By Mike Handley
Bradley Caro's Illinois bruiser is one of the most symmetrical Irregulars you'll ever see. The right and left antlers each have six typical points, an extra 8-inch brow tine and a small sticker near the burr.
This is one buck that's worth writing home about!
Richard Caro might not have received a come-get-me letter from his son, Bradley, postmarked from Camp Granada. But he did get three telephone calls in less than an hour on Dec. 7, 2006.
The first time, Bradley was ready for someone to come get him. He called back a few minutes later to say that he'd changed his mind, or words to that effect. And maybe a half-hour after that, he didn't know whether he was coming or going.
Bradley isn't a kid; he's a 29-year-old equipment salesman. Neither was he suffering through his first day at summer camp, like the young protagonist in the old Allan Sherman song, "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh." It was indeed the first day of a father-son vacation, but he was savoring it - especially by the time he called his dad for the third time.
Deer Hunting Vacation
The Caros left Biloxi, Miss. (Bradley's home), on Tuesday, Dec. 5, and drove 12 hours to St. Louis, where they spent the night in a motel. The next morning, they crossed the river for the first time ever into Illinois, bound for Adams County.
Bradley was planning to bowhunt for four days, while his dad was there to take advantage of the Friday-Sunday blackpowder season. They were hunting with Shawn Taylor's Trophy Quest Outfitters, referred by a woman who works with Bradley's wife, Shelly. The two men would have a 210-acre farm all to themselves. It was a teeth-chattering, toe-numbing 10 degrees when Bradley and Richard arrived near the town of Quincy, and there was a foot of snow on the ground - a far cry from wintertime in the Deep South. Neither Bradley nor his dad, whose home is in Baton Rouge, was accustomed to this.
They spent the afternoon watching a cornfield, but even the neighborhood whitetails had apparently found a warmer place to be.
When Bradley awoke the next morning, the wind was howling. Although he was anxious to get his first taste of Illinois, he wasn't ready to face that kind of wind-chill, so he crawled back under the covers to sleep for a few more hours.
"It's a good thing I did, too," he said. "I didn't realize until I woke up at 9:00 that I hadn't bought the necessary habitat stamp to go with my license. So that was the first thing we did before I finally headed to the woods."
He'd told Shawn that he would be easy to please. All he wanted was a decent shot at a 130- to 140-inch buck. Even when the outfitter told him that a 200-incher was roaming that farm, Bradley paid very little attention.
And So It Began
When they arrived at the gate around 11:30, which is about 300 yards from where Bradley had planned to spend the rest of the day, deer were already in the fields and food plot, digging in the snow for the morsels underneath. So as not to spook them out of the area, they stayed in the truck almost all the way to the stand.
"We pulled up to the gate and Jeremy (the guide) pointed to the food plot.
There were five deer standing in it, one of them a dandy 8-pointer. Now food plots aren't a big thing up there because of all the crops. But when it gets as cold as it was that day, they hit those patches pretty hard."
Within a half-hour of being aloft, Bradley saw the first of the deer returning. And for the next couple of hours, he saw them almost everywhere he looked.
About 3 p.m., he decided to take a poke at a nearby doe. He had the requisite tag, and he wanted to "take the edge off." She took her last breath within 40 yards of his stand.
"About 30 minutes after I shot the doe, the floodgates opened," he said.
An hour after that, Bradley saw half a dozen does crossing the field - in front of a buck with a rocking chair on its head. The excited hunter drew his lips tight to stop the drool and reached for his binoculars and then his range-finder.
He estimated the deer was wearing 180 inches of antler. Despite its being 168 yards away, Bradley had to DO something.
"I grunted at him, using two or three different calls. I used every one in my bag," he said. "I also used my Primos can to bleat, and I even snort-wheezed with my mouth. If I'd had a kitchen sink, I would've thrown that at him, too."
About the time Bradley thought he'd never see it again, the dieselly cough of a school bus passing by on the main road spooked the does AND the buck out of those trees and back to the woodlot from which they'd originally emerged.
A grunt from Bradley stopped the buck at 220 yards. It turned for one last glare before slipping into the timber.
Bradley decided that he was going to bring his climber the next day, and he would head straight for those woods.
Although more than 25 minutes of shooting light remained, Bradley considered his hunt finished at that point. He dug out his cell phone and called Richard, who was quite comfortable in a Suburban with the heater blasting, watching a cornfield for deer. He'd seen one animal by then - nothing like the zoo his son was babysitting.
Bradley had seen more than 50, and it wasn't yet dusk.
He told his father to call and tell Jeremy to come on in; that he had a doe to be retrieved. His dad's Suburban wasn't equipped with four-wheel drive.
Not five minutes later, the big buck topped a ridge, floating up the weedy hump and heading for the food plot below Bradley. It had reached the end of it - at 112 yards - when the hunter dialed his phone a second time.
"Don't come yet," he whispered. "The Illinois state record just walked into the food plot."
He barely heard his dad say "Okay" before quickly shutting off the device.
"That deer walked straight to me," Bradley said. "It was so close that I could see it through the base of the stand's platform."
When the buck was a mere 15 yards away, Bradley drew his bow. But since it was heading directly away from him, he didn't like the shot and had to let back down. Doing that was easy because the deer had no clue that it was being watched.
"It wasn't skittish. It thought it was all alone in the world. And because it was so calm, I was calm," Bradley said. "If the deer had been nervous, I think this story might've had a different ending."
When the enormous whitetail finally resumed walking and began angling away at 20 yards, Bradley drew again and bleated. As soon as the buck stopped, an arrow stung it. The deer took four or five bounds and stopped again. A few minutes later, its legs began to wobble. And then they folded inward.
"He just went 'puff' in the powdery snow," Bradley added.
And so he called his dad a third time.
"I'd give all the money in the world to have that conversation on tape," he said.
"I was going nuts. He was going nuts ... I called my wife, and she started crying she was so happy. She wouldn't even let me hang up. I had to keep the phone on and put it in my pocket until I got down out of the tree."
Soon after Shawn, Jeremy and another guide arrived with Richard, the five men danced in the snow.
Bradley learned later that the Michigan client of Shawn's who had seen the buck two weeks earlier -the man who'd already burned his tag - had photographed it. So he has pictures of his buck-of-a-lifetime on the hoof as well!
Editor's Note: For information on hunting where Bradley arrowed his heart's desire, log onto www.trophyquestoutfitters.net.
Hunter: Bradley Caro
Official Score: 189"
Composite Score: 207"
-- Reprinted from the November 2007 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine