By Jill J. Easton
It was the second day of his second year hunting in Illinois, and Jarrod Toms was hot, tired and discouraged. He'd been lugging a stand and his bow since lunchtime. It was getting late, and he still hadn't found the right spot.
Jarrod's wife had told him the night before that if he didn't bring home a big deer this time, it would be his last trip to Illinois. He'd passed up several bucks the previous year, never notching his tag. It was time to get serious!
His buddies dropped him off in an area where they had seen pretty good sign a day earlier, but the rolling hills, open timber and farm fields just didn't provide many setups to his liking.
Finally, at 2:30, Jarrod found a spot that looked promising: a deep ditch where two trails came together before spilling out into a bean field. The sign there was the most impressive he'd seen. He quickly set up his stand, hooked on the safety harness and waited for what he figured would be yet another fruitless outing.
"At one point, I heard something behind me," Jarrod said. "I slowly turned around, even though it didn't sound like a deer."
A fox squirrel at the edge of some Osage-orange trees was playing with one of the chartreuse-colored "hedge apples" like it was a basketball. Jarrod watched the squirrel, thinking it might be the only wildlife he'd see all afternoon. When the bushytailed globetrotter left, he resumed glassing the field and game trails.
"There was another sound from behind just a few minutes later," he said. "When I turned around that time, all I could see was horns. It was the biggest deer I'd ever seen, about 70 to 75 yards away, standing there and looking at me. I just knew it was going to walk behind me and into the field, leaving me without a shot."
Nevertheless, he stood. In order to shoot, Jarrod had to adjust the safety harness strap over his shoulder so he could draw, and he had to manage it without spooking the buck. But while any self-respecting Louisiana buck would've noticed and fled, this rascal did nothing of the sort.
"It started trotting right to me," Jarrod said. "It stopped about 20 to 25 yards away under a big Osage tree. It seemed to stand there forever. I'd already drawn back, but there was no shooting lane. All I could do was wait and hope."
There were two openings within the belt of trees that might offer a shot. Jarrod was almost experiencing performance anxiety. He'd upgraded to a Mathews Switchback XT only six months earlier. The new bow's draw was 60 pounds; he was accustomed to pulling and holding 70.
The difference was soon tested.
"I grunted as the buck approached the opening, and it stopped in the hole at 13 yards," Jarrod said. "My arrow hit it dead in the shoulder and went in 8 inches ... but I didn't know that until much later."
The buck jumped and then charged off with the arrow, which slapped a tree and was pulled free.
"The deer went into the ditch and completely out of sight," Jarrod said. "I saw it come out the other side, digging and clawing its way up. After it went out of sight again over the rise, there was a big noise, and then I couldn't see or hear anything."
Jarrod sent his buddies text messages that he'd shot the biggest deer he'd ever seen, wearing a rack that looked like a Christmas tree, although he didn't know if he'd scored a fatal hit. The guys offered to come help hunt for the buck, but Jarrod wanted to give the deer ample time. He also wasn't sure his shaking legs could make it down the tree at that point.
Just as the sun started sinking into the horizon, Jarrod received a text message from another hunter who had heard what could have been a wounded deer limping away. That was enough to spur Jarrod into action.
"My friend Billy came to help me look," he said. "There wasn't a single drop of blood at the ditch. I was getting really nervous." When they started looking over the hill in the open woods, there was still no blood. Jarrod was beginning to panic, thinking he'd blown his chance at the biggest deer he'd seen since he began hunting at 5 years old.
They continued to look where Jarrod had heard the crashing noise, but saw nothing. As dark was coming on, Billy finally spotted the buck behind an oak tree. The deer had covered a total of 56 yards before dropping.
As Jarrod and Billy waited on the rest of the crew to arrive and help get the buck out, Jarrod called his wife in Louisiana to let her know he'd fulfilled her wish -and to make Illinois reservations for the following season.
Hunter: Jarrod Toms
Official Score: 185 7/8
Composite Score: 205 3/8
Weapon: Compound Bow
– Photo by Jarrod Toms
This article was published in the November 2009 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.