Remember that commercial in which the guy slips out of bed, hoping his wife doesn’t hear him sneak down creaky stairs to go hunting? Well, that wasn’t the case with Pastor Bob.
While a lot of deer hunters find sleep difficult on the eve of opening day, Bob Richardson made no effort to get out of bed when the alarm clock sounded. He might’ve remained there, too, had his wife, Melody, not rousted him.
“Your alarm went off,” she mumbled.
“Yes, I know,” he said, eyes still shut.
“Aren’t you going hunting?”
“There’s probably no point.”
It wasn’t that the 55-year-old preacher needed the sleep. He was just weary of climbing into his favorite ladder stand and seeing nothing.
That hadn’t been the case during the early 2010 season, when he couldn’t wait to get out with his camera and crossbow. He saw lots of deer, and he shot two does by the end of the first week.
But during the 14 days leading up to Illinois’ first shotgun season, he saw not a hair. He became so disillusioned with the drop-off in activity, he stopped carrying his beloved camera.
He was thinking about all those wasted hours when his wife’s voice again drifted over the bedcovers.
“So there was a point to buying all those deer tags and equipment?”
He got up out of bed.
Bob’s favorite ladder stand that year was on a friend’s 65 acres. The man didn’t own the farm, but he managed it in exchange for hunting rights. Before being invited to hunt there, Bob’s forays were much closer to home in Anna, Ill., or he prowled public land.
The new place was a vast stretch of CRP with lanes cut around and through it, a couple of ponds and some bean and cornfields.
After lunch one day, Bob and his friend set up a ladder stand. He didn’t plan on hunting there that same afternoon, but the farmers were in the fields where he normally hunts, so he was aloft in it by 5:30. A half-hour later, he passed up a 15-foot shot at a pretty good buck with one regular antler and another “messed-up” one.
Bob fell in love with the stand after that.
When he reached his friend’s acreage on the fateful day, daylight was breaking. Rather than walk to the ladder, he decided to remain on the ground and watch a mown swath of CRP. A doe ran across it at 200 yards about 6:45, heading for the cornfield and shadowed by a huge buck.
Bob was choking on indecision. He wanted to walk down there and peek into the cornfield, but he didn’t want to spook any deer. Ultimately, the urge to move won.
As he approached the field, he noticed a doe, a tall-racked 8-pointer and a couple of small bucks. There was no sign of the mature stud he’d seen chasing a doe, at first. But then he saw a deer’s back just beyond the field’s crown, and when it lifted its head, Bob’s eyes grew big as boiled eggs.
After running the other bucks out of the field, the big one corralled the doe, and for the next 35 minutes, it mounted her at least 12 to 14 times, while Bob crouched in the grass 185 yards away, cell phone to his ear, binoculars to his eyes, and single-shot 20 gauge laying beside him.
He tried to call his friend, who was also hunting that morning, but he didn’t answer. So he called his son, Justin, who was driving to the school where he teaches seventh- and eighth-graders.
“Dad, you’re going to have to calm down,” Justin said repeatedly, until he had to hang up.
Throughout the short conversation, Bob was giving his son the blow-by-blow, they’re-coming-closer-no-wait-they’re-leaving-no-wait accounting.
When Justin clicked off, he took off his cap, lowered his head, and said, “God, please let that doe come to me,” as if asking for a shot at the buck would’ve been selfish.
When the two deer came to within 125 yards, Bob almost took the shot. Had he remembered the cornfield was part of the huntable area, he would’ve. But his doubts and the buck’s mounting the doe again caused him to pause and lose the opportunity.
The doe led the buck down into a low spot and out of sight.
That’s when his friend returned his call. He’d left the woods early because of a stomach virus, and he was at home.
“I must have asked him if I could shoot that field half a dozen times, and he kept saying yes,” Bob said. “I’m an ethical hunter, and I just wanted to be sure.”
Bob followed a road to look down into the dip, but then he decided to go back to his original spot in the grass and wait, hoping the doe would come back onto the field.
When she did, Bob was on the phone with his friend. He asked one last time, “Can I shoot this field?”
“He told me, ‘YES, I told you that you could,’ and then I dropped the phone,” Bob said. “When I looked up, the buck was only 50 yards away and staring at me.”
That it didn’t immediately flee is why it’s not going to see its eighth year or taunt any more Union County drivers who travel the highway it regularly crossed.
The buck bolted after the shot, and the doe followed it.
“It didn’t act like I’d touched it,” Bob said. “I was wondering how on earth I’d missed when it tucked its tail, began staggering backwards and tipped over. It had run only 75 yards.”
Bob’s friend arrived 10 minutes later.
“I laughed. I cried. I yelled,” he added. “The whole time, I thought I was watching an 11-pointer. I had no idea that rack carried 20 points. I celebrated like I’ve never celebrated.”
Although he didn’t need to, since hunters no longer have to take their kills to check stations in Illinois, Bob spent the rest of the day at the local feed store, watching other guys look at his deer and swapping stories with them — his being how his gun season lasted an hour and a half. His son left school early to join him.
Hunter: Bob Richardson
Official Score: 176 7/8
Composite Score: 193 1/8
– Photos by Matt Hupe and Bob Richardson
This article was published in the Winter 2011 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.