By Lisa L. Price
Photos Courtesy of Mike Stroff IV
Land of the Giants? "Yeah, right," thought Mike Stroff. It was Oct. 30, 2007, pre-rut time in Illinois, and there he was, sitting behind a desk instead of in a treestand.
Mike is the creator of the television show "Southern Outdoor Experience," and he had several crews hunting with Central Illinois Outfitters in Cass County that week.
For his show (www.watchsoe.com), he wanted to capture enough hunts on film to fill a baker's dozen episodes in a series he'd planned to call "Land of the Giants."
But for the boss, at that point, it was more like "Land of the Giant Pile of Work."
Mike sat surrounded by tapes from the various camera crews, which he was attempting to organize, mark, edit and copy.
"We had crews out, and we were filming some of Central Illinois Outfitters' clients, too," Mike said. "I knew that if we were going to get enough footage to put 13 shows together, we had a lot of work to do, so I wasn't even going to hunt."
The clips he was editing would torture any deer hunter.
Mike watched footage of deer chasing each other along hardwood ridges, and of deer working scrapes.
He watched footage of happy hunters' faces, smiling back at the camera after a shot.
And then, he watched the images that were the last straw. The camera focused on some scrape action.
"Those deer were wearing it out," he said. "Still, I told myself that it was too late to get out that afternoon anyway.
"Then one of the guides stuck his head in the door and said, 'You need to get in a stand tonight.'"
Nobody had to twist Mike's arm.
His desk chair was still spinning as he stepped out on the front porch, fully camouflaged, to slide into his boots.
"We had picked a place for a stand on a hardwood ridge that was off a food plot of chicory. From a deer traffic standpoint, it was a really good location," Mike said. "We didn't get into the area until 4:00, and then we had all kinds of limbs to cut."
In their haste to create shooting lanes, Mike realized that they had buried his bow. So in addition to all the racket from sawing and snapping branches, he had to make even more noise digging through a pile of debris to get his bow.
"Finally, we got up in the tree and felt ready," he said. "But then we saw another branch that needed to be cut and did that, letting it drop to the ground, making a big crash. I looked at the cameraman and joked, 'We're going to kill a monster tonight.'"
They didn't have to wait long. Only about five minutes had passed when a 140-inch 8-pointer with good tine length and mass walked right into their new shooting lanes.
"The first time I saw it, I passed. But I was soon second-guessing my decision," Mike said.
"I called it back in, only to let it go. I couldn't make up my mind. I actually called that buck back in four times.
"But I told myself that I had a month to hunt," he added. "We got plenty of good footage of that deer and had opportunities to shoot, but I let it walk."
Mike had just settled back down when he spotted another deer coming across a CRP field toward them. It was the same path they'd taken to the stand, and they'd laid down a scent trail.
"The buck had its nose to the ground, almost galloping," Mike said. "I never even picked up my binoculars. It was so big, I didn't need to. There wasn't time for it anyway.
"In moments, the deer was standing in our mock scrape about 10 yards away," he continued. "I didn't have time to think about it. I just drew my bow and made the shot.
"We thought we heard it crash. And the shot felt good," Mike said.
"But when we calmed down, we decided it was best to give the buck more time. So we went back and ate dinner."
They found the deer a mere 40 yards from where they'd last seen it. The rack was tremendous, and so was the deer's body.
"The buck's neck was 36 1/2 inches around, and it field-dressed over 300 pounds," Mike said.
"When we checked it in, we could barely get its head off the ground at the scales. That deer had the biggest body of any I've taken."
The next day, Mike was back in the Land of the Giant Pile of Work, but smiling.
Hunter: Mike Stroff IV
Official Score: 192"
Composite Score: 208"
-- Reprinted from the August 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.