By Dean Hulce
Jeff Powell poses with the full-body mount of his homegrown Illinois buck. Photo Courtesy of Jeff Powell
When Jeff Powell's brother-in-law called him on Oct. 27, 2007, excitement oozed from the telephone. A friend had sent him a photograph of a monstrous Illinois buck someone had just taken. The deer was lying in the back of a truck, and the photo had been snapped with a cell phone.
Eager to learn more, Jeff pressed his brother-in-law for details. But all he could get was an eerily familiar description of the enormous rack.
Jeff had no trouble picturing the animal being described because it was lying in the bed of his own pickup.
Among the few stops Jeff and his dad had made between loading the deer and taking it home, dozens of gawkers had whipped out their cell phones and photographed Jeff's buck without regard to the humbled hunter. Almost instantly, the dead deer with the big rack was launched into cyberspace.
That in itself was pretty cool. And having arrowed the brute on his own property helped broaden his smile even more.
Jeff, an occupational therapist in Sparta, Ill., bought a "little piece of Heaven" in Washington County in the fall of 2005. The tract is 47 acres of hardwoods, openings and a stand of planted pines.
The very day that Jeff bought the property, he got a look at a trophy buck stepping out of the pine plantation. Jeff and his dad were both excited to see the 140-class 10-pointer, though they never saw it again that year.
Jeff, his dad and two hunting buddies, Dave and Kevin, planned how they were going to hunt this buck, if it was still there in 2006. They'd deduced from the sign that the buck's daytime sanctuary was in the pines, and the men resolved not to venture in there. They figured if they left this area alone, the buck might stay on the property.
The guys also pledged not to take any iffy shots at the buck (or any other deer).
In the fall of 2006, the four hunters chose their stand sites around the property away from the pines. Jeff was sitting in his treestand one day when the big buck appeared right in front of him. The trophy had grown quite a bit over the past year. It still sported the same mainframe, 10-point rack, but it had added at least five sticker points.
Jeff Powell of Freeburg, Ill., literally stumbled across this 23-pointer while easing back to his vehicle on Oct. 27, 2007. The buck, hiding in a milo field, thought it was invisible while watching Jeff's dad. Photo Courtesy of Jeff Powell
As the buck continued coming closer, Jeff - remembering the pledge he and his pals had made to hold out for the right shot - had to fight the urge to shoot.
When the deer was inside 20 yards, it turned broadside and stopped. Tempting as it was, Jeff did what most hunters couldn't have done. He kept his finger off the release because there were a few twigs between Jeff's bow and the buck's chest.
The buck walked away, unscathed.
Later during the '06 firearms season, another hunter was walking out of the woods, past the pine plantation, when he spotted the buck walking within the thicket. Since he didn't have a clear shot at it, the monstrous 15-pointer went on its merry way.
It was a long year until the buck was seen again. It was a sunny day on Oct. 27, 2007, when Jeff, his dad and Kevin hunted the morning on Jeff's property.
Jeff had plans for an afternoon cookout with his wife. By 8:15, since there hadn't been any movement, he radioed the other two hunters and let them know that he was hanging it up for the morning.
He told the guys he was going to take a slow walk around a small milo patch that he had planted, advising his dad to hold tight near the middle of the patch.
Jeff slowly walked into the wind, skirting the milo, without an arrow nocked.
Halfway around it, he looked into the field and saw a huge set of antlers a mere 20 yards away. Jeff was so taken aback, he couldn't even tell if the buck was looking toward or away from him.
Jeff slowly took two steps back and nocked an arrow. Eventually, he made out the buck's chest and found a clear lane for his arrow. All the while, the magnificent buck was staring where Jeff's dad was waiting.
Jeff drew back his bow, muttering to himself: "This might be my only chance at this buck ... Make it count."
Jeff saw the arrow disappear right behind the deer's front leg, and the animal was up and gone in a flash.
When he approached the arrow sticking in the ground, he saw that it was covered from nock to broadhead with bright red blood. He radioed his dad and Kevin and told them what had happened. The threesome looked for a blood trail, but they couldn't find a drop on anything but the arrow.
After a few minutes of searching, Jeff glanced up and saw his buck, still on its feet, right before it disappeared into the woods.
The Powells and Kevin decided at that point to go back to Freeburg to Jeff's house 20 minutes away and wait a bit before resuming the search. Judging from the blood on the arrow, the shot appeared to have been perfect, but they couldn't understand why there was no blood trail, or why the deer was still on its feet.
A couple of hours later, they were back and scouring the property for sign.
While Jeff continued to look for blood where he last saw the buck, his dad went on into the woods where it had vanished. After 20 minutes of looking, the elder Powell radioed Jeff to say he'd found the "monster."
Even after examining his buck, Jeff humbly downplayed the size to those around him, saying "He isn't that wide, and his tines aren't that long."
His estimation of the deer changed, however, upon hearing his brother-in-law's reaction.
-- Reprinted from the November 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.