Saturday, December 18, 2010

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Last night was last day of shotgun season for December 2010, and for the first time in over a year I was going to take my sister Sarah hunting. Between school and her job, she’d only been out one or two times this whole year. So, she took a day off of school to hunt with me.

I’d been seeing does every night this week, and though they weren’t coming in until it was too dark to film, I was hoping that maybe tonight one of them would give her a shot.

We got to the stand a little late. I had waited fifteen minutes while Sarah put on what seemed like every article of clothing she owned. (“What?? I get cold easy!!”)

Luckily, it wasn’t that cold out…or it wasn’t for me anyways, since I was used to sitting out in the cold. I scattered some corn a ways from our setup, then we climbed into our stands. Sarah was sitting in a ladder that I had set up early season and used all through the rut. I was in a lock-on that I had set up on the double tree slightly above the ladder stand so that I could film.

It was a good setup and I was feeling pretty confident that we were going to at least see some deer.

I got the camera set up and reaching in my pocket for my phone. As I did, I caught the scent of something maple. Reaching into my pocket again, I pulled out a bottle of Imitation Maple Flavor that I had used as a scent attractant during bear season. During a bear hunt with my friend Matt, I had handed him the bottle and asked him to taste it. He did, and confirmed my suspicion that it tasted absolutely disgusting. I of course thought itwas hilarious.

Now sitting in the tree with Sarah who was already getting cold, I reached down and tapped her shoulder.

“I got something for you,” I whispered, and handed her the bottle of maple flavor.

She grabbed it and opened the cap. “What is it?”

“Taste it,” I said reassuringly.

Usually when I tell her to taste something, she catches on that its something disgusting and won’t do it. I’m not sure if it was the fact that it smelled good or what, but she tilted the bottle back and took a gulp.

I wanted to fall out of the tree laughing at the look on her face. She spit out as much as she could, but somehow had managed swallowed some of it.

“That’s disgusting!”

Well, yea. I knew that.

We finally stopped laughing and calmed down. We returned to texting and the sun began to set behind the trees.

At 4:00, like clockwork, the deer showed up in the opposite field. I watched them through binoculars for a few minutes, then whispered to Sarah to look in the field. I handed her the binoculars as three more does came through the hedgerow.

“Awesome!” she whispered. “We’re seeing deer!” Did I mention that she hadn’t seen a deer any of the times she had managed to get out this year? Already I felt like our hunt was a success.

I continued to watch the deer in the field, then Sarah whispered something.

I leaned down, “What?”

“That maple stuff really warmed me up. I’m not cold anymore!”

We later read the ingredients and found out it had 12% alcohol in it. Not sure if it was the alcohol or not, but whatever it was, it did the trick of keeping her warm for a while. Something to remember…even if it did taste disgusting.

About ten minutes until the end of shooting light, the deer were still in the field. Sarah was shivering. I knew that if the deer did decide to head in our direction, they would never make it in time for her to get a shot.

We headed back to the truck, and even though we didn’t get a deer, we sure had fun.  Next month when Shotgun opens back up we plan on heading back out again to try to get her a doe. I’ll make sure to bring some maple flavor in case she gets cold.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Over the past few years, several friends who don’t hunt have told me that this time of year I have my priorities messed up. I tend to ignore those kinds of comments and go on my own way to my treestand. Being 21, single, living on my own and on unemployment, I pretty much get to make my own rules. But, yesterday when I was sitting in my treestand, I thought about it...

In the morning, I woke up at 5:30, got dressed, and left for the treestand. About 8:30 I got down and returned to my house for coffee and to change clothes. Then, passing by the insurance and rent paperwork that was all due next week, I went to the store to get new batteries for my trail camera, then stopped at the sport shop to pick up wax for my bow strings.

Mid-morning I decided I should start a new bait pile up behind my house so that I would have more than one option for late season shotgun, and look for a new spot for my ground blind…deciding to put off doing laundry for another day.

Returning to my house, I got something to eat and then decided to shoot my bow, then tried to get my trail camera to work, turned down a lunch invitation and an invitation to a party since I would be hunting, double checked my batteries for my video camera and found a warmer pair of snow boots for my afternoon hunt.

I then remembered my shotgun was still in my truck from last week, so brought that in to wipe down and leave in my apartment until Wednesday when shotgun opened back up.

Then, last minute double check to make sure I had everything I needed for the afternoon muzzleloader hunt, make sure I had bait to put out, and I headed back to the treestand.

That night after hunting, I returned home to dirty dishes in the sink, laundry that needed to be done, 3 unanswered phone calls, 2 annoyed voicemails,  and paperwork that needed to be filled out that night.
I still don’t think my priorities are messed up. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

It's Not Over Yet

For one whole day after hearing that Mr. Big had been shot, I didn’t hunt. I sort of felt like there was no reason to. Then, after a day and a half of not hunting had passed, I realized that there were other deer in the woods so to speak. It was time to stop moping around and try to put some meat in the freezer.

 Even if I couldn’t shoot Mr. Big, there were still other bucks around, and some of them were pretty big. Most of them wouldn’t be dropping their antlers for another month or so, so this was my chance to get back out there and fill my buck tag, and as many doe tags as I wanted.

Now that it’s mid-December, the rut is over, the cold weather has set in, and up in the mountains where I live, we’ve had several inches of snow. Once this first week of firearm season is over and the drivers go back to the city, a handful of corn will ensure deer under your stand most mornings, and every night. Filming a doe kill shouldn’t be a problem; it all comes down to which will come first, the deer or the darkness.

And so, that afternoon I headed back out to my stand, a little under the weather but hopeful. It was supposed to snow so hopefully if the pressure of the drives hadn’t messed up the movement too much, some deer would show.

I climbed into my stand and set up my camera and remote, then took my shells out of my pocket to load my shotgun. Since it was so cold out, I didn’t feel like taking my gloves off, so the shells rolled out of my hand and all three of them hit the ground.

I sat in my treestand for a full five minutes, looking down at the three red cylinders on the ground.

Taking my gloves off, I climbed down, picked them up, climbed back up into my stand and loaded my gun.

Putting my gloves back on, I reached into my pocket for my cell phone.

Instantly it slipped from my hand and fell the 20 feet down out of the treestand to the snowy ground below. I sat there and stared down at the light blinking “new message”. I had two options. I could leave it there and wonder who had sent me a text and wonder what it said, or I could go down there and get it.

I climbed down and retrieved my phone.

That afternoon I saw nothing. I heard some drives going on a few miles away, but no deer were pushed my way. It started snowing, and the wind picked up. I put my hood up and leaned back against the tree.

It wasn’t the best day I’d ever had in the stand…but it felt good to be back out there. Sooner or later my luck will change, and when my deer walks by I’ll be ready. This season has been one of the worst I can remember, but it’s NOT OVER YET.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Opening Day of Firearm

Monday, December 6 was opening day of New Jersey firearm deer season, and also opening day of the 6 day bear season. It was cold, windy, and spitting snow. Getting out of my warm bed at 5:00 in the morning wasn’t on my list of top ten things to do, but you have to be in it to win it.

For most people in North Jersey, opening day (and for some this whole week) was more important of a holiday than Christmas.  Those who work take the day off, and the local schools shut down. But, it isn’t so much about the hunting and the deer as it is about spending time with family and friends, eating at the local diner, talking about previous seasons and drinking hot coffee by the gallon.

This week isn’t about stand hunting or sitting in a blind waiting for deer to walk by; pretty much everyone does drives. I’m not a huge fan of drives, but on private property it can work to your benefit.

That afternoon I noticed that I had missed a call from my dad, who was working at one of the local deer check stations. Calling my voicemail, I listened to the message….

SOMEBODY HAD SHOT MR. BIG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :(

Just the thing I didn’t want to hear….

My heart sank.

A local group of hunters doing drives had pushed him out onto nearby property and someone had shot him. My worst fear had come true: my months of hardcore hunting for Mr. Big had been ruined in one morning. Somehow, I felt I hadn’t tried hard enough…though there really was no way I COULD have tried harder. It looked like this season was just going to have to end a little different than I thought.

And it was ending. For me, now that Mr. Big was no longer available, my energy for late season hunting had somewhat disappeared. Time to look for more spots to hunt! And also time to move on.

My plans for the rest of the NJ season is to shoot a few more does, and possibly a nice buck if I get my chance. No more passing up bucks that aren’t “big enough”. The time for me to put a deer on the ground is long overdue since my last deer back in October, and its time to finally film some kills now that the pressure is over. 

So, we’ll see how the rest of the season pans out for me, hopefully my luck will change and I’ll get a chance at another nice buck.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend

It was a long weekend. Wednesday night I sat out in the freezing cold, hoping that just maybe, for some magical reason,  Mr. Big would show up. There was a storm coming in for Thursday morning, and it was already cold and windy.

No such luck. The next morning was Thanksgiving, and I didn't hunt. I rarely saw deer in the morning, and had never had pictures or seen Mr. Big during the morning.

That afternoon my mom accidentally turned the oven off while the turkey was cooking...needless to say we ended up eating nearly two hours later than intended. My plans for an evening hunt were shot, but I wasn't really all that disappointed since I hadn't seen Mr. Big in nearly two months, both on and off camera. So, I stayed in the nice warm house and ate Thanksgiving dinner and caught up on gossip with my sister, while outside the snow fell and the wind blew....

And Mr. Big appeared under my stand...

The next day when I went hunting, I decided to check my trail camera since I hadn't in a few weeks. I was feeling more than a little discouraged about ever getting Mr. Big.

Opening the camera, I saw the screen read "Memory Full". Well, that hadn't happened in about a month or so. Switching the memory card to a new one, I climbed into my stand and put the card in my camera to view the pictures.

About 20 pictures in, I saw Mr. Big and nearly had a heart attack. Sure enough, there he was, under my stand for several hours, while I was at my parents house eating Thanksgiving Dinner. I swore then and there to never go to Thanksgiving again.

I've been in my stand like faithfully, every day, but still no Mr. Big. But, I'm feeling a little more optimistic now that I have some pictures of him again.

I had hoped to take him with my bow, but bow season is nearly over, and this morning was opening day of Muzzleloader season in NJ...

Now, I'm waiting for another storm to come in so I can be there when he shows up! I hope....

Friday, November 19, 2010

To Shoot Or Not To Shoot

Last night was the coldest night I've hunted this November, and it wasn't even very cold.

I got in my stand early since I wanted to put a few tree steps in and put up my camera arm, since I'd taken that all down when I left for my trip to Illinois. Unfortunately, there was a doe under my stand when I got there. The night wasn't off to a good start. Once I was in my stand, my bow ready, camera arm up, video camera set, I decided to put my treesteps in.

20 minutes later I was still trying to put the same treestep in. Frustrated, I finally gave up and decided it wasn't important. There were already about a dozen does in the far field, and a few of them were acting kind of crazy. I expected that there would be a buck along shortly.

I was sitting in my stand playing with my cell phone, not really paying any attention to my surroundings, when I heard some leaves rustling behind me.

Probably just a stupid squirrel, I thought. I wish they would all die.

The rustling continued, and in a few seconds I quickly realized that it wasn't sounding like a squirrel. I twisted around in my tree stand to look behind me across the field, and saw nothing.  But, by now, whatever it was was almost directly beneath me, and my view was blocked by the tree.

Leaning forward, I looked around the tree and saw a big 8 point walking along the deer trail towards the brook. He had come from across the field, directly behind me, so I had never heard him until he entered the stand of trees where all the dry leaves fell.

I had seen him several times out in the far field feeding with the does, but he'd never come directly under my stand.

Should I shoot, should I shoot, should I shoot?? That's all I could think as he rapidly got farther and farther out of bow range, until it was too late. Not sure if I had done the right thing, but still very much wanting to hold out for Mr. Big, I trained the camera on the rapidly disappearing buck.

He was gone in a matter of seconds, and I sat back in my stand unsure of whether or not I'd made the right decision. A few minutes later, a button buck came through following the same trail. It clicked in my mind that the doe that had been under my stand when I walked in, had probably been in heat since they were following the trail she had gone.

Later, reviewing the footage of the buck, I was a little sorry I hadn't shot. He wasn't as big as Mr. Big, but he was a really nice buck, and if I didn't see him again, I most probably wouldn't see another buck as nice as him unless Mr. Big showed up. But I figure, why settle for less than what I want? The season isn't over!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Treestand Therapy

I’ve been told that, often there is a time in your life where everything comes together. Lately, I’ve been feeling that there is only a time in my life when everything falls apart. A death, a loss, a failure, a mistake.  Things that make you question what is really important. There isn’t much that has improved my outlook on life lately, not even the deer season, which has been especially slow.

The warm weather is killing the big buck activity, no cold weather forecasted anytime soon, and a full moon is fast approaching, which will be of no help. Right now I can see the season ending with no buck on the ground, and nothing to show for the many hours I spent up in the tree.

Yet everyday like clockwork even on the days when I just want to crawl into bed and hide, I head to the treestand, knowing that at least I’m trying, putting forth the effort. Most days I feel better after a few hours in the tree; it works like therapy to give me to time to unwind after a long day.

I leave the woods with hope that things will get better, that they aren’t as bad as they seem, that things will work themselves out.

It reminds me of last year, also in November, when I was feeling pretty much the same way…and then I got my Muzzleloader Buck and things seemed to slowly right themselves.

On opening day of muzzleloader in New Jersey, it was 40 degrees with a forecast of rain. I hated hunting in the rain, especially muzzleloader hunting. And besides that, rain was depressing. Nevertheless, I was on the road at 5 that morning, headed to my tree stand.

It was also opening day of rifle in Pennsylvania, I expected to see a lot of hunters already parked along the road in the dark, getting ready for drives, but saw only a few. I had to drive a half hour to reach the property I hunted, but it was privately owned, and I was the only one who hunted it. It was a small square of about 7 acres, surrounded by public land that I knew would be full of hunters doing drives. Hopefully, that would push a few deer out to me so I could get a shot. I hadn't used the muzzleloader in a few years, but this year I wanted to shoot what I liked to call the "New Jersey Grand Slam": a deer with a shotgun, bow and muzzleloader, at least one buck.

This year, I had promised myself, this year was going to be different. I was going to hunt hard and shoot the buck of my dreams. The area I hunted was known for its huge New Jersey bucks, and I was lucky to be hunting where I was.

I had started out the early bow season with big dreams, but somehow it never happened. I wasn't having a good season. Things kept going wrong, and not only with hunting; I lost my job, went through a bad breakup, and had problems with my truck. Of course I had caught a few glimpses of big bucks, bucks big enough to make my eyes glaze, as I tried to wish the deer close enough for a bow shot. But ass the season progressed, my hopes diminished. I began believing that I wasn't going to reach my goal of a big buck.

Sitting in my treestand that morning with my 50 cal CVA inline, I wasn't at my most optimistic. I waited and waited, thinking of a unusually long tined four pointer that I had passed up about a week ago. Maybe I should have shot him.

As the dark sky turned a light shade of gray, I stayed tuned in to any sounds that might indicate a deer. Even a doe, I thought to myself, I'll shoot a doe if one comes. We were allowed unlimited doe, and I'd only taken one in the early bow season.

It was after seven o'clock. I was hearing shots in the distance and knew the deer should be moving now. I waited. Nothing. I considered getting down and going in. I stayed.

Then, I finally heard something. Looking behind me, back towards the open hay field, I saw a little four pointer trotting down out of the woods and into the field. I'd seen him many times before, too small to be a "shooter", I even had him on film, along with most of the other small bucks I had passed up.

Suppressing a sigh, I turned back to face the stream. I was no quitter, but in that moment, I wanted to give up. I had hunted every single day of bow season, morning and night, and never had a chance at a big buck. It was the end of November; not much time left, the rut was over. Not many chances that it would happen.

I heard something crashing down the hill in the direction the four point had come from. Turning again, I saw another much bigger bodied deer limping his way down the steep hill side. I squinted my eyes, trying to see the rack at several hundred yards. Of course, I had forgotten binoculars.

When he stepped into the field, he was limping badly. My guess was he had been pushed out of the woods by all the hunters, and had been hit by a car. He lifted his head, and my eyes focused on his rack. It was WIDE. Wide, and the right hand side gleamed white, almost the same color as his face. He was an old deer, that much was obvious, and the biggest bodied deer I'd seen all season. The rack was unique looking, though I still couldn't really judge how big it was from this distance.

I twisted in my stand to face the direction he was coming. I held my breath and checked the primer on my gun as the deer limped slowly towards my stand. One hundred yards, fifty yards. I knew I could shoot. Still, painstakingly, I waited. At 25 yards he stopped and turned sideways, looking towards the other side of the field, where I knew does had probably come out to feed. This was what I had been waiting for.

I lifted the muzzleloader to my shoulder, trying to control my shaking, released the bolt, and squeezed the trigger. The gun went off. To my shock, the buck didn't flinch, didn't fall. Almost lazily, he turned and limped away. I felt panic rising inside me. I knew I had made a perfect broad side shot. I knew it. Why was he walking away as if I hadn't?

I nearly fell out of my treestand when he stopped a moment later, looking around as if he knew I was watching. He laid down, his legs scuffling in the leaves, then he was still. I knew I should wait; to be sure he was dead. I couldn't. I was out of the treestand in seconds.

As quietly as I could, I walked towards him. His eyes were wide open, staring at nothing. I grabbed a stick from the ground and tossed it at his head. He was dead alright. And he was huge. Bigger than I thought he had been when I first saw him standing in the field.. He would go at least 150 pounds field dressed. And the rack was the widest I'd ever seen in my life. Later, it measured 22 inches on the inside spread; the rack scoring 124 and 7/8 inches B&C. Suddenly, I had to sit down. Sinking down on a rock, I stared at my buck. I was so happy. I felt like the luckiest girl alive to have just killed such a beautiful deer. Wasn't this always how it worked? Just when you stopped believing in something, it would happen and prove you wrong. Well I certainly wasn't complaining this time. Instead, I felt the sudden urge to break down and cry.

Sitting staring at my buck, the one antler digging into the dirt, the other gleaming white curving up in the air, it started to rain.

To this day, when I look at the antlers on the wall, or the poster of me with my buck, I remember how after a long wait, things finally worked out for the better. 

Monday, November 15, 2010


Well, its the middle of November and things are starting to get a little depressing, with no buck down, the rut fast coming to an end, and firearm season less than a month away. It's been so warm out lately that I haven't been seeing many bucks at all, except on my trail camera after dark. Things need to pick up soon!

The next few weeks will be extremely busy, so I'm really hoping to have Mr. Big killed by Thanksgiving. There, I have a goal to work towards! Hopefully the weather will cool off. I got excited when I looked out my bedroom window this morning and saw that it was raining...but then I stepped outside and it was nearly 70 degrees..Ugh!!!! Whatever happened to fall?? It's supposed to be almost winter!

Tomorrow I'm going to be putting up a stand for my youngest sister Hannah, who is twelve...I think. This is her first deer season, and she hasn't been having a whole lot of luck. This weekend is Youth Firearm Day and I've been seeing plenty of does and small bucks at my stand. So, I'm going to set up a double stand for her so that I can film her when she (hopefully) shoots her first deer this weekend. I'm pretty excited about it!

Then, I also need to shoot my Muzzleloader this weekend. The season opens on the 29th and I haven't even looked at my gun since last year on the 30th of November when I cleaned it and put it back in the gun cabinet after shooting my big buck.Hopefully I will have as much success this year.

Then, I also promised my youngest brother Josh, who is ten,  that I would take him bow hunting, so the double stand I put up for my sister will also be for Josh. Hopefully I will get him filmed shooting his first deer as well.

Then, my sister Sarah (17) also wants to shoot a deer this I'll probably be hunting with her out of the double stand as well.

Then, I have to get ready for the upcoming bear season, when I will be guiding a hunt.

Then, also, in between all of this my boyfriend wants to get some hunts on film, and possibly another trip to Missouri.

So many things to do!! I'm just hoping that all my hard work will pay off. My goal: One buck for me, one deer for Hannah, one deer for Josh, one deer for Sarah, and one black bear for the guy I will be guiding. Am I expecting too much?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

2 and 1/2 Days: MISSOURI

I’d been to the farms in Missouri twice before. Once to set up trail cameras, and once on our way back from Colorado for a quick hunt with my boyfriend. It was owned by my boyfriends cousin, and now, finally, I would be hunting here.

We made good time on our way to Missouri, with one stop for lunch at a Wendy’s where we saw a bunch of guys from Hadley Creek, and another stop to buy me a license at Wal-Mart. We were at the south farm in time to be in our stands that night. I sat in a hedgerow between a soybean field and a grass field, and had does around me almost as soon as I was in the stand. But, it was about 70 degrees out, and the bucks weren’t moving.

We stayed in a motel that night, and left for the north farm, about an hour away, early the next morning. I sat in a ladder stand over a food plot, the same one that my boyfriend had shot a doe out of in September when we were on our way back from Colorado.

I was tired, and very nearly fell asleep as the sun came up and shone directly on my stand, keeping me warm. Then, I saw a small buck come out of the hemlocks about 70 yards away, into the food plot. He didn’t stick around very long, but I videoed him for a while before he disappeared into the hemlocks again. About ten minutes later, a doe came out. I didn’t even bother to pick up my camera. Stupid me, I didn’t even think a buck could be right behind her. And, he was!

A huge 8 point came out of the hemlocks directly behind her. They were too far to shoot, and gone in a few seconds, but I knew that the buck was a definite shooter. The rules my boyfriends cousin had for anyone who hunted the farm was that if you shot a buck it had to be over 140 or you paid a $500 fine. This buck was for sure over 140.

I waited, but he never came back out. I tried the snort-wheeze, since my boyfriend said it worked wonders here in Missouri, but it only brought the little buck back in.   I sat there until about 9, when I was supposed to meet my boyfriend back at the road for him to pick me up. 

That day it was nearly 80 degrees. It felt like summer again. My boyfriend and I set up a groundblind near where the deer had crossed and camoed it in for me to sit in that night. There were three heavily used trails crossing there on the food plot, so I had a feeling it would be good. 

By the time we finished putting up the blind it was nearly time to get back in the woods. We drove back to our spot where we parked the camper, and my boyfriend decided that he should take a shower. There was a 15 gallon jug of water with a spout that had been left in his camper, so taking it outside he set it up on top of the camper and stripped down to his underwear. I sat in the camper and texted my sister while I waited for him to get done.

But, he had other plans. Coming back in shivering, he suggested that I should take a shower too since we were staying in the camper that night and not going into the town that was a half hour away.

Reluctantly I agreed and stripped down to my underwear and stepped under the trickle of FREEZING water. I was only there about a minute, I hadn’t even used soap yet, when I heard a tractor coming up the road. Where we were, there was NO traffic what so ever. We were in the middle of nowhere. What were the chances of a tractor coming by, JUST when I started to shower?

“I’ll go block his view” my boyfriend volunteered.

I stepped behind the camper where I wouldn’t be seen, thankful for the towel  I had brought with me. Shivering, I waited for the tractor to continue on by so I could finish my frigid shower and get back into the warm dry camper. But, instead, the tractor stopped. Then I heard it shut off and heard my boyfriend talking to him.

Great. Here I was practically naked and freezing and my boyfriend was out there talking to some farmer. The whole situation was hilarious.

Luckily I managed to finish my shower and wrap myself in a towel when the farmer left. Then, it was back to the woods. I saw a lot of does that night, and some small bucks again, lots of turkeys, but no big bucks.

We spent that night in the camper, with a Heater Buddy running on propane to keep us warm. I thought about it that night: there we were, literally in the middle of nowhere. No heat, no running water, traveling 20 miles to town to one place that served food, waking up at 4 in the morning to sit in a treestand for most of the day and freeze, pretty much no phone service, 18 hours from home and the only person I saw all day was my boyfriend. Honestly, I was happier than I’ve ever been. Of course, the possibility of shooting a big buck just made it better.

The next morning was our last morning hunting Missouri. We got up extra early since my boyfriend wanted to put a stand up for himself before it got light. I sat in the blind again, and I was so tired that I curled up on the floor of the blind and fell asleep until the sun came up.

I saw no deer that morning, though my boyfriend saw some deer where he sat. That afternoon we moved the blind to another location for rifle season, and moved the ladder stand I had sat in the previous morning, which took us most of the afternoon.

Our last night I sat in yet another ladder stand in the middle of a swampy area near the road. I was only there about an hour when deer started coming from everywhere. Bucks were chasing does in every direction. One nice big 8 point stayed in the swamp long enough for me to video him for a while, but no shooters came close enough for me to get a chance. 

That night walking back to the truck, I was a little disappointed. A week in the mid-west and no deer down. But, I had had the time of my life. I honestly can’t remember ever having been so happy or having so much fun. It was an experience I will never forget, and next time hopefully I’ll be dragging a deer out of the woods!

For now, it's time for me to return to the woods of NJ and shoot Mr. Big, since he is STILL ALIVE!!

2 and 1/2 Days: ILLINOIS

We left at 4:30 in the morning, while it was still dark, and so cold that my eyes watered when I stepped outside. I wondered if it was going to be that cold in Illinois, and wondered how I was ever going to take sitting in a tree stand for hours if it was this cold. 

I was extremely excited that morning. I was finally going to get my chance to hunt Illinois and Missouri!! But I was also exhausted from getting up every morning to hunt Mr. Big here in Jersey. My boyfriend on the other hand was practically bouncing off the walls of the truck. As we pulled out of my driveway he started rattling off our plans for the next week, and I wondered exactly how many cups of coffee he had drank before coming to pick me up.

I fell asleep right around the time Blake Shelton started singing “You Can Kiss My Country Ass” for the sixth time around that morning. I woke up about two hours later to find myself covered in my boyfriends jacket as the sun started to make its way over the Pennsylvania mountains in front of us. The frost was so heavy it looked like snow. What a morning it would have been to be in the tree stand!

One spilled cup of coffee later, one neck massage, and me repeating myself three times telling my boyfriend not to fall asleep, we pulled over at a truck stop. My boyfriend had hooked his camper up behind his truck, and we were going to drop it off in Missouri and leave it there for the rest of the season. The downside was, he wouldn’t let me drive because it made the truck swerve a little. The upside was, he could stop and take a nap anywhere he wanted. Which was exactly what we did.

An hour later, after making some sandwiches on the tailgate,  we were back on the road. We made good time that day, and once we reached Illinois we started looking for a place to stop and buy our hunting licenses. About three hours from the outfitters, we spotted a little sport shop and stopped in. Things were going well until the guy who worked there printed out a resident license for my boyfriend, instead of a non resident. After he tried to go back and fix it, the license machine wouldn’t let him print anything out. We ended up staying the night in a town near there, and heading back in the morning. It took us three hours to get our licenses straightened out, and then we were finally on our way to the outfitters. Not off to a good start!

The first day there, we met up with my boyfriends buddy, who was also hunting there, (and who also promptly decided that I was the next new and improved Tiffany Lakosky), and we set up all of our stands. I have to say I was surprised how good the accommodations were there at the outfitters!! Spacious bedrooms with double beds, TV, refrigerator, microwave, a hot tub on the deck, and three home cooked meals a day if we wanted it. It was better than being at home!!

We found quite a few good scrapes and rubs, and we were all more than a little excited to hunt the next day. I had a hard time sleeping that night. 

At 3:30 on November 5th, we woke up to start hunting. I don’t remember the last time I got up that early, but it was for a good cause, and my boyfriend had learned from experience that you had to be in your stand before light to shoot one of these bucks. It was a half hour walk to my stand, and a hours walk for my boyfriend. We parted ways at the edge of the field, and he told me to text him when I was in my stand or he was coming after me.

Disappointingly, all I saw were squirrels and a doe that first morning. And, it was COLD!!! My boyfriends buddy texted me and said that he saw a shooter and some does. I texted my boyfriend and asked how he was doing, since he had never answer my first “all set” text. Still no answer.

By 11 o’clock that morning, my boyfriends buddy and I were climbing down out of our stands several miles apart, and both were getting worried about the fact that my boyfriend wasn’t answering any of our texts. “We may have to go searching for him,” his buddy said. Ok, now I was worried.

But, back at the cabin, a little after 11, who should appear out of the woods but my boyfriend. His phone had been in his truck all along. Not doing much good in there! Needless to say, that was our excitement for that morning.

After a hot lunch and a short nap, my boyfriend and I headed out to a different piece of property owned by the same outfitter, while his buddy headed to a stand set up behind the cabin we stayed in. After giving me directions as to where I was supposed to walk, my boyfriend headed to his own stand.

The weeds were taller than my head, and there were briars and stickers all over. By the time I was to my stand, I was covered with clingy things that came off of the weeds.

Oh, yes. The stand. Looking up at it I decided that I was EXTREMELY thankful that my boyfriend had packed a safety harness for me, since there was NO way that I would ever get in that stand without a harness. It took me a while to climb the pegs and secure myself to the tree. The stand was a small lock-on (emphasis on the small) and it was easily the highest stand I’d ever sat in. I wondered if I should be worried about a nosebleed. But, once I was in it, sitting looking out over the cornfield, I fell in love. The view was amazing. I felt like I was in a Primos or Buckmasters hunting show.

I saw several does and a small buck that night, despite the cold weather, which was a little disappointing. That night at supper my boyfriend and his buddy made the decision that we were too early. The rut hadn’t really kicked in yet, even though it was the coldest it had been all year. 

The next morning we left about 4. I was in the same stand, and it was even colder than it had been the previous morning. By the time it got light out at 7, I was shivering. Not good!!! I wanted to sit until at least 10 but I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do it. At about 8:30, after seeing a few does and a bobcat come through, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket and managed to pull it out without having to take my gloves off. My boyfriends buddy had just shot a ten point that scored about 145 inches. I was jealous!

I hadn’t even closed my phone when I heard deer coming fast up the steep ravine in front of me. Shoving my phone into my jacket, I clipped my release on the bow and got ready. The deer reached the top of the ravine and stopped just as the sun hit the tops of the trees. And, what a deer. He had 12 points, with kickers coming out all over, and good mass. No two ways about it, he was a good shooter buck. And, the biggest buck I’d ever seen in my life. He stood there facing me at the top of the ravine, head on. I couldn’t take the shot, but I was going to try to pull my bow back. I was stiff and cold, and had to shift in order to pull back, and he must have heard me or something because he looked right at me. Luckily he didn’t seem to notice me, or see me, because he continued on his own merry way down the trail. Fortunately he was only 15 yards. Unfortunately there was a ton of thick brush and trees in the way, and he was headed to my right. Being right handed, it would have been a difficult shot to make.

I tried snort-wheezing with no luck. He was on the trail of a doe, and there was no stopping him. Disappointed, I turned in my stand to watch him disappear into the next ravine. I managed to stick it out until 10:30 in my stand, but when I started to shiver and since no deer had come through after the buck, I climbed down.

It was exciting to see an Illinois buck on the ground. Back at the cabin, everyone was crowded around the shed looking at the ten point that my boyfriends buddy had shot. it was a beautiful ten point with tall dark tines. How cool would it have been if I had shot a deer too?

We made an emergency stop at Ron’s Bow Shop that afternoon to get my boyfriends bow re-strung. Pulling the bow up the tree that morning, the haul line had hooked on a branch and pulled the string off of the bow. Luckily the only buck that had come by was an 8-point that only would have scored about 130.

That afternoon I was put in yet another stand, a ladder stand that was set in a strip of woods between a corn field and a soy bean field. If I would have had to pick a favorite stand in Illinois, that one would have been it. Ten minutes after I got in the stand, there was movement. I saw about 50 turkeys that night,  a possum, does, and countless small bucks. About an hour into my sit, I glanced over my shoulder and saw a huge buck limping through the woods. I hadn’t even heard him approach, how was that possible? It was obvious that something was wrong with his right front leg the way he was limping.

He stopped about 70 yards behind me to my right and started rubbing his antlers on a tree. My heart was pounding and I just knew that this was going to be it. My bow was ready, I was ready. The buck was there. So I thought. He wouldn’t come in.  I watched him for about ten minutes, until he bedded down in the brush behind me. Oh great.

Then, a small buck came through, exactly the same route the big buck had come, and went into the brush the big buck was laying in. I heard antlers rattling, then both bucks ran off in separate directions. Well, at least I was seeing them! I saw several other small bucks that night, and an eight point that I later wondered if I should have shot, but not big ones. 

That night over a celebratory toast of wine to my boyfriends buddy, my boyfriend made the decision that we were going to leave for Missouri the next afternoon, after hunting the morning.

Neither of us saw anything but coyotes the next morning, so we said our goodbyes and packed our gear for the 3 hour drive to the farm in Missouri. I was both disappointed and excited that I hadn’t shot a deer in Illinois, but I was leaving for Missouri. Who knew what could happen?