I have been hunting whitetails nearly all of my life, and realize how blessed I am.
I hunt on some property in Illinois with my brother David, and we take a few does while we wait for the challenge of close encounters with mature bucks. I pass up and film many young bucks in the hopes that one day I, my brother or other family members will get a crack at them. On November 4th and 5th 2011, I took two mature bucks.
The first one had thick antlers, and an 8-point typical frame with short tines. In 2010 he was at least 5 1/2 years old, but he proved too smart for us. I did find his sheds though, adding them to the collection of three sets of his sheds that we found. He was a "home body buck” that we never saw outside of his small area. In August, I hung a set-camera in an apple tree that grows in rough terrain. The apples usually drop this time of year and offer a change in food source from the typical soybeans. These are not food plots, just normal agricultural fields in Illinois. The apples get eaten long before the season starts.
On opening day, I did get a chance to see this old buck working an over-hanging limb, but he was out of range. He looked great out of velvet, and his neck was just starting to fill out. Antler growth draws a lot out of a buck, so they really only put on body mass during the weeks in September and October prior to the rut. After I saw him opening morning, he went under ground, and neither my brother nor I saw him until the day I killed him.
Fast forward through an uneventful October to November 4th. With a southeast wind, I knew I would be able to sit on the edge of the transition area between open grassy banks and smaller honey suckle bush and autumn-olive choked spoils. The trunk of the small cedar tree I sat in was only three inches in diameter at ten feet high. It did sway in the wind a little, but the blue-green needles provide great background cover for me and my Stratus jacket.
After sitting there for 20 minutes, I heard some sticks breaking behind me. I gave out a faint grunt, but got no response. It may have been a doe. Three minutes later, I heard some sticks breaking about 80 yards out in front of me, so I wheezed three times. I still heard the branches breaking and knew that it was not from a walking deer, but from a buck thrashing limbs.
To get more range, I grunted on a grunt tube a couple times. I could hear the buck coming closer. He was breaking limbs to let me (a wheezing and grunting buck) know he was coming. He took the bait. Finally, I saw the limbs of a tree shake and knew where he was. As his form popped up over a spoil bank, as if coming right out of the ground, I now knew who he was. He was the old 'Tree Shaker' that grew up on our property. He looked huge! His neck was enormous and we knew from the 4-inch sticker tine on his right antler that he was responsible for all of the deep parallel grooves cut into many of the thigh-sized rubs in the area.
I let out one softer wheeze that caused him to come directly toward me. I had the bow up and the lower limb tip resting in the pocket I sewed on the inside of my left pant leg. He was not turning and ended up closing to five yards or less. I drew and held as he moved beneath me. I found a large opening through the cedar boughs and released a 250gr Woodsman Elite tipped 2219 arrow. Tree Shaker dropped in his tracks as the broadhead severed his spinal cord. A second arrow dispatched him, and the little cedar tree began to shake from my nerves. Tree Shaker was still working his magic on me.
The story of the second buck starts in 2009, when my brother David filmed a tall buck with long Y-forked brow tines on each side. The brow tines also had a twist to them, so we started to call him “Twister.” On opening day, I sat in the rain during the afternoon, but as soon as it stopped, I started to see deer movement, including Twister. He was heading out toward a soybean field at about 28 yards.
It happened so fast I did not have time to age him, I only knew he looked big in the velvet footage my brother showed me. I drew and shot, but to my surprise the fletching did not hold to the aluminum shafts. I fletched my own arrows and have never had this happen before. There must have been an oxidation film on the shaft. As soon as I released, the arrow flew straight, but had a funny flopping spiral to it and missed low. Twister jumped a little, but he didn't spook. He just walked off. After getting down, I found the arrow with only one feather partially attached while the other three were lying on the ground up near the broadhead end. The fletching pealed off of the shaft and caused a lot of drag. I have since been using wraps or arrows from Jim Rebuck at J & M traditions.
I saw him several more times in 2009. In 2010, he added some sticker tines, but didn’t grow the double Y-forks, only his characteristic twisted brows. I had him at ten yards during 2010, but again elected to pass him up in hopes that he would add more antler growth. In the summer of 2011, I got an early set-camera photo of him under the same old scrub apple tree that Tree-Shaker visited. While giving up the Y-forks, he added five additional non-typical points to his basic 9-point frame.
After taking Tree-Shaker on Friday night, I returned to the woods on Saturday, November 5th with my second tag. I was sitting in a favorite walnut tree on another subtle transition area that usually showed deer movement. I saw two different does getting chased by several different bucks. Using wheeze calls with my mouth and a grunt call, I called in a couple bucks as well. I filmed some of the two- or three-year-olds, but always kept my bow in my other hand in case a mature buck presented himself. At 9:50 a.m., I saw the twelfth buck of the morning pop up over a spoil bank 70 yards away. It was Twister! We were worried that he would break off some of his longer tines in confrontations with heavier bucks, but this was not the case.
I nocked an arrow and let out two soft grunts. I wasn’t sure if he heard them or just followed a natural crossing pattern over the spoil banks, but he was coming my way. I remember he had a slight limp as he climbed up the final spoil. He stood there for a bit, then made a 90 degree turn and crossed about 16 yards from my tree. I tried to hold for a five count, but the arrow was gone at about three. The arrow passed completely through both lungs. He was 5 ½ years old and sported 14 points. Oh what a great feeling again!
I know I am very lucky to have two close encounters just two days. Even though my brothers and I have a couple of buck tags, I can't tell you how many years we have gone without taking a buck. So, when I get a chance to take one of these great animals, I cherish every moment.