- Tom Miranda
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Editor's note: Tune in to "Advantage Adventures" Saturdays on ESPN2 television at 7:30 a.m. ET.
The entire hunting camp was around the small TV screen. Eleven hunters and six guides focused in on the playback monitor of the evening's video efforts.
Outfitter Dale Carter had been on stand with cameraman in hopes of arrowing a buck on video, and his afternoon in the tree had proved rather exciting.
Late October is the start of rut activity in Pike County, Illinois and Carter had witnessed a great deal of deer chasing around his creek-edge stand set. Having a hot doe run under his tree, Carter seized his bow and the video footage unfolds the tale of a beautiful nine-point river buck flashing into video frame.
It's full-rut video documentation, as the buck bounded hot on the trail of the doe.
Using his grunt tube, Carter first called soft, then loud, then screamed into the tube until the animal was startled enough to cease in his tracks.
As the bowstring slams home, the buck was a mere 12 steps from Carter's tree as the razor tipped shaft pounded the kill zone.
Kicking like a mule, the buck races off into the creek bottom as the camera pans.
With the camera lens back on Carter, a huge grin comes to his face and a cheering roar from the camp members "sounds out" as they re-live Carter's video hunt.
Glancing at Carter, it's pretty obvious how proud he is of his hunt, and rightfully so. Arrowing a Pope and Young whitetail buck is quite a feat in itself, not to mention capturing it on video. The tape was quickly rewound to review again.
Few places in North America hold the potential of trophy bucks like Pike County, Illinois.
The county is located between the large Illinois River and the mighty Mississippi River two enormous drainages that isolate this monster buck habitat. Pike County is hilly and thickly wooded and merges with crop fields and streams that crisscross this famous Midwestern, big-buck honey hole.
Carter's hunting lodge specializes in rut hunts with archery tackle only. Twelve-thousand acres and 175 stand sites have produced many bucks over the benchmark Boone and Crockett 170 inch score.
Implementing a strict, 140-inch-or-better policy has allowed the bucks roaming the river bottoms on Carter's land tracts to grow to 4½ years and older. That's an age that puts the genetic-rich whitetail racks into the 150-inch class and excitement in the tree of every hunter who sits on one of the pinch-point, 25-foot stand sets.
I have been in camp for five days on a six-day hunt and not taken the bow off the rack. I have seen several borderline shooters, but Pike County is no place to shoot a 130-class buck and I am holding out to the end.
The undulating nature of Pike County is favorable to older buck populations. Numerous areas of dense security cover exist and thermal currents and swirling winds alert mature bucks of danger.
Trophy deer instincts force the big rackers to work the side hill trails and hidden thickets, in addition to tending scrape lines and doe in the cover of darkness. It's these secretive bucks the hunter never knows about; bucks that are rarely seen; bucks that sift back into the thick brush without a sound.
The final day of my hunt, I had selected a stand situated in a deep ravine bordering bedding thickets. My thinking was that the stand guarded a stream trail that connected two bedding areas and that a bruiser might work the security of the brushy valley mid-morning checking for does in both bedrooms.
Getting into the stand via the backdoor meant a 3:30 a.m. wakeup alarm and a mile walk in the dark with camera gear. We wanted to get set up in pitch black before the deer left the feeding fields on top for the security of the thicket and our set up.
Checking my watch it was 5:20 a.m. as my cameraman finally made his last adjustments and our treestand perch fell silent. The morning was cool and a heavy fog formed as daybreak came fog as thick as pea soup, as the old saying goes.
The dense cloud soon started to burn off as the sun rose above the horizon.
To my amazement, not 125 yards from our treestand position, a big buck was bedded.
Through binoculars, he looked to be a good 150 class with non-typical antlers and a massive body. Looking and listening as the whitetail lay perched out of bow range, my mind raced with a what-to-do strategy. Popping the grunt tube with short grunts, I increased volume until the buck's ears perked.
The brute simply looks my direction and nothing else. I decide to play a patience game but continue to tease him with soft buck grunts every few minutes.
Forty-five minutes pass before the Pike County buck arose from its bedded position and began to trail toward my setup and me. Staying just out of bow range, the whitetail walked nearly in a circle almost as if the buck was searching for the earlier grunts, yet, cautious enough to keep his distance.
Narrowing in and almost completely circling around the tree, the buck's distance closes to a near 35 yards and I pull my bowstring back. My heart pounds as the buck stops in its tracks, its vitals hidden from view behind a tree. At full draw, the brute held his ground as if attempting to tease me. And I have no shot.
Again on the move and angling away, the buck finally breaks cover into a small clearing. After a full minute of holding the bow, I settled my straining grip, planting the pin on the vitals and touching the release.
The arrow left the bow in seemingly slow motion, traveling a perfect arc to the buck's quartered-away position.
Burying in to the fletching, the arrow "super charged" the big buck and he kicked and began a short burst away to its final expiration.
Seeing the buck fall from my treestand perch is a testament to modern archery tackle and to a well-placed shot.
The buck was a dandy 14-point, non-typical; it was heavily tined, with a peculiar crooked snout.
As bowhunts go for whitetails, this is one of my most memorable an exciting hunt when at one moment I had a shot and next moment no shoot at all.
It was an on-again, off-again, series of emotion, a roller-coaster ride in the treestand and a hunt I'll never forget.
Tune in to "Advantage Adventures" Saturdays on ESPN2 television at 7:30 a.m. ET.
Few places in North America hold the potential for trophy bucks like this whitetail mecca in Illinois.