By Ryan Wilson
It seems that everything happens for a reason. Take, for example, a hunt I booked years ago with friend and outfitter Chris Shores of River to River Outfitters in southern Illinois. The hunt was in the middle of Illinois’ famous rut. As fate would have it, I would never make it.
Being a firefighter and a a passionate bowhunter, I am always trying to push my physical limits in some kind of sport. I decided to take up mixed martial arts. While training for a fight, I blew out my shoulder. All of the sudden my rut hunt in November turned into surgery and four months of rehabilitation before I could even draw my bow.
I thanked God I healed in time to go on a make-up hunt during the late-season archery season in January.
After making the nine-hour drive to the Illinois and unpacking my gear, I went over details of the five-day hunt. Since deer were most active later in the day, I would hunt waterfowl in the mornings and hunt deer in the afternoons.
On the first day, I hunted the corner of a harvested bean field with bedding areas on both sides. I got in the stand around 2 p.m., and deer were already on the back side of the field. I saw several other whitetails that afternoon, including a big 160-class 9-pointer.
The next afternoon, I hunted on the opposite side of the field because of a change in wind direction. I started seeing deer around 4:30 p.m. Fifteen minutes later, a few does and some small bucks walked out, followed by a large-framed 6-pointer and an 8-pointer.
While trying to decide whether or not to take the big 6-pointer, he spotted me and bolted for cover. Running like a gray ghost behind him was the big 9. I had not seen him and didn’t know he was there.
I was absolutely sick from that encounter and thought my hunt was over. Chris said it would be all right to hunt that stand again the next afternoon. After all, the big 9 never really spooked; he just did like all old deer do when other deer get nervous: he ran.
I returned to the same stand the next day. The deer started filtering into the field about 80 yards from my stand. If the big 9 decided to take the same trail, he’d be well out of bowhunting range.
Around 4:35 p.m., I saw a few does approaching and, to my surprise, the big 9 was behind them. They crossed the creek and headed down a trail that comes within 23 yards of my tree.
I stayed as tight to that tree as I could. I did not even bother to pick up my bow until the does passed. When the last doe passed and the big 9 was behind an oak tree, I made my move. I grabbed my bow and got ready for the shot. When the big 9 was in the clear, I stopped him in my shooting lane with a soft grunt.
I remember watching my feathers bury deep and knowing I’d made a double-lung shot. Somewhere between calling my guide, my wife and my dad, I managed to calm down enough to decend the tree.
I remember my wife asking if I fell out of the tree and hurt myself, because I could hardly talk and was starting to tear up. I assured her I just had taken the largest deer of my life!
The buck has 178 3/8 inches of antler and is indeed the trophy of a lifetime.