Memories can, indeed, come flooding back in ways we don’t expect, and at a moment’s notice. That’s precisely what happened to me this morning when my Facebook friend Shawn Heaton shared one of his best trail camera photos from this summer.
The awesome deer in Shawn’s photo has all the makings of being a legendary whitetail. And I sure hope Shawn gets a crack at him this fall. What surprised me most about this deer, however, is that it a very close representation of one of the biggest bucks I’ve ever seen in the woods. It was the late 1990s, and I was hunting in southern Illinois with bow-hunting pioneer Jerry Peterson. We were hunting the prime chase-phase of the rut, and bucks were cruising, big time. It wasn’t hard to find a good place to hunt the outfitter’s ground that week. All we had to do was climb a tree and wait. Seriously, nearly every hunter in camp saw mature bucks that week. It was just one of those deer hunting trips when everything came together.
On the second morning of the 5-day hunt, I saw two decent-sized bucks at daylight. Both cruised through the wooded funnel I was hunting, but they stayed just out of bow range. I rattled in four more bucks that morning, but, again, nothing came within shooting range. It was about 11 o’clock, and I was getting antsy. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a buck cruising on the low end of a distant ridge. He was moving at a fast pace, and was headed in a direction that would put him about 80 yards out. I scrambled for my grunt call and let out a low, deep grunt. He stopped, turned abruptly, put his head back down and headed straight for my tree. He didn’t stop until he was about 20 paces away.
I can still close my eyes and see that huge deer. His antlers looked just like those in this photo, only polished, of course, and with very high G-2’s and 3s. The mass; the bladed beams; the curved, dagger-like brow tines; even the "junk" around the bases … he had it all.
As the famous Lynyrd Skynyrd song goes, you can "guess the rest."
Yep, I blew that shot. Big time. But, hey, at least I now have a photo reminder of what might have been.