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David Morris’ NE Platte River Hunt (November 2011)
Nov. 12-15, 2011, Oshkosh, NE: The Bucks of Tecomate TV Hunt on Nebraska’s North Platt River
I have heard about the giant bucks of Nebraska’s North Platte River for years. This fabled place has always been on my hunting wish list. When Steve Farris called and asked me to join him in mid-November to hunt one of the ranches he owns in the Panhandle, my answer was swift and sure … “YES!” One of the great things about Nebraska is that you can gun hunt during the rut, something rather rare in the Midwest. Late afternoon of November 11, 2011, I arrived at Steve’s and wife Cheri’s beautiful home ready for action. This was not an ordinary deer camp. Not only was Steve and Cheri’s home ideally designed to accommodate hunting guests, Cheri is a world-class cook. This promised to be an experience to remember.
Steve is an owner of several ranches along the North Platte ranging from 200 to 500 acres. Steve is a renowned guitarist formally with Mr. Mister, but now he has found another creative outlet for his artist talent – developing land for wildlife and hunting under the name Farris Hunting Development. Ducks and geese originally brought him to the area, but because of the quality of deer on his properties and after enlisting the assistance of one of our Tecomate consultants, Steve started developing and managing his properties for whitetails also. Has it ever worked! His ranches are loaded with deer and home to giants! Last year, Steve took an incredible 194 gross B&C buck! Reconyx cameras have shown him that is not the only monster on his properties.
Steve and Cheri were also hosting several other hunters there to kick off deer season. These hunters were clients of an outfitter who had leased a ranch from Steve and another from a partnership Steve had recently put together. Steve had invited my old buddy Chris Dorsey, CEO of Orion Multimedia, the company that produces Tecomate TV shows, to join us on the hunt. He and I would both be hunting another 500-acre ranch of which Steve is an owner. We awoke at 4 a.m. on November 12, 2011, filled with visions of big bucks.
Diary of the Platte:
Day 1: Windy, overcast, and 28 degrees. Cameraman Matthew Carmen and I followed a flagged trail to a remote stand in predawn darkness. The rising sun unveiled the kind of big buck habitat that conjures up dreams of giants. High winds subdued the action. Saw a few deer and a couple of young bucks. Body size of even the young deer was amazing. Late in morning, we decided to look around and do some rattling. Rattled in a couple of young bucks. Saw something of concern – several dead deer without sign of injury. No doubt from a relatively minor blue tongue outbreak.
After lunch back at the lodge, we returned for the afternoon hunt. I planned to sit on a huge irrigated cornfield on the front side of the property. Matt and I were just off the west property line. Chris was positioned 600 yards away on the opposite side of the field. At the appointed time, the field filled up with deer … just as the neighbor behind me started shooting. Still the deer came. The day ended with close to 100 does, fawns, and young bucks in the field. Only one mature buck showed, a nice 8-pointer but not a shooter.
Day 2: Hunted a different stand early. Very windy. Rattled in a 3½-year-old buck and a couple youngsters from the stand. About 9, got down to cover country and rattle. Rattled in 2 or 3 young bucks. Incredible place. Ducks, geese, and turkeys everywhere … along with deer. Found couple of more dead deer. Blue tongue may be a factor.
The high concentration of deer in limited cover had set the table for a blue tongue outbreak, something common along the river bottoms of the plains and prairies. In such outbreaks, which invariably take place in August-September, mature bucks can take it on the chin. I believe this is because of the culprit that spreads the virus – the biting midge or “no-see-um.” My theory is that the big blood-rich antlers make an attractive target for no-see-ums. You see, these tiny insects can’t bite a deer just anywhere. They target bare areas, like back of the ears where the hair is short and the blood assessable. However, big bucks offer another readily assessable and very attractive target – big blood-rich antlers still in velvet. I think this is why big mature bucks are particularly vulnerable when die-offs sweep a herd.
I was beginning to worry that blue tongue had killed some of the mature bucks Steve had captured on Reconyx cameras late in the summer. Though this sounds alarming, it is a common occurrence in this part of the world and can actually be helpful in controlling numbers and preventing overcrowding. Since bucks in this productive country reach trophy sizes at relatively young ages (record-class bucks from the region can be as young as 3½ years old), the effects of these outbreaks are short-lived and the herd – and trophy hunting – recovers very quickly.
Through Matt and I didn’t see much, the morning certainly wasn’t without excitement. About 8 that morning, Steve, who was hunting another 200-acre ranch about 4 miles away, texted me and said he had just caught a glimpse of a big buck he had seen previously. He asked if I thought he should rattle. I told him yes. Steve was new to this technique, but encouraged by my modest rattling success the first day, he was now armed with a Knight & Hale Pack Rack. After seeing this target buck, Steve and I exchanged a string of texts about when and how to rattle. Then came the text I was waiting for … “Came in hard to rattling. Dropped him on dead run at 60 yards. You’re not going to believe this thing!”
Matt and I jumped in my Ford F150 and hurried over to join Steve in the celebration. His buck was a massive basic 10 with some extras, a true world-class buck. We later scored him at an amazing 196! Two 190-plus bucks in back-to-back years. Incredible! A testament to good management and a great place!
After Cheri’s hot soup and cornbread for lunch, Matt and I headed back out. We decided to hunt the thick cover along the river bottom. Chris was back on the cornfield. Apparently most to the deer opted for the cornfield. Matt and I saw only a couple of young bucks. Chris, however, hit pay dirt! An old long-tined 10-pointer with a couple of extra non-typical points made an appearance on the cornfield and promptly fell to Chris’ .300 Win. Mag. We taped him at 164, a great buck! Big festivities at the Farris abode that night!
Day 3: The weather is perfect – cold, clear, and little wind. Rutting weather. Still, for Matt and me, more of the same – lots of young bucks and nothing old. Rattled in several but no shooters. Mature bucks hard to come by. Could help but feel blue tongue might be the reason.
The afternoon found Matt and me back on the cornfield. In this cold weather – about 25 degrees – the deer crave carbs. A high percentage of the deer on this property should be feeding on the cornfield. Starting about 3:30, the deer literally poured in. By dark, we must have had over 100 deer in front of us, mostly does and fawns. About 15 bucks worked the crowd, but still no shooter.
Day 4: A repeat of the day before. Mostly young bucks, topped by a 3½ in the 120s. Seeing some of the same deer over and over. If mature bucks had been there, I am convinced I would have seen them. The weather is perfect and the rut is rocking. Hunters on other ranches have seen a high percentage of the mature bucks captured by Reconyx cameras. I feel a twang of despair.
I took my chances back of the cornfield that last afternoon. The cold and hoards of does would surely draw any mature buck to the field. Plus, things had quietened down since the raucous opening weekend. Tension built as the deer flooded the field and light faded. Finally, a mature buck walked in, clearly old from his blocky body and deep neck. But alas, he was not what I had come for. He had the body but not the headgear. I watched in frustration as the last seconds of legal shooting time ticked away. Been there before. That’s hunting.
Bonus morning of Day 5: I had to be on the road for a Montana hunt by 10 a.m., leaving me with a little time for a brief last morning outing. Matt and I headed out in a blizzard, perfect for my morning plan – walking and rattling. The first setup yielded a small buck. The second setup should have ended the morning. After the initial rattling sequence, I waited the requisite 3 to 5 minutes. Two minutes into it, I looked left to see a buck working his way downwind. He was no ordinary buck. Clearly old, this guy sported antlers more like a giant pronghorn than a whitetail. I immediately saw why. He was limping severely from obvious skeletal injuries. Yet, he was well enough to come looking for a fight. He pulled up 30 yards away. I struggled to decide whether to shoot him or hold off. We were only 30 minutes into the morning and on my second rattling setup. I decided to let him pass, a decision I would regret.
When the morning ended, I had rattled in 9 total bucks. Besides the “Pronghorn”, the only other decent buck was a 130s 8-pointer with a broken main beam. I kicked myself for not shooting the old boy with the funky antlers. He certainly was unique, unlike anything I had ever shot. I ended my trip on the North Platte with a vow to return to finish what I began.
I thanked Steve and Cheri for a great trip and their wonderful hospitality and headed to Montana. Though I was through with the North Platte for now, I was not done with Nebraska. I was scheduled to return with my Traditions Muzzleloader in December to hunt the famed Sand Hills about 90 miles north of the Platte with my buddy Linden Branson. I didn’t intend to go home from Nebraska empty-handed twice!