By Lisa L. Price
Six months of rehabilitating a severe shoulder injury prevented Ryan Venhaus from bowhunting this Illinois monster. But when shotgun season rolled around, all was made well.
Six bucks, all scoring between 130 and 160, had been taken on the Illinois farm in recent seasons, and Travis Venhaus' archery season 10-pointer was leading the family's 2007 Monster Buck of the Year contest. Travis and his brother, Adam, loaded it onto a four-wheeler and started back to the clubhouse.
That's when they saw the real 2007 Monster Buck of the Year.
"The deer had the largest rack they had ever seen," said Ryan Venhaus, their brother. "Adam said that when he saw the deer, his jaw dropped for several long seconds while he stood and watched it run off into the distance."
After helping Travis check-in his deer, Adam headed straight back to the woods for an afternoon hunt. But no one saw the monster again until the shotgun season, when it somehow slipped into Ryan's lap. And there's no telling how long it was lying right in front of him before he saw it.
Ryan hadn't been able to hunt the state's archery season since 2006, when he had major shoulder surgery to fix injuries stemming from pitching for his high school baseball team and weight-lifting. A damaged portion of his bicep tendon was removed and a screw inserted into his shoulder to hold the tendon in place. A doctor also shaved four centimeters from Ryan's clavicle and cleaned up bone spurs and cysts in his shoulder area.
"I had six long months of rehab and am hoping to give bowhunting a try this year, if my shoulder holds up," Ryan said. "Since I can only hunt the shotgun season, I might hunt only for three days while they (his family) hunt throughout the entire hunting season."
Ryan and seven family members - brothers Adam and Travis, grandfather Elmer Venhaus, uncles Larry Blaney and Brad Ritzheimer, and cousins Mark Wessell and Chad Gall - hunt the nearly 100 acres in Illinois' St. Clair County. Dave Venhaus, father to the three brothers, had hunted the property for about 20 years before he passed away in 2005.
"He is the one who got us started on hunting about 16 or so years ago," Ryan said. "He always wanted to see us boys shoot the big deer and would actually pass on bucks, hoping they would walk by our stands."
Ryan thought he was going to have a no-hitter on Nov. 16, 2007. Before the game was called, however, he put a slug in the pocket - two in fact - and earned bragging rights among the Venhaus clan.
Or magically appear by their stands, in Ryan's case.
On Nov. 16, 2007, Ryan was hunting from a 15-foot-high ladder stand near a creek where he'd taken an 8-pointer the previous year.
"My brothers picked me up around 5 a.m., and I ended up sleeping the whole drive there - because my excitement the night before didn't allow me to catch too many winks," Ryan said. "I arrived in my stand a little before 6:00 and dozed off until the sun rose."
Just after sunrise, he heard a deer approaching and saw an 8-pointer trotting his way.
"I had to react quickly because I was going to get only one opportunity to get a shot off when the deer passed my shooting lane," Ryan said. "The shot was about 70 yards with the deer trotting through the timber.
"Once I got the chance, I fired and the deer stopped in its tracks, dropped its tail down and took off running," he continued. "I thought for sure I'd put a good shot on the animal, and sat in my stand for an hour thinking I had a buck down."
But when he searched the area, he found nothing but hair.
"I became fairly discouraged and went home to take a break before the afternoon hunt," he said. "My brothers and I all rode back together to grab some lunch and a little rest."
Back in the same stand, Ryan saw no deer for hours during the warm and windy afternoon.
"My hopes of getting one were diminishing by the minute," he said. "The sun was beginning to set so I decided the hunt was lost. I'd decided to get out of my stand early and pick up my brothers."
Ryan ejected the shells from his shotgun, and as he slipped them into his pocket spotted a doe out of the corner of his eye.
"I must have spooked her a little while I was unloading the shells. She saw me and took off," he said. "I looked a little closer and could make out the antlers of another deer lying in the brush. I couldn't see the entire body, but the rack alone made me realize that it was a monster."
With the deer lying just 50 yards away, Ryan slowly slipped a shell into the gun, but when he closed the chamber, the noise startled the buck. As quickly as possible, Ryan took aim.
"Wouldn't you know the safety was still on?" he said. "I hastily aimed for the second time and slowly pulled the trigger, knocking the deer down."
The buck still moved in the brush, trying to get up, so Ryan loaded another shell and took a second shot, then waited in his stand for about 30 minutes.
"By that time, my brothers were at my stand, and all three of us walked over and saw the full body and rack of the animal for the first time," he said. "My brothers were so excited for me and couldn't believe their eyes. I was soaking up the joy and excitement.
"But to put things in true perspective, I'd rather one of my brothers had shot the deer instead of me," Ryan said. "They are the diehard hunters. It would have meant more to me if one of them had harvested the deer.
"The number one thing that I wish I could change would have been for my dad to have been there to see this animal," Ryan added. "He's the one who taught my brothers and me everything we know about hunting. If it weren't for him, I would have never been out there."
Hunter: Ryan Venhaus
Official Score: 223 1/8"
Composite Score: 240 6/8"
-- Reprinted from the October 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine