Unaccustomed to shooting at bucks with a rifle, Jeff Ralls was almost certain he'd shot over the deer he saw as Kansas' 2009 firearms season came to a close. There was no sign whatsoever - neither in the animal's reaction, nor on the ground -- to indicate that bullet had met flesh. Before going home, he stopped at the local locker to compare notes with friends and to see what was hanging. He also measured the side of a buck carcass - distance from top of its back to the vital area - to help him picture where, if anywhere, the bullet might've struck.
Jeff set up a target at 113 yards the next morning. That was how far the buck had been from where he was crouching in the grass. After squeezing off a couple of rounds, he checked, and the holes were less than an inch apart at the top of the bull’s-eye, even though he’d sighted-in his “doe gun” at 400 yards.
That cinched how and where he’d spend the rest of Monday, Dec. 14.
The only reason Jeff dusted off the rifle that year was because his bow season had left him only with regrets of having passed up a 160-inch 8-pointer. Plus, he held the new any-season tag, which meant his hunting wasn’t confined to one or the other.
He hunted opening weekend of rifle season with his father, but he couldn’t get out again until the following Saturday.
Trespassers ruined his return to the field, which is why Jeff decided to devote Sunday, the season’s final day, to patrolling his ground.
As the uneventful day began waning, Jeff decided to check one last area, a secluded funnel between a river and a small creek that was known to hold late-season bucks.
When he drove up to a high spot affording a view, he saw several deer in the distance. Binoculars revealed seven bucks with racks ranging in size from 140 to180 inches. The biggest one is why he decided to sneak closer.
The wind was perfect for him to use a deep draw on the adjacent side of the property for his approach. When he thought he was close enough, he slowly crawled up and peered over the steep bank to see the big buck only 120 yards distant. It was following a doe.
The grass was knee-high, so Jeff had to get up on his knees to make the shot.
Right before he squeezed the 7mm Mag’s trigger, Jeff glanced up at the base of the antlers and saw several sticker points. But he quickly dropped his scope back down and slightly ahead of the fast-walking buck.
Both the buck and the doe just kept on walking, leaving Jeff to wonder how he could’ve missed such an easy and close shot.
The next day, after he’d determined there was no rifle error, he returned for a second look at the terrain.
It was cold, and the wind had teeth, but Jeff dressed for it and went forth. Just 10 yards past where he’d stopped looking on Sunday, he found a blood trail.
Jeff assumed the buck hadn’t traveled far, but the trail took him the length of a pasture, through CRP and across a creek. After more than 600 yards, the blood grew faint, but the deer kept to a trail.
The tracking at that point went from hands and knees to upright many times. About three-quarters of a mile into his search, Jeff reached a road and saw the obvious sign where the buck crossed it and continued on into a winter wheat field.
It was flat and wide open, and Jeff was hoping to see his deer lying in the bare field. But it wasn’t.
When he reached the river more than a mile from where he started, the buck’s tracks veered sharply and deeply away, as if it had been spooked. It circled back, crossed the original trail, and headed toward the rear of the property.
As he followed the tracks across a feeder creek, Jeff saw a long strip of tissue on a piece of brush. He was amazed the whitetail was still forging ahead after losing so much blood, which lessened as he approached a 10-acre section between waterways. He’d started tracking at 8:30, and it was now 2 p.m.
The area between the river and creek was a flat and narrow strip, much like the top of a levee. Jeff had a hunch the buck might have sought refuge on the overgrown south side, a favorite bedding spot that was sheltered from the wind.
As he neared the edge, Jeff snuck up as quietly as he could so as to not spook any deer that might be bedded within the grove of spindly trees. He didn’t have his binoculars, so he slowly scanned the area to see if he could see anything resembling a deer. He thought he saw the outline of a deer’s rump, but he wasn’t sure.
He backed out and snuck over to the west side to get a different look. From that vantage point, he spotted a deer’s face low to the ground. Although it was only 40 yards away, he didn’t know if the animal was dead or alive.
Unsure of what to do, he walked the nearly two miles to his truck and called his buddy, Leroy Breese, who immediately answered with “Did you find it?”
Jeff explained the situation.
“What are you going to do?” Leroy asked.
“Well, I’m going to come get you, and we’re going to drive up to the dike and both go down and see what happens. If it runs out, we’ll see how bad it’s hurt. If it’s dead, we’ll figure out how to drag it out, if it’s even the same deer,” Jeff answered.
Jeff and Leroy returned to the dike a short while later. They drove right up to the area overlooking the pocket of brush, and then went down the steep bank as quickly as they could, fully expecting the buck to run out of there. As they neared it, however, they could see its chin resting on the ground. It was quite dead.
“WOW, that sucker is big!” Leroy exclaimed.
As Jeff got closer to the buck, he told Leroy, “I knew it was big, but I had no idea it was THAT BIG!
“I have never had a deer grow as I got closer, but this one just kept getting bigger and bigger and BIGGER.”
They both sat there for a while, admiring the buck. It took them more than half an hour to drag the bruiser up the steep bank and to the truck.
Editor’s Note: Want to read more tales about the world’s greatest whitetails? Subscribe to Rack magazine by calling 1-800-240-3337.
View Official BTR SCORESHEET for Jeff Ralls.
Hunter: Jeff Ralls
BTR Official Score: 214 6/8
BTR Composite Score: 234 4/8
Weapon: Modern Rifle
Location: Sumner County, Kansas
Date: December 13, 2009