It seems as though every year the first two weeks of November take forever to get here and then they're gone in the blink of an eye, and this year was no different. Mike and I had planned a 5 day trip to our lease in West Central, Illinois and with the rut just hitting it's stride we anticipated some great hunts.
Proving once again that Mother Nature has it out for us the day we showed up to hunt a warm front moved through, pushing those lovely 30 degree nights out and bringing 75 degree days in. Why does this always seem to happen to us? Last year it was 80 degrees on November 1st, this year it was 75 degrees on November 7th! Sometimes I really think that someone has it out for us!
Our first two days we hunted together with the camera in tow, hoping to put down a nice buck on film. Mike had a really cool encounter with a buck we named "Schafer" on our first morning but elected to pass. Schafer is a solid 3 1/2 year old buck, but with an inside spread of only 8 inches or so he just wasn't what Mike was after.
"Schafer" in all of his 8 inches of glory.
Our first evening after hanging a new set, getting all sweated up, then roasting in the sun for a few hours we did have an encounter with the buck I missed last year on film - Dope Ear. However by the time the brute showed himself it was not only too dark for the camera, but too dark to shoot as well. Dope Ear passed our stand location at 26 yards and all we could do was squint through our binoculars and admire him.
Day 2 I was in the tree with a bow and we had a great encounter with a really nice 10 pointer. Probably the biggest buck we saw during our 5 days, and definitely the biggest buck we had within range. Although once again as fate would have it, the big buck walked in the one place that I couldn't shoot, and before passing into the wide open decided to angle away from us presenting no shot opportunities. No amount of grunting, bleating, or snort-wheezing was going to bring this guy to us, he was on a mission to find some does!
This trail cam photo was taken just 3 days before our encounter with this great buck. Too bad I couldn't get a clean shot at him!
By the third day with the weather still not cooperating Mike and I decided to split up and maximize our chances at killing some deer. I took the camera gear with me and attempted some self-filming but let me tell you, it's no easy task! I admire Todd for this dedication to filming himself this year. The man is on a mission! I did have one other encounter with Dope Ear on Day 3 but once again it was too dark to film. But let me tell you - this buck is a true Illinois giant.
Anyways, by Day 5 we both had several encounters with shooter bucks and were seeing deer every sit but no shot opportunities presented themselves. It was do or die time. With our coldest morning yet Mike and I decided an all-day sit was going to be necessary so we packed our bologna sandwiches, granola bars, and Gatorade and headed into our stands.
At 9:56 that morning I hadn't seen a buck yet and was in the middle of texting a photo to my buddy Dan when I heard the ravine opposite me explode with running deer. I put my phone back in my pocket, picked up my bow, and got ready. Three does that I spotted earlier bolted down off the ravine and stopped 30 yards behind me. As I eyed them up a fourth deer came down off the hill, and this one had antlers!
The buck ran full-speed to the bottom of the hill and eyed up the does that were standing behind me. Just as he started making his way up the hill toward me I could make out some very long, heavy tines on his right side and switched my brain into kill mode.
He came up the hill on a dead walk and just before entering my main shooting lane made a hard right turn and walked broadside to within 10 yards of my stand. As the buck entered my lane I grunted to stop him, settled my pin on his side, and let my arrow fly.
It hit with a resounding SMACK, the buck let out a loud grunt, and exploded up the hill toward a cedar thicket. Seconds later the woods were quiet and I couldn't believe what just happened! I picked up my phone and it was 9:58 am. Less than 2 minutes after spotting these does coming down the hill I had just put down my 2nd buck of the season. It's amazing how quickly things can happen in the woods this time of year. All the preparation and hours spent in stand and it's all over within just a few short minutes.
After waiting 1/2 hour I got down and found both my arrow, which had broken off about 1/2 way, and good blood just after the spot of impact. An hour after that Mike and I took up the trail and found my buck without a problem just 70 yards away.
Thanks to Mike for helping with the world's longest drag, and for taking some great photos. A little bit of extra time and effort will go a long way when it comes to getting a good photo that will last a lifetime.
My shot was a bit further forward than I wanted, but the NAP Spitfire MaXX broadhead punched clean through his shoulder, took out both lungs, and his heart. When I pulled the rest of the arrow of the buck's chest cavity I was amazed that the broadhead looked like brand new. No bent or broken blades whatsoever. Needless to say, I was impressed! This is my 2nd animal taken with a Spitfire MaXX this year and neither have gone more than 80 yards after the shot, even after less than perfect shot placement.
Now this is the ironic and somewhat humbling part of this particular tale. Exactly 60 minutes before I shot this buck Mike sent me a text that he had just spotted a gorgeous 2 year old buck that was going to be a real stud if he made it another year. And once again as fate would have it, that particular buck somehow made it all the way back around Mike's position, up a giant ravine, and down to my location in that 60 minute span and was now laying dead at our feet. That's right - I did it again. After setting out to shoot 3 1/2 or older deer this fall, I had somehow managed to kill not one, but two 2 1/2 year old bucks. I really don't have any excuses other than my misjudgement of these deer in a hunting situation. It's easy to judge on a TV or computer screen, but when you put the adrenaline rush of being in the tree into the equation things get a little blurry. My biggest lesson learned when it comes to field judging whitetails is to really take a closer look at the body and not the rack. In areas with good genetics and food sources it can be easy to misjudge a deer based on the size of his headgear.
My 2nd Illinois buck of 2009. Not quite what I was hoping for, but he'll look good on my wall!
All in all, I had a really successful season. Two bucks and a doe on the ground, two out of three on film, and a chance to sleep in for the rest of the fall. Although I will admit that I am personally disappointed in myself for not taking the time to judge these deer better before I shot. Chalk it up to a lesson learned I suppose. I've already started my goals and planning for next fall, hopefully I can avoid making these same mistakes.