By Brian Kightlinger
In April 2011, at Indoor Outfitters’ winter archery league banquet in my home state of Pennsylvania, I was lucky enough to win a free seven-day hunt at Oak Ridge Outfitters in Pike County, Ill. I called the outfitter and arranged to hunt the week of Oct. 30. I spent the rest of the spring and summer shooting and competing in local 3-D shoots.
I also started running trail cameras, and discovered three big-bodied bucks, all 3 1/2-year-old deer, had taken up residence in the 100 acres I hunt.
The first morning of the archery season found me 22 feet up a shagbark hickory tree in the light rain. I saw a few deer, but no shooters. The afternoon hunt was more entertaining. I watched two 6 pointers pushing each other around.
At 5 p.m., a mature doe made her way down the main trail. When she reached my open shooting lane, I touched my release. I was excited and thankful that God had provided us with some great venison for the freezer.
The following Sunday, I decided to check a trail camera I’d set over a mock scrape. The pictures revealed one of the 8 pointers regularly visiting the scrape.
Three days later I was in tree stand watching that scrape. Around 6 p.m. I decided to try a rattling sequence. Soon, I could see and hear a deer heading my way. When the rack came into view, I knew which buck it was.
I grabbed my Mathews XTreme bow and made a grunting noise to stop the buck at 15 yards. I came to full draw, found my spot and released an arrow. My world seemed to move in slow motion as I heard the arrow clip a branch and hit the buck back by the last rib.
Brian Kightlinger poses with the Pennsylvania buck he took in 2011. Brian later traveled to Ohio, where he took the bruiser buck in the lead photo.
The deer walked up the hill, stopped and looked back. My heart sank as I realized what had just happened.
Time moved slowly as I waited for the woods to get dark. I descended from my perch to find my arrow. Just as I expected, there was dark-red blood indicating a liver hit. I left the arrow and returned home for a long sleepless night.
Heavy rain and hard wind pounded my windows all night. After helping my wife get the kids on the bus, I dressed in light hunting clothes and went out to look for my buck. The rain had washed away all sign from the previous night. I called my good friend Bill Pyles and explained what had happened. After some suggestions from Bill, I changed my plan. I went directly to the CRP field and started checking the edges. At 11 a.m., I found my buck! It green-scored 112 3/8 inches. I could now turn all of my attention to my Illinois hunt.
On Oct 28, I packed all of my hunting gear and drove the 3 1/2 hours to Bill Pyle’ home for the night. The plan was to meet up with my friends and hunt in Ohio for a day before heading to Illinois. The weather did not cooperate for the morning or evening hunt, so I decided to leave Bill’s place and drive all night to Oak Ridge Outfitters. There, I met my guide Josh, and prepared for the morning hunt.
I saw a few does, but by 10 a.m., my bed was calling. I headed back to the lodge for a much-needed nap.
I returned to the same stand later that day and watched some does. Just before dark, I caught movement behind me. Across the dry creek bed was a 135-class 9 point making a scrape. I was tempted, but Oak Ridge Outfitters has a 140-inch minimum harvest. Besides, it was my first day, and the next day was Halloween!
The next morning was perfect for deer hunting: temps in the low 30s, a hard frost and no wind. At 8 a.m. I rattled in a great 10-pointer to 42 yards. I let this deer walk, knowing there were bigger deer in the area. Fifteen minutes later, a mature doe presented a 22-yard broadside shot. I filled my doe tag and donated the meat to Hunters Feeding the Hungry.
The next few days, the weather took a turn for the worse. The temperature climbed into the high 70s, and the wind was gusting. The long-range forecast called for 40-mph winds and heavy rain. With my spirit crushed, I called Bill Pyles at Ohio Bowhunting Outfitters. He told me the Knox County, Ohio, bucks were on their feet. I packed and drove all night to get to his place.
I arrived at Bill’s doorstep at 4:45 a.m. After a shower, a bite to eat and a short meeting with Bill, I was on my way to a farm I knew well.
At 8 a.m., I saw a single deer out in the open pasture. I grabbed my grunt tube and made three loud grunts. I followed with a few doe bleats and a few young buck grunts. The deer turned and came down into the draw I was watching. He crossed the dry creek bed and came up the other side giving me a good look at his headgear.
I decided to take him if there was a good shot opportunity. When he stepped behind a big oak tree, I drew my bow and waited for him to step out. I stopped him at 18 yards with a low grunt. My pin found his vitals and I released my arrow. The deer ran about 30 yards and fell.
I called Bill and told him the good news. He arrived 30 minutes later and we looked at my downed trophy. He was a mainframe 8 point with a 2-inch point between his G1 and G2. He green scored at 125 2/8 and dressed out at 185 pounds.
I am so happy to have harvested two bucks in three states. The 60-day drying period can’t come soon enough. I am excited to get both of these bucks scored and entered into the books. Both are going to look great on the wall as well.