It was November 10, when I arrived in Illinois, and the bucks were rutting, so I had visions of shooting the biggest buck of my life as I joined Scott McIlvoy and Bowhunter Magazine Publisher Jeff Waring. During our first evening we crowded around the dinner table with cameraman, Bob Theim, and began to plan our hunt.
Scott had been in the area for a couple of weeks and already placed stands in several locations, so I thought all I would need to do is climb in a tree and shoot the first good buck that walked within bow range. I was surprised when Scott said, “I think we need to do some scouting, because earlier the deer were feeding on field crops — corn and soybeans. Now those crops have been harvested and plowed under, so the deer are using different travel routes and different feed.”
Jeff chimed in and stated, “Well, I’ve seen the deer eating acorns, and Scott, you’ve planted some food plots, so I’ll bet that’s a couple of things they’re eating. I think we should spread out and scout. I’ll look for acorns, scrapes, rubs, and well-traveled trails.”
I volunteered to check the food plots for activity, walk a fence line, and look for bedding sites, while Scott decided to walk the creek bottom to see if the deer were walking through a neck of hardwoods and crossing the creek to feed in a grassy field.
The next evening Scott reported walking the river bottom and discovering a trail that centered the strip of trees. It was covered with deer tracks and he also located several huge scrapes and rubs where the trees narrowed. The trail circled across the creek, up the opposite bank, and into a green field on the other side of the creek. Convinced he could kill a buck near the scrapes, he selected a tree on the creek side of the trail and hung a stand 20 feet up. Jeff had found plenty of rutting sign and lots of acorns, so he placed his Summit treestand in a tree at the head of a draw where trails merged. He felt deer would travel past his tree to reach their bedding sites after feeding on acorns and lush, green forbs.
I discovered a two-foot hole in the hog wire fencing and could tell by the trampled trails that deer were funneling through it. The trail came from a bedding area and headed toward the food plot. After close inspection, I could see where deer had chewed off the tops of turnips and clover, so I opted to set up my stand near a bedding area, hoping bucks would filter past as they headed to and from the food plot. I surmised bucks might also pass by my stand as they walked downwind of the bedding area to check for hot does.
Jeff and Scott’s luck was better than mine. Scott had several nice bucks pass within bow range, but he elected not to shoot them. I had does walk within bow range, but the only shooter buck I saw circled the bedding area out of range.
Jeff’s smile told it all as he relived his morning hunt with Scott and me. “Shortly after daylight, I had a parade of deer amble past my stand. There were several does, fawns, and two-year-old bucks walking and feeding past my stand. I was enjoying the show of young bucks as they playfully bounded within easy bow distance when I heard more leaves crunching behind me. I slowly turned my head. My heart skipped a beat, and my eyes practically popped out of my head when I caught a glimpse of a wide 10-pointer coming from behind me. He was quickly walking past my stand, so I slowly stood, drew, and released. My arrow passed through the buck, and I watched him run a short distance before he went down. My knees were shaking so bad, I had to sit down so I wouldn’t fall out of the tree. He’s the biggest buck I’ve ever shot with my bow. It was really exciting and I’m happy to get him.”
Jeff successfully harvested his buck and Scott and I had deer within bow range, because we realized the deer weren’t using the same food sources as earlier. Although I don’t like to walk through my hunting area, there are times when you must adjust your plan. In this case, the old adage, “Better late than never,” is definitely true. Our late-season scouting paid off and we were able to take advantage of what we learned, so we could be in the right spot to shoot deer. Like us, you too can have success if you evaluate your game plan and make adjustments. It’s always better to do this late in the season than never.
To watch Jeff’s hunting excitement, catch the 2006 season of Bowhunter Magazine TV.