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Illinois Buck Down - In Season Scouting Pays Off

by Mike Willand 26. October 2011 16:58
Mike Willand

Friday, October 21st was greeted with mixed emotions as I hiked along the edge of a standing cornfield on my way into a stand I had never hunted before. The late afternoon sit was shaping up to be a mild one, as temperatures held steady around 62 degrees while winds gently blew south by southwest. As I stepped over a bent cornstalk I thought - was the decision to hunt this property the right one?

This was, yet again, all new property to me. It was first picked up by Bowhunting.Com founder, Todd Graf, a little over 3 months ago in hopes of securing more land around home. Totaling 100 acres, two large cornfields make up its majority while several smaller woodlots dot most of its borders. The property is as pretty a whitetail paradise as you’ll ever witness, but the dilemma is the area in which it belongs. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources have been removing deer for years in this region of my home state in order to combat the spread of CWD, and this land simply lacked good numbers of deer or deer sign. It was hard to justify tonight’s sit.

Thanks to the good people at the Hunting Lease Network, Todd, Justin, and I were able to pick up this great midwestern lease.

As frustrating as these thoughts were, I continued to my evening perch. My decision to hunt this ground was not based on the possible sighting of just any deer. Rather it was decided on a possible encounter with one particular animal that I believed I was hunting – a shooter buck.

Last weekend I had scouted the entire property with my trusty Lone Wolf treestand armed on my back. The winds that day howled from the northwest, at times gusting to over 25 miles an hour. It was the perfect day for a scouting mission. On the entire piece I only cut two separate deer tracks, five random rubs, and three deer beds that I considered of the male variety. It was these three deer beds I concentrated my efforts on the most. Each bed was large, often separated by as much as forty yards. One of them was even situated near a decent sized rub, further confirming my suspicion that they indeed belonged to a buck. I hung a stand following much deliberation on the south side of the beds and went home to get a few hours of sleep before the following morning’s sit.

Deer sign was minimal throughout much of the property except this rub, which was situated near a good sized bed.

That morning I returned into stand hoping to encounter the buck that called the beds his own. I was deceived by the weatherman however, as much of my three hour sit was greeted under a steady, hard rain. Nothing moved all morning and I got nothing but wet. I second guessed myself and tore down the stand as quickly as I set it up, returning home empty handed.

Today is a new day, I thought, as I climbed into stand. The wind was southerly, and I still believed a buck was bedding nearby. Only this time I was north of the buck’s bedroom. My hope for the night was that the buck would show as late into the evening as possible, entering the cornfield to my left after crossing a fence-jump that sat forty yards away.

Unfortunately, I was in for a long and very uncomfortable sit. The tree that Justin and I had chosen to perch this Lone Wolf into weeks before the season began was now barren of any leaves. What’s worse, the tree was about as thin as a flag pole and the stand seemed extremely close to the ground. Surely a buck would see every move I made as he inspected the landscape before hopping the fence.  So I made the executive decision to stand for the entire agonizing time frame leading up to sunset, which was still nearly four hours away!

The evening was calm for the most part. I would slowly move my head, and head alone, left to right again and again, scanning the two sides I expected deer to move from. I wasn’t worried so much of what went on behind me since the wind would surely take care of any of those animals before they got close enough for an opportunity. With lazy eyes I admired squirrels and birds as they busily readied themselves for the approaching winter.

At five after six, the sounds of the woods were starting to hush. The squirrels had just about all gone to bed and the birds seemed to have disappeared entirely. For a few moments, the woods I had been glaring at since 2:45 were finally quiet. My ears perked up.

The silence was broken quickly when I heard a small twig snap, and nearly immediately I knew what it was. The next step was so distinct that I reached over to my camera, turned it on, and opened my camera’s iris as large as possible - anticipating a deer to show. My first glimpse through the thick underbrush was very brief, but I knew in an instant what it was.  I reached behind me to grab my bow in anticipation for the next few moments of my life.

The buck disappeared for about a minute into some thicker underbrush, actually passing the low fence crossing I had predicted he would jump. My first thought was he was going to bypass me completely, cut the corner of the field and head toward some apple trees that sat in the far distance. But a distinct thud quickened my heart pace as I knew he had jumped the fence!

He appeared almost out of nowhere, conjuring himself from the thick green underbrush that sat just thirty yards away! With my right hand I situated the camera to capture everything on film, with my left I prepared for what certainly looked like a shot opportunity.

It was clear by his body language that the buck had no idea I was in his presence. Easing his way toward me, I remember thinking how that long painful sit was about to pay off, and the decision to stand was probably the most perfect one I could have made.

I drew back the string of my Mathews z7 Xtreme once the buck vanished behind a limb that protruded from the naked tree I was sitting in. I eased my feet across the floor of my stand, careful not to make a squeak. My twenty yard pin settled just behind the buck’s shoulders. I took one deep breath and released my NAP Nitron tipped arrow.

The buck’s initial reaction to the placement of my shot was promising, a solid mule kick that’s often symbolic of a properly placed arrow. However, he was now standing thirty yards behind me, acting as if he had not been shot at all! Realizing I could not get the camera positioned to view the buck again, I quietly took the time to grab another arrow, nock it, and draw again. Now at thirty yards, I set my pin on him again and released!

This time the buck took off in a dead run, disappearing out of view. Elated, I turned to the camera and whispered my emotions so as not to potentially spook the buck even further away. My interview was short, quiet, and to the point. Following it, I made the decision to find the first arrow and back out of the situation entirely. I was confident in the first shot, but from experience I did not like the reaction following it. I grabbed the red painted arrow of the first shot and walked back the way I came in, all the way around the property, so as to not spook the wounded buck.

I would not return to the property until nearly midnight with my good friend and hunting partner Justin Zarr readily at my side. We walked over to the area the buck stood during my second shot and quickly located blood. The trail was easy to follow with the use of Justin’s new best friend and flashlight, the Cyclops Flare Spotlight. At 193 lumens and 100% LED, this flashlight has become my most wanted piece of equipment going into November this year. I’ve been on two track-jobs so far this year while Justin has been using this light, and I’ve completely fallen in love with it.

Thanks to Justin I've now been on two tracking-jobs with the Cyclops Flare Spotlight and have decided I must own it going into November.

Justin and I caught up to the buck just over 150 yards from where I had placed the second shot. Lying just a few feet away from a shallow pond, it was clear by his sopping hide that he had tried to cool off just a short time following our engagement. Studying the shot further, I realized that I had shot a bit further back than initially intended, prompting the buck’s unusual reaction. Although I had caught one lung and devastated the liver, my decision to back out was absolutely the correct one. In fact, had it not been for that second arrow, I would not have returned until the following morning.

Elated once more I grabbed the antlers of my prize, smiling from ear to ear. The hunt that began on a last week on a windy Friday following work, ended on a calm night seven days later.

My first buck of 2011 and all on film!

Mid-October Bowhunting Update and Trail Camera Scrape Tips

by Todd Graf 14. October 2011 11:21
Todd Graf

Well everyone, it’s mid October which means a couple things for us bowhunters. First, we are likely still stuck in that dreaded mid-October lull.  Although some people don't believe in the October Lull, my deer sightings and Stealth Cam photos have sure been way down over the last 10 days.  However, on the good side it also means that the rut is just around the corner and the best hunting is still ahead of us.  With the recent cold front that moved through the Midwest and the full moon finally behind us, it won’t be long until we're seeing bucks chase does across the open fields and through the timbered ridges. I don't know about you but I can’t wait!


This view of my Lone Wolf treestand is a one that I will be seeing more and more of as the season progresses. For those of you with the new 2011 model stands, I hope you're finding the new in-cast bow holder helpful.  I've been using it quite a bit and it works great.  A definite improvement over the previous model stands.

Through the first half of October I have been hunting pretty hard but just haven’t had the caliber of buck I am looking to shoot come into range.  As you saw in Episode 11 of Bowhunt or Die I had a great buck come in front of me opening day in Illinois, but I elected to pass him up.  I know he's a nice deer, but I'm after a couple of giants that have been spotted in the area and my heart is set on one of them.   You can see the footage of me passing on that buck by clicking here.

Although I haven't seen a shooter buck from stand yet, I have seen deer just about every time in stand so I can't really complain too much.   I believe the key to getting in close to deer is the ability to adapt to the changing conditions of the fall.  As the weather and time of year change, so do the deer's patterns.  So when it was hot, I hunted near water and saw several small bucks coming in for a drink.  When the winds were blowing hard I got down in a hollow where I was out of the wind, and saw some good deer movement.  By analyzing what's happening around me and hunting different stands accordingly I'm able to get close to deer just about every time out.   Remember, if you're hunting the same couple of stands every day regardless of the time of year or weather, you're probably hurting your chances for success.


This young buck decided it was too hot to move, so he found a cool shady spot to spend his afternoon. He and I shared a warm 4 hours in the woods together one afternoon this past week.


Filming yourself is tough business!  Here my Sony AX2000 from Campbell Cameras is all set up and ready to record some footage for Bowhunt or Die! If you aren't already, I highly suggest filming your own hunts. It's fun, rewarding and you can relive your adventures for the rest of your life.

This time of year is also a great time to fire up your mock scrapes, or freshen up natural scrapes. I’ve had tremendous success using the Tink’s Power Scrape on my mock scrapes and in the natural scrapes on my hunting properties.  Remember, the key when applying scents to deer scrapes, whether they are natural or man-made, is to reduce the amount of human scent left behind while you're applying the lure.  Always wear rubber boots and if possible rubber gloves as well. The less human scent you leave behind the more successful your scrapes will become.

Also, I strongly recommend you shifting your trail camera strategies to scrapes this time of year as well.  Over the next couple of weeks the bucks will be scraping quite a bit, and there's no better way to get an inventory of the bucks in your area.  Additionally, this increases your chances of getting daytime photos of the bucks using the scrapes and will thus help you put the pieces of the puzzle together more quickly.  Once you start seeing your mature bucks checking and working scrapes during the day you know it's time to get out there and really start hunting.  For those of you with limited time off work, this can really come in handy.  So if your trail cameras aren't on scrapes already, get out and move them as soon as possible.  Just make sure your memory cards are big enough to hold all of the pictures you're going to get!

I also suggest using video mode on your trail cameras (if they are capable) because you are able to collect more data from each shot. You can get a better look at the buck’s rack, and have a better idea of how old he is. Plus, you can get the precise location where he came from and is going to after working over the scrape. Simply put, you can gather far more intelligence from video mode than you can a couple pictures. 


My Stealth Cam set up on a scrape and ready to reveal the patterns of a monster buck!

Well, that is all I have time for now. I wish each and every one of you safety and success while out hunting this weekend. And don’t forget, if you do get a deer we would love to see it and your trophy may be featured on an upcoming episode of Bowhunt or Die. Follow this link to send us your trophy! Happy hunting everyone!




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