Never underestimate the power of a mother's guidance, even in a deer stand.
I owe my Illinois buck to my friend Nick's (left) efforts in helping me hang The Bonus Stand, and to my mom for raising me the best way she could.
LATE LAST JANUARY, I got a phone call no one ever wants to get. I can still hear the terror in my mom's voice on the phone. "Well, it's cancer," Mom said. "It's stage three, and it's in my lungs." I was left speechless. Then she tried to reassure me, telling me she would do her best to beat this thing.
I wish it could have been that easy. Four months later, at the age of 57, my nonsmoking mother passed away battling this terrible disease. She was our family's hero. She literally lived for making the best for all of us. When my brother and I were growing up, she always made sure we had hunting clothes, shotguns, and fishing equipment to keep us in the outdoors and out of trouble. If she couldn't get us out herself, she made sure someone could take us along. She was a special woman, and I miss her greatly.
While dealing with my mom's illness, I still managed to keep up with my system for applying for out-of-state tags for the 2009 season (see the "Hunting Tag Lottery," January/February 2008), and I had run out of luck. My best chance for an elk tag was in Montana, and that resulted in no tag and another preference point. I was also rejected for an Iowa deer tag and was finally left with a pile of refunded license money, two weeks of vacation time, and no hunt planned. My dad and I had considered an over-the-counter elk tag in a couple of states, but when he ended up needing shoulder surgery in the spring, that pretty well nixed that idea as well.
In previous years, my good friend Nick had mentioned to me a work associate of his who had a great lease in west-central Illinois. In early summer, he had contacted Nick and told him that he was not going to be able to take the lease that year. He told Nick he felt that he would be a good match for the property and invited him to take the lease for the year. So when Nick called to invite me for the hunt, I jumped at the chance.
Our schedules allowed us only two days to scout the property and hang stands ahead of the season. After arriving at the property, meeting the landowner, and getting the lay of the land, we had only enough time left to do some quick glassing. It was nearly dark, and the temperature was still in the upper 80's with high humidity. We knew tomorrow would be miserable.
With the next day's weather as bad as we expected, my mom's words, "It doesn't pay to worry over things you can't change," kept running through my head. After several grueling hours spent fighting the heat, humidity, and bugs, we managed to get six pretty good stand sites prepared. Finishing with those, we had two hours of daylight left, which gave us just enough time to check out one last corner of the property.
We scoured the inside corner of a cornfield next to a sloping ridge for a place to hang our last stand. Finding little sign, we went strictly with terrain and hung our last stand in a thin maple 30 yards off the edge of the cornfield. Nick and I felt this location could be productive if bucks were cruising during the first week of November.
We named this spot The Bonus Stand because of the extra time we'd put into it. After making notes about the best wind and time for hunting this stand, Nick and I walked back to the truck and began the six-hour drive north to home, hoping all our efforts would pay off in the months to come.
ON THE AFTERNOON of November 3, Nick picked me up for the trip to the lease, and the next morning we were at the property extra early. However, weather conditions could not have been much worse for deer movement. The 70-degree heat and 20-plus-mph winds forced us to hunt close to water. After sitting all day, we'd seen plenty of does and fawns but few bucks. Clearly, deer were moving only during the first two hours of daylight in the morning and the last half-hour in the evening.
The conditions on day two were pretty much the same. I really wanted to hunt a spot on the back side of the property, but it was all wrong for a south wind. The Bonus Stand, however, was on the downwind side of the timber, offering some relief from the gales, so I decided to give it a shot.
This view from The Bonus Stand shows where I killed my buck.
After settling in, I could see that this ridge, with little summer deer sign, had turned into a travel hub. Trails crested the ridge in all directions, and I could see plenty of rubs and scrapes marking the ridgeline. Thirty minutes after legal light, I heard a commotion and grunting in the bottom of a draw east of my stand, and soon a doe came racing by with a 2½-year-old eight-point close behind. Following their path was a 120-inch eight-point. Instantly I reached for my bow, but with nearly 10 days left to hunt, I left it hanging.
About 9 a.m., I decided to mix things up a little with some rattling and cracked the heavy sheds together hard so deer would hear them over the gusty winds. Facing the cornfield, I heard something rapidly approaching from the timber behind me. Turning to look, I was shocked by the sight of a huge Illinois buck running like a freight train right for my tree!
By the time I'd hung the antlers and grabbed my bow, the buck stood directly under me, where I watched him through the grate of my stand platform. After a minute or so, he slowly walked away from me, his vitals completely covered by the thick Osage brush. When he got to the edge of my effective range, he stopped in one of my shooting lanes at 40 yards.
Here I would like to tell you about the killing shot, but it was not to be. My arrow passed just under the buck's chest, and he trotted away. I was sick. I had just had an encounter with the largest typical whitetail I'd ever seen, and I did not seal the deal. It took me a couple of hours to regain my composure. My mother's words about "€¦not worrying over things you can't change" never rang truer than at that moment, and I knew it was time to get back on the horse and make something of the rest of the hunt.
The next day was rain soaked and windy, with little deer movement. Finally, on day four, we got the news from the weatherman we had been waiting for -- a cold front was going to move through soon and drop the temperatures by 25 degrees over the next two days. Nick and I both believed our hunt was about to get interesting!
WITH MY RESIDUAL SCENT washed
away from the area by the recent rains, I couldn't resist returning to The Bonus Stand. Throughout the day the temperature dropped, the overcast got heavier, and the wind remained steady.
An hour before dark, a group of does and fawns followed by two young bucks came up from the draw below and browsed below my stand for about 30 minutes. When I noticed one of the deer looking beyond me, I turned to see a doe coming from the opposite draw -- with a big-bodied buck hot on her trail. The doe walked through my shooting lane and the buck followed, stopping broadside at 22 yards. Even though 30 minutes of legal shooting light remained, the woods were dusky under the canopy, and I had a hard time settling my top pin on a spot behind his shoulder. It didn't help that the gusty winds were whipping the small maple that held my stand around either. When the wind subsided momentarily, I locked onto the buck's side and touched off the release.
My trail camera captured this picture of my buck, shortly after I had shot him.
The deer barreled by a trail camera I had placed in the corridor a few days earlier and a bright flash lit up the brush. The buck stopped 15 yards east of me and stood looking back. I thought he was going to fall over, but then it occurred to me I had not seen where the arrow had hit. Maybe I had missed him! Removing another arrow from my quiver, I sent a second shaft into his chest. He ran another 40 yards, bedded, and eventually put his head down.
I watched him until dark. He didn't move. Still, after descending the tree and thinking things over, I decided to leave him until morning. He lay on the lip of a 200-foot bluff, and I wanted to take no chances on forcing a miserable recovery.
Waiting until good light the next morning, I still-hunted to the stand location. My Bonus Stand buck was right where I had left him. I sat next to this beautiful animal and took some time to remember my mom. My up-and-down emotions the past months, as well as on this hunt, would have been even harder to deal with had it not been for the way she raised us -- the best way she could.
Thanks again, Mom.
The author has been a CN locomotive engineer for 20 years. He and his wife, Stacey, and their three children live in Wisconsin. He has been bowhunting for 26 years. This is his second story for Bowhunter.
Author's Notes: I used a Mathews Reezen at 70 lbs. draw weight, Carbon Express arrows, Rage two-blade broadheads, Montana Black Gold sight, Tru-Fire release, Loggy Bayou treestand, Rivers Edge climbing sticks, Hunter Safety System harness, Brunton Epoch binoculars, LaCrosse Burly boots, and Badlands Diablo pack.