a dandy pair of shed
whitetail antlers at home that would be just
perfect for rattling,” he laughs. “But he
doesn’t have the heart to damage them!
The last buck Bill Rule brought home
dressed at 264 pounds and scored a whopping
159 typical points. It was shot at 14 yards. A
part-time taxidermist, Bill has been an avid
bowhunter for many years and has arrowed 47
big game animals, including 14 Kansas
What are the most important things to
keep in mind if you’re after a trophy Kansas
whitetail and or, for that matter, a big buck in
any agricultural area? The Rules offer this advice:
1. Be persistent. Don’t expect to connect
with a big deer the first time out, or the 10th.
Dennis spent over 150 hours in tree stands in
2. Do your homework. Not just before the
season, either. Start early. Know where
you’re going to hunt by mid-summer. Scout in
August, and have the majority of your tree
stands up by mid-autumn. Continue scouting.
3. Know your quarry. You cannot expect
to kill a big buck unless you’re intimately familiar
with the habits of whitetail deer and
with his habits specifically. Never underestimate
your quarry; his survival instincts are at
least as keen as you can imagine.
4. Be very, very careful going to and com-
ing from your stand. Do everything possible
to disassociate any human disturbance from
that area. Never get down from your stand
without first clearing the area of deer. If deer
are present when Dennis wants to leave, he
waits until they move away. Should a few individuals
choose to stay and loaf, he tosses
small objects into the brush until the animals
become nervous and leave. He doesn’t get
down until they’re all gone.
5. Stick to your standards. Trophy hunting is
not just shooting the biggest buck you
see. It’s setting a minimum acceptable standard
and passing up anything that doesn’t
measure up. You’ll never kill a big buck if you
insist on shooting little ones. The Rules will
occasionally take lesser animals late in the
season — “meat deer” — but never until the
rut is over and their chances for a trophy all
Kansas deer are healthy, well-fed and plentyful.
Yes, Bill and Dennis hunt private land;
most of Kansas is privately owned. But their
hunting grounds — and areas just as productive
– are open to other bowmen who show
courtesy for landowners and respect for their
property – and who ask permission early in
Yes, Bill and Dennis are experienced
archers. But they have no secret formula for
success. Hunting smart, spending time in the
woods, and paying attention to detail augment
the hard work we all know is a prerequisite for
putting big racks on the wall.
Do their tactics work for others? Well , last
year Dennis’ wife Janie arrowed a fine eight-
point whitetail. It was her second year of
hunting. Perhaps that says as much about deer
hunting in the dust bowl as any statistic. And
it certainly supports her husband’s contention
that big farm-country deer are available to
every enterprising archer!
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