By Stephen Dockery
Four of us travel to Illinois every year with dreams of lugging one of those monstrous corn-fed whitetails back home. Last season, I got to do just that!
Our crew consists of my lifelong friend Aubrey "Butterball" Boothe, Barry Payne, Craig Vail and my father-in-law, Lynn Morrison. We always have a great time, whether we harvest anything or not.
Warm weather greeted us when we arrived last November, but the forecast called for the balmy, 70-degree days to end. Since the first day was warm, we decided to do a short morning hunt in one of our favorite spots, and then devote the midday to scouting. After comparing notes with everyone during lunch, Butterball and I chose our spots for the afternoon hunt.
Just before dark, the temperature started falling and a flock of longbeards joined me in the creek bottom. As I was admiring the turkeys, I reflected back to my late dad. He used to say that deer like to travel with turkeys; that it gives them an extra sense of security.
No sooner had that thought crossed my mind than a nice buck appeared behind the gobblers. It was a decent 8-pointer, probably wearing between 125 and 130 inches of antler. The deer gave me only token glances as I grunted and flipped my bleat can. Making a mental note of the path the deer took, I selected a tree - in case I returned to that spot.
Day two found us back at our first morning's stands. Seeing only minimal sign and immature deer, Butterball and I opted to return to where I'd seen the nice 8-pointer. We were very optimistic. I had at least seen a decent buck there, along with some chasing activity.
From my perch that I had selected the day before, I saw a handful of does being chased by young bucks. This promising activity and verification from my buddies that my location would not disturb their hunt prompted me to leave my stand hanging on the red oak that the 8-pointer had sauntered past.
We set out well before daylight the next morning. Aubrey went one way to his stand, Craig went the opposite to his, and Barry and I went between the two. When we reached an opening approximately halfway, we stopped to catch our breath and cool off. Since the temperature had dropped down to 31 degrees, we did not want to break a sweat - only to freeze later. While we were taking a short breather, I glanced up to see a crystal clear sky. Nudging Barry and pointing upward, I said, "Look at that ... Ain't God good?" Barry agreed, and we separated.
Climbing as quietly as I could, I got positioned on my perch in time to hear the first sounds of morning.
Shortly after daybreak, I heard the telltale sound of a deer walking in dry leaves. There was no doubt that the steps were being made by a whitetail. I eased out of my seat and readied my bow. Grabbing my binoculars and leaning to the left of a white oak, I could see only three tines on one side.
But they looked really good! I knew right away that it was a shooter.
I straightened back up and leaned around to get a look from the opposite side of the tree. Finding the buck squarely in my binoculars and seeing the entire rack made my knees buckle. Immediately dropping the binocs in the seat, I began praying, "Jesus, please let me make a clean shot."
The monarch was steadily walking in my direction. I have shot in many tournaments during the last six years, but nothing has ever shaken me up like that. My hands were shaking so badly that it took me four tries to get my release attached to the string.
Finally hooking up, I slowly drew my bow. The deer paused when I reached full draw, facing straight toward my tree at 30 yards. Looking at a deer this size through my peep sight nearly drove me over the edge.
The massive deer continued on a path directly to me. Never having shot a deer straight down before, I began praying under my breath ...
"Please turn ... please ..." And as if the buck was being guided, it veered left.
As soon as it cleared a tree, I grunted with my mouth and pulled the release's trigger when the buck put on the brakes. The deer wasted no time in getting out of there.
Actually seeing the buck skid into the leaves was like cold water being splashed on my face to wake me up. I stood there, dumbfounded, trying to soak it all in. Gathering my stuff to climb down, I heard something walking behind me. I turned to see a huge coyote coming toward me. And then in front of me was a doe being chased by a young buck.
It was only 6:20. What a morning!
When I finally got out of the tree, I rushed over to get an up-close-and-personal look at my trophy. Holding the rack, I could not believe the mass and the length of the tines. Shifting my gaze toward Heaven, I thanked God.
It was hard to leave my buck in the woods, but I packed up my gear and headed for the truck to wait on my hunting partners.
After congratulations, handshakes and slaps on the back, we grabbed the deer buggy and started the long walk back to my trophy. We recruited some help from a Georgia pal and were glad we did because the buck's 280 pounds filled up the entire cart.
Four days later, Butterball harvested the 8-pointer I had seen early during the week. The deer wound up scoring 124, having lost a significant portion of one of its tines.
Hunter: Stephen Dockery
Official Score: 187 2/8"
Composite Score: 202"
-- Reprinted from the September 2006 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.