-By Brandon Wikman
Deer and turkey season has all but piddled into a simple memory as we begin the sweltering month of July. The summer months are a time of grilling, camping, swimming, and tempting our lips with the bittersweet taste of lemonade. Although seasons have passed, memories never fade. There always seem to be a few unforgettable memories that never cease the mind, especially in my case - my very first Illinois deer hunt.
My friend and I were visiting a local pro shop and we jumped into the subject of last deer season. After he explained his misfortunes and sour luck at missing the almighty Bullwinkle, I had to brighten up the scene with my interesting hunting adventure.
The day before Illinois firearm season began, I ventured south toward Putnam County, IL. A county that isn’t as publicized as the infamous Pike, Brown or Adams County, which are near the southwestern portion of the state. I was invited to hunt the ground by a friend I met at a Bass Pro Shops Grand Opening in Indiana. As soon as I heard Illinois, archery and deer hunting all in one sentence, I began drooling at a chance to hunt the Land of Lincoln. Illinois has produced some wicked racked whitetails, and the odds of getting a crack at a trophy buck in this agriculture haven are pretty good!
Muzzleloader in hand, I trekked my way toward the tree stand with my cousin, Joe Nawrot, running camera hoping to capture some great bruiser buck video footage. The first day of our hunt we caught a glimpse of a doe scampering through the woods. We both anticipated a buck to be hot on her trail, but nothing showed up. We sat for another two hours until noon. The slow deer activity and lack of sightings left us puzzled, but it was only the first day. After we grabbed a makeshift gas station lunch, we hopped back into the tree and sat the rest of the afternoon. Temperatures teetered around 40-degrees, all the snow was melted and the post-rut activity looked scarce. The afternoon proved unsuccessful with not one deer spotting.
There’s nothing more mind boggling than to experience a solid day with deer activity on an all-time drought; especially when you’ve only got 3-days to hunt, and you’ve traveled hundreds of miles.
The second day started out rough. Winds blowing up to 40-mph swayed our tree back-and-forth, making it nearly impossible to get a solid aim or align crosshairs on vitals. As you would’ve guessed, we saw a grand total of zero deer during the entire day’s perch. Things began getting emotional as we hung our heads and stuffed our faces with comfort food. I remember faintly wincing at the television screen awaiting tomorrow’s forecast, afraid to listen to the weather. The weatherman announced a winter storm warning with ice and rain mix, along with high winds. Joe and I looked at each other and tampered with the idea of heading back home before the storm erupted. I don’t know why, but we opted to stay. All variables were against us, with the most critical being rain - moisture and video cameras don’t blend; it’s as simple as that.
We arose the morning of day three with open eyes and watched the snow powder the hotel’s parking lot. Joe and I debated what to do. We could either hunt hard without the camera, or stick around the hotel room watching Sunday morning’s lineup of cartoons. We decided to hunt.
The storm seemed to engulf every sign of life in the woods. From snow, to rain, to ice, there was not a critter to be seen. As noon approached and the storm ensued, we began to strategize a plan. We both knew where the bedding location was on the property, so I told Joe to slowly walk through the bedding area and hopefully with enough luck, a buck would squirt out.
No more than ten minutes into the one-man drive, a herd of deer followed the lead doe across the woods en route to another thicket. I peered through the scope brushing away water and spotted a racked deer. As soon as he stopped to look back, I fired a 250-grain sabot into the deer’s vitals. It just happened! Joe came running through the woods toward my stand as I scaled down the tree. An enlightening moment of sheer luck enriched our soggy souls as a team effort approach and a will to succeed surely paid off!
Memories like these captivate and hold our passions true to the outdoors. Living the outdoors experience, stockpiling memories and sharing the encounters with good friends are what hunting is all about.