By Jennifer Bilott
Jennifer Bilott with one of her Pike Co., Ill., shotgun bucks
-- My first date with my now-husband, Jim, was a deer hunting trip. I missed an 8-point buck that day. Our second date was, you guessed it, deer hunting. It was a successful doe hunt for me. Our third date was picking up the processed deer, then dinner. Four months later, while shed hunting on a Wednesday evening, I found a special shed with my engagement ring attached to it with Berkley Trilene fishing line. Three months later we were married.
No flowers were carried down the aisle at our wedding. I opted for turkey feather fans, with pheasant feather accents and black and silver ribbon, assembled by one crafty bridesmaid and myself. All the feathers came from recent harvests by the groom and donations from the Ligonier Wild Turkey Federation. They were the hit of the wedding. What did I get my husband for a wedding gift? A Fox Pro digital predator call, of course.
When our guests arrived at the reception, they placed their cards in the ammunition box or placed their gifts next to our hunting photos. The cake was three-tiered with two smaller cakes on the side to accommodate 300 people. It had shed antler cake toppers found by the groom. The pheasant feathers accenting each layer were from birds shot by the bride. My mother's crystal cake topper, given as a shower gift, sat on the second layer. This was the hit of the reception.
We threw tradition to the wind and did not respond to the clinking of glasses. Instead, we would kiss to the call of turkeys. A Primos slate, push-pull, or HS Strut box turkey call was provided on each table. Our honeymoon was spent in Alaska salmon fishing on the Kenai Peninsula.
I thought I was an avid hunter until I met my husband, who out hunts me 3-to-1. We have traveled all over the country hunting deer, coyote and our favorite past time, shed hunting. He took me out of the state to Pike County, Ill., for my first shotgun hunt. During the early archery season he harvested a 9-point buck with an impressive 56-yard shot. During my shotgun hunt I was going to sit in a ground blind over looking a brush field. The ground blind consisted of camo burlap, a doe decoy and a swivel seat.
I was so excited that first morning! It was a beautiful day for deer hunting. I couldn't wait to use my Mossberg 695 bolt-action slug gun for the first time. While walking to our spot, I slipped down the creek bank and fell on my new Mossberg. So there I lay, on my gun, in the creek. My husband and I had spent two hours sighting in my gun. Two shots were all my shoulder could endure. My husband had a black and blue shoulder for a week after shooting the gun, and there I lay.
Luckily, my brother-in-law let me use his Mossberg 835 pump-action, since he had an extra gun back at the house. The hunt was back on! I had seen more bucks that weekend than all my first days put together, but no deer for me Friday or Saturday. I heard quite a few shots, most of them multiple. My husband has a theory: more than one shot is a miss.
We could hunt for only half a day on Sunday because it was a 10-hour drive back to Pennsylvania for the first day of black bear season the following Monday morning. We harvested three bears, which is another story altogether. Now, it was Sunday morning and it was pouring down rain. I couldn't get a clear shot at a good buck at first light.
A few hours later, my husband and I were looking out into a bean field, when I spotted the biggest buck I have ever seen. It was far, but I was ready to take a shot. I was confident using my new PoleCat shooting stick. My husband advised me to wait because, during the weekend, his brother had seen numerous bucks sneaking up the fence row across the brush field at about 50 yards away. We decided to wait but, no deer showed.
My husband decided to put on a few drives before we left. The first one resulted in that same big buck running across an open field. My husband took a long running shot and missed. The second drive resulted in one of the biggest bucks my husband has ever seen jumping up in front of him. His shot missed its mark. The estimated 160- to 180-class buck dropped into the valley and disappeared.
Two huge deer and nothing in the pouring down rain at crunch time. The last drive of the day, my husband came through the brush from the north, as I stood waiting where I had spotted the 150-class buck earlier, hoping for it to return. All of a sudden, a 6-point buck trotted up the fence row where I thought the big one would show. This was the opposite direction from the drive. I thought, "Where do you think you are sneaking off too?" As I took my shot the deer bolted.
My husband popped out of the woods just then. He was surprised at where I had taken the shot. We walked over to see if I hit the buck and there it was lying in a creek bed. I jumped up and down and whooped it up the whole way down to the creek. The buck wasn't a monster but, it was a prize to me. My first Illinois buck!
My husband was so happy for me, as were my dad and brother. My husband skull-mounted the deer for me and placed it on a silhouette background of Illinois to remind me of the hunt. It looks awesome.
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