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Sometimes We Need a Little Help from Our Friends

The 2006 deer season proved to be a most challenging year for me to hang a tag on a buck. Murphy’s Law seemed to prevail around every corner of the whitetail woods. I traversed over 2000 miles worth of real estate in search of just one shot at a mature buck. While tagging a buck is not necessary for me to have a great experience; it sure does enhance the moment. Despite close calls and my best efforts from Mississippi to Illinois my efforts failed to hang a buck from the pole…at least for me. My good hunting buddy, Richard Willoughby was able to score on a nice Pope and Young in Illinois. Little did I know that an experience a year earlier in the “Land of Lincoln” would put my friend on top of his best bow buck ever and that my unselfish advice to my friend would be repaid with a buck of my own.
Richard and I hunt a piece of land on the Sagamon River about 45 minute east of Springfield, Il. The operation, Hickory Hills Bowhunting, provides lodging, use of prime Illinois real estate, and a general overview of the properties terrain. In 2005 I located a fencerow on the top of a ridge that bordered a CRP field and continued on across a hardwood ridge. On a frosty November morning I had a great hunt on the fencerow. Two Pope and Young caliber bucks battled for a doe in the CRP field about 200 yards away. After the bucks determined the winner, which was a large 8 point that would score around 145, the loser stood in his retreated position on the edge of the field while the winner continued his harassment of the doe. The loser actually looked to be the best scoring buck, a 10 point that would score in the low 150s. As he stood there looking in disgust at his lost opportunity I thought this might be a great time to show him there are other fish in the sea. I reached for my Primos Can and let out three estrus bleats that immediately drew the buck’s attention. In a matter of seconds the buck was standing 10 yards on the opposite side of the overgrown fencerow from my position. I was unable to find a lane to sneak an arrow through the brushy fencerow. In what would be a decision that I will question forever, I decided to let the buck walk instead of forcing an arrow through the think tangle of limbs. I stored the experience in my memory and vowed to return the next season to this fencerow again. Fast-forward one year and Richard and I were once again chasing bucks at Hickory Hills. The two of us decided to hunt in the same area and we plotted our strategy. I chose an open gap in a cornfield fencerow and I told my buddy about the CRP fencerow that I had hunted the previous year. After giving the directions on how to reach the fencerow and exciting him with the details of my hunt the previous year he headed up to hunt the ladder stand that was in place on the fencerow. The position Richard took up was about 100 yards down the fence from my location along the hardwood ridge portion of the fence. After telling Richard how to reach the stand, he set out in the pre dawn to find the stand. Richard doesn’t like heights a whole lot. The 20 foot ladder stand did not look enticing to the former offensive lineman. He chose to construct a make shift ground blind from the elders around the bottom of the stand and was satisfied with his position. Barely settled in his blind Richard noticed movement about 50 yards on the other side of the fence. It was a nice buck paralleling the fence. A quick burst on the Primos grunter drew the buck into range as he came to investigate. The most unique thing about this hunt is what the buck did next. Would you believe the buck actually looked up in the ladder stand to see if a hunter was there! When the buck saw no threat from the stand, he seemed to let his guard down. It was at this moment that Richard drew his 65lb BowTech and drove the NAP Nitron home. The smile on my friend’s face was priceless. He had just taken his first P&Y, a 136 3/8 9 point that weight 280 pounds. I was as proud as if I had killed the buck. In the back of my mind, I could see how the master plan came to be. It was my confidence in the hunting area from the previous year that put my friend on that fencerow. “Sometimes we need a little help from our friends”.
Stage two of this story continues with my saga of bucks too far from my stand or chasing does under my stand and refusing to stop. My season was quickly coming to an end and I did not have my buck. I accepted the reality that it was January 17, I had been hunting for 3 and half months, I have not taken a buck, and I am fine with it. After all, I did see some great bucks and have some wonderful experiences in God’s country. Pressures from work and other commitments forced me to concede the season, or so I thought. Shay Johnson, who is a dear friend of mine, invited me to his Alabama lease for an end of the year hunt. At first I said no that I had other obligations and I had to throw in the towel on the 2006 season. However, Shay would not take no for an answer and insisted that I go. He explained that the Alabama rut was prime and I would be making a major mistake if I did not go. I reluctantly accepted the invitation and off to Alabama we went. Shay proved to be a super host and guide. On the first afternoon of our hunt I was placed in the corner of a small food plot that was bordered on one side by a creek and the other side by CRP pine and a small section of hardwoods. My hunt began to pick up about 30 minute before dark as a doe entered the field about 30 yards from my stand. I was enjoying watching the doe graze, and I could not help but notice how she kept looking over her shoulder. About 10 minutes later I saw why! The outline of a large bodied deer was coming out of the pines. As the deer eased into the narrow hardwood strip that bordered the field I could see that it was a nice buck. The body size was more impressive than his antlers. In a matter of seconds the buck was standing in the green field behind the doe performing a lip curl. With his attention focused on the doe, I drew my 70lb BowTech Allegiance, picked my spot, and sent the Simmons Shark tipped arrow home. The buck bolted and I heard him crash in the distance. After settling my nerves and giving the buck about 30 minutes to expire, I picked up the easy blood trail that led to my hard earned buck. Though he was not a book buck, or the largest I had ever taken, he just might be the most satisfying. The old boy was on his down side. Shay and I aged the buck at 8 years old. He had to have once carried an impressive rack on his head. The buck was a wide six pointer that unofficially scored 120. That next day at lunch Shay, his son, and I sat around the table and enjoyed the back straps from my hard earned buck. As we bowed our heads while Shay’s son thanked the Lord for our blessings I could not help but think where we would be without “A Little Help from Our Friends.”

Jason Johnson

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