November 04, 2010
Operating in one of America's top counties for P&Y-class bucks, this outfit continues to prove itself as a premier bowhunting destination
It seems hard to believe, but hunting in Illinois was new to me just a half-dozen years ago. The good folks at Hunter's Specialties first introduced me to the famously prized whitetail real estate across the Mississippi River and just north of St. Louis. Having the opportunity to see some of the biggest bucks of my life, this Keystone State bowhunter couldn't wait to get back, and I returned a couple of years later.
Considering my antics on stand, Outfitter Greg Guerrieri, cameraman Steven Jones, and I were all thrilled to call this a wrap.
Then I had the opportunity to hunt the state with Illinois landowner and magazine friend Scott McIlvoy. I took my first P&Y-class buck with Scott aiming a video camera over my shoulder. Scott hosted me the following year when Bowhunter TV Videographer Larry D. Jones took a beautiful 140-class buck for our show.
And then long-time Bowhunter Magazine Conservation Editor Dr. Dave Samuel began talking to me about Mid-West Trophy Outfitters. "Jeff, you've got to come out and hunt with me at Greg's place," he told me. "Greg runs a great operation, and his guides are all bowhunters. They really know what they're doing." The guys on the magazine staff have all learned to pay close attention when Dr. Dave talks whitetails, or anything else for that matter, and I soon promised that I would join him the following year -- and shoot a buck on video.
I later met up with Mid-West Trophy Outfitters' owner Greg Guerrieri at the monstrous Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, PA, which is also the town our magazine calls home. Greg and I were soon making plans to shoot a future television show. It was only later that we learned that Dr. Dave had fallen gravely ill and would not be able to join us.
Greg's team operates out of three different Fulton County locations -- Bushnell, Ellisville, and near the Spoon River -- and hunters typically have only a few minutes' drive to the farm(s) where they hunt. And while Mid-West has access to about 10,000 acres of outstanding Illinois hunting ground and books hunters for only a few weeks each year, the team works with landowners year-round to provide a quality experience for all involved.
From coordinating agricultural and hunting efforts, like strategically placing stands, planting special food plots, and doing their best to harvest does, to keeping in close communication with their hunters, Greg and his team of guides are simply crazy about big whitetails and are thrilled about the opportunity to put all clients in position to harvest the biggest bucks of their lives.
That happened for me on a cool, damp morning this past November. Poised on a Summit Deer Deck with cameraman Steven Jones at my back, I watched over a leaf-littered two-track running downhill on the crest of a wooded finger leading to a big creek bottom. The morning had been quite calm. Only a trio of other deer had passed above our stands.
Then a bobble-headed turkey gobbler came running up the hill. He circled oddly in front of us and then returned in the same general direction.
Minutes later a mature doe arrived on the scene from the uphill side of our setup. She milled around in near bow range for some time, waiting and seeming to have no place to go. Steven and I watched her, wondering when she'd pick up our scent as the wind swirled about us, but apparently she never caught a whiff of us.
The doe still stood in the brush across from us when I caught sight of what I thought were the backs of turkeys feeding up out of the parallel draw. As I watched, the turkeys morphed into deer. And then I saw antler tips. With that, I immediately eased into shooting position and called Steven's attention to the buck.
"Shooter," we whispered, nearly in unison.
A strange calmness settled over me as I watched the 150-class buck drift upward out of the draw with two more does. Steam poured out of his flaring nostrils. He postured, and his body seemed to insinuate his will over the situation. A yearling doe jumped and pranced about awkwardly, picking her way toward our setup.
And I knew the buck would follow. He'd be in range.
Then, suddenly, without warning, that little doe stopped at a little more than 20 yards and lifted her head in a nervous arc, twisted back toward the buck, snorted, and then bounded back over the top of the hill. Momentarily, the big buck stared our way, without a clue, and then followed the two does back into the draw, gone forever. Nothing is more memorable and compelling than the one that got away, and as strange as it may seem for me to say so, on that particular day it was okay.
"In this country, we're not just hunting one buck," Greg told me. So, as a cold front moved in, bringing steady rain, we moved to another hilltop setup. "Be a ghost on stand," Greg said, reminding me of his operation's overall emphasis on stealth. And before long, a number of bucks had passed our hot corner.
First thing the next morning, a thick-bodied buck walked right under me and paused as if directed to do so. And while I knew from first-hand experience that much bigger bucks cruised these woods, this was an opportunity I just couldn't pass. I had a promise to keep.