As we strolled through one of the buildings at this year’s Kansas State Fair, I guess it was the ginormous set of deer antlers that first caught my eye. They looked so out-of-place; on one side of the booth I could have gotten my sneakers cleaned, on the other side I could have bought some sort of shiny trinket, and across the aisle they would have checked my blood pressure and who knows what else. But here, like an oasis in the midst of peddler-paradise was an eye-catching camouflaged booth sponsored by Mossy Oak Properties of the Heartland and promoting the Kansas Monster Buck Classic. Brian Smith grew up hunting ducks in the infamous flooded oak flats near Pine Bluff, Ark. When he was 12, his dad joined a deer camp, and Brian was introduced to the addicting sport of deer hunting. Today Smith owns a chain of Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchens (formerly Popeye’s Chicken) in northwestern Arkansas and southern Missouri. He also owns the rights to the Mossy Oak Properties name (a real estate division of Mossy Oak that deals strictly in hunting property) for Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Iowa. While representing Mossy Oak Properties a couple years ago at the Kansas State Fair, it occurred to Brian that Kansas had no statewide big buck contest of any kind. Given the storied big buck history of Kansas, plus the fact that most states around us have some sort of big buck contest, Smith saw the opportunity to have a show here and promote the Mossy Oak Company in the process. He says “I saw it the same as bringing a Walmart to a metropolitan area of several hundred thousand people who had no Walmart.” Smith had initially named the event the Big Buck Classic of Kansas, but a phone call from the founder of a similar event in Arkansas informed him that the name “Big Buck Classic” was a registered trademark owned by him, so the event became “Monster Buck Classic — We Are Kansas.” Smith says “I simply want the affair to be a celebration of the great sport of Kansas deer hunting. “ The Monster Buck Classic is for Kansas residents only and all deer entered in the contest must be taken fairly and legally in Kansas. Brian wants the atmosphere of the whole show to emphasize following the rules and regulations for safe and ethical deer hunting set forth by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. Deer entered in the contest may be harvested by any means legal in Kansas. This year’s Classic will run from January 25 through January 27, 2013 at the Kansas Expo Center in Topeka. The details for this 2013 classic are still being finalized, but the 2012 event included over 230 venders and exhibitors touting everything from soup to nuts in the world of deer hunting and featured non-stop hourly seminars by at least a dozen of your favorite professional celebrity hunters. The pinnacle of the show will be the monster buck contest Sunday afternoon, crowning the king of Kansas Monster Bucks in both typical and non-typical categories. The current royalty from 2012 are Lucas Cochren with a giant non-typical buck scoring 238 4/8, and Rachelle Karl with a beautiful typical buck scoring 182 1/8. These two will remain King and Queen of Kansas monster bucks until higher-scoring, legally taken Kansas deer are entered. A grim but interesting turn of events at last year’s first classic had Smith thinking the whole thing might just go up in smoke from the start. An absolutely monstrous typical whitetail rack was entered that not only won its category, but was easily a new Kansas state record as well — you might remember the story - it turned out to be poached. It was illegally spotlighted and killed at night and its head and giant rack cut-off, leaving the meat to spoil in some farmers pasture. In attendance at the contest were a few avid deer hunters who had watched and dreamed for years of harvesting that buck themselves, and who recognized the deer from the hundreds of trail camera pictures they had of it. The wildlife and parks got involved and the poacher was arrested and stripped of his short-lived title. Smith says “The whole mess became a blessing in disguise as it showed our commitment to legal and ethical hunting and brought the event more press than we could possibly have gotten otherwise.” I often wish Kansas wasn’t quite so well known for its big bucks that draw so many non-resident hunters. I’m selfish that way, I’d just like to keep Kansas deer hunting all for us Kansans, even though I know that’s not feasible. I see this new “Monster Buck Classic — We are Kansas” as a way to reward Kansas deer hunters. The theme for this year’s event is “Do You Believe in Monsters;” …well do you?
Steve Gilliland is a syndicated outdoors columnist, and can be contacted by e-mail at