When Todd Graf offered me the opportunity to move to Northern Illinois and work at the bowhunting.com office, I jumped at the chance to live and breathe bowhunting in the Mecca of the whitetail world. Growing up as a young boy in Virginia I dreamed of hunting giant Midwestern whitetails. I watched with envy as the “pros” flocked to Illinois to chase trophy deer. I even joked with my friends back home, “I’m going to move to Illinois one day just to bow hunt monster whitetails.” This past weekend, I found myself living a dream come true.
Click here to watch the footage of my doe harvest!
Friday afternoon, October 1st, I climbed a tree for the first time bowhunting the state of Illinois. With temperatures in the upper 60s and gusty winds, I honestly didn’t expect to see much deer movement. I didn’t care. I was just thrilled to be in the stand with a bow! I was positioned in a narrow strip of timber that connects a bedding area and a standing corn field. It was an ideal setup on paper, unfortunately, the afternoon passed without a single deer sighting. Again, I could not have cared less. I had a blast in the tree with my video camera recording the unfamiliar yet beautiful scenery and snapped several photos with my still camera as well. I was going to capture every aspect of my first Illinois deer hunt. As the evening passed and the sun began to set, I realized just how blessed I was to be living a dream.
This shot gives you an idea of just how much fun I was having in the tree!
I chose to sit out the Saturday morning hunt as I had several chores around my apartment that took top priority. I elected to go to a different piece of property for the afternoon hunt, a piece that holds tremendous potential for big bucks as the fall progresses. I quietly snuck into my stand downwind, strapped down my camera arm and got settled in for a promising afternoon hunt. The weather was perfect for an early season bow hunt, albeit a little breezy. With temperatures in the mid 50s and steadily dropping into the 40s as the evening progressed, I was certain I would see some activity. Again, I was beat by the way of the whitetail; another hunt in Illinois without seeing a deer. While in the stand Saturday afternoon I was texting back and forth with my brother and dad who were hunting the archery opener back home in Virginia. After telling my brother, Damin, I had been skunked for the second straight hunt, he proceeds to tell me of the 15+ deer sightings he had throughout the day and the numerous encounters he had with young bucks. To make matters worse, he tells me of the active scrape line he finds leading to one of our turnip food plots and the bountiful acorn crop on our hunting property. I jokingly told him, “Forget Illinois, I am coming home!”
My first Illinois bowhunt as a member of the bowhunting.com team was a memorable one, one that concluded with a gorgeous sunset.
With opening weekend in Illinois almost over and without a single deer sighting, it was tempting to double my chances by hunting both the morning and evening on Sunday. Still, chores around the apartment and responsibilities outside of hunting took top priority, so I slept in and opted for another afternoon hunt. I headed back to the same piece of property I hunted Saturday, but hunted a different stand. Justin Zarr and I hung this stand a little more than a week prior to Sunday feeling good about our chances from this location, so I was optimistic. While aimlessly crossing an open cattle pasture, I spotted my first Illinois animal, a coyote feeding underneath a crab apple tree. My initial reaction is, “Awesome, my first deer sighting!” Further inspection reveals the problem animal that is the coyote. Back home, coyotes, while present, lack the numbers of the packs in the Midwest. In fact, I had only seen a handful of coyotes in my life prior to Sunday, so I took the opportunity and captured some quality footage. At just 45 yards, it surprised me that he was completely unaware of my presence. Sure, I was downwind, but I was in the middle of an open field. As I began to film the pesky predator, he starts walking directly toward me, closing in at 30 yards. I then realize that I might actually be able to shoot this thing. With my camera in my right hand and bow in my left, I desperately try to get my bow prepared for a shot while simultaneously putting down my camera. Just as I was about to set my camera down, the coyote spots me, not 20 yards from where I am standing and takes off in the opposite direction. Excited to have finally seen an animal, let alone a close encounter with a coyote, I contently make my way to my stand.
A shot of my special edition bowhunting.com Quikfletch. Little did I know that just hours after this photo was taken, my Quikfletch would turn a bright, solid red!
Once in my stand, I prepare to strap my camera arm to the tree to get settled in for the evening hunt. As I secure my camera arm and begin to get my video camera situated, I spot movement to my left; the coyote is back! This time he makes his way by my stand at no more than 15 yards. Unfortunately this time, my bow was still tied to the rope at the bottom of the tree. Adding insult to injury, he sits down quite happily and scans the cow pasture he just came from. Furthermore, he decides now might be a good time to relax and lies down on his belly. So, for the second time in less than 10 minutes, I have a coyote at 20 yards or less and am unable to take a shot. Realizing I have little to lose, I slowly try to raise my bow up the tree. Of course, being just 15 yards from the base of the tree he spots my movement and boogers off, this time for good. After finally getting settled into the stand I determine that the afternoon hunt will be a success regardless if I see a deer or not, based solely on the two encounters with the coyote. Still, I remained hopeful for my first Illinois deer.
As the hours passed without seeing a single deer, I remained entertained by the numerous squirrels that scurried about searching for acorns and hickory nuts and decided to do a quick interview. Just as I got my camera turned around I see a big doe right over top of my camera lens at just 25 yards and making her way towards my stand. Before I know it she is at 10 yards from my tree and all I have managed to do is get her in frame on my camcorder. She wastes little time and is now 3 yards from the base of my tree before I take a chance at turning around and grabbing my bow. Fortunately, she breaks left and with her back to me I am able to stand, grab my bow and position the camcorder ready for the shot. Now, I just need her to take a couple steps down the trail for a perfect 10 yard quartering away shot. As she makes her way down the trail, I draw. She flips the script, turns back broadside and is looking directly at me. I quickly settle the pin behind the shoulder and release the arrow. THWACK! The sound all bowhunters love to hear indicating a true hit. I watch her tear through the underbrush out of sight. My NAP Thunderhead Edge struck true and proved devastating as I could see blood spilling from both sides. Feeling confident in my shot I make a couple phone calls letting my family and Todd know of my luck. After waiting 30 minutes I get down from my stand, quickly find my arrow, pick up the blood trail and wait for Todd to arrive to film the recovery footage. Just like that, in less than 30 seconds, I see, film, shoot at, and harvest my first Illinois whitetail, an old, heavy, mature doe! I was pumped to say the least and amazed at how big she was compared to the deer back home. Regrettably, we didn’t weigh her, but I would estimate the doe to field dress 130 pounds, maybe bigger. She was huge!
One happy hunter! My first Illinois whitetail was a big, mature doe, a deer that I am extremely proud of.
My first bow harvest on film. Self-filming can be difficult, but I had a blast in the tree with my camera and now I can relive this memorable hunt forever.
Opening weekend in Illinois resulted in a big doe down for this Virginia boy. Despite my opening weekend fortune, the weekend would have been would have been a success had I not seen a single deer. Realizing that I was living a dream come true made every minute in the tree enjoyable. Being blessed with a beautiful mature doe was just icing on the cake. With the entire season ahead of me, I can now focus all of my attention on harvesting a mature buck and filming other members of the bowhunting.com team. Regardless of my luck the rest of the fall, I can look back at opening weekend to remind myself just how fortunate I am!
Gear Relied on During the Harvest: Click on the red link to purchase the item right here on bowhunting.com
NAP Thunderhead Edge: I was excited to use the new Thunderhead Edge this year and I wasn't disappointed. This broadhead flies true and leaves gaping entrance and exit wounds.
NAP Apache Arrow Rest: I love my Apache rest. The minute I installed it on my bow and began shooting I noticed a quieter shot and tighter groups. I'll be using the Apache for a long, long time.
NAP Bowhunting.com Quikfletch: The entire Quikfletch line makes fletching arrows a breeze.
The special edition bowhunting.com series simply look cool, I prefer all white.
Blacks Creek Bone Collector 1.5 Backpack: The Bone Collector 1.5 is the ideal pack for hunters who carry a lot of gear but do not want to be slowed down in the woods. I carry all of my cameras and equipment in my pack and don't miss a beat sneaking through the woods.
G5 Optix LE .019: A great hunting sight. It's rock solid and adjustments come easily. Like the Apache, this will be in my arsenal of gear for a very long time.