Forked brow tines and kickers accent the colossal crown of Russ Nobbe's record-book whitetail.
By Kathy Etling
-- Russ Nobbe's mind was working a mile a minute. It was 9:55 a.m. on Nov. 17, 2005. The archer, 22 feet high in a treestand above the forest floor of a heavily timbered tract in east central Illinois' Monroe County, was busily assessing nearby trees. When he found the right one, Nobbe (pronounced "No-bee") planned on returning to hang a climbing stand in it for use during firearms season, slated to begin that Friday. By that time, Nobbe was bowhunting in name only. He remained on stand only because he' d promised himself to stick it out until 10 a.m.
The sky had been quite dark when Nobbe, 28, of Waterloo, Ill., climbed into the homemade, fixed-position stand. When it was finally light enough to shoot 30 minutes later, the archer immediately began spotting deer. With the rut in full swing, deer moved about almost continuously until 9 a.m. But then all activity stopped, as though a switch had been flipped.
The archer wasn't even looking for deer when he noticed movement about 150 yards distant - a lone deer walking down the ridge. As it slowly came closer, the man was able to make out a set of antlers flashing white through the gray timber. "The closer the buck came, the more antler I saw," Nobbe said.
A really good buck, Nobbe thought during the early moments of his encounter with bowhunting destiny in which he'd experience one of trophy buck hunting's incomprehensible truths: Things sometimes have a way of working out. A hunter later recounting the way events unfolded often finds himself suddenly struck by the enormity of the odds against him. But if someone is meant to take a particular buck, events leading up to the firing of the shot or loosing of the bowstring invariably develop both uniquely and inexorably, as though there could be no conclusion but success. If you've heard the phrase, "The buck came in as though on a string," you know what Russ Nobbe experienced that day.
Nobbe's bowhunting odyssey began when he was 17. "A friend, Barry Wetzler, thought I'd enjoy bowhunting," Nobbe said. Although more than 10 years older than Nobbe, Wetzler became the young man's hunting mentor. "Barry helped me get a bow and set it up, and then he began teaching me everything he knew about hunting deer," Nobbe explained.
Wetzler is well-known in the area for an almost uncanny ability to take big bucks. That day, Nobbe was hunting in one of Wetzler's old stands. "Barry had repositioned his stand several hundred yards away," Nobbe said. "He suggested that I use his old stand since he'd taken several good bucks while hunting there." Nobbe took his friend's advice.
He'd used the stand during three previous seasons, and had arrowed several deer there, including one nice 8-pointer. That same morning, Nobbe had passed up another buck with an impressive 8-point rack that, had he dropped it, would have been his biggest to date. "I mentally kicked myself for about an hour for not shooting the buck," Nobbe confided. "But with the rut in full swing and plenty of time left to hunt, I thought I might see a better buck later."
Wetzler had done an excellent job of sowing into Nobbe's conscience the philosophy of trophy hunting. Namely, con-sistently shoot small bucks, or even the first buck that passes by, and you're preventing those small deer from reaching their potential. Plus, by tagging a small buck, if you desperately want a trophy, you've just ended your season, whether for that year, that portion of the season, or that day. Each time a smaller buck is taken, the hunter must leave to care for the tagged animal. Perhaps a behemoth would have walked by an hour or two later, but no one will be there to shoot or even see it.
Russ Nobbe, however, does know, thanks to his passing on that 8-pointer. "I would have been happy with that buck," Nobbe said. "But something kept me from shooting it."
We talk about deer possessing a sixth sense, or an ESP-like sense of danger despite a lack of visible clues. Could it be that hunters, like Russ Nobbe, also have such a sense? Who knows? But something prevented Russ Nobbe from shooting, and then a couple of hours later he noticed another deer, and what a deer it would turn out to be.
None of the archers who hunted that area had been aware of any trophy-class bucks where Nobbe waited that morning. That is, until the previous evening, Nov. 16, when another archer mentioned that he'd spotted a big drop-tined buck not far from where Nobbe and Wetzler hunted.
Wetzler relayed the information to Nobbe. "We concluded that I'd have the best chance of seeing the buck from this stand, so that's where I went," Nobbe remarked.
There was a lull in activity about 9 a.m., so at 9:30 Nobbe pulled out his rattle bag and began a series that he hoped would convince any bucks within earshot to investigate. When nothing transpired after 10 or 15 minutes of waiting, Nobbe figured the peak of the day's whitetail activity had simply passed. He was looking over possible trees for his climber when he spotted the buck. And that's when the dominoes began to fall precisely into place.
"I knew the buck was headed toward an old logging trail that passes 30 yards from my stand," Nobbe recalls. "I felt confident that the buck would turn onto that trail, so I shifted around (in anticipation of making a shot). I could see even more of his antlers as he walked closer, but when he didn't turn onto the logging trail, I had to shift back into my original position."
When the buck moved behind a large tree, the archer drew his bow. Then the buck stepped out into a shooting lane, presenting a clear, 25-yard shot, but the bowhunter wanted first to stop the animal.
"I bleated (with my natural voice) three times before he stopped," Nobbe said. "I don't know whether my nerves kept me from bleating loudly enough to hear, but he kept walking until the third time. That bleat sounded like a yell to me; it was so loud." The huge whitetail stopped and looked directly at Nobbe, who immediately shot.
Nobbe's arrow slammed into the buck's shoulder. "It wasn't a pass-through," he said. The arrow was sticking out of the buck's shoulder as he ran.
"I used my cell phone to call Barry, as my feelings almost overcame me. I began shaking, I was so excited, yet I also knew the hit wasn't as good as it should have been."
Wetzler, a construction worker, was on a job. "Barry told me to calm down," Nobbe recalled. "He advised me to wait one-half hour, then climb out of the stand and go home for a couple of hours. I did exactly what he said. I quietly climbed down and walked out of the woods in the opposite direction from where the buck had run.
"I also called another friend, Ryan Ebeler, to ask if he'd help search for the buck later that afternoon. We decided to meet at 1 p.m. to begin looking."
When the two returned, they walked to where the buck had been standing when Nobbe shot it. "We found a good blood trail right away, and followed it until we lost it," Nobbe said.
The area was thick with brush and undergrowth. Nobbe said, "It was a real hairy part of the woods, difficult even for us to move in." Nobbe had his bow, which added to his troubles. He then decided to investigate a nearby logging trail because wounded deer sometimes prefer traveling through more open terrain. "I found blood right away," he said. I called to Ryan and we continued on the track down to a creek.
"That's when I heard the buck jump up in front of us," Nobbe said. "A few seconds later, I heard a crash.
"We'd covered about 100 yards when Ryan spotted the buck lying down, its head up, 40 yards in front of us. He tapped me on the shoulder, pointed and said, 'Dude, you told me it was big, but you didn't say it was that big!' I hadn't really noticed much about the antlers before, but ... holy cow!"
Nobbe had to put the big buck down. He stalked to within 30 yards where he had a clear path to its neck. As the arrow connected, the buck's reflexes took over. The animal jumped up, careened down a steep hill and crashed into every tree in his path before dropping for good. Russ shot it again, although he knew the buck had breathed his last.
"I had such a sense of gratitude and happiness it's difficult to express what I was feeling," Nobbe confided. "Touching that buck's antler was almost a religious experience. I think I now know what Ted Nugent means when he refers to the Spirit of the Wild. The feeling was so intense, so different, something I'd never before experienced."
The only fly in the ointment had come the evening before when Nobbe's girlfriend, Jill Dongon, had been less than thrilled to hear about the buck with the big drop tine. "Don't shoot it," she'd warned. "Drop tines are ugly."
Nobbe, of course, wasted no time in calling her. "Guess what I shot?" But when Jill saw the buck, she quickly changed her opinion.
Buckmasters scorer Jackie McCon-nell discovered Nobbe's count of 22 scoreable points was right on the money. Each main beam sported 11 points, including six irregular points on the left and five on the right. The rack's greatest (outside) spread was 236/8 inches; its inside spread was 21 2/8 inches. Nobbe's immense Illinois trophy's BTR composite score is 232. Its 210 6/8 BTR Irregular score positions it solidly within the top 50 all-time BTR Irregular bucks taken with compound bow.
Russ Nobbe's gratitude to his friends is ongoing. "Barry is just the best," he said. "Not only did he get me involved with hunting, he also taught me everything I know. When he finally saw the buck, he came up and hugged me. 'Good job,' he said. I think he was almost as thrilled as I was, since he was my teacher.
"Ryan dropped everything - even work - to help me find the buck and get it out of the woods. Jay Luhr, a landowner, gave us permission to follow the buck onto his farm, which I truly appreciate.
"Believe me," Nobbe concluded. "My friends and I will celebrate when the buck returns from the taxidermist."
When everything goes right, and so much could have gone wrong, is it the hand of providence or fate's fickle finger? Russ Nobbe isn't sure. He simply feels blessed to have experienced the incomparable thrill of taking a truly breathtaking trophy whitetail.