Seventy-eight degrees isn’t quite what you expect on November 3rd in Illinois, but when you have only five days to hunt and you’re in Pike Co., you go regardless of weather. My morning hunt was indicative of the weather with only handful of squirrels sighted, but based on the amount of sign, the deer were starting to rut hard.
The sun was getting hot by mid-day, but my brother’s news of seeing two nice mature bucks that morning boosted my spirits for our afternoon hunt. After lunch and another shower, Tyler, my brother, father, and me sat down and talk about strategy for the afternoon. As we headed out to the Moyer farm for our afternoon hunt, I couldn’t help but have that feeling regardless of the sun and heat. My father, seemingly reading my mind, seconded the notion with a slight head nod and a simply stated, “someone’s going to score this afternoon”.
As we were getting on our camo at the truck and I was cursing the weather, Tyler and my father, reminded me of the less then perfect conditions (40mph wind gusts) the previous year when I arrowed a nice buck. Those thoughts lingered with me as I walked toward the wood line down in the draw. Even though I was lightly dressed in my Savannah suit, I was a fountain of sweat. I shook my head at the thought of being “scent free”. Fortunately, Tyler did his homework in terms of the wind (direct South wind) and impending thermals, unless a buck got behind me, I’d be O.K.
As the afternoon continued, the only movement noted was the ladybugs and the occasional squirrel. There was no doubt deer were going to move, it was only a matter of how quickly after the sun began to set. As discussed earlier with Tyler, the deer were bedded about 300 yards to the west southwest, so I waited patiently for the sun to set below the ridge top to the west. Knowing I only had twenty minutes of good shooting light left, it was time to pick up the grunt tube, snort wheeze and the rattling bag. After about a twenty second sequence of light “sparring”, my eyes were fixed on the ridge. After about three minutes and my hope of something coming to investigate dwindling, I caught movement.
There’s just no doubt about it when you see a mature deer, the strut, the swollen neck, the deep chest and shorter appearing legs, this was a no doubter. Although I couldn’t see the rack, I knew I wanted this deer. At just over a hundred yards, he stepped into full view and I caught my first good look at his rack. He was broadside and I could see he had good tine length and mass that held all the way to the tip of the main beam. At this point, the show began.
It seemed he knew I had only fifteen minutes or so left in the hunt as he slowly worked a scrape and rub at about 80 yards. As much as I was enjoying the show, time was still ticking away and he didn’t seem to be in much of a rush. I picked up the snort wheeze and waited for him to pause in his activities. As I snorted, his head snapped up and so did the hair on his body. He was looking to gouge something. He was now on a bee-line to my tree and as reality started to sink in that I may actually get a shot, my nerves started to kick in.
At first it looked like he would follow a trail that would lead him no more than fifteen yards in front of my stand, but like all big deer do, he turned down the other side of the old creek bed so he could take advantage of the wind. Just as he started to come into range, he again turned and walked directly toward my tree. At a mere five yards and staring right up at me like he knew I was there all along, the tree and I became one. If I was any closer, I’d be inside the tree. What happened next nearly made my heart fall to the ground. He took a big intake of wind, snorted and ran about two full bounds in back of the tree. Luckily, practicing good scent control limited the impact of my long sweaty walk to the stand. That and the copious amount of tarsal gland around the stand permitted him to keep his interest towards the apparent intruders.
At this point, he was slowly walking down wind and away from the tree stand. There would be an opening in about three steps if he held his course. Time to draw. It would be a good quartering away angle at about eighteen yards. Slowly he kept his course and then as if he heard my thoughts, he started walking to his right, which led him right into some brush, where he stopped. No shot, deer down wind, already a little spooked and I’m going on at least a minute at full draw. You can shoot all year and practice holding your bow, but nothing prepares you for the real show. As I was starting to shake from muscle fatigue, he started to move and in the right direction. At twenty-two yards, I had my opening. I grunted to stop him, but instead of just stopping, he stopped and slightly turned, which almost put his body in a “U” shape. I picked a few hairs to split and let my arrow go. Perfect. He took one big leap and let out a sound I’ve never heard from a deer. It almost sounded like he was attempting to fill his lungs with air, but they just wouldn’t work. He took a few more steps up the bank of the creek bed and stumbled. He took a few more steps, stumbled again, and as majestic and as regal as he could, laid down as if he was going to sleep.
It took me a second to gain my composure and realize what had just transpired. I watched him lay sixty yards away until it became too dark to see. I gave my Dad a call and tried to give him a quick synopsis, while trying not to sound too excited or make too much noise. I gave it a few more minutes and slowly headed back up to the meadow. My Dad was waiting for me about half way back to the truck eagerly waiting to hear the full story. It wasn’t long before Tyler and my brother showed up and I relayed the details as best as I could remember. It’s amazing how you can only remember bits and pieces when you’re overly excited and as you tell it over and over you tend to remember a few more details.
Even though, I watched him go down, we headed back to the lodge for a bite to eat. The celebration would have to wait a few more hours. As many know, this is the worst time; you actually start to doubt what really happened. Did he really go down? Was your shot true? Time just doesn’t seem to move. All you can think about is putting your hands around those antlers. Needless to say, I didn’t eat much.
As we headed back to the farm to recover my deer, I started to reflect on something my dad has always told me from the time I was ten years old. He always told me that getting a deer is just a bonus, the experience and how we accept and grow from the experience is what really matters. I always knew his words were true, but as I lifted up the antlers of my best buck to date (8pt 147 7/8”), it wasn’t all about the harvest. I realized it was about the friendships made and just having my father and my brother by my side. Otherwise, it would have been just another harvest. Now that my mid-thirties are on me, I treasure each and every season with my family and new friends at IMB. I still look forward to going out and trying to shoot a deer every year in the mid-west. But, more importantly, I look forward to the experiences that will be burned into memory, so when I hang up my boots, I can reminisce on the good times shared. In a few years I’ll carry on the tradition and will start bringing my son. Hopefully, a deer will be a bonus for him as well.