Eric Hale finally caught up to the huge Sunflower State stud he’d been hunting for years
Rack Report Details
177 1/8 inches
Time of Year:
Nov. 28, 2020
Osage County, Kansas
Xpedition Bow DLX
Eric Hale grew up hunting in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. He watched a lot of hunting videos, including from the likes of Bill Jordan and David Blanton.
“I began chasing mature bucks in my mid 20s and took my first mature [one] on public ground,” Hale says. “It was a 120-class mountain buck.”
He eventually became a cast member of several hunting shows himself. Today, he’s a part of Red Rising TV with Chris Ward, Jason Bowers, Matt Bullins, and John Earhart. They hunt at home quite a bit but also travel to other states. For the past 16 years, he’s hunted the same farm in eastern Kansas. And last season, he came face-to-face with an old 6 1/2-year-old buck. According to him, it’s the smartest whitetail he’s ever pursued.
Hale hunts a large tract of ground, but a particular 20-acre piece of it serves as a fortress for mature bucks. It’s hard to hunt, and the deer know it. It’s a bluff above a creek bottom with row crops to the west and a cedar thicket to the east and south. A long drainage ditch leads to more crop fields to the north. All things considered, deer that bed there have several survival advantages, especially sight and smell.
After scouting the property to see how to better hunt it, Hale located a great pinch point on the edge of a bedding area. The natural funnel has intersecting trails, big scrapes, and more. He named it the Crossroads stand, and it’s where he’d eventually encounter his 2020 Kansas buck.
As a younger deer, the buck had briefly passed through the property. It returned in 2019, and it had gotten big. It moved onto the farm after a neighboring hunter removed another giant from the area.
Hale and his friend, Jason Bowers, hung some stands to hunt the deer and waited for the right wind. He finally got the westerly direction he wanted. The buck came within 50 yards of the stand but wouldn’t come through the pinch point because the wind wasn’t in its face. It escaped untouched, and Hale capped off the year by tagging another great buck.
Fortunately for Hale, the stud reappeared in September of 2020, easily distinguishable by its heavy rack and dark brown forehead. Hale pushed all his chips to the middle of the table. With plenty of trail-camera data to go on, he knew where and how to tag the giant. He just didn’t know the when — which would be influenced by necessary wind directions (northeast or southwest).
“In my opinion, mature bucks are like we are,” Hale says. “They have their own personalities, and that is the key to success: learning who they are and how they live life. I have killed many big deer on food and travel corridors, but this deer was a buck that had to be killed in his bedroom.”
On Oct. 23, Hale and company drove the 1,100 miles from home to Kansas. They hung a couple of treestands for a northeastern wind. The board was set.
The next morning, Bowers was up to bat. They had the deer directly behind them at 5 yards but couldn’t make it happen. It stood there for 10 minutes, then bedded down 40 yards away. Two hours later, it got up and walked to a distant bedding area.
Oct. 25 was Hale’s turn. They spotted the deer from the tree, but it never came close enough for a shot. Knowing the deer was possibly onto them, they retreated and headed home.
About a week later, Hale had another encounter with the buck. With 10 minutes of legal light remaining, the deer walked into range at a location Hale calls the Four Corners stand, right below the 20-acre sanctuary.
“That was the only time we saw him in daylight or in any trail-cam picture outside of that 20 acres,” Hale says. “The first does were coming into estrus, and he literally broke from what he lived by and it almost got him killed. I had him at 27 yards, and Jason called me off of him because of bad footage. That was a tough pill to swallow.”
They went home, discouraged by yet another fruitless encounter. Hale thought about the giant every day until he returned. He eventually received the southwest wind he needed to hunt the deer, and drove back to Kansas yet again. Upon arrival, he hung a stand in the Crossroads pinch point, and had plenty of big cedars for visual and scent cover.
On Nov. 28, Hale settled in for another round. He hoped the deer would work along that edge and hit the rub line that paralleled it. The day dawned with high pressure and temperatures in the low 30s. Turkeys kicked off the morning with a bunch of gobbling, yelping, and clucking. Then, the parade. Two nice 4-year-old bucks, a young 8-pointer, and a great up-and-coming deer they call “Swoop” all cruised by. An hour or so later, another nice 10-pointer pushed several does past him. Then, chaos.
The huge buck Hale was there to kill barreled out of cover, hot on the heels of several does and yet another small buck. The group ran right under the treestand and continued the chase for several action-packed seconds.
Finally, Hale stopped the buck 35 yards away, standing between two cedar trees. He took the 35-yard, quartering-away shot opportunity. The arrow struck, and the buck dashed out of sight.
The recovery wasn’t simple. After searching for hours, he finally spotted a white belly about 300 yards away. The deer had made a big loop down into the creek bottom and back up into the cedar thicket. A total of 21 days and 10,000 miles over two years led to the moment when Hale finally knelt down and wrapped his tag around that buck.
“I sat on the ground, thanked God, and began calling people,” Hale says. “Then, I sat there, leaned up against a giant cedar rub of his, and reflected on the chase. Any time spent in the woods with God, family, and your hunting buddies is time you cherish.”
Looking back, he contributes his success to a lot, including an understanding family. But his tactical approach required tons of thought and planning.
“Trail-cam pics and HuntStand were huge in helping me kill him,” Hale says. “The two times we had him within killing distance were after going in the night before and hanging a set in the pitch black, knowing he was in the crop fields. That coupled with hunting him on a very iffy quartering wind is what got the job done.”
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