ILLINOIS WHITETAIL ADVENTURE
By Scott Hall
To those who don't know me, my name is Scott Hall and I am a disabled hunter with spina bifida. I hunt small game, doves and turkey but my passion is whitetail deer. While most of my hunting is done in my home state of North Carolina, I have also been blessed to be able to hunt in Virginia, Texas, Ohio and most recently Illinois. My most recent hunt in Illinois is the purpose of this article.
Those who know me know that I am an avid Facebook user and log on nearly every day to keep up with family and friends, to read all the latest hunting news, and to enter online contests.
In April of 2012, I entered a Facebook contest to win an all-expense paid whitetail hunt with Trophy Buck Outfitters in Hillview, Illinois. Having never hunted in Illinois before, and knowing the kind of bucks that come from there, I was hoping against all odds, that my name would be drawn and I would be hunting trophy whitetails in an area where so many Boone and Crockett bucks have been taken.
In June 2012, the date came for drawing the winner of the contest. When the winner was drawn, I was a little disappointed to read that someone from Tennessee had won the hunt instead of me. Rather than brooding about it, I quickly dismissed it and just moved on and looked forward to the upcoming deer season in my home state of North Carolina instead. That is when an unexpected event took place.
One night about two weeks after the contest ended, I received a Facebook message from Andy Chandler, co-owner of Trophy Buck Outfitters. The message simply said, "Scott call me at this number please. Thanks, Andy." I called him back but was unable to reach him. The next morning the phone rang and it was him. He introduced himself then asked if I had entered their contest on Facebook? I replied that I had. I also told him that I also knew a winner had already been chosen. He laughed and said, "Well that's why I'm calling, we have had a problem getting in touch with the original winner so we drew another name and had the same problem so basically you're the fifth person I've tried to get in touch with to give this hunt away. Would you like to come hunt with us?" When he said that, I could hardly believe it! My hands started to shake just like they do when I encounter a big buck and my reply was a very enthusiastic "WOULD I?! YOU BET I WOULD!" This was just like buck fever. The only thing missing was the buck. He said, "Okay then you're our winner, I'll post it on Facebook."
At that point Andy began filling me in on the process of applying for a non-resident tag, buying a non-resident license and habitat stamp. He also gave me a list of all the things I needed to bring with me. I hung up with him and immediately called the Illinois Department of Natural Resources where a very helpful agent was able to walk me through the process for applying for my non-resident deer tag. In September my tag arrived in the mail and I was pleased to see that I had drawn both a non-resident buck tag and a non-resident doe tag as well.
Finally the day of my departure had arrived. After leaving North Carolina on November 14th, we drove to Corydon, Indiana the first day where we got a motel room and got a good night's rest, then drove the remaining 250 miles into Illinois the following day. After arriving, I went to a local Wal-Mart store near where we were staying and bought my non-resident license and habitat stamp. I was now a "legal beagle".
We arrived in Hillview, a small community of just under 200 residents, on November 15th and after stopping to ask for directions, we found our way to the Trophy Buck Outfitters Lodge where we were greeted by Andy and his guides as well as the other hunters who would be in camp that week.
Situated in the rolling hills and farmland between the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, Trophy Buck Outfitters has a fully handicapped accessible lodge that sleeps up to 14 hunters. With two large sitting rooms, two fully stocked kitchens, private bedrooms with 2 beds per room, two handicapped accessible bathrooms, and satellite TV, a hunt at Trophy Buck Outfitters is a trip I will always cherish. At Trophy Buck Outfitters, meals are provided but breakfast is a do it yourself affair and hunters are asked to take a sack lunch with them into the field because unless other arrangements are made, hunting takes place from daylight until dark and a deer can be spotted at any time of day during the rut. A deer is not guaranteed at Trophy Buck Outfitters, but the owners and guides go out of their way to place you in big buck areas and make your hunt as enjoyable as possible.
With a minimum harvest requirement of 130 B&C or P&Y points, there are many trophy bucks in the 150-180 inch range taken there every season. Hunts take place on several different privately owned farms and there are thousands of acres of land on which to hunt. Trophy Buck Outfitters does not overbook their properties and there is plenty of room to hunt. I never encountered another hunter in my hunting area during my hunt which is more than you can say on many properties in big buck states.
After my arrival that evening, I talked with Phil who is one of the guides and he told me that in his opinion, the gun I had brought from home may not be suitable for the terrain on which I would be hunting because it did not have a rifled barrel. Going into the next room, he returned carrying a brand new 12 gauge Savage Model 212 slug gun. Holding it out to me he said, "Here! Take this and try it out. I just got it yesterday and it's never been hunted with but it's sighted in to hit dead on at 200 yards so if you can see him, you can hit him with this!" I graciously accepted his offer and I am glad that I did.
We turned in very early that night and by 3:30am we were awakened to the sound of guides and hunters already up and preparing for the first days hunt. My dad and I got up, dressed and ate a quick breakfast then Andy and one of his guides loaded me and my dad and my wheelchair into a van and took us out to our stand location for the day. After they left, my dad and I settled into the blind and awaited shooting light.
Situated on the edge of a large CRP field with thick hardwoods and brush on all sides, the blind faced east and the CRP field we were on rose gradually from our blind to the top of a ridge some 160 yards distant. This particular farm we were hunting was over 3,000 acres and we were the only ones hunting there.
In my opinion, there is no better place to be on this side of Heaven, than in a deer blind with my dad. As the sky started to lighten in the east, the creatures of the forest began to stir from their slumber. As I sat there in silence, taking it all in, I said a silent prayer thanking the Lord for allowing me the opportunity to be here and listen as the world woke up around me. As the sun rose above the horizon, I saw a deer about 150 yards away, then another and another. Slowly lifting my binoculars I was able to make out the shape of a doe then following her were two small bucks, both non-shooters. I was a little disappointed at the size of these bucks but I knew the area held bigger bucks and the hunt was young and I still had plenty of time remaining.
Just then, the tranquility of the morning was broken by a large fox squirrel who was chattering noisily just to my right. I slowly turned and scanned the woods to my right then up the field edge in front of me until my eyes caught movement further out. Raising the binoculars I picked out the shape of a deer. An old "high headed" doe as I call them, came out fully alert and looking for any sign of danger. I slowly pulled my camera from my pocket and snapped a quick photo just as she spotted me. She stomped her front foot, then bounded back into the forest, blowing loudly as she went.
Unfortunately the remainder of the day passed uneventfully with no other deer spotted before nightfall. Back at the lodge, we found a very nice 150 class ten pointer hanging on the meat pole, and a very happy hunter sitting in the lodge. He re-told the story of how he was able to take this good looking buck and we all congratulated him on his achievement. That night around the supper table, I was able to get better acquainted with Andy, his partner Eric and the other hunters, all of whom were from the state of Michigan. They were all a great group of guys and I enjoyed my time spent with them and with my dad. After a supper of pizza from a nearby pizza place, we turned in and prepared for day two of our hunt.
Arriving back in the same blind, we settled in again and shortly after sunrise were treated to the sound of a turkey gobbling just behind us and coyotes howling way off in the distance. A short time later a very large and beautiful coyote trotted out of the timber some 180 yards away. I had the green light from Andy to shoot one if I saw it, but this one never paused long enough for a shot.
All during the day we were treated to the sight of several deer but no shooters. About noon, a yearling six point buck, sporting the smallest six point rack I think I have ever seen, came out in the field. Sniffing the ground for sign of an estrous doe, he slowly meandered across the field from our left to right before disappearing again into the woods.
About an hour before dark, and with my confidence on a downhill slide, my dad tapped me on my right shoulder and motioned for me to look straight ahead. I looked and there was that same "high headed" doe we had seen the day before. I sat motionless this time and watched as doe after doe filtered out of the timber and began to calmly feed in front of us about 160 yards away. Just as I raised the gun to attempt to fill my doe tag, I caught more movement out of the corner of my right eye. Glancing over, I saw the glint of antler as a buck strode out of the brush. I glassed him and saw that he wasn't particularly wide but he was still a good buck. His rack was tall, extending well above his ears and while he didn't appear to be an old buck, I knew that day two of a three day season was nearly over and with only one day remaining, I did not want to pass him up then go home with an unfilled tag.
I quickly ranged the yardage to be 167 yards. With the buck calmly feeding broadside and totally unaware of my presence, I rested the gun on the window of the blind and with hands shaking, settled into the gun and eased off the safety. Placing the crosshairs directly behind his shoulder and taking a deep breath, I exhaled half of it and slowly squeezed the trigger. At the sound of the shot I heard the thwack as the 12 gauge slug hit home and I saw the buck mule kick with both back legs then take off quickly to my left. Thinking fast, I doe bleated loudly with my mouth and he stopped dead in his tracks and looked my way. Ranging him again I saw he was now at 176 yards. I quickly racked another shell in the chamber and slowly squeezed the trigger. This time the buck "hunched up" in the middle, lowered his head and took off again to my left. Stopping a second time, he began to flick his tail vigorously from side to side, a sure sign of a hit. I ranged him a third time and saw the distance was now 202 yards. This would be the longest shot I had ever attempted on any deer and especially the longest shot I had ever attempted with a shotgun. Settling in for the third time I squeezed the trigger and saw the deer run off to the left, this time disappearing from sight.
The later it got the more anxious I became for Andy to arrive. Just a few minutes before dark he and Tim, one of the guides, rolled up in the van. We quickly loaded up then drove in the direction my dad said the buck had taken. As we scanned the field for sign of the deer I saw a dark shape just ahead. I pointed and said, "There he is!" Andy stopped the van, got out and went to the buck then gave me the thumbs up sign. He and the guide then unloaded me and my chair and after congratulations and a few back slaps, we took a few photos before night fell. The buck was a nice mainframe nine pointer with a kicker point off his left G-2, making him a legal ten pointer. He also had a crab claw on the end of his left antler. A real "character" buck. He wasn't an old buck, probably three years old, but he was a trophy to me and I was blessed to have been given the opportunity to take him.
After Andy and Tim loaded the buck, we headed back to the lodge. As news of my success spread in camp, all the guys were coming up congratulating me. Someone who has never hunted or been in a deer camp has no idea what this is like but to a hunter, it’s one of the best feelings in the world to be congratulated by your peers.
A little while later, Andy came into the lodge and announced to the whole group that "Scott hit that buck with all three shots and I could cover all three shots with the palm of my hand." He went on to say that, "The first shot was a double lung hit. Shot two hit dead center in the heart and shot three was one inch to the right, but also dead center in the heart." Even after taking three fatal hits, the buck still was able to run 186 yards before collapsing. This just goes to prove how tough that a whitetail can be.
That night, sleep came easily and I slept the sleep of the just. I chose to sleep in the following day while others in camp went out in a last ditch attempt to fill their tags. That afternoon with a doe tag still in my pocket and hearing that there was a family in that community with small children and they had recently fallen on hard times and who could really use some meat, I decided to go out for the afternoon to try to take a doe in order to donate to that family. I was unsuccessful in doing so, so I opted to donate the meat from my buck instead.
It was sort of a somber mood around camp that last night. Not everyone in camp had been able to fill their tags, but that was not the reason for the somber mood. Nobody really wanted the season to be over or for this time to end. Filling a tag is not the primary motive for going to deer camp. The primary motive should be having the opportunity to experience God's creation in all its majesty, to form friendships, and to share experiences with your fellow hunting brothers and sisters. Taking a buck is just a little extra icing on the cake. While the bucks taken in these deer camps may not all be record book deer, the memories made there are ALL Boone and Crockett size!