By Roger Roan
-- This was the last time I'd be able to hunt this area this season, I told my hunting buddy Jesse Purcell as we were pulling the stands in an Illinois river bottom. The chain from my stand slipped from my cold fingers and hit crusty, frozen December ground. Jesse only said, "You shouldn't have done that."
Though I couldn't see the buck, Jesse assured me there was a shooter about 100 yards from us.
The wind was in our favor, and the buck did not move from the frosted honeysuckle bush on which it was browsing. If I had to critique myself, getting out of the stand too early on morning hunts has cost me more trophy bucks than any other hunting error. But the stiff December wind that brought me down from my morning stand was about to become my best asset.
Jesse's doe bleats held the buck's attention, and for the first time, I could see the rack and more points than I dared count. After closing the distance to 60 yards, I realized the buck was on the other side of the river running bank to bank from the melting snow. If all coffeeshop hunting stories were true, 60 yards is an easy bow shot, but it was a bit far for me to feel good about taking.
I knew I needed to get closer or this would be another "he got away" story. No way. That buck was swimming that river for what sounded like a doe on the other side when it had three or four on his side already. I had to close the distance another 20 yards before my hunting ethics and my personal bow range would allow me to shoot.
God must have known that one day His giant cottonwood tree growing at the river's edge would hide me from the buck's view because I thanked Him for putting it there with every step I took.
The shot would be 40 yards and bank to bank as I took one peek to see if the buck was still broadside to me. Getting the 40-yard pin on my bow behind the shoulder of the buck was now the only task left, but I knew it can be the longest mile in any hunt. I drew my bow from behind the giant cottonwood and leaned out to find the sweet spot as the buck's head went down.
I believe only a bowhunter can truly appreciate what happened next.
My arrow centered the vitals and passed through as if the buck was made of smoke. The arrow cracked loudly as it hit an ash tree on the off side of the buck. That nothing-but-net feeling came over me. It became obvious in a microsecond that the big buck thought the hunter was on his side of the river as it spun and jumped into the swollen icy water. The buck's awesome power did not appear diminished, although I knew my arrow was well placed. It was amazing to watch the buck power its way headlong into the strong current.
Bowhunting from the ground has no equal when it comes to being in tune with your quarry. I could feel and see in the buck's eyes that its worst nightmares were realized when I stood from behind the cottonwood and nocked another arrow. Although my first shot was fatal, my second arrow also found its mark, adding a swirl of crimson to the river's flow-the first evidence the mighty buck was not just a dream.
My third arrow was on the string and at full draw as the buck jumped up the 10-foot bank and headed for thick cover. All of my pins were on the white end of the unstoppable trophy when I heard Jesse yelling, "Don't shoot unless you want more holes!"
The buck went down inside the frame of my pin guard with me still at full draw. Only when the buck's rack was in my hands did I realize this was not a dream and the ground level confrontation was over. I am so glad Jesse was with me that day because no one would have believed my story without a witness and I wouldn't blame them.
-- Roger Roan
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