Columnist Bob Robb is hunting Illinois famed Brown County while testing some hot new gear. Come along and see how things go.
I hate it when the weatherman is right. I get out of bed at 3:15 a.m. and poke my nose out the window. Winds blowing at least 30 and it is raining sideways. Soon all are up and a quick check of the forecast on somebody’s Crackberry shows a tornado warning in effect. Back to bed!
The day is spent conducting interviews and looking at a lot of the products we’re hunting with. Then it is lunch time and everybody is antsy. The rain has stopped but the wind has not. No matter — at 2:30 pm we load the trucks and head out.
My stand today is perfect. Situated near the bottom of the lee side of a deep draw, the ridges are nothing but oaks dropping a huge load of acorns. Behind me a small creek burbles peacefully, while up the other side of the draw is a thick tangle of brush – a perfect bedding area. Naturally the wind is squirrelly, but New Archery Product’s Jason McKee, who set this stand, tells me the deer usually feed across the hillside in front of me, which would be good for this strong wind. As I climb into the Non-Typical Treestands’ Champ and get settled in, I get a little tingle on the back of my neck. Too hot, too windy, whatever, the deer have to eat, and this protected ridge is the kind of place they like in this kind of weather.
After a while I hear some turkeys yelping behind me while a couple of fat squirrels scamper through the leaves and keep me company. Then about 5:30 – a full hour before dark – movement in the trees up and to my left catches my eye. A buck! I ease the Nikon 8×42’s up and give him a look. At first glance I can see it’s a 9-point, probably a 3 ½ year old. No giant by any means, he’s a solid shooter buck given the weather conditions and the fact that I only have another couple of days to hunt. I ease the Hoyt Maxxis off the hook, slip one of the Gold Tip 5575’s from the quiver, and slowly nock it.
At this point does the same thing happen to you? I have done this literally hundreds of times, yet I find my knees are quivering; the chills and shakes quickly work their way up my torso all the way to the top of my head. I have to focus on my breathing and, as the deer feeds from left to right along the contour of the hill, I go through my pre-shot checklist.
Because my stand is set down in the hollow, the buck is actually feeding slightly above me. The cover through the leafless trees is virtually non-existent, and I am very conscious of the fact that I cannot even blink. The buck actually looks right at me twice from no more than 75 yards away but shows no sign of recognition. Maybe this Optifade Forest camouflage suit – a pattern designed using the science of deer vision so that when deer look at it they actually see nothing – really does work.
The deer is on a trail that runs toward the creek, a path that would take him just 20 yards to my left. Instead he chooses to stay on the contour line and feeds right in front of me on a trail that I had already ranged with my Nikon Archer’s Choice laser rangefinder to be 28 yards away. My challenge, of course, is that the deer is so close and exactly level with my platform, and I have to wait for his head to pass behind a tree trunk before I can draw. As he slowly walks from out behind the tree I settle the sight pins on his ribs, let out a small breath, and release.
The 125-grain Thunderhead slices through his ribs as if there was nothing there. In fact, the blades are so sharp they blow through so quickly the buck actually shows little reaction. He skips forward, startled more by the sound of the arrow burying itself in the soft earth behind him than the fact that a Thunderhead has just passed through his chest, then slowly walks off down into the big cut 30 yards to my right, and disappears.
I wait 20 minutes, then quietly climb down and go to the point of impact. There is good red blood everywhere, but I decide to back off. Jason and cameraman Mike Kunz are hunting close by, so I silently walk out and wait for them at the buggy.
Jason has to go pick up some of the other guys, so Mike and I grab a couple of Cyclops Nexus spotlights and get on the blood. I tell him my shot was perhaps two inches further back then I had wanted, and my thought is that I hit one lung and liver. And so we follow the blood down into the creek bottom, then up the slight hill behind into the tangles. The buck then levels off and follows the contour, making a big arc that would have taken him back to the bedding thicket from which he came. It takes us 30 minutes and the deer had traveled perhaps 300 yards before piling up.
There was no ground shrinkage as we walked up to my buck. With a body that had to weigh a solid 175 lbs. field dressed, his antlers are wider than the ears with long tines. I guess him 3 ½ years old, and he has a couple of little trash points. Later the tape tells us he grosses 147 2/8 Pope & Young points. To say I am thrilled is like saying Aaron Rodgers can throw a football, Bill Gates is rich, Stephen Hawking is a smart guy – a classic understatement.
It’s a slog to drag him back to the road, and after getting him cleaned up and positioned for tomorrow’s photo session we do not get to bed until midnight.
Come back tomorrow and let me tell you about some of the great gear I got to play with on this hunt.