Buckshots: Illinois Giant is Worthy of His Name

Illinois native Jon Bargren and his family have a long history with Deer & Deer Hunting. Jon’s dad, Ron, still has the first issue of D&DH, which appeared in June 1977. So it was only fitting that Jon sat down for an exclusive interview with D&DH to share the tale of the extraordinary buck he killed Nov. 23, 2013, in Ogle County, Ill.

By Keri Butt

For almost 18 months, the Bargren clan was involved in the pursuit of this amazing whitetail, and it began with a trail-cam picture during Summer 2012.

Discovering Mr. Worthy
Jon, his wife, Holly, and their 9-year-old daughter, Hunter, always have enjoyed checking trail cameras as a family. Holly is an avid outdoors woman and also is strict about which deer Jon is “allowed” to shoot. That’s light-hearted fun and a continuing joke between the couple. While checking trail cameras one summer afternoon in 2012, the Bargrens discovered photos of an enormous buck. When Jon asked Holly what she thought of the deer, she jokingly replied, “He’s worthy.” With that, the magnificent monster was named “Mr. Worthy.”

At the time, the buck was a main-frame 12-pointer with an 8-inch kicker going off the side of the G-2 and a 3-inch drop tine off the kicker. Jon believed the buck was a 4½-year-old that likely scored about 200 inches at that point. Not surprisingly, he began the 2012 Illinois archery season with one deer on his mind — Mr. Worthy.

Jon hunts a family farm of about 260 acres, much of which is timber surrounded by agriculture. Hoping the bruiser would come into one of his Whitetail Institute food plots during the early season, Jon hunted mostly along the edges to avoid spooking the buck.

It was the mid-October before Jon got another glimpse of Mr. Worthy on a trail cam photo. Unfortunately, he realized the buck’s left beam had broken off right at the G-2. That was especially disappointing because most of the photos Jon had of Mr. Worthy indicated the buck was active during daylight, meaning he was huntable.

Broken Beams and Dreams
The damage to Mr. Worthy’s left side forced Jon to switch gears. He also had several photos of two other shooter bucks. On Nov. 1, while hunting a clover plot, Jon watched a doe run into the plot with one of the big bucks trailing her. Jon shot the big 8-pointer, and it piled up less than 70 yards away.

Still on Cloud 9 from shooting the big 8, Jon noticed another buck approaching. It was Mr. Worthy. The deer walked within 28 yards broadside, almost as if proudly showing off his battle scars, giving Jon another glimpse of the broken left side, which was missing the entire G-2.

On Nov. 15, Jon was hunting on a ridge when he heard the ruckus of two unseen bucks fighting in a valley. Not long after the crashing ceased, he recognized Mr. Worthy heading up the ridge. Right behind him was the other shooter buck from his trail cams. This time, Jon noticed something about the 8-point’s rack that didn’t look right. The buck’s right beam was broken off at the G-3.

John, Holly and Hunter Bargren rejoice in the hunt of a lifetime after John made a clutch shot on this 200+ inch whitetail in 2013.

John, Holly and Hunter Bargren rejoice in the hunt of a lifetime after John made a clutch shot on this 200+ inch whitetail in 2013.

Protecting Mr. Worthy
As the first 2012 Illinois’ shotgun season approached, Jon’s focus centered on one thing — helping Mr. Worthy survive shotgun season and winter. As luck, irony and possibly fate would have it, the Bargrens were able to keep an eye on the buck — literally. On the opening day of the first gun season, Jon’s dad, had Mr. Worthy under his stand for several hours. On Day 2, Jon’s brother, Matt, had the same opportunity. On the final day, Jon kept an eye on Mr. Worthy.

The Bargrens didn’t hunt during the second shotgun season because they knew Mr. Worthy was still on their property and didn’t want to bump him. When they saw a trail-cam pic of the giant on Jan 1, 2013, they were fairly confident he would make it through the rest of the hunting season. They just had to hope and pray the giant survived winter.

Jon’s hopes fell by the end of Summer 2013. He hadn’t obtained one photo of Mr. Worthy or found the buck’s sheds. Jon said that as strange as it sounds, he believed he knew this deer and thought, “Where are you, and how could you just disappear? We’ll take this up in the fall.”

A Sigh of Relief
Finally, at the end of September, Jon’s worries were put to rest when he got a photo of what was undoubtedly Mr. Worthy in the same spot as the first trail-cam photo of him was taken the previous year. A true sight to behold, the buck was now a 6-by-8, and boasted far more mass than he had in 2012. Jon was unquestionably stoked for the 2013 archery season. His sole mission became figuring out how to hunt the buck. One thing was certain: In Jon’s mind, it was Mr. Worthy or tag soup that season.

Hunting Mr. Worthy
On Nov. 6, Jon saw the buck with three does about 80 yards southwest of him. However, it wasn’t meant to be, and Mr. Worthy bounded off after another doe.

On Nov. 8, Jon decided he could get a quick hunt in before going to work that morning, but he didn’t see Mr. Worthy until he was leaving. Jon wasn’t disappointed, though, because it gave him a good idea of where the buck was for the next day.

The next morning, Jon hunted a stand he had set up with the buck in mind, but he again didn’t see the buck until he was walking out. Mr. Worthy was guarding a doe in the field. Noting that the wind was right, Jon decided to stalk the buck. After dropping everything he didn’t need, Jon got as far as he could with his boots on. The temps were in the low teens, and the snow underfoot was crunchy and loud to walk on, so Jon took off his boots. The doe kept trying to get up, but the buck continuously cut her off. As the deer kept getting farther away, Jon tried to keep up with them. When the pair finally bedded, Jon waited.

After what felt like a frozen eternity, the deer finally stood, and the doe began walking toward the fence line where Jon was sitting. He belly-crawled to that point and waited until the buck was 50 yards directly in front of him. Jon practices at 70 yard distances with his bow, so he was comfortable making a 50-yard shot. The buck just needed to turn.

Suddenly, the wind changed, and Jon had a bad feeling the buck was going to wind him. Just as quick, Mr. Worthy turned and bolted back into the timber.

“I honestly thought that was the last time I’d see him,” Jon said. “It was the first time I knew that he knew something wasn’t right. Walking back to my truck, even though I figured that was the last time I’d ever see him, it had been an incredible encounter, and I’d made the best possible effort I could.”

Even the sheds Bargren finds are big. He and his family enjoy shed hunting, which gives them time outdoors and helps with scouting for next season, too.

Even the sheds Bargren finds are big. He and his family enjoy shed hunting, which gives them time outdoors and helps with scouting for next season, too.

Still Hoping
On opening morning of the 2013 shotgun season, Jon set up hoping pressure from other hunters might push Mr. Worthy toward him. As the sky lightened, Jon saw Mr. Worthy feeding. The buck teased him, walking toward him and then walking away.

“I thought I was going to go nuts,” Jon said.

Ultimately, he turned and went the other direction, coincidentally toward a group of shotgun hunters.

“Talk about a gut-wrenching feeling,” Jon said. “I just kept waiting for shots.”

Two hours later, Jon heard a barrage of shots, and a sinking feeling told him it was over.

“I thought that was it,” Jon said. “But there were several shots in a row, so I tried to think positive and prayed they’d missed if, in fact, they were aimed at Mr. Worthy. I just had to sit and wait, wondering if he was alive or dead.”

The Moment of Truth
At 11 a.m. on Nov. 23, Jon got a call at work from his dad.

“I’m gonna make your day,” Ron said. He’d seen Mr. Worthy in a field while getting his mail that morning.

Jon hit the woods with a specific stand in mind but realized the wind wasn’t right and knew his only option was to hunt from the ground. He found a fallen tree that provided cover and a gun rest. Armed with an old Remington 870 smoothbore slug gun he’d received as a gift from his dad when he was younger, Jon found a spot to sit and then put up his Ozonics ozone generator. It didn’t take long for him to see deer. Before long, several does began feeding toward him and bedded at 20 yards.

“I stood like a stone-cold statue as I watched more does step out with Mr. Worthy behind them,” Jon said. “He looked even bigger when (I was) eye to eye on the ground with him.”

Oddly, Jon had so many previous encounters with the buck that he didn’t have buck fever.

“To be honest, it was like I went someplace else,” he said. “I wanted this buck so badly, but I had worked too hard to screw up the shot.”

Jon waited patiently. The buck was focused on a couple of does and was oblivious to his presence. Then the giant finally gave Jon a shot and only ran 25 yards before piling up.

“That’s when I started shaking and just fell apart,” Jon said.

After tagging his buck, Jon sat alone with the deer for a half-hour.

“I literally sat in complete awe of what nature can do; to think that he grew a rack of this size in four months’ time,” he said. “After all the highs and lows, it was hard to believe that something you read about in magazines — like the ones I’ve read since I was a kid — had just happened to me.”

Jon finally decided he’d better let his family in on the surprise, because they had been such an integral part of hunting the buck. In the phone call that followed, Jon was congratulated by an extremely proud and excited wife. He also heard a happy, squealing little girl in the background. Hunter had made her dad a “lucky” bracelet he wore that day. Jon attributes the support and understanding of Holly and Hunter as a large reason why he finally killed Mr. Worthy.

Jon’s taxidermist estimated the buck’s age at 5½. Mr. Worthy’s unofficial score was about 208 inches. Jon said he was contacted by scoring organizations but informed them that he’s not interested in letting any group “officially” score the rack. He said a friend who knows how to score, measured the buck, and that’s plenty good enough for him.

“The history I have with this deer is more than I could ever ask for, and I don’t need Boone and Crockett to tell me what an unbelievable buck Mr. Worthy is,” Jon said.

Ultimately, the score is meaningless to the Bargren family. It’s the history, dedication and memories they’ve made thanks to an extraordinary Illinois’ whitetail — fittingly coined Mr. Worthy — that count for everything.

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