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?