Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Year-End Review (3): Illinois, Part 1

Hunting in the Midwest is the ultimate catch-22. If you have the opportunity to hunt the deer of the Midwest, you will most likely have your ultimate deer encounter, probably see larger deer in greater numbers than you ever have before, and think that the deer gods don’t reside in deer heaven, but in Pike County, Illinois. The problem is, it can sap much of the joy of stepping into the woods anywhere else – especially in the South. And I would say that if I were solely a trophy hunter, I would probably stop hunting in the South. But, of course, I am not. So, of course, I keep hunting. But ever so often, when my schedule allows, I get to dine with the gods.

This year I was able to slip up to the Harris property for the last few days of October…right when the boys start remembering that there is something very interesting about the girls, but they can’t quite put their fingers on it yet. The Harris property is made up of 5 different farms scattered around Pittsfield, Illinois and totaling roughly 500 acres. Andrew and Brinck had been up earlier that month with my old man, and while a mature buck put the slip on Andrew, and Brinck made the tough decision to pass a borderline shooter, they still managed to do a little population control.

I arrived at the Harris farm at 11 a.m. on Thursday, the 27th of October (after an 11 hour drive through the night). I was in the woods by 12. When you have reservations at a 5 star resort, you don’t waste any time getting there. That first evening was fast and furious. I sat the skinny pinch stand on the Harris farm, and had no less than six bucks cruise through. The timber runs north to south on the west side of the farm, with a creek running through it. To the east of the stand is a small CRP field that the deer use as a staging area before heading into the planted corn or crossing the creek (hopefully right by the stand) into the clover field to the west of the stand. The stand is also situated to catch bucks cruising the creek bottom searching for their lady-friends. Not a bad spot to be in. It is a tough stand to hunt in the morning, however, because most of the deer will already be in the fields or on the edge of the timber. But for an afternoon stand, it is hard to beat.

Harris Farm

After passing several marginal bucks (which would have been tempting to harvest on my home turf in Alabama), I had a nice buck cruise through right at dark, but stayed on the opposite side of the creek and never presented a shot.

The following morning was slow, so I went into town to grab a quick lunch. I decided to hunt the skinny pinch again, and, once again, had a great evening. After having a few does cruise through, I caught a glimpse of a rack moving slowly down the creek from the north. The buck ducked down into the creek bed, and didn’t pop up again until he was thirty yards away. This is when hunting gets difficult. I had to make a split-second decision on the deer and decided to pass. I could tell he was a mainframe eight, maybe had a little junk on his bases, but just wasn’t the deer you drive 11 hours for.

A brief aside: many outfitters are starting to get worried about the amount of marginal bucks being harvested in the southern Illinois region. What made this region of the country great was the mixture of minimal, (mostly) bow-only pressure, people who cared about the deer population, and of course, loads and loads of food sources. However, in the last 20 years, another element has been thrown into the equation: money, and loads of it. Now it is hard to blame a hunter who pays $5,000 dollars to hunt for a week and on the last day decides to harvest a 120” eight point. Better to go home with something than nothing, right? Well, that has worked for a while, but now many fear that this is catching up with the region and hurting the potential to harvest a trophy animal – the very reason why so many people choose to hunt here. My point? If you travel to the Midwest to hunt and pay enough money to send a kid to college in doing so, you can do whatever you damn well please. Just know that your seemingly isolated harvest is not so isolated. And it could be affecting the potential of one of the great places in the world to harvest a trophy whitetail.

All that said, I passed the deer. The next morning, I decided to hunt the triple draw. Good decision. Very good decision. The naming, as you can see from the picture, is pretty self-explanatory. The stand is also relatively easy to get into in the morning. By walking west from the back of the Harris house, you are able to hug the low side of the back cornfield and make a relatively inconspicuous entry to the stand, which is only a few yards into the timber and situated right where the three draws come together.

The morning was relatively quiet until 7:30, when I picked a doe out walking down the hill from the west into the bottom. She was moving slow, by herself, completely alone. Being alone and being a doe is not a good combo when I am in the woods. She worked her way into the draw, got broadside at 32 yards, and, much to her chagrin, had an arrow pass through both lungs. Quiet. Easy. Done. I kept sitting.

About thirty minutes later, I hear a deer grunting in front of me, to the south. A doe busted through the creek followed by first, a spike, and then a nice 10 point. This is why Illinois is so much fun. I watched these two bucks push this doe around the creek bottom for a solid 10 minutes. In those ten minutes, I saw more rut activity than I do in entire seasons in Alabama. The buck was tempting - very tempting. But he was probably just a 3 year old deer and pushing 130". Solid g2's, maybe 5" g3's, and short g4's. A shooter next year. The spike eventually left, and after a while, the doe grew sick of the perpetual harassment and bolted into the woods, the buck still in hot pursuit.

Not thirty minutes later, I had another 3 year old buck, this time an 8 pt, come out of the draw to my east, work right underneath my stand, and cross the creek into the timber. And to finish out the morning, I had two more does work through and while I desperately wanted to shoot, I was by myself, and hauling one 150lb. doe out of the woods was plenty enough work for me.

I left the stand at about 11, drove the bad boy buggy down, and started my favorite part of hunting: the track job.

She ran 50 yards and expired next to an old fence.

Let me just say this about Slick Tricks: I love them. I shoot 100 grain Grizz Tricks (1 1/4" cut). They fly like a field point and give great penetration. I have always been a little leery of shooting mechanicals, though Brinck and Andrew have done their best to convince me otherwise. And let me just say this: a Slick Trick leaves the prettiest cut of any broadhead on the market. Don't believe me? Just tell me this ain't a purdy sight...

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