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Bowhunting Success in Illinois – The Creek Buck

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!

CLICK ABOVE TO WATCH THE VIDEO OF THIS ENTIRE HUNT!

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!

Comments

  1. John Mueller says:

    You 2 never seem to do it the easy way. Anyways nice buck and congrats on recovering him, lucky or not you got him.

    Reply
  2. Droptizzle says:

    Great read and again, congrats on the buck. Brown was giving me fits that weekend!

    Reply
  3. Richard Music says:

    WAY TO GO GUYS CONGRATS ON A WELL EARNED DEER. THE RUT IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER I HOPE YOU BOTH HAVE A OPPORTUNITY TO HARVEST A MEGA STUD….GOOD LUCK FELLAS, AND GREAT PHOTOS.

    Reply
  4. Eric Matz says:

    Good story Justin, glad you found him, we've all been there brotha, sometimes things happen so fast and we dont have time but to just react into a now or never mode.

    Reply
  5. Rick Kratzke says:

    Great story and congratulations, that is a beautiful buck.

    Reply
  6. dan the hunter says:

    nice buck come to maine to see if you can get a buck like that maine is one the hardest states to get a buck

    Reply
  7. congrats on your deer but please stop coming to illinois and shooting our two and a half year old deer just for the footage its that kind of mindset that is killing our deer herd and quality of deer come on that deer wont go 120 its not hard to kill young deer hold out for a true trophy and dont give me that crap about a trophy is in the eye of the beholder . if thats the case you wouldnt come to illinois looking for that true monster you would stay where youre at and settle for anything . sorry i know this will upset most of you however us residents are sick of all these people killing our herd by destroying our age structure.come to kill a trophy then thats great,to kill one you will have to hold out and work hard and not shoot a little 2 year old

    Reply
  8. fair enough and im not giving you a hard time however your hurting our herd by killing our young bucks, here in pike county our herd is shot to hell by people that come here to shoot trophy bucks and realize their not behind every bush so they settle and shoot a young buck which in turn kills our recuitment into the older age class . and they are my deer and your deer, the responsibility for managing our herd lies with all of us and showing its ok to shoot young bucks doesnt help .and im not looking down on you or anyone else just sick and tired of watching OUR herd be destroyed by people trying to make money or get famous (ie: outfitters or vidographers )who clearly dont care about OUR deer herd. i personally dont want OUR herd to end up like some other states and have the state implement mandatory antler restrictions which is where were headed if it doesnt stop. and youre right i didnt read the whole article just got to the video , watched it and got that sick feeling i get every time i see someone shoot another 2 year old .other than that i love your site maybe you all can do some pieces on proper herd managment and we can get OUR herd back to where it once was . thanks for listening to my rant i feel better now

    Reply
  9. david .... says:

    good job, but i know there are better bucks on the land,you can cross the creek, we do !in our trucks , it is a solid rock bottom where you cross, only a sandy bank on the north side and you better gat a run at it to make it up the bank. gun hunting we did really good at the top of the hill,we put one hunter on the west of thelane and one on the east. we also talked about hunting the 2 fingers in the middlle of the hill, since the treeplanting crp,it should only be better . give me a call and we can talk, your landlord davidf

    Reply
  10. Final Resist4nce says:

    Gratz

    Reply
  11. Justin Zarr says:

    Matt – you might want to read a little bit more before you post your replis in the future. First and foremost, I am from Illinois. Born and raised my friend. Secondly, if you bothered to read my post I clearly stated at the time I shot this buck I misjudged him as a 3 1/2 year old deer, which clearly he is not. However, that doesn't take away from the fact that I'm proud of him and enjoyed the experience. Finally, the deer herd is not "yours" and you should not be telling anyone what deer they should or should not be shooting on their land. Everyone pays money and works hard for their hunting opportunities and if the animal they chose to harvest conflicts with your personal agenda, that's just too bad. Any hunter should be able to harvest any game animal they want within legal means without others looking down on them, judging their accomplishments, or giving them a hard time about it.

    Reply
  12. Bryce Kish says:

    Great buck Justin and story!

    MATT W.T.F KIND OF POST WAS THAT? IT IS AMAZEING HOW ONE COULD DOWN GRADE SOMEONE ELS'S TROPHY. A TROPHY IN YOUR EYES IS PROLLY DIFFERENT FROM MANY OTHERS AND IT IS NOT YOUR RIGHT TO TELL PEOPLE WHAT TO SHOOT. YOUR WORRIED ABOUT YOUR DEER HERD WHEN THIS SPORT OF HUNTING IS GOING TO HELL WITH PEOPLE LIKE YOU. KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT! YOUR LIKE A TICK ON MY A–!!!!!!

    Reply
  13. bryce your post shows what an ass you are im not down grading his deer im saying we need to manage our herd its people like you that cause states to implement antler restrictions and cause disease in our herd because of overpopulation if your just shooting to kill then shoot a doe and help the herd and let the young bucks go to grow .and people like me are trying to save our sport and improve our herd not just shoot every deer that walks by to try and make a name for myself. so you can kiss my a-!!!

    Reply
  14. BRYCE KISH says:

    OK MATT JUST FOR THE RECORD I AM A ASS!! IM GOING TO QUOTE YOU HERE " COME ON MAN THAT DEER WONT GO 120 HOLD OUT FOR A TRUE TROPHY", "DONT GIVE ME THET CRAP THE TROPHY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER" IN THE FIRST QUOTE YOU DID DOWN GRADE THE BUCK AND THE SECOND QUOTE HOW THE HELL CAN YOU SAY THAT?? YOU DONT KNOW THE SITIUATION BEHIND EVERYONES HUNTING JUST BECAUSE YOU MIGHT BE A VETERN HUNTER AND HAVE ALL THE TIME TO HUNT DOESNT MEEN YOUR STANDARDS APPLY FOR EVERY ONE. IF YOUR GOAL IS A 3YR 130" OR BETTER GREAT AND GOOD LUCK! BUT THE GUY DOWN THE ROAD WHO HAS LIMITED TIME IN THE WOODS DUE TO WORK, FAMILY ISSUES, JUST GOT BACK FROM OVER SEAS, NEW BORN KID AND SO ON MIGHT LOOK AT A DEER OF THAT QUALITY(120") AS A TRUE TROPHY AND PEOPLE LIKE YOU SHOULD NOT TAKE TAHT AWAY FROM HIM!! A COUPLE OF YEARS BACK I WAS AT OUR DEER REGISTRATION STATION WHERE A YOUNG HUNTER AT THE AGE OF 13 PULLED IN WITH HIS FIRST EVER BUCK A 1.5YR 6 POINT, THAT KID WAS ON TOP OF THE WORLD HE COULDNT STOP TALKING UNTILL ONE OF YOUR KIND CAME OVER AND TOLD HIM HE WILL NEVER KILL A BIG BUCK IF HE SHOOTS THEM LITTLE ONES. BOOM! THE POOR KID DIDNT SAY ANOTHER WORD AND THAT GUY JUST DESTROYED THAT KIDS TRUE TROPHY!! THE DEER HERD PART I AGREE WITH BUT LIKE I SAID THIS SPORT OF HUNTING IS ABOUT MEMORIES SHARED WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY IT IS NOT A SPORT OF COMPITION. IF A HUNTER SHOOTS A BUCK THAT DOES NOT FIT YOUR QUOTA LEAVE IT BE AND KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!!!! TAKE A LOOK ONCE ON HOW THIS SPORT STARTED. LOOK AT SOME OF THE PICTURES FROM THE OLD AGED HUNTERS THEIR BUCK POLES WERE FILLED YES WITH BIG BUCKS AND ALSO YOUNG ONES. BUT THEY WERE ALL SUCESSFULL. NOW YOUR NOT A SUCESSFULL HUNTER UNLESS YOU GOT THE BIG ONE ACCRODING TO YOU! AND NO I PERSONALLY DO NOT SHOOT EVERY DEER THAT WALKS BY. AND IN MY OPNION THAT IS WHY THIS SPOT IS GOING TO HELL IF ONE WALKS AWAY WITH A LIFE LONG MEMORY WITH A TAG ON A 1.5, 2.5 OR A 3.5YR OLD BUCK YES THATS HIS TROPHY AND IT WAS A SUCESSFULL HUNT! KISS YOUR OWN ASS!!

    Reply
  15. ive taken more kids hunting and watched them shoot more small deer than you can imagine i have 6 kids 4 of them hunt and they all start on young deer i would never say anything derogitory to a child or new up and coming hunter for shooting young deer im reffering to so called profesionals and people trying to make a name for themselves by killing young deer for the footage that deer wouldnt have been shot if they werent filming that hunt period and you and everyone else knows that. i also dont get a big one every year and settle on shooting does . i have a simple saying if its not big enough to shoot the first day its not big enough to shoot the last too many people settle , there not trophys they shoot because they paid thousands to hunt a monster and never see one these are the people im refering to probably, people like you i would imagine .

    Reply
  16. Wow! Matt that is like the longest run-on sentence I've ever read.

    Makes you really sound intelligent. Were you typing left handed or something?

    Great buck Justin. Congrats again!

    Reply
  17. just in a hurry and i dont type very well , just kind of chicken peck at the keys

    Reply
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