The Birthday Buck

A disabled combat veteran visits C and S Whitetails in Kansas for a chance at a velvet buck and memories to last a lifetime.

For the first time in my life I was able to deer hunt on my birthday, September 8. In my neck of the woods of Louisiana, deer season doesn’t start until October 1. A person can imagine my surprise when I heard that Kansas has an early deer season for the youth, as well as people who are disabled. Being a disabled combat veteran, I qualify for this early season hunt. Don’t worry—I must have called the Kansas Department of Wildlife a dozen times to make sure.

Next, came the task of finding the right place to hunt, keeping in mind the salary of a disabled veteran. I’ve hunted with outfitters before, so I knew what I was looking for. I asked several of my friends if they could recommend an outfitter, and I started going down the list. A name that came with high recommendations was owner/outfitter Chad Onek (right in photo below) with C and S Whitetails.

Chad and I clicked immediately. From the beginning, we were laughing and cutting up. To me that’s a big thing and an important quality to have. I wanted the whole experience of deer camp, and Chad’s character and the bucks of C and S Whitetails sealed the deal.

For the next few months we talked, texted and shared trail cam pics from the summer of 2014. Over time we watched the big bucks grow into Kansas giants. My wish list was growing with every email and text message.

Then came the day when I was able to put the voice to the face. Our initial meeting was quick because he was off to the airport to pick up the other hunters. While we waited on his return, Coby Onek (Chad’s son) invited me to go dove hunting. What a way to get ready for deer season! I was pumped, and eventually I harvested my first-ever dove.

When Chad returned, he introduced all of the hunters in camp to each other, and everyone gathered at the range to make sure our rifles were sighted in. After the range, we ate dinner and discussed strategies for opening day.

Following a slow morning in the deer woods, the afternoon came and I saw deer everywhere: in front of me, behind me, under me and beside me, but no shooters.

The next morning was an experience in itself. Walking in to my stand, I had a couple does blow at me. That’s has happened to everyone who has hunted long enough. What happened next, however, was a new experience. One doe ran up to me, stomped and blew, then ran away. With each of my steps, she’d come running back—sometimes just a few feet away! At one point I took a smartphone selfie with her. She followed me all the way to my stand and hung out most of the morning. It total, I spotted 14 deer. Most were yearlings and does, with a couple small bucks that showed great potential.

The afternoon came and I was hunting in the same stand. With deer moving all around me, my head was constantly moving. Then my eye caught movement in the bean field. A quick glance with my binocular revealed a large-bodied buck. Buck fever kicked in, and I was trying to focus on the task at hand when I glanced at his antlers with my new Swarovski Z5 riflescope. If he wasn’t big before, he was a giant now! When the buck turned broadside, I squeezed off a round, and in an instant he was gone.

I called Chad and soon we were examining the spot where the buck had been standing when I shot, but we couldn’t find any blood. Then Chad received a call that one of the youth hunters had shot a buck, so we decided to back out and let my buck lay overnight.

The next morning found Chad and I back in the bean field looking for my buck. When I took a few steps up the hill, I saw my buck in the bean field—and he was staring at me! My heart jumped and then sunk just as quick; my buck was still alive, and I didn’t have my rifle. I quickly went to my knees and whispered to Chad that I could see my buck.

Now, two things needed to happen immediately. One, I needed my gun that was in the truck. Two, I needed to find cover before the buck bolted; you see, I was so sure that we were on a recovery mission that I was wearing my bright purple-and-gold LSU t-shirt.

Chad was the professional in the group and acted quickly. He brought back my rifle and camo shirt, and I quickly changed while he watched the buck. My camo went on first and then I donned hunter orange.

I stood, ready to go, but Chad stopped me, looked me in the eyes and said, “Stop worrying because this probably won’t work.”

It took me a second to realize he was trying to help me calm down. A number of things had to fall into place just for us to close the distance and make a shot, and that involved a spot and stalk without alerting any deer to our presence. To be honest, I thought it was impossible for this ol’ warhorse.

We checked the wind and it was in our favor. Chad said when he moves, I should move. A few minutes later I was drenched in sweat and huffing and puffing. Chad asked me if I was ok and told me to catch my breath. I remember the pain in my back and legs were excruciating, but the buck wasn’t going to wait on me. He was slowly walking away. On the verge of a heart attack and stroke, I pushed on.

We stalked our way to within 120 yards when the unexpected happened: we were busted by a doe just 40 yards away. As she bounded away, we knew this was our last shot. The only part of the big buck we could see was his head and the base of his neck. Chad let me use his shoulder to take the shot. Then I found myself looking at that big buck through the scope and intentionally focusing on the head. My first shot rang out and he darted back the way he came. The big buck turned broadside at 178 yards and I squeezed off a second shot. The buck stood there and I squeezed off a third and final shot dropping the massive buck in his tracks.

After we found where the buck dropped, a small celebration ensued. We must have looked like two kids dancing to imaginary music. It was one of my best all-time memories.

Chad quickly realized that we needed help—a lot of help—because he estimated the buck’s live weight at more than 250 pounds. He left me there to go get help, and as I kneeled there beside my buck, giving thanks to God, it hit me that it was my birthday. I smiled when I realized that this was “The Birthday Buck.”

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

God has always been there for me. He has healed me of two bouts of cancer, 48 surgeries, a blood disorder, and kept me safe through two tours including OIF1 (Operation Iraqi Freedom 1).

I’d like to thank my father, Keith Bruce, for teaching me how to hunt, and he has supported me throughout my life.

A special thanks to Chad Onek and C and S Whitetails. If you want to book a hunt with Chad, call him at (316) 323-5615 or click here to visit the website. I’m truly blessed and grateful for all they’ve done.

Another man that deserves attention is Cecil Reddick and Mike Handley of Buckmasters. Cecil scored my buck at 151 3/8 (official BTR score with a 166 composite score), which I’ve been told makes my buck a Buckmasters Kansas state-record velvet whitetail taken with a modern firearm.

Bonus Video: You Call the Shots; Kansas Whitetail

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