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The Season

11/15/2007

Hunting America's Heartland

Day Two at deer camp: The Morning Hunt
Waking up at 3:45 a.m. sucks ... until you remember sunrise in central Illinois is 5:30 a.m. And then it still sucks, but you know there are deer out there worth the effort.

The unseasonably warm weather still haunts the region, with the mercury displaying our temp at 55 degrees before we hop in the truck and head toward our stands after a couple shots of coffee.

"The wind is supposed to pick up today, so I'm gonna put you in a draw, just above a watering hole," explained Paul, a longtime Heartland guide. This part of Illinois is 90 percent agricultural, with the other 10 percent consisting of varicose-like veins of hardwood-filled draws separating the corn and wheat fields.

Paul drops me off, points to flags leading to the stand and wishes me luck. Halfway there, in the pitch dark, mind you, the sky explodes. A flock of turkeys were roosted in the tree my stand was dangling from — must have been 30 of 'em.

The thunderous beating of so many wings sounds a lot like a tree falling, at least to me. I nearly soiled myself before realizing I wasn't gonna die. Not exactly how I was hoping to start my morning. After reorganizing my thoughts and double-checking my underwear, I continue to the tree and climb into place.

My morning gets interesting very early. Before safe shooting light, a spike meanders from atop a ridge to my left, walks almost underneath my stand, and continues to the bottom of the draw toward a green field.

As a hint of orange begins to glow on the horizon, movement catches my eye on the ridge. I lift my binoculars and see a head and horns silhouetted against the dim sky, but the deer is hauling butt across the top of the ridge and soon disappears.

Best I can figure, it was a pretty good 8-pointer.

Down below and to my right, some does appear. They feed, then move up the creek bottom. It was only 6:15 at this point, and I'm thinking this day is gonna be awesome!

And then I sat for 2 1/2 hours without seeing another deer.

Damn my optimism! Just about the time I convince myself I had dreamt the morning deer into existence, a doe follows the exact same trail the spike took earlier.

I am so mad at the deer by this point, I am planning on shooting this nanny.

Keeping my eye on her, I reach for my bow with my left hand. She still has her head down and is feeding her way down the draw. I can't get the freakin' bow off the hanger, so I look over, pick it up, and as I shift my eyes back to the deer I catch more movement on the ridge: huge buck!

Problem was, he saw me the same moment I saw him. He blew, stomped his foot, then bolted.

He took all 10 of his points (G2s spike 12-inches skyward, 145-ish, I'm guessing) and the doe with him. Bastard.

That was the last sign of life of the morning hunt.

I climbed down around 11 a.m. and headed back to the lodge. Upon my return, I received the best news of the day: Dean Patterson had found the buck he shot the afternoon before.

With the help of a certified deer dog (not sure who certifies such animals), they located the deer almost 400 yards from where it was shot. Patterson's buck rough-scored 140 3/8,a solid example of Brown County whitetail.

The wind is picking up, and there's chili on the stove. Time to refuel. Patterson's deer has everyone ready to get back on stand. There's more where that deer came from...

— James Hall

Proud moment for 14-year-old hunter

I started hunting with a rifle at when I was 9 — my dad had always taken me with him throughout the seasons.

Hunting then became my all-time favorite sport. Being with my dad and seeing how it all works made me the hunter I am today, and I give him all the credit.

Since my first time going hunting, I have only gone on one hunt without killing a deer. And as my dad said, "I bet there aren't 10 people in the state of Arkansas who can say that."

(Whether that is true or not, I'm still proud.) Read more

— Hunter Overstreet

Hunting America's Heartland

Day One at deer camp

In bass fishing circles, savvy anglers know that to catch big fish, you have to fish where they live. It's no different in the deer hunting world — which is why I now find myself smack-dab in the middle of the Lake Fork of deer hunting ... west-central Illinois.

I'm in Brown County, which holds hands with Pike, Adams and Fulton counties — all three ranked in the top 10 nationally with the Boone and Crockett club for trophy whitetail. Illinois, by the way, leads the nation in B&C entries with 897. And what's making me lose sleep at night is they shoot more big deer per acre in Brown County than in Pike.

My hunt today started at 2 a.m. — sort of.

Living in Central Florida, I booked a flight at 8 a.m. to Chicago O'Hare, landing at 10 a.m., with the intention of getting to the Timewell, Ill., area in time for an afternoon stand. So I had to leave the house by 6 a.m. in order to get to the airport (which is a pointless stat, since at about 1:53 a.m., I started looking at the clock wondering if it were time to go.)

I landed on time and met Jesse Simpkins, director of marketing for Plano Molding (who make killer bow and gun cases). We drove three hours to Heartland Outfitters, mainly because he drives like a chick — just in time to change clothes, grab our bows and hop in the truck on the way to a nearby stand.

"It's been unseasonably warm for this time of year, and the deer haven't been moving like they normally do," said James Woodley, general manager of the lodge (www.heartlandoutfitters.us).

However, the temp is supposed to drop significantly tonight (meaning likelihood of sleep pretty slim).

So to make a pretty short story very short, I bump a deer standing beneath the stand I was about to climb, and saw no more animals within 100 yards the rest of the evening — but Lord how wonderful it was to feel a cool breeze slap my face from a deer stand, the hardwoods being nearly leafless.

I get back to the lodge and another hunter in camp had shot a nice buck.

"I had used a decoy for the first time ever," said Dean Patterson, of Philadelphia , N.Y. "It was a buck decoy, and I set it up 20 yards from my stand." He was hunting the edge of a clover field, with numerous hardwood draws leading to its edge.

The rut is about to be in full swing, so this is not a bad tip to absorb. The only hunter to get a shot at a mature buck this evening used a decoy, meaning the dominant deer are establishing their territory.

"I hadn't seen a deer all afternoon until 4:40 p.m. (sunset was 5:00), and then I look up to see this nice buck trotting across the filed from the other side," he explained.

"He looked like a freakin' moose, lickin' his chops, heading straight for that decoy, head and rack shakin' side to side. I grabbed my bow, and when he was about 10 inches from the snout of that decoy, I let my arrow fly!" he continued.

Although he felt it was a good shot, he let the buck lay. We still haven't seen the deer. The tracking will start first thing in the morning. Hopefully, based on what Patterson remembers, it will be a 140-class, 10-pointer (look for the photo tomorrow).
And hopefully, I will find his brother within bow range here in the heart of America's deer country.

— James Hall

Greg Hackney: My first hunt

Elite Series professional Greg Hackney talks about his first hunt:

"The first time I went deer hunting was one of the earliest things I can remember. I think I was 3 or 4, but I was with my father.

We were near Star City, Ark — he had purchased an old farm with an old house on it, behind which was pasture. Dad had us posted up inside the attic, looking out over the field.

The attic was full of old stuff. The owner had passed away, but no one had yet come to clean the house. I just remember playing with a pair of scissors I found. And even when my dad had pointed out a deer to me, I was more interested in those old scissors.

I'm 30 now, and I hunt all over Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, from squirrels to deer to ducks.

My children aren't big enough yet to go duck hunting, but my son did just kill his first deer. He's 7 and used a .243 at 75 yards.

It was a win-win for me — my son killed a deer, and my football team won."

— reported by Nick Gebhardt

Setting their sights

The scouting's complete, supplies are bought, everything is ready to roll for the 2007 deer season. Now, it's just pulling the trigger.

Brothers-in-law Clark Taylor, 32, and Tad Lynch, 35, both of Beebe, Ark., were among those doing just that with some last-minute sighting before the state's modern gun season.

They admitted their three rifles didn't need much adjusting, but that going to the range has "become a tradition." They also like to check up on range officer Jerry Etheridge. So they had made the short drive to Mayflower again, as they were turned away earlier in the week . "There were eight groups ahead of us," Taylor said, "Jerry said there's so many people on the list, you're not going to shoot today."
Read more

— Mike Suchan

Time with Big Smith

Spend a few days each fall in a deer stand.

Don't have a high-dollar deer lease. Don't have high-dollar bows with carbon arrows or custom rifles.

I'm still using the same Ol' Man climbing stand I've used for the past 10 years, wear the same boots I've worn for years and shoot the same Remington 700 I've shot for almost 20 years.

When it comes to my way of hunting, you could say I'm old school. Read more

— Kevin Short

Feeding for the future

For George Mayfield, the lesson on wildlife ecology was profound.

It came in 1977, while Mayfield was an entomology and wildlife biology student at LSU.

His professor, John Newsome, challenged the students in his class to visit their individual wildlife food plots and collect 28 grams, or about 1 ounce, of the most protein-rich browse material they could find. Deer require 18 percent protein to stay alive, but the challenge moved the parameter to 20 to 29 percent. Read more

— Steve Bowman

Bama buck limits

George Harris knows which way public sentiment tilts in response to any change in Alabama's hunting regulations — every time he unlocks the door to the archery shop he manages.

By the time the coffee is brewed and a few arrows have been shot in the indoor range, or someone picks up a new bow from the rack, chances are the topic comes up regarding Alabama's new three-buck season limit. It's a radical change from the buck-a-day allowance in the state's 110-day season, in place for at least 40 years.

You read that right: Hunters in Alabama could, under the previous regulations, kill a buck every day during the season, which opens roughly Oct. 15 and closes Jan. 31. Read more

— Alan Clemons

State of the deer nation

As executive director of the Quality Deer Management Association, Brian Murphy is frequently asked to describe the state of the nation's whitetail deer hunting experience.

It's not something he can wrap up in a few words. The issues are complex. They include changing societal beliefs, less access to available hunting land, financial strains on state wildlife agencies, generational differences in management ideals, time constraints, recruitment of younger hunters, women and minorities — and the list goes on.

If it sounds like doom and gloom, Murphy is reassuring in his assessment that it is not; it's more of a puzzle with different pieces which don't fit neatly together to create a perfect result. Read more

— Alan Clemons