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2012 Illinois Deer Classic - Monster Bucks & Bowhunting Friends

by Justin Zarr 25. March 2012 08:10
Justin Zarr

The 2012 Illinios Deer Classic, held in Peoria Illinois, is starting to wind down but before we pack up and head home I wanted to give you all a quick update on what you missed if you weren't here.  As always, the Peoria Civic Center was packed full of hunters looking to stock up on gear, meet new friends and check out some of the giant bucks on display.  It always amazes me how many 200+" bucks are on display here, which represents only a small fraction of the whitetails harvested in the Land of Lincoln each fall.  I would really like to see a few of the giants that never make it into the public eye.

For those of you who are going to be around Madison Wisconsin next weekend make sure you stop in and say hello.  We'll be giving away a new Mathews Heli-m bow as well as a Lone Wolf climbing treestand so you don't want to miss out!

Look for the Bowhunt or Die neon sign and you'll find us!

If you're looking for good deals on gear, the Deer Classics are the place to be.

This officially wins the "Creepiest Mount" award.  Who actually mounts their dog???

Our buddy Dorge with Firenock is always eager to show off his new products.

My favorite mount of the whole show.  What a giant!

Looking for a unique way to display your European mount?  Check out Dutch Fork trophy plaques.  Very cool!

Our cameraman/editor Brandyn Streeter was on hand to shoot interviews with a lot of the exhibitors.  Stay tuned to the New Products section of for videos in the next few weeks.

Everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the new Mathews Heli-m and Epic Cam on display.

She loves her rack!  Check out the Pink Rack Project when you get a chance.  A great cause helping to fight breast cancer.

Todd & Richie post with the lucky winners of a new Can Cooker.

Todd signing an autograph for a Bowhunt or Die fan.  Thanks for stopping by!

Can you tell I love giant 8 points?  What a stud!

Got junk?

The mass on this deer is unreal.

If I ever shoot a 240" whitetail, I'll get a full body mount too.

Another 200+.

"Sweetness", the buck Todd was chasing for 3 seasons.  He offically scores just over 212" net NT.  What a giant!

The new world record 9 point, along with a few other 'impressive' bucks.

My 2nd favorite mount in the show.  This photo doesn't even do it justice.  This is an incredible deer and a great mount.

This deer is scored as a typical 8 point frame with junk still nets over 200" non-typical.  Amazing.  AND it was shot by a 12 year old kid.  Pretty impresive, eh?

Another shot of my favorite buck.  He looks incredible.

Our buddy Byron Ferguson stopped by to say hi.  He's an amazing shot!

Former UFC Heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia stopped by and showed Richie whats up after a little smack talk.

The Rut Finally Comes To Illinois

by Justin Zarr 22. November 2011 15:16
Justin Zarr

First off, let me start by saying I wasn't complaining in my last Blog entry. By all accounts, had my season ended on the evening I wrote that very entry I would have been extremely pleased with the outcome. My Blog was more or less expressing my frustrations that the amount of rutting activity I had seen this year was very sub-par compared to years in the past. For me, the thrill of those classic rut hunts is really what defines my season. The cold mornings with bucks grunting and chasing does, seeing deer on a flat-out run across a field during the middle of the day, the tales of hunters having multiple big buck encounters in a single sit. Those are the things that had been lacking from my season so far.

That brings us to this past weekend here in Northern Illinois. With gun season open across much of the state many bowhunters had their archery gear put away temporarily. However, being a resident of the Chicago suburbs where many of our counties are bow-only, I was fortunate enough to be able to take to the woods with my Mathews in hand. Saturday morning found me perched in a tree where I shot a nice buck last fall, hoping for a November repeat. This time I had good friend, and cameraman, Mike Willand with me.

Over the course of the morning Mike and I saw a total of 8 deer, including two small bucks who were clearly out on the prowl looking for does. Now, I know this doesn't seem very substantial to a lot of people but keep in mind there's times when I don't see 8 deer in a MONTH of hunting on this farm. To see 8 in one sit is pretty incredible, and really helped fuel me for the rest of the weekend.

That same morning the coyotes were also out and about as we saw two of them, both within bow range of our stand. Fortunately for the 2nd coyote, my shooting was a bit off as he came by at 30 yards and I launched an arrow about an inch over his furry back.

My shot was a touch high as this big Illinois 'yote ducked my arrow and escaped unscathed.  These little buggers sure do move quick!

Saturday afternoon I was back in the same stand, this time self-filming as Mike had prior committments. Although I only saw one nice 2 1/2 year old that came by and offered a 10 yard shot, I heard the sounds of a good buck chasing a doe in the timber to my West. Branches cracking, leaves crunching, a buck grunting, roaring and snort-wheezing. Now THIS is what I was looking for! The buck and doe never showed themselves before darkness came, but I knew for a fact I had to get back in there the next morning.  If that does was hot there's bound to be one, if not several, good bucks competing for the right to breed her.

This busted up 2 1/2 year old paid me a visit on Saturday afternoon.  He worked a licking branch and urinated on his hocks just 7 yards from the base of my tree.

4:15 came awful early on Sunday morning, and despite my body telling me to stay in my nice warm bed, I got up and headed out. Knowing it could be my last good morning hunt before the rut was done for the year I was determined to get in a stand before daylight.

As the sun just began to peak over the horizon I spotted my first deer of the day, a young spike buck, making his way behind my stand. About an hour later I heard a deep grunt in the field behind me and turned around to see a doe flying across the field at break-neck speed. I knew a buck wasn't far away and kept my eyes peeled. A minute later I spotted the source of the grunt, a nice buck feeding in the cut corn. After looking him over with my binoculars for a minute or two I determined he was a shootable deer and tried to formulate a game plan for how I was going to get a shot at him. He was 100 yards away from me and straight down wind. Not a good sitaution.

The first thing I did was take out the bottle of Tink's 69 from my backpack and spray some into the air. Not only did I want him to get a whiff of doe estrus to try and attract him, but I wanted to cover up my scent and prevent him from spooking. During the peak of the rut a buck's desire to breed will often cause him to make mistakes he wouldn't normally make, and I was hoping that today this would be the case. So after a minute or two of letting the scent disperse, I broke out the grunt call and let out a series of short buck grunts. The minute he picked his head up and looked my direction I immediately stopped calling and grabbed my bow.

On queue the buck came in on a string, straight down the path I had walked into my stand that morning. With the camera rolling at my side the buck hung up at 18 yards and would not come a single step closer. With a steady North wind at 10 mph blowing both my scent and the Tink's straight into his nostrils the buck didn't know what to do. He looked and looked and looked some more, several times looking right up in the tree at me. I thought for sure I was busted, but thanks to my Lost Camo he never spotted me.

Eventually the buck turned and began to circle around my stand at about 22 yards. Unfortunately this particular piece of woods is extremely thick and wasn't trimmed out quite as well as it should have been so I never got a good shot opportunity at the buck. I had one very small window of opportunity, but when I grunted to stop him he took two steps before stopping and was directly behind a tree, effectively blocking any shot I had. After a second the buck continued on his way, out of bow range and eventually out of sight.

After I grunted in an attempt to stop this buck, he took two more steps before pausing behind some trees where I couldn't get a shot at him.

At this point I couldn't believe it! I had a shooter buck within 20 yards for well over 5 minutes and could never get a shot at him. How does that happen? So as I'm feeling sorry for myself, I do a quick interview and talk about what just happened before sending a text to Mike to let him know what's going on. Just as I put my phone away I hear something and look up to see the buck headed back my direction. So I quickly grab the camera, turn it on and get it positioned, grab my bow and get ready.

The buck steps out in the wide open at 30 yards when I grunt to stop him, settle my pin, and touch off the shot. With a "SMACK" that echoed throughout the woods the big bodied whitetail turned and ran only 5 yards before stopping and looking back to see what just happened, acting like nothing was wrong.  I could see my arrow protruding from his side with what looked like only 2-3 inches of penetration and my heart sank. A direct hit to the shoulder, forward and low, is rarely a good sign.

My buck just milliseconds before the arrow impacted him directly in the shoulder.

Over the course of the next 20 minutes I watched the buck slowly hobble his way through the woods before finally losing sight of him. Although I could see his tail twitching rapidly and see him stagger from time to time, I was very unsure of the hit and decided to back out.  An hour later I climbed down from my Lone Wolf stand and slowly made my way back to the truck. After talking it over with Mike we decided to wait 4-5 hours just to be safe before returning.  In my experience is always better to wait it on on a questionable hit, regardless of whether or not it's too far forward, or too far back.  The way this buck was acting I had a feeling he wouldn't travel far before laying down, and I hoped to find him nearby upon our return.

Not the type of reaction we all hope for after shooting a nice buck.  Making a questionable shot on a deer, buck or doe, leaves a sick pit in the stomach of any bowhunter.

Over 5 hours later at 1 pm we returned to the woods and immediately found good blood. In fact, the blood trail was much better than I thought it was going to be, which was encouraging. Roughly 30 yards up the trail we found my busted Gold Tip arrow and confirmed that penetration was only around 4 inches. My optimism faded a bit. However, as we continued on the blood trail was very easy to follow and at times very good. Then, right where I had last seen him, I spotted rack sticking up over a fallen log. My buck was down!

Finding blood like this is always an ecouraging sign when trailing a wounded deer.

Moments after spotting my buck laying just feet from where I last saw him hours earlier.  What a relief!

The feeling of relief was like a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders. There is nothing worse in the deer hunting woods than shooting and not recovering an animal, and I was honestly sick to my stomach thinking about not finding this deer. Knowing that he went down within 100 yards from the shot is a great feeling.

As it turns out, I believe that I may have hit one of the major veins or arteries that runs up the deer's neck, because on inspection my arrow never actually penetrated the chest cavity. The lack of penetration was caused because I did hit the front shoulder, but luckily I had enough power behind my arrow to push in far enough to get the job done. I give all the credit to the NAP Hellrazor broadhead I was shooting. In this particular case the solid one-piece stainless steel broadhead was the difference between my success and failure on this hunt. Proving yet again why I favor a durable, tough-as-nails fixed blade head over a massive expandable head any day of the week.

After not having any good bucks on trail camera all summer and fall, it was nice to catch up with this guy.  A solid 3 1/2 year old buck, he may not score much but he's a great trophy and a wonderful way to end my 2011 bowhunting season here in Illinois.

With all of this said, my 2011 season is officially in the books and it's time to start thinking 2012 already. I plan on continuing to run several Stealth Cams on my various hunting properties to inventory the bucks that are still around, and of course shed season will be here before we know it! In between those two we've got several trade shows to attend so I'll certainly stay busy.

Look for the full video of this hunt on an upcoming episode of Bowhunt or Die. We still have 6 more exciting buck hunts to bring you over the next several weeks, including mine. To those of you still hunting out there remember to be safe, shoot straight and most importantly have fun!

Big Buck Down - The Taking of a Mock Scrape Buck

by Mike Willand 22. November 2011 15:00
Mike Willand

Bowhunting is detective work. If you’re like me you have many different stand sites set up across numerous different properties covering a handful of different regions of your home state - sometimes over several states. Taking clues that are left behind by deer, revisiting past sightings and experiences, all the while trying to piece together the big picture to make that next move on where the buck you’re looking for will be hiding. Sometimes you guess wrong and sometimes you guess right.

On Monday, November 14th, I guessed right.

For weeks leading up to that Monday I had been grimacing at all the bucks falling to friends of mine across the country. Not in jealousy mind you, but in regret that the days I was pleading to take off from work would be too late into November and past the peak of the rut throughout northern Illinois.

My decision to take the 14th-17th off was based on this year’s poor crop of what I call shooter whitetail. Older deer just never seemed to start expanding their home ranges till after Veterans Day. That’s what I was looking for on that Monday - a buck searching for love far from where he typically calls home.

For weeks, my good friend Justin Zarr and I had been capturing nothing but younger deer on our Stealthcams. Together, we have nearly twenty of them, scattered over four different farms, covering a hundred miles in between. Going into the 2011 season we only had one buck that either of us really wanted to take on camera. Justin would end up the lucky hunter on Halloween weekend, with me behind camera, and a buck called “Hitch”. Two weeks had gone by and we still had nothing else to chase. 

All three of my mock scrapes were flourishing with whitetail activity. The problem was all three of them had a regular onslaught of 100 - 120 inch bucks calling them their own. For Justin and me, once “Hitch” was taken, there seemed to be a major gap between age groups.

Although not the quality of buck I was hoping for, pictures like this are testimonials of a well planned mock scrape. Here, a young buck stands on his back legs to work the above licking branches.

My only chance was to await the days I believed older bucks would begin to stretch their home range, and this is why I chose the 14th -17th of November. Figuring if I failed to find a buck during this time frame, the following week yielded more days off for the Thanksgiving holiday and yet another chance to find a cruiser buck that Justin and I hoped existed. It was a shot in the dark.

Sunday night, November 13th, found me staring at the Scoutlook Weather website for what seemed like eternity, finally making the decision to sit my favorite mock scrape all day beginning the following morning. I shut off my computer and went to bed.

I awoke the next morning especially early. I wanted plenty of time to make and pack a solid lunch for the more than 10 hour sit that I was already dreading. Two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, no less than thirty carrot sticks, a large bag of animal crackers, an apple, and nearly 50 ounces of water were going to be my only sources of comfort for the remainder of the day.

The drive in was uneventful, a far cry from the morning before when no less than four different deer nearly ended up on the hood of my truck. A couple days past full moon, I was hoping the deer were returning to late morning movement again. The past several days had deer on their feet just after legal shooting light, something every deer hunter loathes to witness - myself especially.

Once dressed, I made the trek to my treestand. The moon was so bright I never turned on my headlamp that morning. I could easily make out the woods as it lay before me. When I hit the pond, which is what I used to creep into this set-up undetected, I noticed the water had risen several inches after the recent rainfall. Several steps later and I found myself in too deep – literally! After a false step, a small amount of water had gotten over the top of my 18 inch rubber boots, enough to soak my feet and cause me to curse in the dark! I stepped back a few feet and ended up getting out of the water forty yards short of where I normally step out from. I decided the pond was too dangerous to navigate in the dark, fearing a fall would send me and my video camera into the drink. A fall I surely could have lived with, but my camera may not have made it through. With my camera dangling around my neck I took another way in, trouncing through a section of tall grass that skirted the pond. With each step I took, the frosted stems sounded like firecrackers in the once soundless woods.

Once in stand I readied myself for the day. I hung my bow, my pack, and set up the camera for the self-filming session I was sure to receive as the day waned on. Not ten minutes into my sit and I heard the dreadful footsteps of deer in the dark. I turned and looked in the direction they were coming from, and made out what appeared to be two deer in the loud grasses I had just walked in from. No doubt as I peered at their faint images, they had heard me walking in. Immediately I thought my day was already beginning badly. These two deer were surely going to bust me!  And – I thought, if they heard me walk in, they were already in an area deer don’t typically show up in until about an hour after shooting light. The full moon had foiled me again – I thought!

After a few moments, the two deer ran away to the other side of the woods. I couldn’t tell if their tails were up, but I knew they had cut my trail in. I looked up into the starry sky wondering if my decision to not walk the pond all the way in would cost me the entire day’s sit.

The remainder of my sit in the dark anticipating the sunrise was silent. Only a far off cry of an owl could faintly be heard.

I turned my video camera’s power on just at shooting light, something I’ve done for much of the season so I wouldn’t have to fumble for it once the moment of truth arrived at first light. Standing up now, I faced the direction of my mock scrape. It laid just over twenty yards from me. It was not uncommon to hear the deer at the scrape before seeing them. The soft ground surrounding the scrape often made deer nearly impossible to detect if not for the fact that they would often stop to hit the licking branches which strung out from every which angle above it. The overcast sky kept the earth dim as I anticipated the hours ahead.

Just before sunrise I heard loud, drawn out doe bleats coming from the direction I had seen the two does run to about 45 minutes before. I reached for my grunt tube immediately as experience has taught me that when deer are vocal – you are vocal. I quickly threw out four or five short grunts and then stopped, wondering what I was thinking. I didn’t want to scare the potential bait away, and began to bleat loudly and drawn out, just as I had heard. I did this six or seven times, then silenced my grunt, shoving it back into my pocket from where it came.

I heard the running of a deer in the marsh behind me and turned my entire body to make out a buck advancing quickly on me. Without even throwing up my optics I saw that it was a good buck, at least 130-class! As soon as I recognized who the buck was I heard a very faint stick snap from the direction I was previously looking – over toward my scrape. I turned my head and came eye to eye with a shooter buck not more than twelve yards away and peering into the cattails waiting to see what all the commotion was about.

I believe the buck who was approaching from the marsh was this handsome 3 year old I called "Larry Bird". Here "Larry" works my mock scrapes licking branch.

With his eyes fixated on the bog, I turned back quickly and grabbed my bow, even glancing into the camera screen at the same time to see if the buck was in frame. All I saw was the weak outlines of the trees as the image was still too dark – camera light had not yet begun. I forgot about filming and drew!

With the buck slightly quartering in, I found my pin and settled it on his shoulder. Within moments I released! The buck took off through the timber but didn’t make it far, crashing a short distance away. The sounds of the surrounding woods quickly hushed once again. I could see two does in the distance, their tails showing white. The buck in the marsh slopped through the water traveling further and further out of earshot. I calmed myself, waiting for the earth to return to silence.

I could see a small section of my arrow, bloody and broken, laying where the buck once stood. Reaching for my phone I called my wife and daughter to tell them the news – Daddy is done!

A special thanks to Bowhunting.Com president Todd Graf for coming out to take these great pictures.

I would wait another twenty minutes before getting down from the tree to pick up the blood trail. Figuring the buck had made it into the cattails which surrounded my stand I didn’t want to take anything for granted. I was quiet, calm, and ready to put a second shot in him if need be. I took just three steps from where our encounter began, looked up and could see his body just off in the distance. I approached slowly, eyeing the buck up and down to make certain he was expired, and all the time grinning from ear to ear.

On the first day of my four day hunting vacation, within just a few minutes of light, my season was over. I knelt down beside the buck and looked to the sky once more.

My smile says it all! The buck from unknown origin showed up at my mock scrape the same day I did - ending my 2011 deer season.

Where Have All the Bucks Gone?

by Justin Zarr 18. November 2011 10:18
Justin Zarr

I don't know about the rest of you bowhunters out there, but this year's rut and poor hunting conditions have about got me beat! I've been hunting relatively hard, when time and work permits, since the end of October with very little success since my last Blog entry.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, I don't get to hunt every day. Like most of you who read this I have a regular job that keeps me occupied from Monday to Friday and the vast majority of my hunting is done on the weekends. That usually leaves me enough time for about 20 to 30 sits per year in stand, with only a third of those being during prime time. So when the sun is shining, I've got to make hay!

Sometimes I wonder why I even bother rattling.  It never seems to work for me.

The weekend of November 6th & 7th should have, by all accounts, been pretty good. We were just approaching the full moon and the weather was decent. However, after three hunts that weekend I had seen a grand total of 5 deer. The only bucks that showed up were a couple of love sick year and a half olds. Certainly not the caliber of deer that Mike and I are looking for.  Although they make for some entertaining hunts, after the first few you start to question whether or not a bigger buck is ever going to show up.

This little guy was right under my stand as I filmed him.  He had no idea Mike and I were perched just 15 feet above him.

I really nice 1 1/2 year old buck that Mike grunted in last weekend.  Give him a few years and he may be worthy of a shot.

The following weekend was much of the same. 4 sits yielded a total of 9 deer and again nothing with antlers older than a year and a half. High winds, a nearly full moon and warming temperatures certainly didn't help deer movmement, but I thought I would have seen SOMETHING moving around.

When you're sitting in your treestand in the morning waiting for the sun to come up and the moon is so bright you can almost shoot, it's usually not a good sign.

On Friday evening (11/11), at the end of a frustrating sit I did shoot a nice big doe that came out into a corn field in front of me. With shooting light fading and a 35+ yard shot I never saw exactly where my arrow hit her, but I was 99% confident the shot was good. However, after not seeing the deer drop in sight and not finding much blood I elected to wait until the morning to recover her. Unfortunately the local coyotes had different plans in mind as they found my doe, just over the rise out of site from my stand. Figures.

Although I double lunged this doe, the entrance and exit holes were both high which resulted in a poor blood trail.  Electing to let her lay overnight I was disappointed to find the coyotes got to her before I did.  Ironically, she was only 40 yards away from where I had followed the blood trail, but was unable to find her after dark.

Besides the lack of buck sightings from stand, it's been a tough year for trail cameras too. My trail cameras are working hard for me, but the big guys just don't seem to be cooperating. Despite my best efforts to local another shooter buck, I haven't found anything that really gets me excited for these cold November (and soon December) mornings.

Bucks like the one seen here have been frequent visitors to my Tink's mock scrapes, but the big guys have been eluding me so far.

This big guy we nicknamed "Goldberg" has been a frequent visitor in front of our Stealth Cam Prowlers, but with a busted main beam he's off the hit list for this year.  I just hope a neighbor doesn't get him during gun season.  If he makes it, he'll scare you next year.

Now that gun season is on here in Illinois I'll be limited to hunting my spot in bow-only Lake County, which unfortuantely isn't holding many trophy bucks this fall. The biggest buck I have on camera is a spindly 10 point that may have grossed in the mid 120's before he busted off a few of his tines!

"Spud Webb" before he busted off his right G2 and possibly several other tines.  Not a bad buck, but not exactly the caliber of deer I'm looking to put my 2nd buck tag on.

Okay, I guess I shouldn't be complaining too much here. All things considered I've had a really good season. I've harvested 3 deer, all on film, one of which is my biggest buck ever. That buck, which you can read about by clicking here, ended up gross scoring just over 158 inches which is far bigger than I originally thought. Although I'm not looking forward to another taxidermy bill, I won't mind admiring him for years to come.

So with all of that said, it's certainly not time to give up now! There's nearly 2 months of season left here in Illinois and if I want to fill my 2nd buck tag I'm going to have to keep hunting hard. So tomorrow morning when I'm in my Lone Wolf stand with Mathews in hand, I'll try to picture my tag wrapped around 150 inches of antler I know could be around the next tree.


October Bowhunting Success | A Buck Named Hitch

by Justin Zarr 31. October 2011 16:14
Justin Zarr

This particular tale begins in the spring of 2011.  After one of my most successful bowhunting seasons to date, I decided it was time to move on from the lease I had come to call home the past three seasons.  The days of chasing Dope Ear and Schafer were over, and it was time to find some new ground.  Preferably something closer than the 250 mile drive I had been making almost every weekend during the fall.  So with mixed emotions I let the landowner now that we would be moving on, and the search for a new hunting spot began.

Through some hard work, and some much needed luck, my good friend and hunting partner Mike Willand found just such a spot.  Located in far Northwestern Illinois, this small slice of heaven hugs the bluffs of the mighty Mississippi River and looked to be very promising.  After a brief conversation, confirming that we both agreed that this was our new spot, we signed the paperwork and began preparations for the fall.

Our first trip to the new farm was on a hot summer day in Mid-July.  This was the first time I had ever stepped foot on this farm in person.  Those of you who are big on pre-season scouting know how nearly impossible it can be to scout effectively during the summer months.  The foliage is thick, the bugs are horrible, the temperatures are hot and the humidity is suffocating.  In light of this, Mike and I did the majority of our scouting and planning of stand locations before ever heading to the woods.  Aerial photos and topographic maps are without question your best friend when it comes to scouting new ground.

Having a general idea where we wanted to hang our Lone Wolf stands before heading into the field helped tremendously and allowed us to hang several sets on our first trip that July day, and finish up the remaining sets during a return trip in August.  The 2nd set we hung was located nearly in the center of the farm along what we figured would be a good travel corridor during the rut. 

The dog days of summer may not be the optimal time to hang stands, but sometimes you don't have much of a choice.  One of the keys to being successful is being prepared, not just in hunting but in all aspects of life.  Here Mike is making his way down the field edge to hang one of our Lone Wolf stands in preparation for fall.

Located on the side of a ridge we had a corn field to the North of us and a creek to the South.  To most people this stand doesn’t appear to be anything special, and probably wouldn’t be a spot many people would put a stand.  However, the topography doesn’t lie.  If a deer wanted to move from the big timber to our West through our woods to check does in the bedding area to our East, he would most likely come through this spot.

While hanging stands that warm July day we also set out a trail camera on a fence crossing, hoping to get an inventory of the resident deer herd.   On our return trip in August we checked the camera and much to our liking we had captured several pictures of what appeared to be a nice buck.  The date on the first image was 7-27-11, which was Mike’s 4 year wedding anniversary.  This prompted us to name the buck in the photos “Hitch”.

Our first photo of Hitch, taken in late July.  The forked brow tine on his left side is a dead giveaway.

Fast forward to October 1st, our first day in stand on this farm.  Opening Morning was relatively uneventful as we only saw one small buck and a doe.  During the middle of the day while killing time before our evening hunt we checked our trail camera again, this time on a different fence crossing, and once again captured several photos of Hitch – this time out of velvet.

The next, and last, photo captured of Hitch on this farm.  This photo was taken in late September and we never got another photo of him on this farm.  Although we weren't getting pictures of him, we were confident he was still around.

Over the next several weeks we only hunted this farm a total of 3 days.  While we knew the farm was holding some good deer, we didn’t want to ruin our hunting before things were getting good.  At just over 100 acres it’s easy to put too much pressure on the deer early and decrease your chances of shooting a good buck.  We’ve made that mistake in the past and didn’t want to make it again.  So we bit our tongues and we waited.

The weekend of October 29th it was time to get serious.  Instead of leaving home at 2:30 am like we had done previously, we drove out on Friday night and got a hotel room.  Some extra sleep and a shower were in order now that the bigger bucks were likely on their feet during daylight hours. 

Our plan for this morning was somewhat different than the previous 3 trips to the farm.  Instead of circling around the edge of the property and coming in from the West, we were going to sneak straight up the middle and approach the stand from the East.  You see, earlier in October during our morning walk into the stand we had spooked what sounded like a big deer in the standing corn field.  Upon closer inspection of the area we found several big scrapes, some rubs and a definite “smell” of buck.  Whoever it was, that deer had been marking his territory when we so rudely interrupted him.  Not wanting to make the same mistake again, we altered our entry route accordingly.

Upon entering the woods on Saturday morning we once again encountered the distinct smell of buck.  Many of you likely know what I’m talking about.  The musky smell of rutting whitetail buck is unmistakable and running into that during late October likely means you’re in a buck’s core area.  Also during our trip into the stand, which was our first to this stand for the year, we found several big beds that reinforced our theory that we were in a buck’s bedroom.

As the sun rose on the chilly 29 degree morning, the daylight revealed several rubs and a scrape all within 30 yards of our stand location.  Although we had hung this stand in preparation for a good travel route, it appears that we ended up in a buck bedding area.  In late October in Northern Illinois there are certainly worse places to be!

The first hour of our morning was relatively uneventful until a small button buck made an appearance.   Showing up almost directly downwind of us the young buck was nervous, but unsure of just what he was smelling.  This is until he busted us up in the tree, trying to have a little fun at his expense.  I supposed that’s what we get for screwing around.

Our first visitor of the day, a young button buck.  Anytime you start seeing yearlings out on your own you know the rut is getting close. 

Roughly 45 minutes later, shortly before 9 am, I heard footsteps on the ridge to our West and shortly after I spotted a deer moving through the brush.  I told Mike we had a deer on the opposite ridge working our way, and we both stood up.  As the deer moved out from behind a tree the glimmer of white antlers could be seen and my heart rate quickened.  I put up my Vortex binoculars to size the buck up, to which Mike responded “Put away your binoculars and grab your bow, it’s a shooter!”

Of course I didn’t listen to him as I wanted to make 100% sure this buck was a shooter before I switched my brain into kill mode.  I’ve made the mistake before of not taking time to confirm the buck’s age and rack size and buck fever has gotten the best of me.  However, that wasn’t a problem this time.  As soon as my glass hit his rack I said to Mike “It’s Hitch”.   I immediately put down the binos and reached for my Mathews.

A shot of Hitch as he approached our stand location.  Here at roughly 35 yards I have no good shot opportunities.

Over the course of the next several minutes Hitch crossed the ridge and made his way in front of our stand.  He crossed broadside at just over 30 yards, but I had no shot.  The problem with hunting these hilly areas is that often times you can’t get high enough up in the trees to trim long shooting lanes, which was the case here.  Most of my shots were within 20 yards so he was going to have to close the distance before I could get an arrow headed his direction.

After passing in front of the stand Hitch took an abrupt left and began heading away from us.  Immediately, a small feeling of defeat began to set in.  He had come so close, but was now headed in the wrong direction.  While part of me immediately wanted to reach for my grunt call in an attempt to turn him around, the veteran deer hunter in me knew better.  The buck was still within 40 yards and grunting too soon would sure do nothing but send him in the opposite direction even faster.  My plan was to let him get out to 80 yards or so before hitting the call.  But before that could happen, a little bit of luck headed my way.  Hitch decided to turn around and come back towards us.

As the buck approached our stand and got to within 20 yards he had two trails to pick from.  Both crossed well within shooting range, but one went into an open area that would make for great video and the other behind a small tree holding on dearly to its leaves.  At this point my luck had started to run out, as he picked the trail shrouded by fall foliage.

When Hitch stepped into the open at just 18 yards I grunted to stop him, settled the pin on his shoulder, and sent an NAP Hellrazor tipped arrow his way.  The arrow slammed into the brute’s shoulder and he tore off up the hill, stopping just 50 yards away.  After just 20 seconds the mighty warrior staggered, and despite his best efforts, fell over as Mike continued to roll footage.  Nearly 3 months to the day after showing up on our trail camera, Hitch was dead.

The post-shot celebration was much as you would expect.  Mike and I were in somewhat of a state of disbelief as to what just happened.  You see, things just never seem to work out like this for us.  We hunt harder than most people we know, put more time into our stand setups and preparation, and yet rarely do our plans seem to go, well, as planned.  In this case, our plan was thought out and executed to perfection.  In just the 7th sit on a brand new farm the #1 target on our Hit List was down.  What a way to end October!

My initial reaction after the shot.  I can't believe I just shot Hitch!

Once the shock wore off and text messages were sent out we climbed down to retrieve our trophy.  Despite seeing him fall we still followed the blood trail, which was incredible.  Both deer I’ve shot with the Hellrazor this season have left great trails, which is a testament to both good shot placement as well as razor sharp broadheads.  You don’t need a 2 inch cut to put a deer down quickly provided you hit them in the right place.  My shot on Hitch was about 3 inches further forward than I would have liked, however my arrow penetrated completely through the big-bodied whitetail thanks to the ultra tough Hellrazor broadhead.  I know a lot of guys like big cutting diameters, but I'll take a small, accurate, tough-as-nails broadhead any day no matter how big the cutting diameter.

There are few better feelings for a bow hunter than the first time you wrap your hands around the antlers of a buck you just shot.

Guessing Hitch at 225+ lbs on the hoof we enlisted the help of our friend and other hunting partner Mr. Kenny Tekampe to help us drag the brute out.  Luckily we only had about a 60 yard drag to the field edge, where we were able to drive the truck and pick him up.  After a photo and video session for this week’s episode of Bowhunt or Die we loaded him up and headed to the deer processor.

I didn’t have a chance to put a tape to him, but I would guess he scores somewhere around 145 inches, which makes him my best buck to date.  I’ve yet to enter any of my qualifying bucks into the P&Y record book, but I just may with this one.  He is a great example of what the Midwest has to offer when it comes to high quality whitetails.

My best buck to date, and first buck shot with my Mathews z7 Xtreme.  If my luck continues it won't be the last either.

One thing I want to point out before I end this Blog is that this buck wasn’t a result of just my efforts alone.  It was a team effort that required of hard work, planning, and sacrifice by my friend, hunting partner, cameraman and partner in crime Mike Willand.  Mike and I dedicate nearly ½ of our season each year to film each other, which is not only a lot of work but a huge sacrifice.  For those of you who have never done it, imagine sitting in a tree on a cold November morning with your bow in the truck and a camera in your hand.  

So a big Thank You goes out to Mike for all of his help.   From finding this farm for us to hunt, to battling with me about treestand locations to filming one of the most memorable hunts of my life, you’re a great friend and not a half bad cameraman.  Hopefully I can repay the favor before the season is over!

Be sure to check out our online show, Bowhunt or Die, this Friday as the full video of this hunt will be featured in this week’s episode.  And if you missed last week’s show, but sure to check it out as it features Mike’s hunt for a great suburban whitetail from earlier this October.

The end of a successful hunt is always bittersweet.  The thrill of the hunt is mixed with the disappointment of knowing this particular adventure has come to an end.  However, knowing that the season is young and the peak of the rut is still ahead of us gives me hope that there are more exciting hunts to come before the 2011 season is over.

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!

Slow Opening Weekend of Bowhunting in Illinois

by Justin Zarr 5. October 2011 02:47
Justin Zarr

October 1st is a magical day for many bowhunters across the US, and especially here in Illinois.  Despite the fact that early season hunting is rarely productive for all but the luckiest of hunters, there's something special about that first sit of the year.  Whether it's the sights and sounds of nature coming alive with the rise of the sun or the thoughts of monster bucks dancing in our heads, it's like Christmas morning for grown-ups.

This October 1st was no exception for both myself as well as my hunting partner/cameraman Mike Willand.  With a new piece of property to hunt for this fall we were amped up to hit the road and get up in a tree.  So when my alarm went off at 1:45 on Saturday morning it didn't take much effort to get me out of bed and ready to go.  Some 2 1/2 hours later we arrived at our hunting grounds and quickly got geared up for the morning sit.

No doubt that Mike is pumped up for opening day!  Ah, the enthusiasm of October 1st.  Let's see how you feel come mid-November!

With temps in the low 30's on opening morning our hopes were high that we would see some deer movement.  Shortly after Mike's first interview of the year (I was behind the camera) he spotted the first whiteail of 2011 creeping its way along the creek line.  Even though he was just a young fork buck, the first deer of the year always gets the blood flowing.

This yearling buck came to within 10 yards of our stand on Opening morning.  Not the shooter we're looking for, but the first deer of the year is always exciting!

After the morning sit was over Mike and I checked a trail camera we had set out about a month earlier on a fence crossing.  Much to our delight, our target buck from earlier this summer "Hitch" had showed up during late September along with another shooter buck we're calling "Little Nicky".

Our #1 target buck, Hitch, out of velvet.  We're hoping to have some encounters with him this fall that end with him in the back of the truck.

Our #2 target buck, Little Nicky.  Although his rack isn't huge, judging from his head and neck he looks like a good mature whitetail.

With some renewed anticipation we headed out for the afternoon hunt, this time with me in front of the camera.  Unforutnately we were unable to sit the stand we really wanted to be in, which overlooked some big oak trees that are dropping acorns.  Due to the NE wind direction we were forced to sit on the edge of a standing corn field where we were limited to spotting just 4 turkeys and a few squirrels.

Have you guys seen any deer around here?  Because I sure haven't!

With a long season ahead of us we both decided to sleep in on Sunday morning and just hunt the afternoon.  This time we split up and hunted by ourselves.  Of course I had a very slow night with only a single red fox sighting and about a thousand squirrels running around.  Mike, on the other hand, had some great luck and managed to put a nice doe on the ground.  Keep an eye on his Blog for the full story in the next couple of days.

We'll be back at it this weekend despite the forcast of warm temps.  At least we'll have the South winds we need to hunt our better stands, so hopefully we'll get lucky and see one of our target bucks.

Bowhunting Internship Is Over- Until Next Time Illinois!

by Cody Altizer 28. January 2011 10:41
Cody Altizer

The afternoon of September 17, 2010 found me sitting in a treestand in Northern Illinois, dripping with sweat from the late summer heat and fighting off nasty mosquitoes left and right.  I had just finished hanging a second treestand on a piece of property Todd Graf allowed to hunt, and remember watching an endless Midwestern sunset thinking to myself, “I am 800 miles from home, sitting in a treestand with no clue what the next 5 months have in store for me.  What have I gotten myself in to?”  Well, this past weekend, January 22nd, I took that same treestand down in over 6 inches of snow and a wind chill of 5 degrees.  As I took down that same stand and watched the same sun slip beneath the horizon, I couldn’t help but reflect on the past 5 months.

When Todd Graf offered me an internship at the office last June, I accepted the position almost immediately and was anxious to make the move from Virginia to Illinois.  The opportunity to live in Illinois for an entire hunting season seemed too good to be true, but it was very real and I promised myself to make the most of it.

My first weekend on the job consisted of me filming Todd on his property in Wisconsin for the archery opener.

Todd and I wasted little time getting to know each other as we climbed in the tree for the first time together my first weekend on the job for the opening weekend of the Wisconsin archery season.  That first weekend was a nightmare.  Todd and I were clumsy with all of our hunting and camera gear, got busted several times on stand by wary whitetails and our communication in the stand was atrocious.  My first weekend on the job, and I was already questioning whether or not I worthy of the position.  Fortunately, with little time to sulk, Todd and I headed back to Wisconsin the following weekend and I was able to film him harvesting a big, mature doe.  The ice had been broken and I was ready to climb in the tree myself!

I was able to film Todd harvesting this doe on a late September bow hunt in Wisconsin.

The following weekend marked the beginning of a new chapter in my bowhunting career.  October 1st meant the first day of the Illinois bow season and I couldn’t wait to get settled in the stand and hunt those famed Illinois whitetails.  My first two hunts as an Illinois bowhunter yielded frustrating results; I didn’t see a single deer!  On Sunday afternoon October 3rd, I went to my best stand on one of the properties Todd granted me permission to hunt, and was optimistic about my chances.  About an hour before sunset, a mature doe snuck up on me, but I was able to harvest my first Illinois whitetail on film.  I was pumped!  Follow this link to view the footage of my first Illinios whitetail!

After a slow first couple of days in Illinois, I was able to film myself harvesting mature doe on October 3rd.

The weeks that followed were a little bit of a rollercoaster ride.  My site broke while in the stand on a morning hunt in Central Illinois on Justin Zarr’s lease, however, that same weekend I was able to film Justin’s friend Jeremy Enders harvest his first deer which was a cool experience.  I remember Jeremy shaking like a leaf when that doe walked in at less than 10 yards, but Jeremy made a perfect shot on her and I was able to capture it all on film.    My luck then turned sour again, as I was in a minor car accident the following weekend that forced me to take precious time out of the stand to get the car repaired.  I was thankful to not have been injured, but I wanted to be in the woods!

My view from behind the camera just seconds before Jeremy shot his first deer.

While I was thrilled with the harvest of my first Illinois whitetail, I was still driven to get my first Illinois buck as well.  It was Halloween weekend and Justin and I were headed down to his lease in Central Illinois in Pike County for a three day hunting adventure.  He and I struck up a deal. I was to film him for three hunts and then I had three hunts to get it done myself.  After seeing some awesome buck activity filming Justin three times, I couldn’t wait to try my luck on a Pike County buck.  I didn’t have to wait long, because on my first hunt, again about an hour before sunset, a shooter buck stopped perfectly broadside in my shooting lane and I put an arrow right through his heart.  On the afternoon of October 30th, you would have been hard pressed to find happier bowhunter.  It was literally a dream come true, harvesting a good buck in Pike County, Illinois, and I couldn’t have been more thankful.  Click here to view the footage of my buck harvest as seen in Bowhunt or Die.

My Halloween Weekend buck that I was fortunate to harvest on Justin's lease in Pike County, Illinois.  This is not only my first Illinois buck, but my biggest buck to date.  I am super proud of this buck!

Harvesting that buck was a bittersweet moment, because it meant I was tagged out in Illinois.  As a non-resident I was only issued one buck tag and one doe tag.  But given the chance to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.  I was able to hunt back home in Virginia for a week over the Thanksgiving holiday, but just couldn’t seal the deal on a Virginia whitetail.  I was bound and determined to shoot an Illinois buck and a Virginia buck in the same season, but I just couldn’t pull it off.

I went home for the Thanksgiving holiday and was thankful to do a little hunting with my brother, who doubled as a camera man.

When I got back to Illinois after a blessed week at home for Thanksgiving, Mother Nature smacked me in the face with some brutally cold weather.  But cold weather means usually means good hunting and Todd and I hit his property hard several times hoping a giant buck would visit one of Todd’s food plots.  We saw several does during those hunts, a couple younger bucks and one nice buck that was a borderline shooter, but Todd elected to pass.  I was, however, able to film Todd’s good friend Dr. Ali Shaibani harvesting his deer.  Ali was the second hunter I was fortunate enough to film harvesting their first deer in 2010, which was pretty special!

As December faded into January, my primary focus wasn’t on bowhunting anymore, but on the annual ATA Show in Indianapolis, Indiana.  I had heard several bowhunters talk about the ATA Show and how cool it was to hang out with all the pros and see all the new gear, but I never thought that I would actually be able to attend.   Just like the majority of my experiences in Illinois, the 2011 ATA was another first for me.  I couldn’t believe how big the show was!  Every time I turned around I saw one of the pro hunters I grew up watching on TV just carrying on a casual conversation with a dealer.  It was a bowhunter’s paradise!  However, like my Halloween Weekend buck harvest, the ATA Show was a bittersweet experience because after the show, I had just a couple weeks before my internship was over.  Just like that, 5 months had flown by and it was time for me to go home.

Here I am posing with Jim Shockey at the 2011 ATA Show.  Jim was a cool guy to hang out with and meeting him was one of the many highlights of my first ATA Show experience.

Todd asked me just the other day what my favorite part of the internship and living in Illinois was.  It was a cliché question, but it completely caught me off guard because I honestly hadn’t thought about it.  It would have been easy to say the ATA Show, or harvesting two Illinois whitetails on film, or even being with Jeremy and Ali when they shot their first deer, but those thoughts never entered my mind.  I simply answered, “The relationships.”  In the future when I look back at my time as an intern at, I’ll think of the great friendships I had made, particularly those with Todd and Justin.  I can’t thank them enough for all that they did for me over the last 5 months and all they taught me.  Not to mention everything I learned from them by just hanging around them in the woods and in the office.  I’ll never forget the famous motivational speeches Todd gave me when he sensed I was lagging behind or getting discouraged, and the laughs I shared with Justin when hunting with him on his lease are irreplaceable. 

To Todd and Justin, I can only hope that one day I will be able to return the favor, and I look forward to the adventures we are sure to share in the future; thank you!


Bowhunt or Die! Episode 9 Recap

by Cody Altizer 13. December 2010 05:10
Cody Altizer

 As the cold, blustery days slowly inch towards the end of the calendar year, so the hunting gets tougher for whitetail enthusiasts across the country.  For the first time this season, Bowhunt or Die went live with an episode that did not feature one of our team members harvesting a deer.  Unfortunately, that is the way late season hunting goes, but our staff members were still out there hunting hard.  Let’s recap the action from Episode 9 of Bowhunt or Die!

Click here to watch the footage of Bowhunt or Die! Episode 9!

 Todd Graf kicks off December hunting his piece of property in Northwestern Illinois looking to harvest his second Illinois monster of the 2010 season.  Todd has invested a lot of time and effort into this piece of property to provide a literal buffet for whitetails in the form of food plots.  Everything from turnips, clover, sorghum, corn and soybeans has been planted to attract deer to his property and it’s beginning to pay off big time.  Todd wasn’t able to harvest a buck for this week’s episode, but he saw plenty of deer and passed on several smaller bucks.  Whitetails are a slave to their stomach this time of year and Todd has plenty of food to give himself a legitimate chance at a monster during the late season.  We will have to see how it pans out!

Pictured is one of the nice bucks Todd passed on in Episode 9 of Bowhunt or Die!  He certainly is a nice buck, but just not what Todd is looking for.  Note the food that is available to this buck.  With turnips to his left and corn to his right he'll definitely have plenty to eat on this winter!

 We then catch back up with Pro Staffer John Hermann and join his quest for an Illinois buck.  As you probably know John harvested a monster buck in Wisconsin during the early season, and if he were able to, taking down an Illinois giant would cap off an incredible season.  John had several great encounters with some smaller bucks, as well as a shooter buck he had been chasing that just didn’t want to commit to his calling.  Despite not being able to harvest a buck in Illinois, John had several cool encounters with bucks which is always exciting.  Sometimes it’s just not meant to be!

John Hermann had several nice buck encounters on his Illinois hunting trip, he just wasn't able to connect on the buck he was looking for.  John had no intentions of shooting this buck as he skirted past his stand, unaware of John's presence.

 Bowhunt or Die then heads east for the first time this season as I hunted my home piece of property in Western Virginia for the Thanksgiving holiday.  My brother offered to be my cameraman for the week (which was a pleasure as I had been self-filming all year) and we were determined to harvest a deer on film.  Despite our efforts, we just weren’t able to get close enough for a shot over the Thanksgiving holiday.  We saw plenty of deer, but the 4th week of gun season in Virginia just put those deer on edge making them extremely difficult to bow hunt and forcing me to return to Illinois empty handed.  Still, it was a blessing to be able to go home and spend quality time in the woods with my family which made the trip a success.

This photo is one of our food plots my family has planted on our hunting property in Western Virginia.  It was fun to be able to hunt back home for a week, I just wish I could have connected on a deer!

 After chasing whitetails hard for 2 and a half straight months Todd and Justin Zarr took a break from the woods and attended the recent Mathews Retailer Show in Wisconsin.  This show featured the release of the new Z7 family of bows by Mathews as well as other cool products and accessories that will be released for the 2011 hunting season.  Visit our New Products video gallery for more in depth coverage and an exclusive first look at some of these exciting new products.

Here is Justin pictured with the Mathews rep at the Mathews Retailer show in Wisconsin talking about the new Z7 family of bows.

 Although our team wasn’t able to harvest any deer for the first time this season, Bowhunt or Die was still an exciting episode.  Our guys are still out there hunting hard and documenting their hunts on film to share with everyone, so be sure you continue to tune in to Bowhunt or Die the rest of the season!


Bowhunt or Die! Episode 8 Recap

by Cody Altizer 7. December 2010 03:34
Cody Altizer

 After taking a week off to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, Bowhunt or Die! returned for Episode 8 of its inaugural season.  While our team spent Thanksgiving being thankful for friends, family and good food, the whitetails across the country were thankful our hunters weren’t out hunting them!  With the type of season our team has had this far who could blame them?  Still, Episode 8 chronicles 4 more exciting hunts in Illinois and Wisconsin and 2 more bucks and 2 does were harvested.  Let’s take a look at how things went down!

To watch the footage of Episode 8 of Bowhunt or Die! follow this link!

 Justin Zarr kicks Episode 8 off on his lease in West Central Illinois.  Justin spent three days on his lease in Pike and Brown Counties hunting those famed whitetails hard, but wasn’t able to get it done.  Despite his rough luck down south Justin kept at it the following Monday on his hunting property in Lake County, Illinois.  If you have followed Bowhunt or Die! this season, you know how much time and effort Justin has put into this piece of property hoping to harvest a nice whitetail.  Finally, his patience was rewarded when a buck Justin has over 50 trail camera pictures made an appearance.  It looked like this buck, better known as Little Mac, was going to cross a creek and present a 10 yard chip shot; however, when he crossed the creek Justin attempted to stop him with his mouth call.  The results were not what any hunter would expect as the buck apparently was alarmed by the call and took off in the opposite direction!  After going back across the creek he stopped and gave Justin a small window of opportunity and Justin capitalized on it big time!  He put a Nitron tipped arrow right behind Little Mac’s shoulder and the buck was dead within seconds!  Just like that Justin had accomplished his biggest goal of the 2010 season, harvesting a buck in Lake County, Illinois.  Click here to read about the sentimental value this particular buck holds to Justin by reading his own recap of this hunt.  Way to go, Justin!

Justin's immediate reaction after the shot was priceless.  When you work as hard for a buck as Justin did for Little Mac, emotions can quickly run high after a successful shot.

Here is Justin after he recovered his buck, Little Mac.  Congrats again to Justin for working extremely hard for this buck and making it happen.

 We then head to Wisconsin with John Hermann as he attempts to harvest a couple does.  If you remember, John got his 2010 season off to an incredible start by harvesting a giant 150” 8 pointer in early October.  Unfortunately, that was the only buck John could harvest in Wisconsin (I am sure he is not complaining) and he was limited to shooting does the rest of the year.  He set out a goal to harvest two does off a certain piece of property and was able to accomplish that goal in one weekend.  John was also able to get some great footage of a mature buck over the course of the weekend as well.  While he wasn’t able to shoot that big buck, simply being able to watch him interact with the other deer was enjoyable I am sure.  Congrats on a productive weekend, John!

John Hermann had a successful weekend hunt in Northern Wisconsin as he achieved his goal of harvesting a couple does.  Nice work, John!

 While John Hermann was having excellent luck in Wisconsin, Bowhunt or Die! front man Todd Graf was not.  Todd has worked extremely hard in Wisconsin this year hoping to harvest a nice buck and was presented with a shot opportunity on a mid-November hunt, but unfortunately he missed.  The particular tree Todd was hunting out of is a perfect tree for killing big bucks, but it makes for difficult shot angles and Todd just wasn’t able to pull it off.  To make matters worse, the same buck strolled back by later that day at 39 yards, but Todd just wasn’t comfortable with the shot.  Despite his tough luck, Todd deserves a lot of credit for passing up on shot at redemption by passing on a shot he wasn’t 100% comfortable with. 

A shot of the buck Todd missed on his quest for a Wisconsin bruiser.  Don't you just hate it when they look back at you out range as if to say, "You can't shoot me now!"  Don't worry about it Todd, we all miss and I am sure you will get one during the late season!

 If you remember Episode 5, staff member Josh Fletcher harvested a giant Wisconsin buck on the first day of his planned two week vacation.  Since he quickly tagged out, he offered to run the camera for his brother Clint, hoping to film him harvesting a nice buck.  At very first light on the morning of November 13th, a nice buck came in and Clint was fortunate enough to harvest him.  I personally know how much fun it is to be able to hunt and film with your brother, so I am sure Josh and Clint had a great time in the tree together.  Good jobs guys!

Staff member Josh Fletcher took time out of his vacation to film his brother, Clint, harvesting this nice buck.  There is no time better spent than sharing a hunt with your brother and congratulations to Clint for harvesting a nice buck!

 Another exciting and successful episode has come and gone for the team.  Wow, it’s hard to believe that we are already one week into December!  Time sure does fly in the deer woods.  The late season is officially upon us which means snow and super cold temperatures which can make for incredibly fun hunts.  Stay tuned to Bowhunt or Die! to see how the team performs during December.

Illinois Doe With Antlers?

by Dan Schafer 28. November 2010 15:22
Dan Schafer

Last time down in Illinois Johnny checked one of the trail cameras on the outside of our property.  When we looked at the pictures, we were surprised to find this "buck" in full velvet on November 13th.  After a closer look, it appears it could be a doe with antlers.  The small neck and the doe behind it lead us to believe it is not a buck.

I'd love to hear your opinions!



A Buck For My Dad

by Justin Zarr 16. November 2010 15:07
Justin Zarr

This particular chapter in my life began nearly 7 months ago with a phone call that I was completely unprepared for.  My father had gone home early from work as he was not feeling well and didn't show up the following day.  When he couldn't be reached by phone a friend went to check on him only to discover that he had passed away sometime overnight from a heart attack.  Just one month shy of his 54th birthday this was certainly an unexpected shock that took many people by surprise and left a big hole in my life.

Growing up as a kid I did everything with my dad, and considering that just about everything he did revolved around hunting you can see where my obsession came from.  As I grew up my dad became more than just a father figure, he became a friend and my best hunting partner.  He was there when I shot my first deer, he was there when I shot my first buck, and he was always my first phone call when I got out of the woods for the day.  Just days after his passing I knew that I wouldn't feel the complete effects of him being gone until October came around.

As spring gave way to summer and my life began returning to normal my thoughts began drifting once more to hunting season.  One particular farm where my dad spent most of his time in the tree over the past few years is a spot that's proven rather difficult to hunt.  Despite our best efforts neither of us had been able to tag a quality buck here in 6 seasons of hunting.  It became my personal quest to harvest a buck from this farm.  Not only did I want to prove to myself that it could be done, but I wanted to do it for my dad as well.

During mid-July I began putting my trail cameras out to get an inventory of the bucks I may be hunting that fall.  Although I didn't get any buck photos for nearly a month after setting my cameras out, one fateful July day I finally had a nice buck show up.  He was a nice 8 point with a kicker on his left G-2. As I was reviewing my pictures that night at home I had paused a game of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out (yes, the Nintendo game) on my computer.  I immediately decided to call this buck "Little Mac" after the underdog character in the video game.

My first photo of "Little Mac" taken in late July.

"Little Mac" was a buck I knew fairly well, as I captured several trail camera photos of him in 2009 as a 2 year old.

Over the course of the next two months Little Mac was the only good buck to consistantly show up on my trail camera.  Although it's certainly nice to see a good buck living in your hunting area, it's a bit concerning when he's the only one!  I knew that chasing him down come hunting season would be no easy task, but I was bound and determined to give it my best shot.

My first daytime photos of Little Mac standing in a mock scrape I made in late September.

Now when it came to hunting, my dad and I had much different opinions on when and where to hang treestands.  Despite my best efforts to change his ways, he just never seemed to listen to my input.  I suppose a lot of dads are like that.  After all, who ever wants to admit that their kids may be right?  For me, this meant a very limited amount of input on stand placement or when certain stands would be hunted.

When it came time for me to hang stands in August and September I felt extremely guilty for pulling down some of my dad's favorite treestands.  He had hunted these stands rain or shine, no matter the time of year or wind conditions for years.  I figured they had their opportunities to prove themselves and now it was time for a change.  I also knew that he was undoubtedly watching me from somewhere, cursing up a storm that I was going to spook all the damn deer out of the woods!  But as I said, I was bound and determined to do this whether he liked it or not. 

Opening weekend finally rolled around here in Illinois and after continuing to get photos of Little Mac and finding a lot of fresh rubs in several areas close to my stands I was pretty excited.  I got up early, showered and headed into the stand I thought would give me the best shot at this buck.  Unfortunately after that hunt, and two more that weekend, I hadn't even seen a deer! 

After that first weekend I had a family trip to Pennsylvania followed by a trip to our lease in Central Illinois so it was nearly three weeks until I got back to hunt this farm.  That weekend I sat 3 more times and once again I didn't see any deer.  At this point I was starting to wonder if I knew what I even knew what I was doing!  Fortunately Little Mac was still showing up on my trail camera on a fairly regular basis which helped to keep me motivated.

Although you can't see his rack, this is probably my favorite picture of Little Mac.  He truly is a beautiful whitetail.

Two weeks later brought us into November with cold temps and the rut really starting to kick in.  I took an extra day off work that weekend and spent nearly 3 straight days in the stand.  This time I didn't get skunked however.  Each trip to the woods brought deer sightings and several very close encounters with does and several small bucks.  I still hadn't laid eyes on Little Mac, or any of the other shooters that showed up on trail camera in the last couple weeks, but I wasn't giving up quite yet.  As I wrote in this blog here, I was convinced that my persistance was going to pay off.

Heading into the weekend of November 13th I had one last trip down to Central Illinois planned.  I spent three days hunting down there with my buddy Jeremy and cameraman Cody.  Although Jeremy saw some good deer, I didn't see even one buck that was anywhere close to being a shooter.  In my three years on this property it was my worst weekend of hunting ever, and it was mid-November with perfect weather conditions!

After the morning hunt on Sunday we elected to return home.  Jeremy and Cody both had to work on Monday morning and the idea of getting little to no sleep didn't sound like much fun to them, especially considering we hadn't seen much action.  I had one last day of vacation from work so I figured it couldn't hurt to head back out in pursuit of Little Mac.  Knowing I would be hunting this particular wood lot the following day, when I returned home I shaved off what was left of my beard and just left my version of a mustache, partially in homage to my dad who always sported one of the greatest 'staches of all time.

When my alarm went off at 4 am on Monday morning not only did my wife want to kill me, but I certainly didn't want to get out of bed.  I was seconds away from throwing in the towel on the morning hunt and sleeping in when that nagging voice that's inside of every hunter told me to get up and get out there.  November only comes once a year and I'll have plenty of time to sleep after the season ends.  So with some reluctance I got up, showered and headed out the door.

I was set up in a stand overlooking a creek crossing 30 minutes before light. Temperatures were in the mid 20's but with winds from the SSW it was perfect for this spot.  The 40 yard stretch of creek in front of me seemed to be the preferred crossing spot for deer traveling from one side of the woods to the other.  With bucks still seeking hot does I knew it was my best bet for getting a shot that day.

I stopped and pulled the SD card from a trail camera on my way in, only to find photos of Little Mac taken just 24 hours before I arrived.  This really lifted my spirits for this morning's hunt.

Roughly an hour into my hunt a small 1 1/2 year old buck appeared heading down the creekline straight towards me.  Before he got to my location he stopped, looked up the hill and trotted up and out of sight.  Seconds later he returned in pursuit of a doe and her fawn.  Once he determined she wasn't in heat he quickly turned his attention elsewhere and continued on his way.  I figured this was a good sign and hoped other bucks would be out looking for love just as he was.

Shortly before 8 am I heard noise to my right and glanced over only to see Little Mac coming down the trail straight towards me.  Although I didn't see his rack, I could clearly see his face and knew him immediately.  Without thinking twice I turned on my video camera, hit record and grabbed my bow off the hanger.

The buck approached the creek crossing slowly and as I came to full draw he stopped behind some brush at less than 10 yards.  As I anticipated him coming across the creek slowly, he suddenly took one big leap and began up the opposite bank!  My attempt to stop the buck with a "Maaa" nearly scared him half to death as he lept directly away from me and then back across the creek the way he came!  Still at full draw this entire time my heart sank and I could not believe what I was seeing!  I had him at less than 10 yards and he was getting away!

Someone must've been looking out for me this day as the buck stopped in the one spot where I still had a shot at 20 yards.  It was tight, and there were a few twigs in the area but I knew I could put my arrow where it needed to be.  So I lined up my 20 yard pin, took a breath and let it go.  With the tell-tale "thwack" my NAP Nitron tipped arrow found it's mark and buried into his side up to the fletchings.  Little Mac tore off through the woods but it was too late.  He stopped just 40 yards away and soon fell over. The woods were silent once more. 

At this point my adrenaline was so high I didn't know what to say.  As you'll see in the video I was pretty excited!  After filming my interview and turning the camera off a wave of emotions washed over me.  For a few minutes I simply sat in silence, reflecting on the experiences of my season and this great morning.  Words simply cannot describe the feelings of joy, relief and sadness I felt all at the same time.

Once my celebratory text messages were sent out and I had time to collect my thoughts and bask in the moment I got down to collect my trophy.  Having seen the buck fall in sight I walked right over to admire this beautiful animal.  He's not the biggest buck I've ever killed, but without question he is my most prized trophy.  I have never worked harder or stayed more persistant in the pursuit of a single whitetail as I did with this buck, which made that moment all the better.  Once again I took a few minutes to simply sit in the forest that I had walked with my dad many times before, reflecting on our misadventures and appreciating the feat which I had just accomplished.

This photo was taken where the giant buck fell, just 50 yards from my stand.  He field dressed 195 lbs, putting him somewhere around 230 lbs on the hoof.  A true Illinois brute.

Another shot of Little Mac that really shows off his beautiful coat and chocolate rack. I purposely took this photo in nearly the exact same spot where my dad took a photo of the last buck he ever harvested before his passing.

The past 7 months have been some of the most difficult times of my life and I'm still adjusting to life without my dad.  He was the unwavering rock in my life that was always there no matter what, and I wished more than anything that he was there to share in that moment with me.  Although he wasn't there in person, I know he was there with me in spirit and in my heart.  This quest, and this buck, were for him.

RIP Terry "Moosehunter" Zarr

Never underestimate the power of a really good mustache!

Bowhunting the Illinois Rut - Day 3

by Justin Zarr 14. November 2010 12:12
Justin Zarr

Earlier this year when the "experts" began writing about their rut predictions, it was pretty much unanimous that this year's rut was going to be slow.  A "trickle rut" as some call it, with a general lack of the crazy chasing that generally defines the rut to most bowhunters.  Whether these guys were right or it's just a big coincidence, I can pretty much say this year's rut has sucked!

This morning started out with high hopes as a cold front moved through on Saturday and the winds had calmed down.  For all practical purposes this morning was "perfect" by bowhunting standards.  32 degrees and a slight SW wind were perfect for our setup, but there was only one problem - no deer!  Well, I shouldn't say that.  We saw deer, just nothing we wanted to shoot.  Over the course of the 5 hours we sat in stand this morning we saw 4 different 1 1/2 year old bucks who were certainly feeling their oats, but weren't running around with their tongues hanging out like I'd prefer to see.  Instead they kind of just walked through the woods, no doubt in search of a hot doe, but at a pretty steady and careless pace.  The big boys however, were nowhere to be seen!

The view from this morning's stand.  Sure would look a lot better if there was a big buck standing there.

One of several visitors we had this morning.  A young buck out looking for love, but only finding two guys in a tree.

With a 5 hour drive home ahead of us we decided to leave after the morning's hunt to get home at a reasonable time.  I have one day left of vacation which means tomorrow morning I'll be in a tree somewhere in Lake County.  It's down to the wire for what I would consider "good" hunting, so it's do or die time.  If the weather cooperates in the morning you just never know, I may get a shot at a suburban whitetail yet.

The Apache has proven itself to be a wonderful rest.  3 shots, 3 kills so far this season.  Let's hope to make that 4 tomorrow.

Bowhunting the Illinois Rut - Day 2

by Justin Zarr 13. November 2010 13:13
Justin Zarr

When the forecast said it was going to be windy today, they certainly weren't kidding!  We awoke this morning to temps in the mid 50's with a stiff SW wind of around 18 to 20 mph.  That was about as warm as it got today with temps falling steadily into the low 40's by nightfall.

As planned, Cody and I returned to our newly set-up ground blind with high hopes.  Unfortunately the deer didn't cooperate with us as once again we were blanked on deer sightings.  When you put yourself into a situation where you can only see just about far enough to shoot, that will happen from time to time.  Although we didn't see any deer, I will admit that I didn't mind hunting out of the blind.  Being able to stretch out, munch on some snacks, and stay out of the wind was alright with me.

Deer?  No deer!

Not the greatest setup in the world, but we figured it would do in a pinch.

This afternoon we headed up into the timber, thinking maybe we'd have some better luck.  We left Jeremy in a stand tucked nicely away out of the wind, while we climbed up into our stand and just about got blown into the next county!  We did see a few deer tonight, but nothing much to speak of.  A few does and fawns and one small buck.  Jeremy had an encounter with a good 8 point that was just out of range, along with several does and small bucks.  The dee are definitely on their feet, and it's only a matter of time now.

Jeremy inspecting one of the many nice rubs near his treestand.

Tomorrow temps are supposed to be in the 30's with much lighter winds, which should be just about perfect.  Cody and I are heading back to the stand where I shot my buck on Halloween, so if we have a little luck on our side maybe lighting will strike twice!

Will tomorrow be the day we bloddy an arrow?

Another Slow Weekend - Will Persistence Pay Off?

by Justin Zarr 8. November 2010 14:43
Justin Zarr

For the three of you who follow my blog posts you may know that I've been having some tough luck here in the suburbs of Northern Illinois.  Heading into this past weekend I've only made it out for a total of 5 sits with a grand total of zero deer sightings.  However, with some good bucks on my trail cameras I am determined to stick it out until the bitter end.  Either I'll end my season with my second Illinois buck or I'm going to die trying!

With November finally here I decided it would be a good idea to use some of that vacation time I've been saving up for a three day weekend.  Friday morning brought some unusually cold temps down into the low 20's so I figured the deer would be on their feet.  About an hour after light I finally caught sight of my first Lake County deer as two does stepped out of the thick timber into a small opening.  Although they were only does it sure felt good to see some deer!

This yearling doe stood in front of me feeding on grass and leaves for 10 to 15 minutes on Sunday morning.  If my freezer wasn't already full she might not have just gotten her picture taken!

Over the course of the next 3 days I hunted just about as hard and as smart as I could but only managed to see a bunch more does and some 1 1/2 year old bucks running around.  The big bucks still seem to be hanging low.  I'm not entirely sure if I just don't know what I'm doing, if the moon times kept their movement subdued during daylight, or if someone is just playing tricks on me and walking some pen-raised deer in front of my cameras when I'm not there!

If this guy was only about 3 years older and had an extra 150 inches of antler on his head....

Although I didn't see any good bucks this weekend I will consider this a big step in the right direction.  I saw deer on all 6 of my trips to the woods this weekend, which was a much needed confidence booster.  That, coupled with a familiar face (or rack?) showing up on my trail camera recently has renewed my drive to fill my 2nd tag with a suburban bruiser before it's all said and done.

"Big Mac" showed up on my camera several times over the past couple of weeks.  I got photos of this buck for the first time last December but never found any sheds or saw sign of him until he showed up in late October.  He is currently the #1 buck on my hit list.

My quest for a suburban whitetail will have to wait for awhile though, as I'll be heading down to West central, IL this weekend with my buddy Jeremy.  He's still looking for this first buck with a bow and I'll be hard at it looking for a true Illinois giant.  If one steps in front of me my suburban quest may be put on hold until next year, but I suppose there's worse ways to end your season.  With great moon times and a cold front moving in on Friday it looks like our chances are pretty good, so you never know what might happen.  The rut in Illinois is a wonderful thing!  If not, I'll return home to continue my quest the following weekend.  The once nice thing about the 'burbs is that they are bow-only which means I get to keep chasing these deer with archery tackle while the orange army takes to the woods.

Good luck once again to everyone who is still chasing their dream, whatever it may be.  Remember to hunt hard, hunt safe, and have some fun out there!

Back From Bowhunting Ontario, On to Illinois

by Dan Schafer 3. November 2010 15:22
Dan Schafer

I headed up to my camp in NW Ontario back on October 19th to do a little work and of course, some bowhunting.  The whole way up I had dreams of connecting with a big woods buck we had named Salad Fingers. 




Unfortunately, when I checked my DLC Covert II trail camera, he had vanished.  I spent the next week trying to locate him, with little luck.  Much to my surprise, a couple days before I left, my brother got pictures of him at another stand 1.5 miles south of where I had been seeing him.  Knowing where he was and being that it was near the end of my hunt, we decided to let me dad hunt him the rest of the time he was there.  Unfortunately, as of tonight, he has not been able to connect with him. 

With Salad Fingers now in the back of my mind, sort of, and the truck packed up, its time to head south at 4am for the land that I have fallen in love with......Illinois.  Fellow staffer and great friend John Herrmann and I will be making the 6 hour trek in just a few short hours.  The trip down will be filled with high expectations for what we will find on the 9 trail cameras we have spread throughout the property.  Hopefully our stud bucks Bill Brasky and Hanz will show themselves in front of the cameras a few more times than they did a month ago and hopefully we have a few new giants we can name. 

 Bill Brasky





Well, off to bed......if I can sleep!!! 

Halloween Buck Down in Illinois

by Justin Zarr 1. November 2010 11:40
Justin Zarr

Heading into this fall I was extremely optimistic about my chances of killing a nice buck. According to the moon phases the last weekend in October was going to be prime time for daylight movement so I requested an extra day off work so I could maximize my chances. All the way back in July I started hoping that Halloween weekend we would have good weather, and someone must've been looking out for me because it was just about perfect. After last week's wind storm blew threw the bottom dropped out and sent temps into the 20's for the first time this year. Thursday night I almost couldn't sleep I was so excited for the next morning.

4 am came pretty quick on Friday morning and after showering, dressing, and heading out the door I was in my stand with cameraman Cody Altizer by about 6. As the sun rose over the frost-covered field my anticipation was high. This was the absolute perfect morning to be in the whitetail woods. An hour after sunrise we started seeing deer and before it was all said and done I believe we counted somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 whitetails with 6 being bucks. Unfortunately none of them were shooters, but seeing the young guys chasing does around made for an enjoyable sit.

Glassing for bucks on a frosty October morning. Does it get much better than this?

Friday afternoon found Cody and I back up in the timber trying to catch a buck working a line of scrapes we had found. Over the course of the afternoon we saw 4 different bucks, 2 of which were shooters. A high 130/low 140 class 9 point got to within 40 yards but just wouldn't commit to our position. He was practically downwind of us so I didn't want to chance calling to him and blow him out of the area so we let him leave on his own. Later on a big 150 class ten point made his appearance about 100 yards into a field but ventured back into the timber just as quickly as he came out. The other two bucks both passed within shooting range, but neither was quite what I had in mind. The first was a fine young 9 point that came in hard to my rattling, and the 2nd was none other than "Rudy", the buck I had passed two weeks prior.

This big 9 came to within 40 yards but just wouldn't come far enough for a shot.

This young 9 point has been getting around a lot lately. Here he's coming into a rattling sequence I did. Sorry little guy, no fight here!

Rudy seems to be making the rounds as well. Here he walks through one of my shooting lanes at roughly 30 yards. Consider that the 2nd free pass I've given you!

On Saturday we had pretty strong South winds blow in some warmer temps which seemed to keep deer movement rather subdued. Cody and I did see two small bucks in the morning and a few does, but action was slow. That evening I hunted on my own and did see one shooter, but he was too far for a shot so I had to let him walk. After being pinned down in my stand for 30 minutes after dark the buck finally left my area and allowed me to sneak out for the night. I left my bow, my pack, and most of my camera gear in the tree because I planned to return the following morning.

Sunday morning brought our North winds back and cooled the temperatures back down into the 30's, so I knew deer would be up and moving. Starting just after sunrise I saw a total of 10 or 11 deer, 4 of which were bucks, most of whom were following does around the timber. I did some light rattling and had a couple young bucks respond but once again they just weren't the deer I was after.

Around 9:15 I was contemplating getting a delicious Pop-Tart out of my pack when I heard footsteps. I looked over my shoulder to see a nice buck stepping into and through my 20 yard shooting lane, all while my video camera was pointed behind the tree and my bow was on the hanger! So about as quick I could, not paying any attention to the buck who was obviously intent on going somewhere important, I turned the camera around, hit record, grabbed my bow and looked for an opening. As the buck stepped into my shooting lane at 25 yards I stopped him and let the Nitron fly. Much to my satisfaction my arrow flew true and impacted the big deer directly behind the shoulder. As he tore off down the hill at warp speed I knew he wasn't going to make it far.

At this point I was pretty much in shock. I had no idea how big he was, I only knew he was big enough to shoot! I couldn't believe that just happened, and that I had managed to pull it off and capture the shot on film. I was one happy bowhunter! After a few phone calls and bunch of text messages I packed up my gear and headed down to retrieve my arrow. I founded it buried in the dirt where the buck had once stood, covered with frothy red blood. If there was any doubt in my mind about the shot it was now gone. I knew he was down and couldn't have made it far, but unfortunately I wouldn't be able to recover him right away. We had to get Cody's buck that he shot the night before the butcher before they closed so I headed back to the truck with plans on returning later.

When your arrow looks like this, it's generally a good sign. Wes Mantooth really came through for me!

Once our errands were run and we grabbed a quick bite to eat in town Cody, Jeremy and myself headed back up to find my buck. The recovery was quick and easy just like I had anticipated, and we found my buck piled up a little over 100 yards away, just over a small rise where I couldn't see him fall. I was ecstatic to have made a perfect shot on a great warrior of a buck. With three busted tines there's to question he was a fighter, and I'm sure there's more than a couple young bucks who are probably glad he's gone!

Be sure to check back on Friday for this week's episode of Bowhunt or Die as you'll see this buck and THREE others who hit the ground this past weekend. It's going to be our best show yet!

A photo of this mighty warrior where he fell back in the timber.

Even with 3 busted points this buck still gross scores just shy of 130 inches. Had he not been all busted up he would probably have scored somewhere in the low to mid 140's.

This is now the 2nd buck I've been fortunate enough to shoot on Halloween morning. Although they were about 10 years apart, there's still something special about October 31st. There always has, and I have a feeling there always will be.

With another cold front moving through later this week I'll be back in a tree on Friday morning looking to fill my 2nd Illinois buck tag on a Lake County bruiser. These suburban bucks have been giving me the slip for far too long and it's time for a little payback. Good luck to everyone who still has tags. November is here and the game is officially on!

Full Moon Makes for Slow Bowhunting

by Justin Zarr 25. October 2010 05:36
Justin Zarr

This past weekend I decided to stay close to home and try to connect with one of the suburban bucks I've got on my trail cameras.  Unfortunately warm temps combined with a full moon and some on and off rain made for one slow weekend!  In three sits for a combined total of about 10 hours on stand I saw exactly ZERO whitetails, which now makes me 0 for 5 on my suburban hunts.  The only wildlife I managed to see was a lone coyote, a few squirrels, and a lonely raccoon who decided to take a nap ontop of my bow sling which I left at the bottom of my tree. 

Although it is a little discouraging not seeing any deer from stand, I know it's only a matter of time before one of the bucks I'm after shows up.  I'm not necessarily concerned with seeing a lot of deer, I want to see the right deer!  Having trail cam photos like this certainly does help keep me on my toes though.

This is a new buck that just showed up on my camera earlier this month.  He' s not a monster, but he's definitely a shooter for me.  Since he's sporting the same crab claw on his left side like two bucks I've chased in years previous (Mr. Buck and Mr. Buck Jr.) he has earned the name Mr. Buck the 3rd aka MB3.

A side profile of MB3 shows off his crab claw a little better.  Over the past 8 or 9 years we've gotten photos of probably 6 or 7 bucks with this exact same characteristic, all 9 pointers with virtually identical racks.  No matter how old they get their frame never gets much bigger than this.  They put on some mass and maybe spring a few kickers but by and large they don't get much bigger than 135 to 140 inches no matter how old they are.

Check out this little guy that was hanging out with MB3.  He has what looks like an old injury on his right side and some sort of growth/abscess on his left side.  It looks like a possible arrow injury from last season, but it's hard to be 100% sure.

Here's a close up.  Sure looks like an arrow hole to me.

Another interesting photo, this buck appears to have a busted antler on his right side that's hanging down over the side of his face.  Not sure if it grew like that or if he broke it in a fight.

And what trail cam photo montage would be complete without a photo of my #1 target buck "Little Mac" as he walked by my stand about 20 minutes before I arrived on Saturday morning.  Sooner or later this guy is going to make a mistake and when he does I hope I'm ready!

With the full moon now past us and a cold front set to move through the Midwest later this week primetime is right around the corner!  If you can be in the woods this Thursday or Friday after the front moves through I have a feeling you'll see a lot of buck movement.  Calling should work well as the bucks are getting pretty aggressive before the does start to pop.  So whatever you've gotta do to get in the woods, do it this weekend!


Big Buck Down in Illinois! October Bowhunting Success

by Todd Graf 21. October 2010 13:26
Todd Graf

As we head into the last 10 days of October I know bowhunters across the US are gearing up for the rut, and from what I've seen so far it looks like it's going to be a good one!  I know that bucks around here are really starting to work the scrapes pretty hard so if you find a good scrape line now is the time to hunt it, or at the very least set up a trail camera over it.  If you're looking for any last minute bowhunting products from scents to trail cameras make sure to look in the online bowhunting store right here on  We have over 14,000 products most of which ship out the same or next day!

Here in Illinois things have been going very well for me.  As you've seen in our bowhunting videos I've had several great encounters with some super nice bucks.  One thing that I've noticed, along with a lot of the bowhunters I talk to, is that there's an incredible amount of acorns this year.  I'm sure the great spring we had helped contribute to this.  If you have a good acorn source it seems like the deer are really hitting them hard so that may be another spot to catch a nice buck before the rut really hits.

Acorns are a great food source for Mid to late October hunts.

Across most of the Midwest we've had a really dry stretch of weather which means a lot of water has dried up, making water sources another good option.  If we don't get a lot of rain before November being close to water may really benefit a lot of bowhunters.  Once the bucks start running hard they're going to need water and if you've got a good source you just may catch a nice buck while he's heading in for a drink!

Water holes are another great spot for October and November hunts.  Especially during dry weather.

Doing as much bowhunting as I do means climbing up and down a LOT of trees, which makes treestand safety one of my top priorities.  I truly hope that everyone out there is wearing their safety harness and if you can afford it I would strongly recommend a life line type product as well.  Being attached to the tree from the ground to the top makes the world of difference when it comes to safety and my confidence while climbing in and out of my stands.

Over the past couple of weeks I've been able to share some really fun hunts with a few of my friends as well.  I think it's important to remember to have fun while you're out in the woods and there's no better way to do that than spending it with good friends or family.

Dr. Ali Shaibani on one of his first bowhunts ever.  He hasn't gotten a deer yet, but it's only a matter of time now!

Justin relaxing in a Summit climber during and evening hunt over a soybean plot.

Of course once the fun is over it's time to get back to hunting!  Last Friday I was fortunate enough to close the deal on the white racked giant that you saw in Bowhunt or Die: Episode 2.  You'll have to watch this week's episode, which will be posted tomorrow, for the details but rest assured it was a great hunt!  Once again I was able to prove that you can film yourself harvesting a trophy animal if you work hard at it.

See the full video of me harvesting this buck on tomorrow's episode of Bowhunt or Die.

When self-filming it's important to make sure you have all of your camera pieces before you leave the office!  This is my improvised mount after our video editor forgot to put the mount back on my camera.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the latest episode of Bowhunt or Die!  We've got our best episode yet with two doe kills and two 150 inch bucks hitting the ground.  You don't want to miss it!

Illinois Bowhunting Success - Two Does Down

by Justin Zarr 19. October 2010 14:44
Justin Zarr

My bowhunting season started off pretty slowly with only 3 trips to the field over the first 12 days of October.  Last week however, things definitely started picking up.  A mid-week trip to Northwest Illinois with Todd resulted in a close encounter with a few does, and then a weekend trip to West Central Illinois ended with a couple passed bucks and a doe for the freezer.  With November looming just around the corner the best is yet to come.

Last Wednesday Todd Graf and I headed out to try and lay down some footage for our new weekly video production here on called "Bowhunt or Die".  If you haven't seen the first two episodes, click here to watch them!  We will be posting new episodes every Friday morning throughout the season so be sure to check back often for new action from week to week.

After a rather uneventful morning with me behind the camera Todd and I hung a new treestand and then got ready for the afternoon hunt.  I was up to bat that evening with Todd taking over camera duties, but unfortunately a rather undesirable wind direction spoiled our chances at a few does that come to eat in one of Todd's food plots.  Even though we didn't score on any whitetails, getting back in the stand after a 10 day layoff got me back in that familiar October mindset and ready to get back at it.

With a packed truck in the parking lot Friday evening couldn't come fast enough. After work I hit the road with my buddy Jeremy Enders, fellow staff member Cody Altizer and's cameraman/editor Brian McAlister.  After a 5 hour drive and 4 hours of sleep we were up and headed to our stands for the first time this season.

Over the course of the next few hours we saw a combined total of about 25 deer including 5 bucks who spent most of their time sparring with one another, making scrapes, and harassing the local doe population.  I certainly wasn't expecting that type of behavior for Mid-October but it was a great way to start things off!

One buck in particular tested my resolve to hold out for a bigger buck this fall as he walked directly in front of me at 22 yards, stood still, and then looked in the other direction.  Although this buck has great G2's and brow tines he's just not the caliber of animal I'm after so I let him walk.  Trust me, it was a tough decision!

Here's a still frame from this week's upcoming episode of Bowhunt or Die.  "Rudy" was testing the air for estrous a mere 22 yards in front of my stand while the camera rolled and I tried to refrain from shooting him!

A trailcam pic of Rudy from mid September.  You can really see his great bows in this photo here.  A tough buck to pass!

Before the morning was over both Jeremy and myself were fortunate enough to harvest does, both of which were captured on video.  This was Jeremy's first archery harvest and it was really great to be a part of it.  A big congratulations to him on a perfect shot!  Both Jeremy and myself are shooting NAP Nitron broadheads, which took down these does within 60 yards of where they were shot.  I know huge cutting diameter is all the "rage" right now, but there's no replacement for accuracy and you will not find a more accurate head than the Nitron, guaranteed.  Look for both of these hunts, as well as footage of Rudy, in this week's episode of Bowhunt or Die!

Jeremy and I with our October does, shot 1 hour and 300 yards apart.

A big thanks to Brian and Cody for filming us this past weekend.  Without these guys we wouldn't be able to bring you these exciting bowhunts, so they deserve just as much credit as we do!

With a full moon coming and rain in the forecast for this weekend I'm not sure how much deer movement I'll see, but you can't kill them on the couch so you can bet you'll find me in the woods somewhere!

Illinois Bowhunting Season - The Start of Another Year!

by Justin Zarr 30. September 2010 02:25
Justin Zarr

Fall is definitely in the air here in Northern Illinois.  The leaves are beginning to turn shades of red, orange and yellow, much of the corn and soybeans has already been harvested and there's a distinct chill in the morning air.  Ah yes, fall has finally arrived!

Tomorrow marks the first day of Illinois' nearly 3 1/2 month archery season and with cool weather, a good moon phase, and the right wind conditions I have a feeling there's going to be some happy bowhunters this weekend. 

My bowhunting time this weekend is going to be fairly limited, but I'm going to try and make the most of it.  Tomorrow morning with North and Northwest Winds predicted I'll be heading out to a stand I recently hung close to a fence crossing where I found some really good buck sign.  Early season buck sign that's concentrated in thick areas usually means that the buck making the sign is living pretty close by, so I'm hoping to catch him coming back to his bedroom after a night of feeding.

I have a feeling that the buck making the sign is this one I've dubbed "Mac".  He's the best buck I've gotten on my trail camera on this particular farm, and these photos were taken only about 300 yards from where my stand is set up.  I believe I have trail camera photos of this buck from last year as a 2 1/2 year old 7 point.  Granted, he's not a giant by Illinois standards but for this farm he's a good buck.

Provided we got a good wind direction on Sunday I'll going into another farm after this buck I've nicknamed "Pistol Pete".  (I've watched I Love You Man too many times, I know).  Another good 3 1/2 year old buck, he's been the most frequent visitor on my trail camera all summer and seems to be coming by right at dark heading towards a cut corn field.  I'm hoping this cooler weather will have him moving a little earlier.  I have a natural ground blind set up about 20 yards beyond where these photos were taken so if anything comes by in the daylight I should be able to get a shot.

I've also got another buck named "Tank Johnson" that I'll be looking for this fall.  He's a big bodied hog of a deer and I think he's living on the same farm as Pistol Pete so who knows - maybe he'll make the mistake of wandering by on Sunday afternoon much to the chagrin of my NAP Bloodrunner.

With any luck I'll get a look at one of these three bucks this weekend, and if I'm really lucky I might even get a shot, who knows.  For now my clothes are washed, bow is in it's case, stands are hung and I'm ready for the 3 month marathon that is the Illinois bowhunting season to begin!

Good luck to everyone who is heading out this weekend.  Make sure you wear your safety harness!

Bowhunting Success in Illinois - The Creek Buck

by Justin Zarr 29. October 2009 07:56
Justin Zarr

Three years ago when my hunting partner Mike Willand and I started filming our hunts we made one of the hardest decisions of our hunting careers.  Without fulltime cameramen to follow us around we would each be giving up roughly 1/2 of our time in the tree with a bow in our hands to pick up the camera and film.  Even after nearly three full seasons of this routine, and several good bucks on the ground, it's still a struggle to head into the woods with nothing but a bunch of camera gear in our packs.

After eating tag soup for the first time in several years last season, going into this fall I was more determined than ever to put my tag on a buck.  With all of the money we spend on leases, traveling, and gear, combined with our time away from home coming up emptyhanded just wasn't an option.  Even my wife said she'd kill me if I didn't come home with a buck one of these weekends!

So heading into the weekend of October 24th I was pretty anxious to get a buck on the ground.  Mike and I made the 5 hour drive South once again, and I was up first.  Our morning hunt was a complete debacle.  After a failed attempt to access our hunting land from a new direction we finally got our bearings and made our way up the giant hill just in time to get in our stands as the sun came up.  As we cooled down in stand and waited, all we saw was a lone doe and a small 1 1/2 year old buck out looking for some friends.  Pretty uneventful.

That afternoon, after crossing the still-flooded creek in our new inflatable boat the "S.S. Booner", Mike and I hung a new set overlooking a CRP field where we saw a lot of bucks last year.  It was a rather warm afternoon so after hanging and trimming out our set we climbed in and started to relax with several hours before sunset still ahead of us.

The view upstream from our departure point to journey across the flooded "creek".

After just a few short minutes Mike spotted a doe feeding on the hillside above us.  Thinking nothing of it we watched the doe for a bit as we whispered back and forth to one another about what a great view we had.  As the doe made her way down the hill towards us, she unexpectedly started running in our direction.  I was keeping a watchful eye on her as she approached when out of the corner of my eye a buck appeared, running down the hill after her.  I quickly whispered to Mike there was a buck coming down the hill.

At this point I put up my Vortex Viper binoculars and checked him out.  I could see he was a decent 8 point with pretty good beams, but not much mass or tine length.  I quickly tried to determine whether I would shoot him or not given the opportunity when he disappeared behind the finger of woods where our stands were at.  We both thought he was going to circle downwind of the doe, who was now 40 yards in front of our stand.  If this happened we figured the game would be over for the day.

Several minutes later the buck reappeared on our side of the finger, looking for the doe who had now bedded down in front of us.  As the buck looked around I again sized him up and quickly determined if given the shot I would take him.  Although his rack wasn't huge, his body and head size lead me to believe at the time that he was a 3 year old deer.  After that moment, I didn't give another thought to anything other than putting him on the ground.

The buck made his way along the edge of our finger and directly toward our stand, offering me zero shot opportunities.  With the camera rolling behind me I kept praying for the buck to turn and offer me the shot I needed, but he just kept coming.  At just under 8 yards from the base of our tree he stopped to sniff a few of the branches Mike had just trimmed.  Right about now I was getting nervous that he was going to smell the scent we just left behind and bail out before I could get a shot.  So, uncharacteristicly, I decided that if he turned his head and allowed me to draw I was taking the shot.  For some reason the little voice inside my head telling me to wait for a better angle just wasn't with me on this particular occassion.

When the buck turned his head to look out into the CRP I came to full draw and put my pin on his vitals.  After confirming that Mike was on him I let the arrow go and and it hit with a resounding thud.  The buck let out a moan as he mule-kicked, plowed into the bush in front of him, and took off across the CRP.  In my mind, he was a dead deer walking and wasn't going far.  I watched him disappear into the next finger about 100 yards away and never come out, then the celebration began!


When Mike and I were done celebrating and finished our post-shot interviews we gathered our things and went down to retrieve my arrow.  With good sign at the point of impact, a blood-soaked arrow, and a great mule-kick reaction we were confident the buck was down.  So 30 minutes after the shot we took up the trail.

An hour later after not locating the buck, and losing the blood trail in the finger I saw him disappear into we elected to back out for the night.  Maybe my shot wasn't as good as we thought?  So with heavy hearts we headed back to the hotel to watch the footage.  After doing so, my fears were confirmed.  The deer was WAY too far quartering into me when I shot him.  Although for some reason in my mind as I replayed the scenario, it certainly didn't seem that way.  But the video didn't lie.  Not only was the angle bad, but my shot was a few inches lower than I wanted.  At that angle we suspected a single lung hit, with possibly some liver if we were lucky. 

The following morning Mike hunted out of a tree we call the Killing Stand, but as fate would have it we were skunked.  Not a single deer showed up all morning!  For some reason mornings have really given us fits this year.  So around 9 am we hung it up and went looking for my buck.

Four hours later, after grid searching every piece of ground in the general vicinity we last saw my buck we came up emptyhanded.  No blood, no sign, no deer.  It was as if he just disappeared.  At that point I sucked it up and we filmed an interview basically saying that my buck was lost, I took a bad shot, and that was it.  We were defeated.

As I made my way back to the truck with my head hung low and Mike out in front of me I was startled when Mike let out a loud shout.  "OH MY GOD!  THERE'S YOUR BUCK!  HE'S IN THE CREEK!!" he yelled as we both ran forward.  Rounding the corner I spotted my buck, dead in the creek not 80 yards from my truck.  It appears that he had gone into the creek several hundred yards upstream after being wounded and simply never made it out.  After dying he floated down river until he got hung up on some rocks.  We must have passed by him earlier that morning in the dark and never even knew it!

My 2009 "Creek" Buck.  Not the biggest deer in the woods, but I'll certainly take him.

To say we got extremely lucky is a huge understatement.  I should've known better than to take a bad shot at this deer, and in all reality should be paying for that misjudgement right now.  But it appears as though a little bit of luck was finally on my side this time.  And as they say, I'll take being lucky over being good any day!

After recovering my deer and reviewing the footage on a big screen I believe he is only a 2 1/2 year old buck.  The size of his head and beams threw me off in the heat of the moment.  After looking at the footage you can clearly see the buck's hindquarters are larger than his shoulders, which is a clear indication of a 2 1/2 year old deer.  However despite his age, I am extremely excited to have a buck on the ground in October and one heck of a great story to remember.  I'm glad Mike was there to share it with me, and I'm looking forward to many more hunts(although maybe not quite this exciting) in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Unfortunately our video editor is out sick this week so we're a little behind on the footage, but trust me when I say it will be worth the wait!  This is one story you won't want to miss!

Now it's time to get ready for the rut.  Bring on November!!!!

Mike and I with our hard-earned trophy.  Thanks for being there buddy, hopefully we'll get a few more on the ground before it's all said and done!

Monster Buck Harvest in IL.

by Todd Graf 29. October 2008 10:20
Todd Graf

After more than two decades of bowhunting and countless hours spent in pursuit of whitetail deer I finally scored on a true giant.  Words can’t even begin to explain the feeling that I still have right now, less than 24 hours after harvesting the biggest buck of my life.  Although we haven’t put an official tape to him yet, our rough numbers put him at just over 190”.   He truly is the buck of a lifetime!


This story began last year when I started getting pictures of a massive buck on my trail cameras.  Throughout most of the summer I got pictures  and trail camera videos of this buck as he grew into a giant that I was dedicated to chasing that fall.  But as so many mature bucks do every year, when October bow season finally rolled around he was nowhere to be found.  In fact, I never laid eyes on this buck even one time during the 2007 archery season here in Illinois.  After the season was over the buck showed up again on my trail cameras so I was able to confirm that he was still alive and set my sights on him once again for the following fall.

This spring as the bucks started showing their racks in June and July once again the buck showed up on my trail cameras, this time a little bit more consistently.  It appeared that he had moved his core area into the heart of my hunting spot and was living there for good.  Now I had to come up with a plan to finally harvest him.

When the 2008 bow season opened I did my best to hold off hunting this spot until the time was right, and last week I decided that it was.  With the pre-rut just starting these big bucks are up on their feet during daylight more often now, so I figured I might be able to catch up with him.  After several close encounters with this giant I was finally able to pinpoint his bedding area and on the evening of Ocotber 28th he presented me with a 10 yard shot as he walked along a trail from his core area headed towards a doe bedding area.

I made a perfect double lung shot and the brute only made it 150 yards before expiring.  My best friends Paul Mazur (Horseshoe), his son Brian, and Justin Zarr were there with me to share in the celebration as we recovered him a short while later.  I honestly can’t put into words the feelings that I have right now after so many years of dedication and hard work to finally pay off with the buck of a lifetime.  Thank you to everyone who supported me and encouraged me to keep chasing this giant, I might have given up if it wasn’t for you guys!

Here I really don't know what to say, I am holding the largest whitetail I ever harvested.

Here is a trail camera photo of him in the fall of 2007 - He just got done loosing his velvet.

This was the first photo I got of him in 2008, so I knew he made it through the hunting season and hard winter.

Here is another great shot of him just prior to the start of the hunting season.

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