By Jill J. Easton
LuciAn Norton had always dreamed of getting a monster deer. The unfortunate reality was that finances for the young Marine private were just too tight for him to join a lease or hunt with an outfitter.
With little more than a love of deer hunting and no fear of the word "no," he approached John Bostic, the owner of Hunter's Roost Outfitters in Illinois. He bartered, offering to work for him in exchange for the opportunity to hunt his well managed properties. And John agreed.
The payoff came on opening day of Illinois' 2007 firearms season, and it wore 19 points - one of the largest bucks taken that year in a state known for big deer.
"The night before the season opened, all the hunters were sitting around and talking at the lodge. Lance, an old friend of the owner, stopped by and said he'd just seen a big non-typical cross the driveway on his way in," LuciAn said. "There were about a dozen guys there, mostly from Pennsylvania and Virginia. We all thought it sounded like a fish story, the way Lance described the deer. No one took him seriously."
The next morning, LuciAn began his day hunting from a ladder stand tucked in a narrow pass between two alfalfa fields in the rolling hills of Morgan County.
"Opening morning was warm - sweatshirt weather - and deer weren't moving," he said. "I saw only one small doe, which was disappointing."
That evening, he went to a stand overlooking an alfalfa field surrounded by a creek and two ridges. The field also was right next to the driveway where the big deer had allegedly been spotted the previous night.
Four does came by, but no bucks. LuciAn was ready to call it quits and was actually gathering his gear when he saw motion nearby.
"A doe burst out of the woods," he said. "A big brute was following close on her heels. I tried grunting, but it ignored me. That buck's mind was on one thing."
The doe stopped right in front of the stand, ran a little farther, and then stopped again. It happened so quickly, LuciAn didn't have the luxury of gawking at the buck. All he knew, based on its size in relation to the doe, was that the animal was no doubt a mature deer.
The buck didn't hang around long enough for a better evaluation. It headed straight across the field, well beyond shotgun range, and disappeared into the brush. But LuciAn didn't have time to think about opportunity lost.
"Suddenly, the biggest deer I'd seen in my life was just standing there," he said.
The rack might as well have been floating in air, right in front of LuciAn's stand; because that's the only thing the young hunter's addled brain could register during those first few seconds.
LuciAn waited until he had a clear shot at the buck's shoulder, and then he squeezed the shotgun's trigger. He fired a second time when the deer took off running. It went to ground within 50 yards of where it absorbed the first slug.
"Daylight was fading. All I could see afterward was what looked like a big pile of antlers," LuciAn said. "When I got over to it, I couldn't believe how big they really were!"
The shots brought the owner out to see what LuciAn had hammered. For both of them, it was a real "See, I told you so" moment when the ATV lights hit the 19-point buck.
They loaded up the massive deer, which later field-dressed at 220 pounds, and hauled it back to the lodge.
"It was a real shocker to think that this buck had been in John Bostic's back yard and no one had gotten a glimpse of him until the night before opening day," LuciAn said, "especially since Lance sounded much more like a storyteller than a whitetail hunter.
"None of the guys from Pennsylvania or Virginia were back yet," LuciAn added. "We were going to play it cool and just sit there calmly, waiting for them to arrive and see the deer. But that didn't last long."
Right now, LuciAn is somewhere in the Middle East, serving his country. When he's not dreaming of his fiancée or home, he's reliving those moments when the deer of a lifetime stopped in front of his stand.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity to live in a country where hunting is still a tradition and giant trophy deer can still be shot," he said. "I'm also grateful to John Bostic because he was willing to accept work in exchange for a chance to hunt unpressured deer with great genetics.
That's what makes Hunter's Roost such a formidable place for trophy bucks."
LuciAn wishes his tale could've been longer and more involved, but he wouldn't trade his day of being in the right place at the right time for anything. He couldn't have been more excited, and he couldn't be happier.
Hunter: LuciAn Norton
Official Score: 177 1/8
– Photo courtesy of LuciAn Norton
This article was published in the Winter 2009 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.