Monsters like this aren’t supposed to be around in the second season.
Billy Joe Austin knew he and his father, Dennis, and brother, Michael, would probably have the woods to themselves on that miserable morning of Dec. 5, 2003. But none of the Austins were convinced they really wanted it. It was the next-to-last day of Illinois’ second shotgun season, and the weather was lousy.
“It was just a cold, wet and nasty day,” Billy recalls. “It was so bad, none of us felt like leaving the house, much less walking on sleet and ice. But we did it anyway.”
The then 28-year-old corrections officer tread cautiously as he left his grandfather’s farmhouse in the glistening dawn, lugging his Ol’ Man climber on one shoulder and a scoped Remington 870 shotgun on the other. Avoiding frozen limbs and treacherous ice, Billy made his way up and down several slick slopes to the woodlot 500 yards from the farmhouse door.
He carefully scaled the glassy tree and secured the climber at 25 feet. As he settled in, the freezing rain showed no sign of letting up, glazing nearly everything in a coating of hard ice. Billy could only hunch his back and shoulders to prevent becoming a giant popsicle. He wasn’t sure how long he could remain safely aloft.
Elsewhere on the 400-acre Austin family farm, Dennis and Michael questioned their sanity as well. The trio kept in touch via walkie-talkies and eventually agreed the only sensible move was to head back to the farmhouse to dry off and devour an early lunch.
With only that afternoon and the following day remaining, chances of shooting a buck weren’t promising. Upon changing into dry garb and satisfying their hunger, each of the Austins decided to do their own thing for the remainder of the day — or at least until conditions improved.
Dennis snuggled into his easy chair and dialed up a hunting show on TV. Michael drove to his fiancee’s house to spend the afternoon. And Billy headed back out into the elements, driven by the knowledge that a world-class buck was out there somewhere.
Billy had seen the tall-tined buck twice from a stand — during the ’02 bow season and in October 2003. The encounters had been short and too far for him to even think about loosing an arrow. Prior to seeing the deer in October, the family thought it had been poached.
While working in their cattle pasture one hot August afternoon, the Austins discovered the body of a huge and decapitated buck within a few yards of the gate. They were convinced it was the giant whitetail.
“We weren’t the only ones who knew about the buck,” Billy said. “Plus, trespassers sneak onto our property regularly. We thought he was gone for good.”
When he saw the distinctive whitetail in October, Billy was relieved. That’s the only reason he was willing to return to the stand on that dreary December day.
He was thinking about the buck as he trudged to the wooded ridgetop where he planned to start laying a scent trail. He paused briefly to attach pads doused with doe gel to his boots before hiking another 100 yards into the woods where he’d found some large rubs. When he arrived, he dabbed more gel on tree trunks and found one suitable for climbing.
Billy settled into his stand at 11:30. During the next few hours, he saw only a couple does. At around 3:00, just when his patience and tolerance were wearing thin (it was still sleeting), he spotted something moving at 125 yards. It was the monstrous buck, tearing up a big cedar tree. When it was finished ravaging the cedar, the buck began walking toward Billy, pausing to check out a branch he’d doctored.
Billy took advantage, quickly aimed and fired. The deer took several leaps through the understory and dropped at 73 yards, later verified by rangefinder. Only 90 seconds had elapsed from sighting to shooting.
“I also think I set a new world record in getting out of that tree,” Billy chuckles.
Nothing else about the afternoon was fast or easy.
“It took me an hour to gut him. I was really shivering by then,” Billy said. “I kept trying to call my dad to help me, but I couldn’t get anybody to answer.”
The onslaught of ice continued as Billy began the laborious task of dragging the buck 50 yards, returning to retrieve the gun and treestand, and repeating the task for a total of 500 yards, all the way back to the house. Although it was too late to help, Billy finally managed to make walkie-talkie contact with Dennis as he neared the house.
“Dad, I got the monster,” Billy excitedly announced, awaiting formal congratulations.
“Yeah, right,” was Dennis’ response. “There aren’t any deer moving around in this stuff.”
With some necessary assistance, father and son were able wrestle the carcass into Billy’s 4x4 truck. It didn’t take long for word to get out that Billy had harvested the drool-maker. The sight of the Austins motoring into town attracted crowds who wanted to hear the entire story. Many of them, including the neighbors, also admitted they’d seen the deer, but had kept their mouths shut.
The 7½-year-old buck weighed 240 pounds, field-dressed.
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This article was published in the Winter 2009 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.