The Detective’s Double Take

After having read many articles in Deer & Deer Hunting magazine about hunters and their stories of getting the buck of their dreams, I would like to share with you my story. You see, I was able to take the buck of my dreams two years in a row, on the same day, out of the same stand with the same muzzleloader.

First, a little about myself. I’m a 42-year-old Detective with the Macon County Sheriff’s Department in Decatur, Illinois. I have been with the department now for over eighteen years. About 11 years ago I happened to be training a new Deputy named Matt and we became good friends. Matt had two older brothers who I also became friends with and, during Matt’s training, he asked me if I wanted to go deer hunting with him down on his father’s farm in Shelbyville, Illinois.

My Recruitment to Deer Hunting

Up to this point in my life, I hadn’t hunted — and my father was never an outdoors person either, but I decided to give it a try. During my first couple of years shotgun hunting I spent more time in deer camp than hunting, but I soon realized that deer hunting was something I really enjoyed.

I soon began to bow-hunt and eventually abandoned the shotgun for a muzzleloader. I was fortunate enough to remain good friends with Matt and his brothers, Mike and Mark. Soon the three brothers owned a little over one hundred acres of land in Herrick, Illinois, and I was blessed to be able to deer hunt on their farm.

Each year I hunted during archery and firearm season I would usually fill my tags, but had yet to get a buck worth mounting on the wall. I had several chances, but for whatever reason, was not able to get the job done until opening day of firearm season, November 16, 2006.

There are five bow and firearm stands placed around the farm. Three of the stands are located up on top near 20 acres of tillable ground, and two stands were placed on what we refer to as the "bottom," which has a creek that runs around the entire property.

The stand in question is a typical 15-foot ladder stand that I placed in between three trees that were very close together, and gave me some good cover. The stand is about 10 feet from the creek with a several hundred acre field on the other side. In front of the stand is a hill that forms a natural funnel. 

On opening day, I had hunted all morning up on top amidst standing corn and stayed out until noon. After grabbing a bite to eat at the cabin I headed back out at about 1:30 or so and made it to my bottom stand at about 1:45. Once in my stand, I got all my gear organized including my Thompson Center Black Diamond 45 caliber muzzleloader, which I hung on a hook and then settled in to get comfortable.

I knew from previous years that the field I was on did not get much action until about 3:00 pm or so. Shortly after that time, a few does and small bucks started to walk out into the field to feed. I stood up and turned around in my stand to glass the field and watch the deer as they ate. During this time, more and more does came out into the field and soon there were over 50 deer in the field.

Soon I saw two very large deer about 200 yards away on the other side of a long finger of trees that jutted out into the field. I could tell that both deer were huge, but could not see any antlers, so I did not pay them much more attention.

I then spotted a nice ten-point buck about 250 yards straight out in the field from my stand. The buck was busy chasing some does, but I could see that he had a nice tall white rack.

I started to grunt in hopes of getting his attention and moving him within 200 yards so I could get a shot but he had nothing but the does on his mind. After grunting at him a few times and watching him in my binoculars I noticed that the two large does that were behind the finger were walking towards me and were now on my side of the point and about 70 yards from me.

Both deer were walking with their heads down and I could clearly see that the second deer was a very large doe. I put my binoculars on the first deer at the same time he raised his head and saw that he was the biggest-racked buck that I had ever seen. I did a double take with the binoculars just to make sure I wasn’t seeing things and then grabbed my rifle.

Of course by now I was shaking with excitement, and telling myself not to blow it at the same time.

I placed my muzzleloader against the tree and put the crosshairs on the big buck and squeezed the trigger.

After the big cloud of smoke cleared I could see that the buck had dropped in his tracks and was not moving. I was so excited that the buck was down that I completely forgot to reload. I raised my binoculars and saw that the buck was motionless, and by the time I lowered my glasses and looked back at the buck, he jumped up and sprinted toward the creek, crossed it and was gone.

I was in total shock and disbelief — and mad at myself for not having my muzzleloader reloaded and ready.  Reloading, I repeated a few more choice words to myself, then decided I was going to get down, cross the creek and see what type of blood trail, if any, there was.

The Detective Takes Up the Trail

It took about ten minutes for me to find a place to cross the creek, just another reason why I only wear rubber boots. I reached the area where I thought the deer had fallen, and could not see any blood. I was beside my self. I started looking closer, and got down on my knees and was able to locate a small drop of blood on a leaf. At least now I could confirm that I did hit the buck. 

After finding that small drop of blood, I looked over at the creek and was able to locate the spot where the buck had went down the embankment and crossed. Here I found another small spot of blood. I scanned the small bottom area on the other side of the creek, but saw nothing. I decided to cross back through the creek and check the area where I last saw him.

The problem of getting to this area is that the banks were about eight feet high and there was no way to get up the other side. This meant I had to walk back to where I first crossed, then make my way to this bottom area.

The only way to get to this spot was to walk back up a large steep hill, get high enough to by-pass a deep drainage ditch, then go back down the hill to the bottom. As every hunter has experienced, all those nice hunting clothes that keep you from freezing can wear you out when doing a lot of walking and climbing, plus carrying my rifle and a 50-pound backpack.

Eventually I made it to the area where I last saw my buck as it ran away. By this time I had sweat pouring off my head and had every possible zipper and button undone.

I walked over to the edge of the creek to see if I could determine were the buck had come up, but was unable to find any indication of where he may have exited the creek. I then turned around and looked over the bottom area, thinking to myself that the biggest buck I had ever seen was gone.

That’s when I saw it: about 15 yards from the creek, sticking up from the ground, was half of a huge rack.

I started shaking again as I began to walk toward the buck. As I got closer I could see the buck, as he lay motionless; the body on this buck was huge, and he was the biggest buck I had ever laid eyes on.

Sitting quietly beside the buck for a few minutes, I admired my first true trophy, still in a bit of shock. 

When I got to the cabin, Matt, Mike and Mark were all getting back and everyone was talking about what they saw. "Well boys," I said, "go get the measuring tape, I got a big one."

Mark then drove down on a 4-wheeler and the rest of us loaded up in Mike’s truck and drove down to the top of the hill, where we walked the rest of the way. Everyone was standing around the buck admiring him as I told them how it all happened. It took all four of us to get the buck up on the 4-wheeler and tied off. After several attempts we were able to get the deer up the hill and back to the cabin.

We had a scale in the tree and the buck weighed 250 pounds on the hoof and 205 pounds dressed out. The buck had 11 points and an inside spread of 25 inches. It had taken me 10 years to get this; I’ll probably never see another one like it, I thought to myself.

I had Mike Nichols of Mt. Zion, Illinois do the mount and he had an unofficial score of 159 3/4.

A Repeat Performance

The following year I was able to do quiet a lot of bow-hunting not far from my home and did not make it down to the farm in Herrick but a few times. Firearm season rolled around and we all met at the farm the day before opening day. As usual we stayed up later then we should have playing cards and telling stories of the previous years, but eventually opening day arrived.

I had told everyone about a new stand I had put up that was the furthest distance from the cabin, and also advised them that I would be getting down and going to my bottom stand around noon.

Bright and early I started across the main field and remembered that I had forgotten to grab a foot peg for the tree since it did not have a hook for my backpack. I decided instead of walking back to the cabin, I would just go to one of the top stands, not far from where I was.

After reaching my stand and getting situated, I relaxed, and looked forward to a good morning. I wasn’t seeing much activity, but did see a small basket buck and two small does.

I told myself that I would get down and go to the other side of the field to my other stand around mid-morning.

I got down and began to walk around the outer edge of the field and came to the path entrance that takes me down to my bottom stand. By the time I got in my stand and set up I thought I would be in for a long wait before seeing anything, so I leaned back and got comfortable. 

But not even a half-hour passed when a brown spot in the field to my left caught my eye. Through the binoculars, a doe was clearly seen walking in my direction. Suddenly out of nowhere a huge buck sporting a very large rack busted up out of the field behind the doe. Here we go again, I said to myself, when I saw the rack on this buck. 

Excited, I prepared for a shot.

The doe ran across the creek and was headed straight toward me as the buck crossed the creek and stopped next to a tree 60 yards directly to my left. It looked as though he was looking right at me. The doe was now standing 15 yards form my stand. I put the crosshairs on the buck and could see that his rack spread way out and then curled in; it had at least 12 points. 

At the shot, the bullet hit true and the buck toppled backwards and fell. This time I wasted no time, and reloaded immediately. I reloaded. The scope centered on the buck again but he was not moving. The doe was still standing in front of my stand and would not leave.

I thought for a brief second that I could go ahead and take her and have all my tags filled, but decided I should not be greedy. I waited about 10 minutes and the doe never left, so I finally stood up and yelled at her to leave. Once the doe ran up the hill, I got my gear together, climbed down and walked over to my buck.

It was déjà vu. The rack on this buck was bigger than the one taken the year before — 13 points. His body was only slightly smaller. I sat there looking at this magnificent animal amazed at how fortunate I had been. I also was thinking about how mad my buddies were going to be.

Two years in a row, out of the same stand on opening day, and two massive bucks. I actually started thinking that they may not ask me back.

Later, Mark asked me how big he was and I told him that it was bigger than last year. Mark then told me that he had started to get out of his stand, saw the big buck crossing the field and got back in his stand. Mark said that the deer was about two hundred yards from him and too far for his shotgun.

He had seen the deer cross the field, and had hoped the deer would follow the creek down toward him. He said all of a sudden he heard a loud shot and knew it was me. Mark said he slung his gun over his shoulder and went ahead and got down, cussing me the whole way. Mark kept saying over and over how he couldn’t believe it happened two years in a row. I actually started feeling a little guilty and told him that I was sorry. 

We walked back to the cabin and got Matt and we drove the 4-wheeler down, loaded the deer up and brought him back to camp. The buck weighed 225 pounds live weight and 195 pounds dressed, with 13 points and an inside spread of 21 3/8.

This time the mount was finished for the 2008 Illinois Deer and Turkey classic in Bloomington, Illinois.

I decided to go ahead and take both mounts to the classic and enter them in the contest. I was more interested in a professional score than anything else, but to my surprise the 2006 buck scored 162 0/8 and took 2nd place in the muzzleloader division for 11 points.

The 2007 buck took 1st place in the muzzleloader division with 13 points and also took Best Of Show for the whole muzzleloader division, with a 168 7/8 score.

You don’t have to be a detective to shoot two big bucks in consecutive years. Simply follow the clues and stick with it long enough, and you too could score back-to-back trophies.

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