Ron McGowen Takes the Sweet Potato Buck

As the sun was coming over the tree line the sweet potato buck stepped out of the tree line on the edge of the field.
As the sun was coming over the tree line the sweet potato buck stepped out of the tree line on the edge of the field.

Whitetail Deer and the Hunters Who Take Big BucksU.S.A.-( Have you considered that deer may like sweet potatoes? Ron McGowen of Bastrop, Louisiana, decided that sweet potatoes could attract deer. He put 1,000 pounds of sweet potatoes in the back of his truck and headed for Kansas.

“My brother-in-law started leasing land for deer hunting in Kansas about 20 years ago,” McGowen explains. “He’s put together about 3,000 acres of prime Kansas farm land to hunt.”

When McGowen’s brother-in-law first leased land for hunting, not very many people knew what a big-buck-rich area Kansas was. Most of the farmers in that area didn’t hunt deer. Leasing land with plenty of big bucks was relatively inexpensive. Seven of McGowen’s friends pitched in to lease the land.

The monster buck McGowen took on September 3, 2009, in Barber County, Kan., found McGowen before McGowen located him. “I didn’t know this buck was in the area,” McGowen recalls. “Over the years, this property had produced bucks from 150 to 180 Boone & Crockett.”

Three weeks before deer season started, McGowen put up an elevated box stand that overlooked a soybean field adjacent to a river bottom. About 140 yards in front of McGowen’s stand, he set up a corn spin feeder and dumped a pickup truck load of sweet potatoes 250 yards away on the other end of the soybeans, since Kansas permitted baiting. McGowen had identified several big rubs and numbers of deer tracks in a drainage ditch that came from the river bottom into the soybean field. McGowen was the only person who hunted from the box blind stand on a 5-foot tower. He kept it locked when not hunting. The blind helped break the wind on cold Kansas days. From the blind, McGowen could see about 400 yards to the back side of the field, 250 yards to the tree line on the other side of the field and 600 yards into a field down below his box blind.

In 2009, when McGowen was riding around on the property before deer season arrived, he spotted a big buck 600 yards away. Hunters on the other side of the river also had seen this buck.

The first morning McGowen hunted, he saw does and some small bucks coming to the corn feeder but no shooter bucks. On the second morning of the hunt just as the sun was coming over the tree line, the Sweet Potato Buck stepped out of the tree line on the edge of the field. The sun lit his antlers up like he’d stepped into a spotlight. He headed right for the area where the sweet potatoes were piled. McGowenalready had ranged the distance that his stand was from the scrapes, rubs and the pile of sweet potatoes at 250 yards.

The air temperature had been extremely cold that morning. McGowen had the windows on the blind open with his rifle resting on the window sill from early morning dark until first light. But he’d gotten so cold, he’d brought his rifle back in the blind and closed up the windows. Once he spotted the big buck, he opened the windows of the blind, picked up his Remington .300 Ultra Mag Sendero loaded with 180 grain Remington premium cartridges with a Leupold VX-7 long range scope. The buck reached the potato pile and started feeding.

John McGowen with his sweet potato buck
John McGowen with his sweet potato buck

“I turned my rifle scope up to 18X to get a good look at the buck before taking the shot,” McGowen explains. “I knew he was big, but I wanted to look at his rack before I decided to take the shot. Although I could see he was a dandy buck, I couldn’t count points or determine just how big he was. However, I knew he was a shooter.” The buck faced directly away from McGowen, only giving him a shot at the deer’s hindquarters. Finally the buck turned and walked to the right, quartering away from McGowen.

“Once the buck was one-half to three-quarters turned broadside to me, I put my crosshairs right behind his front shoulder,” McGowen reports. “I aimed a little high to get a high shoulder shot and touched the jeweled trigger that 1 pound of pull would fire.” The deer vanished from McGowen’s scope due to the recoil. When he brought the scope back to the spot where he’d taken the shot, he couldn’t see any sign of the deer, although he felt he’d made a lethal hit. “Eventually, I came out of the stand to look for the buck,” McGowen says.

As he walked across the field, he experienced the misgiving of, “Could I have missed?” But when McGowen was within 40 yards of the site where the buck had been standing before he fired, he saw the big buck was dead with sweet potatoes all around him. As far as he knew, McGowen was the first hunter to put out sweet potatoes for deer in the section of Kansas where he was hunting. He had used sweet potatoes before when he hunted in Arkansas, a state that also allowed baiting. But there the plentiful feral hogs generally would eat up the sweet potatoes before the deer could get to them. Other hunters on the Kansas property had been putting out corn and using corn feeders to lure in deer, but perhaps McGowen’s sweet potatoes gave the deer something sweet to eat. On this day, and in this place, sweet potatoes were the key to bagging this big Kansas buck.

  • BTR Score – Buckmasters’ Composite Score – Number of Inches: 197-4/8
  • Official Buckmasters’ Score: 179-1/8 (doesn’t include inside spread of main beams)

This is an excerpt from John E. Phillips newest book “Whitetail Deer and the Hunters Who Take Big Bucks”. Click here to get more info about this deer hunting book and other deer hunting books by John E. Phillips.