By Nate Campbell
Photo courtesy of Nate Campbell
While running the indoor track at Western Illinois University in February 2007, I met a girl who lived only 14 miles from my hometown. Her grandfather, a farmer, owns about 900 acres of whitetail heaven that he usually leases to nonresident hunters, hunting clubs and equipment companies.
Just prior to the 2008 season, my girlfriend’s dad, who is the groundskeeper, and her Grandpa decided not to lease the 200-acre McDonough County farm. This meant that mine and my girlfriend’s fathers and I would be the only ones hunting there.
We knew the place held some record-book deer. We’d glimpsed some great bucks during the previous season’s doe hunts and on trail camera photographs. Several 150- to 170-inchers were there, and the biggest was a 16-point Typical that we figured would score in the upper 190s.
All three of us decided not to shoot a buck smaller than 130 inches, the same goal set by the neighboring landowners.
That was only my third season of bowhunting. It was hard for me to let numerous borderline bucks walk past. Finally, however, I shot a 145-inch 10-pointer during the second week of November, the first and only buck taken off the property in five years.
I moved to Colorado the following summer to work at a state park and fulfill my internship requirements to graduate from college. I was scheduled to work at the park for six months, putting my return to Illinois at the beginning of November 2009.
By the end of August, things at the park started to slow down, and I decided to move back to Illinois at the end of September — just in time for opening day of archery season. This gave me little time to scout before the opening bell.
On a rainy Oct. 5, 2009, I put on my rain gear, strapped on my climber and headed to the woods to scout. The place was thick with thorn bushes and oak trees, and there were lots of acorns on the ground. A nearby creek and a heavily used deer trail cinched my decision.
The only tree that was suitable for my climber was a mere 12 yards from the main deer trail. Afraid of being spotted by an approaching deer, I would have to climb about 20 feet to get out of sight.
Setting my climber on the tree and cutting shooting lanes were not the only things that had to be done before I could return to hunt the stand. The area was so thick with thorns and brush, I had to cut a 200-yard-long trail with a machete to quietly access the stand.
Afterward, I decided to let the area rest for a few days.
I returned to the stand on Oct. 10 for an afternoon hunt. Despite my efforts to clear my own trail, I was convinced I wouldn’t see a deer. I’d sounded like a herd of elephants, though I tried my best to tiptoe around brush.
About 5:45, almost three hours after climbing my tree, I noticed something unusual behind me. I wasn’t sure, at first, if I was looking at antler or branches swaying in the wind. And I wasn’t ruling out a mirage.
When I shifted around to get a better look, I could make out the top of the deer’s back. It was only 30 yards away, but the brush was thick. The bruiser was eating as it walked out and hit the trail I was guarding.
I had to take the shot before the buck reached my downwind side. As soon as I found a small window in the vegetation, I attached my release and drew my bow. I held my 20-yard pin low to compensate for the short 12-yard shot and steep angle. As soon as the buck’s shoulders crossed through my sight, I released.
The arrow slammed into the deer’s side, which sent it running in bulldozer mode. Anger and frustration overwhelmed me as I watched the animal plowing full-tilt through the brush. My arrow hadn’t hit exactly where I’d aimed.
After getting down, I examined the blood on the arrow, indicative of a liver shot — not great, but fatal … I hoped. Not exactly dancing on clouds, I began my long trek back to the truck — opposite the buck’s destination so as not to further spook it. That shot must have played through my head a million times that night.
At daybreak the next morning, four others and I picked up a heavy blood trail with high hopes. A hundred yards later, the sign faded to nothing. While I was franticly searching on my hands and knees for blood, one of the guys decided to follow a set of tracks into a grove of hedge trees.
Not 20 yards off the trail, he stumbled across my buck. Never have I seen such a celebration of high-fives and hugs among men.
Hunter: Nate Campbell
Official Score: 222 3/8
Composite Score: 240 3/8
-- Reprinted from the September 2010 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.