During the rut, a big Illinois buck makes a fatal mistake.
THE BUCK STOOD STATUE-LIKE between two groups of woods-wise does. There I was, standing on the steep, rocky hill leading to the farm. This Indian was caught completely unprepared for the situation that was unfolding before her eyes. My mind raced as I watched the buck and does. It seemed to be a standoff, with neither party willing to make the next move. The massive-racked buck's eyes left his does for a very brief moment as he looked to his back trail. Then I saw it. The moment -- that precious time when a buck's natural hesitancy is overridden. The buck was now committed. He'd made his choice. The next move was up to me.
My day had started badly, and the 25-30 mph wind gusts didn't help my bowhunting plans whatsoever. It wasn't until my husband, Herm, and our friend Lou Onorato had headed out to run some errands that I made the late decision to go hunting at all. So I decided to drive over to our farm. But that wasn't going to be easy either. I ended up waiting 30 minutes at a lift-span bridge, and then, when I turned into our narrow hollow, I found the road leading to the farm blocked by a neighbor's truck. The truck had a flat tire, and the owner was nowhere in sight. Disgusted, I kicked the farm's unlocked gate and slid back into the driver's seat. I'd taken the time and gas to drive over here; the least I could do was check the fields and our trail cameras.
Gazing up the steep gravel road I saw a small, dead elm tree that had fallen on the hill. I set the parking brake and left the Explorer running. The dry elm had broken into four long limbs. I grabbed the longest limb and threw it into a ravine that had always been a bottomless pit. It was like watching a slow-motion replay, because when the limb hit, it cracked and busted into more pieces. Suddenly, deer exploded in all directions down below. I stood there, astonished. Five huge does stood up and stretched to my left, another three smaller does did the same to my right, and directly in the middle of this romantic forest harem stood a tremendous buck.
Still standing in the wide-open, my mind raced with questions and no answers. Could I make something happen out of this mess? I wondered.
THE BUCK AND ALL eight does just stood there, and it looked like the ball was now in my court. I had to try something. What's the worst that could happen? They could run, but they hadn't yet. Slowly, never turning my back to the buck, I opened my driver's side door. With my right hand, I pushed the 4x4 button, shifted the transmission to drive, and ever so gently released the parking brake.
My plan -- albeit somewhat shaky -- was to drive to the top of the hill, but NOT over it. At my last glance, the harem was still intact and hadn't spooked at all. Upon reaching the spot on the gravel hill, I parked and left the Explorer running. I then opened my door and crawled out onto the gravel. Still on hands and knees, I crawled around the front and then to the passenger's rear door. Now, let me tell you people, crawling around on jagged gravel at my age is NOT an easy feat. My hands reached for my Martin bow, and I started crawling again. My goal was a cut-away that the rural power company had cleared when installing new lines. If I could make it to that pole, I'd be above the buck, and I'd figure out a plan as I proceeded.
Continued -- click on page link below.
That first power pole was a good 75-yard crawl through briars and jagged gravel, and my knees and elbows throbbed with every inch that I crawled. Arriving at the first pole, I eased up ever so gently and sneaked a peek. There, standing in the same position, was the buck, his eyes fixed on the parked Explorer. With the wind gusting and swirling, will it be possible for me to stalk within bow range? I asked myself.
Again I chanced a quick glance. The buck and his does were in the same place, their eyes still fixed on my Explorer. This would be a 100-percent pure stalk! My plan was either going to work or fall apart quickly as the does held all the chips and the ante was about to be called.
My bow kept getting tangled in the thick briars, and my elbows and knees had numerous briars broken off under the skin. By my estimates, I should now be less than 25 yards from the buck. I needed to sneak another peek, though, just to be sure. I rose to my knees and steadied myself with my bow. There, before my eyes, was the buck -- broadside and still staring at the parked Explorer on the hill. Most of the does had bedded down again or were watching the Explorer. I used my bow to push myself upright.
Nocking an arrow, I came to full draw and centered the pin on the buck's vitals. While at full draw I shuffled my feet under the leaves and mentally calculated the yardage at less than 20 yards. I just couldn't chance another step. My finger touched off the Tru-Fire release, and I watched the pink-fur-tracer arrow disappear into the buck. Before my eyes the buck crumpled into a heap, and the does ran in every direction. Two of the smaller does even ran to the buck and stood looking at him as if they were waiting for him to make a decision. Well gals, that buck made his decision a while back, a decision that literally cost him his life. If he'd run when he had the chance, my story would never have made it to the pages of this magazine.
It was 3:05 p.m. and I had my eighth Pope and Young buck on the ground. The whole act, from stopping on the hill to the release of my arrow, took only 90 minutes. A cell phone call to Herm and Lou soon had help on the way. Lou wanted to hear the story, so as we proceeded to the buck I explained how it had happened. Lou just shook his head and said, "What a horse! Herm, look at that buck!"
"Lou, did the Indian do good?" I asked.
"The Indian did just fine," he replied.
After numerous pictures and stories, we loaded the buck and checked him in at the archery station. Herm, being Herm, told Lou that the Kovars were going to start production on a new buck call and rattling bag all wrapped into one. Puzzled, Lou asked Herm what he meant? "We're going to take bags, throw in pieces of dead elm and other natural junk," Herm said. "And then, to call bucks in, all you have to do is throw the bag into a ravine."
AUTHOR'S NOTES: The buck, a "clean" 8-pointer, weighed a hefty 280 pounds live and green-scored 150. After the 60-day drying period, the buck was officially scored at 145 1/8 inches. My equipment consisted of a Martin Cougar set at 57 pounds, Muzzy Phantom broadheads, Tru-Fire release, Predator Camo, and Scent-Lok clothing.
The author is a regular Contributor from Hardin, Illinois. A Northern Cheyenne, this Indian has a real knack for getting close to game -- sometimes too close.