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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!


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