JUNCTION CITY, Kan. -- Marti Mace made her way through a standing milo field until she came to a trail so worn that it looked like a cattle crossing.
"That's not from cattle. This is a major deer trail," she said with a smile. "I call this I-70. This farm has a lot of deer -- and I think every one of them must use this trail."
Seconds later, Mace had reached a timbered field border and was climbing the steps of her tree stand to a platform overlooking the crops.
For her, that amounted to business as usual. She bow hunts nearly every day on one of three farms in northeast and north-central Kansas that she has permission to use.
She decides which one to hunt based on wind direction and the frequency of her visits. When she has let one of the areas "rest" for several days, the deer are more vulnerable. And if the wind is in her favor -- that is, so her scent won't carry across the field and timber -- she knows she always has a chance at shooting one of the big bucks that have brought Kansas fame.
"I have seen a lot of big bucks this year already," said Mace, a master sergeant in the Army who is stationed at Fort Riley. "But I'm selective. I have passed on a nice 10-point because I have seen two monsters out here.
"I just have to be patient. If I put in my time and I get lucky, I might get a shot at one of those monsters."
Mace scanned the field and watched for activity. There wasn't any. On this short trip, she came up empty.
But the next evening on a different farm ... well, that was a different story.
Hunting from a ground blind at the edge of a crop field in Saline County on Thanksgiving eve, she watched as a doe suddenly appeared with a big buck following it. When the deer passed directly in front of her blind, she took aim on the buck and let an arrow fly.
Moments later, she was celebrating another successful moment in the Kansas deer woods.
"I couldn't pass on that shot," she said after taking the 10-point buck. "That buck walked within five yards of my blind.
"I've seen bigger ones this year, and for a second I thought, 'Should I hold out or should I shoot?'
"But I might not get another chance like that."
For Mace, the latest success only fuels her excitement over Kansas deer hunting.
She shot a 14-point buck with her bow last year, and she had taken two does this year before taking the big buck.
Today, she continues to hunt for more does (bow hunters in Kansas are allowed one antlered buck and multiple does, depending on the unit) as the season continues.
"I just love being out," she said. "It's so peaceful and quiet, and you get to see nature up close.
"I have learned a lot about deer, just being able to observe their habits."
It would be hard to imagine anyone who is more avid about his or her bow hunting. Mace spends parts of almost every day in a tree stand or a ground blind. Last year, she was even there on Christmas.
She starts each trip by shooting practice rounds at an archery target in the bed of her pickup, then quietly makes her way to her hunting location.
She follows all the tenets of bow hunting, dressing in full camouflage, being careful about her scent so that the wary bucks won't smell her, and avoiding movement whenever possible.
But her biggest asset? Patience.
"You have to be patient to take a big buck," she said. "It's a challenge to get a big one within bow range.
"Everything has to work out just right. The more time you put in, the better your chances."
For Mace, being stationed at Fort Riley puts her right in the middle of prime deer country.
The region is known for its bruiser bucks, some of which live on the Army base itself. Mace has hunted the rough cover on the base, but prefers to hunt private land surrounding the fort, where bucks get far less pressure.
In fact, she is the only one who has permission to hunt some of the farms she visits, a distinct advantage.
"I don't like to go to the same place too many days in a row," she said. "I try to alternate the places I hunt, so that the deer don't pattern me."
Mace has been bow hunting for 10 years. She made the same progression to archery hunting as many do. After years of hunting with a rifle, she was looking for a challenge.
But the target back when she got started bow hunting wasn't the whitetail deer. She was stationed in Wyoming at the time and she was chasing elk.
Mace would hike into the high country in the Snowy Mountain range and look for elk wallows. Then she would use natural vegetation and brush to make a ground blind and call the elk in.
She found success, and estimates she has taken a dozen elk over the years. She remains attached to that pursuit -- so attached that the ring tone on her cell phone is the sound of an elk bugling.
But these days, she has found something that rivals her interest. Once November arrives, her fever over Kansas whitetails reaches a pitch.
"I just love hunting these big bucks," she said. "They're such a challenge. You do one thing wrong, and it's over.
"But they can be taken. I've taken my buck this year, but I'm already looking forward to next season. I know where some big ones live."