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Another Big Illinois Bowkill

by John Mueller 9. December 2008 14:14
John Mueller

            Another big IL whitetail fell to a lucky archer this fall. This time a DNR agent named Mike Goetten killed a monster near Joliet. The massive buck is a basic 10 pointer with a double brow tine and a few stickers that gross scores 198 3/8” and nets 175 6/8 as a Typical Booner.


            Bob Schnettgoecke who owns Schnettgoecke’s Taxidermy from Grafton, IL is mounting the buck for Mike. Here are a few pics of the beast the day the buck was mounted. The mount isn’t finished yet, but I couldn’t resist posting a few pics of this beautiful buck.

The buck is almost the size of this cow elk.


The cape on this buck beautiful as well.


Here you can get an idea of his mass.

Close Call With an Illinois Whitetail

by Justin Zarr 8. December 2008 12:40
Justin Zarr

For those of you who may have been following along in my blog this season, you know it's been a trying year for me.  It started off promising enough with a successful doe harvest on my third sit of the year and peaked around November 9th with one of the most exciting mornings I've ever had in the woods.  As Mike and I counted nearly a dozen bucks running around that morning, chasing does like crazy, I was feeling pretty good about my season.  Little did I know it was going to take a turn for the worse.

After we returned home to Northern Illinois from that trip, my spirits were still high and I was hoping to ambush one of the many bucks I had gotten trail camera pictures of all summer and fall.  Unfortunately for me over the course of the next month not only would I not see any of those bucks, but in over a dozen trips to stand I would only see 11 total deer, only one of which was within shooting range.  The year and a half old spike just wasn't what I was looking for, so I elected to contently watch him from my elevated perch as darkness fell on yet another Illinos bowhunt.

This is what a cold, unhappy bowhunter looks like during a frigid December bowhunt in Illinois.

With the late season upon us and rutting activity for all intents and purposes over, my focus turned once again to food sources.  I knew the deer would be concentrating on them now, and with the cold weather we've had and several inches of snow on the ground I figured now was a good time to try and capitalize on their hunger.  My plan was relatively simple - I knew the deer liked to feed in a hay field on the farm I hunt during the late season.  The past two years we've had numerous encounters with does headed to this field before dark but for some reason never any good bucks.  After analyzing the situation I figured that we were hunting too close to the field and only catching the deer who were brave enough, or dumb enough, to show themselves before dark.  The bigger bucks that we are after were probably hanging back in the woods a few hundred yards and waiting for night to fall before entering the fields.  So I hung a stand about 300-400 yards off the field, adjacent to the nearest heavy cover that we know serves as a late season bedding area.

Sunday December 7th brought temperatures in the teens with a slight South wind, which was nearly perfect for my new setup.  I snuck into my stand ever so quietly over the snow covered ground, slipped into my bibs and heavy coat at the base of my tree, climbed up and got settled for the night.  If you're like me and don't like hunting the cold because your feet get frozen quickly, I highly recommend checking out the ThermalFeet boot warmers.  I've been wearing them for the past three seasons and LOVE these things.  You put a disposable hand warmer into the pocket on the ThermalFeet cover, then slip it over the outside of your boot and they keep your toes toasty warm all night.  I hunted for nearly three hours and my toes never even came close to getting cold.  Love these things!!!  Check them out right here at, they make great stocking stuffers and we're giving away a free set of hand warmers with every purchase.

ThermalFeet - the greatest things ever when it comes to cold weather hunting!!

In any case, I got settled into my stand around 2:30 and began the wait.  Around 3:45 I spotted my first deer making its way through the woods toward my stand.  At first glance it appeared to be a doe, but after futher inspection I found it to be a young buck with 2" spikes.  Although he would quality as an antlerless deer since his antlers were under 3" long, I elected to let him walk and took some photos of him as he passed by, right through my shooting lanes as I had hoped.

This 1 1/2 year old buck made his way right by my stand, just as I had hoped.  Too bad he wasn't bigger!

Shortly after the small buck left the first of 9 does that I would spot that evening showed up directly downwind of me.  The three does were headed the opposite direction that I thought they would come, and although they could smell me and knew something was wrong they never spooked.  In fact, they hung out about 40 yards in front of my stand pretty much all night.  Later on 4 more does approached from the South and were headed towards my stand, down a path that would lead them to my right.  I grabbed my bow off the hook, clipped my release on, and waited for them to head my way. 

As fate would have it, the 4 does hung up about 18 yards behind my stand, milling around and generally just teasing me because I couldn't shoot them.  As darkness approached my hands started to grow cold so I moved my body entirely around and was able to sandwich my bow between myself and the tree, so I could put my hands in my pockets to warm them up for a minute.  About this time I heard something directly behind me in the woods.  I thought perhaps the three does that were to the North of me finally made their way into the woods so I turned my head around only to see the big 10 pointer I have been chasing all year standing only 8 yards way, in my shoting lane, broadside, feeding on some underbrush!

I couldn't believe it.  All night I had been so careful to not let any deer sneak up behind me in the snow but my preoccupation with these does had gotten the best of me and there he was, right in the open!  With my bow in my hand and my release already clipped on all I had to do was turn around to get a clear shot at him.  As I made my rotation in my stand, once again Murphy's Law struck and somehow, someway I managed to rub the cable on my treestand the wrong way which made the slightest "twang", which was enough to send my dreams of this buck's rack on my wall up in smoke.  The 3 1/2 year old buck looked straight up at me, skylined against the sky, bobbed his head once to get a better angle, and headed back the way he had come with another buck in tow.

The buck that got away - I call this guy "The Sheriff".  Much like the Sherrif of Nottingham was Robin Hood's arch nemesis, he is now mine! By the way - this photo was taken about 80 yards from where I had my encounter with this buck.  It was taken shortly after darkness fell, which lead me to belive the buck was bedding nearby and exiting the safety of his bedroom after dark.  I hoped the cold weather would bring him out during daylight, which it did.  I just couldn't capitalize on his mistake.

My spirits sunk and I seriously was about 1/2 second away from tossing my bow right out of the tree and calling it quits for the year.  I had let my guard down for a minute to worry about shooting a doe, and the one buck I had set out for that night got close enough to me that I could've spit on his back, all without me knowing it.  Even as I type this my bowhunting heart breaks just thinking about it.  So close!

The view from my stand in the direction the buck approached.  As you can see, I can see for quite a ways which means he was probably there for quite awhile without me ever realizing it!!  When I finally saw the buck he was at the very bottom of this photo, in the small clearing in front of the tree you can see I had cut down two weeks earlier.  That close!!

So with all of that said, despite my awful season persistance finally paid off with a great night in stand and an encounter with a buck that I will no doubt continue to hunt for this year, and into next year if I have to.  Unfortunately I have some committments during January that are going to keep me out of the woods after the New Year which means I have exactly three weekends left to seal the deal on a buck or it's tag soup for this guy!  This coming weekend I'll be heading back down to our lease in Brown County to try and connect on one of the bucks I saw during our November trip, then I'll be home for a weekend before one last ditch effort after Christmas back at the lease.  I'm pretty much done relying on luck at this point, since I apparently have none of it!  So it's going to be some good old-fashioned scouting and deer hunting know-how that's going to get it done for me if I'm going to be successful.  Screw luck anyways!

A Buck Named Scar

by Justin Zarr 1. December 2008 15:08
Justin Zarr

Trail cameras are like a lot of things in the hunting world, some people believe in them very much while others put little to no stock in their effectiveness.  I'd say my beliefs fall somewhere in between these two extremes.  While I do believe they can help you identify the animals living in your hunting area and even help you determine their general movement patterns and home areas, I don't think they're the magic solution to patterning and harvesting trophy animals.  More than anything, I enjoy using my cameras to see what types of bucks are moving through my hunting areas after dark and when I'm not around and keeping a record of them throughout the seasons, when possible.

One such buck appeared on my trail camera almost one year ago to the day.  I had my camera set up near a creek crossing on a travel route between a bedding area and a hay field serving as a late season food source.  Although I didn't get any photos of the mature bucks I knew were in the area, I did get this really nice 1 1/2 year old buck with what appeared to be a large wound on his side.  I couldn't tell from the photo what had caused the wound; possibly a coyote attack, a collision with a car, a run-in with a barbed wire fence, or some other unforseen danger in the whitetail woods.  In any case, the buck appeared to escape with his life and appeared to be alive and well.  I hoped that the buck was able to heal and survive the hard Illinois winter we had last year, and although a thorough scouring of this farm didn't produce his antlers it didn't produce a carcass either.

The first photo of Scar, taken November 27, 2007.

The summer of 2008 brought renewed hope for the upcoming season as we had seen several good bucks on this farm the previous year that nobody had knowingly harvested.  Around the middle of August my trail cameras went back out into the woods in search of these elusive whitetail bucks.  Once again the mature deer eluded my cameras but the photogenic "Scar" buck started showing up rather regularly.  In fact, over the course of the next 3 months I was able to gather over 2 dozen images of this buck at all corners of the farm.  Again, he appeared no worse for the wear despite the telltale scar on his side.  At least he was easy to recognize!  I knew this deer was only 2 1/2 years old and looked forward to watching him blossom into a great 3 year old next year.

During the peak of the rut in Illinois, Scar is out cruising for does during daylight.

The last known photo of Scar, taken 12 days before we found him dead several hundred yards from this location.

Unfortunately during a mid-day walk into an untouched area of this farm last weekend, we came upon Scar's body as he layed dead where he had bedded down.  No visible wounds showed on his body and no outward signs of death were apparent.  It looked as though he had bedded down next to a large oak tree and simply never got up.  Judging from the condition of the body, which was noticably stinky and had the nose and tongue eaten away, he had only been there for a few days at the very most.  Why the coyotes hadn't gotten to him yet, I do not now.  Perhaps he died of some disease and they could tell the meat was contaminated?  Nobody may ever know what happened to Scar, but I must admit I am sad to see him go this way.  I enjoyed the photos I was able to gather of him, and it always brought a smile to my face to see the survivor as he no doubt patrolled this farm chasing does, fighting with rival bucks, and living the life that we all love to observe so much.

An unfortunate fine, Scar's body where it was found on November 29, 2008.

What Happened to This Years Rut?

by John Mueller 19. November 2008 13:45
John Mueller

This has been one of the strangest years for the rut that I can remember. It seems like I have been seeing bucks chasing does for the last month. But never did see that frenzied few days when if a doe walked by, there were 4 or 5 bucks dogging her. Or you drive past an open field and there were deer chasing one another all over it. This usually happens around the 10th of November. Almost everyone I talk to has a similar story this year. Not really sure of the reason, but I have a few theories.


My first theory has to do with the amount of standing corn still in the fields. With all of the rain we had this spring and early summer the farmers got the corn in really late this year. Especially in the creek bottoms near my farm, it was just too wet to get on the ground to plant. That made the harvest really late and we have had a wet fall too. So there are thousands of acres of unpicked corn in the bottoms around my hunting property. This allows the deer to hide in the corn and the only reason they need to leave it is to get a drink. They have all the cover they need and food is everywhere around them. Much of the breeding may have taken place right in the corn fields where the does were living, and we never would have seen it.


My second theory has to do with the weather. I started seeing bucks chasing does during a cold snap on the weekend of Oct. 25th. I think the cold weather really got the bucks moving and in the mood. But then after a few days it warmed up again to near 80* temps. This shut down a lot of the activity or moved it until after dark when it was a little cooler. My buck sightings really took a hit after the weather warmed up. Then we had another cold snap, but along with the colder temps came very strong winds. The wind blew for many days in a row without letting up. I believe the deer head for heavy cover during strong winds because their defenses are somewhat useless during windy days. Everything in the woods is moving, making it hard for them to pick out danger with their eyes. Their hearing is not what it would be in a still woods. And they cannot trust their noses with the swirling winds. So where do they go? Back to the corn fields. 


I also feel this weather stretched out the breeding longer than it normally would have been, eliminating the frenzied chasing of the peak of the breeding period. Some of the does may have come into estrous during the first cold snap and got bred then. Then a few were still coming in during the warm weather, but most of the chasing and activity was going on at night, when the temps. were cooler and more comfortable for the does. Then another round of does came into heat during the second cold snap, but since it was so windy those days, most of the activity took place in very thick cover or in the standing corn.


Now don’t get me wrong, I did see rut activity. Just not the kind I am used to seeing in that area. This year there would be one buck chasing a doe or a small buck in the food plot checking them out by himself. Heck I would even see does in the food plots for long periods of time without a buck even coming to check them out. There is usually a few days where the deer are running around all day long chasing and breeding, and packs of bucks chasing the hot does. I hunted a lot of days the past few weeks and it just did not happen.


The Hard Work is Starting to Pay Off

by John Mueller 18. November 2008 13:26
John Mueller

Owning your own land can be a lot of hard work, specially the first few years, getting everything in shape like you want it. I have had my own property for almost a year now and I am starting to reap some of the rewards for my sweat and labor.


I am still working on the Grand Plan for my property, but I do have a pretty good idea of where I want things to end up. So far I have plowed up an overgrown hay/weed field and planted a few food plots that the deer love. It has really been neat seeing them go from bare dirt to flourishing food plots in a matter weeks.



Starting out with bare dirt.

After a few days the plants start to show themselves.

Food plots looking pretty good.

The food plots are already paying big dividends. I see deer in them almost every time I hunt near them.



The deer really like what I have planted for them.


I know the deer are getting good nutrition from them and it will help the health of my herd. Plus it keeps the deer on my land so the neighbors won’t have an opportunity to kill them. And I have the benefit of being able to watch them and learn which ones I want to target during my hunts.


 I am in the process of turning my CRP field, which is mostly Fescue right now, into a Native Warm Season Grass Prairie. This should be well established by next fall.


My rewards have come in the way of 4 deer harvested, I have taken a doe and a buck so far off of my new ground.



The first deer taken on my new farm.





My first buck buck harvest there.

 And a friend has taken 2 does. I plan on taking a few more does given the opportunity and will save my last buck tag for a special buck if he presents me with a shot.

This is who I am saving my last buck tag for.

Quality Deer Management - Three Does Down!

by John Mueller 12. November 2008 13:20
John Mueller

I invited a couple friends from the site to hunt with me last weekend. Matt/PA usually comes out this way and hunts some public ground in IL with Greg/MO. So I asked them if they would like to come hunt my property for a few days. They jumped at the chance to hunt some IL private ground. With bucks like this running around who could blame them.

My best buck on camera so far.

After two and a half days of hunting hard for mature bucks, we had 1 good buck sighting and many sightings of "Half Rack".


Half Rack, I don't think he ever grew the other side.

You can't tell too much form the pic, but he has a really good one sided rack. If he had the other side to match, he would be at the Taxidermists right now. We had also seen many small bucks and a ton of does by themselves. Before going out for the last evening hunt we decided if a nice doe walked by without a buck chasing her, she was going in the freezer. Well we ended up with plenty of meat for the freezer. I sent a Rage thru one and Greg put 2 does down compliments of Rage. And one of Greg's does was the biggest I have ever seen. She looked like a horse laying there.

The freezer is now full.

Since I usually hunt by myself, it was neat to have a couple of friends hunting with me and texting back and forth while on stand. It was neat to know what the other guy was seeing from his stand and sometimes the same deer would come by my stand later. Oh and Matt just loved checking trail cameras every day.

Matt always kept us entertained.

And this story would not be complete without a picture of Greg's Jeep loaded down with the three does. I think my side still hurts from laughing at the sight of those three deer on the roof and blood running down the side of the Jeep. He said they did get a few funny looks driving home that night.


Now that is Hunting at it's finest!!

Wounded Buck - Not How I Wanted to Start My Season!

by Todd Graf 9. October 2008 13:13
Todd Graf

I was on a roll until the dreadful bad shot took place. Yes, I will say it again - I made a bad shot. Of course not on purpose, it just one of those unfortunate things that happens in the bowhunting woods.

The season has been going quite well up until this point.  I have been seeing a lot of deer, shooting just about every day and most all of my gear has been working great. I was riding high and feeling good about my chances at harvesting a nice buck this fall.  That is until the other night! 

My evening hunt started off by checking with to confirm the wind was out of the East, and it was. I was pumped and I knew exactly where I was going to go.  Back in 2004 I harvested a nice 145 inch buck out of this very stand. In the past I have had some incredible luck hunting this spot early in the season because I can get right up on a big buck bedding area without them even knowing I'm there. This spot has it all – thick cover, beans, corn, hardwoods (acorns) & a pond all within a 100 yards of the buck’s bedroom.  Early in the season these big bucks don't like to venture far from their bedding areas during daylight, so if you want to get a shot at one you need to get in close.

My 2004 early season Illinois buck.

After arriving at my spot I was able to slip into my stand perfectly and without being detected.  My camera was ready to go and just like clockwork the does started to funnel out of the bedding area well before dark.  I watched them feed out in front of me for awhile, hoping a buck was nearby. 

With about 15 minutes of shooting light left I was out of good camera light so I started to pack everything up and call it a night.  As soon as I got the camera arm off the tree and was putting the camera away I look up to see a big buck headed my direction. I would guess him to be around 150 inches, if not a little bigger.  The buck had no idea I was there as he came down the trail towards my shooting lane.  I drew, aimed and shot. That’s when it felt like the world fell apart on me. I made a bad shot.  The buck ran out about 40 yards and stopped next to a small bush.  I watched him until it was too dark to see and he never moved from that spot.

After waiting an hour I snuck out and went to my truck to call Justin and Horseshoe Mazur to get them ready for the search and rescue mission that was going to take place in the morning.  We met the next morning and found the spot where I shot him.  Sure enough the arrow laid on the ground with about 7 inches broken off.  We found 1 patch of blood where the buck had stood motionless for so long, and then as a lot of  monster bucks seem to do – he vanished. We searched high and low through the woods, CRP fields, fencerows, and any other place we could think to look and came up with nothing.  In fact, we never found a single drop of blood after our initial findings. I believe the shot was high and in the shoulder blade which prevented me from getting good penetration or having a good trail to follow.

The unfortunate reality is that this can happen to any of us.  It only takes being off by and inch or two to make the difference between a quick, clean recovery and a lost animal. We all hope it doesn’t happen to us, but when it does it’s a super bad feeling. I can only hope the monster lives on for me or someone else to get another shot at him. I guess only time will tell.

As far as good news – I am going to go to Wisconsin this weekend and I’m going to give it hell!

Also, after Justin showed me a few pointers on building my own arrows I got my son helping me.  Its amazing how fast these little guys grow up and I make sure I spend as much time with my son as possible!

If you build your own arrows, or are interesting building your own arrows, check out our arrow building supplies here on  We carry just about everything you need for building your own arrows including several types of Arrow Wraps, Bohning Fletch-Tite glue, Bitzenburger Fletching Jigs, and much more.  It's really not that hard, and can be a good way to pass some time in the evenings and customize your arrows to your specifications.

I wish all you bowhunters good luck in the coming weeks as this is what we all live for.  The rut is coming up quicker than we think and  I hope to bear good news on my next post!

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