Sometimes the best decision is no decision.
By Mike Handley
Photo by John Taylor
As soon as he spotted the 10-pointer, Josh Taylor suspected the beefy Illinois whitetail was not going to cooperate.
“Yet again,” grumbled the nagging voice in his cerebellum, “your refusal to move your stand closer to the big ditch is going to cost you.”
As if to prove otherwise, the 32-year-old hunter dug out his deer calls. But no amount of grunting or can-bleating — and there was a lot of it — would solicit even a glance from the buck. It was as if the animal were deaf, not to mention late ... for a very important date.
For as long as Josh’s ladder stand has been in that location, in a stretch of woods between a finger of cornfield and the deep depression often traveled by deer moving from one food source to another, he’s always debated over whether to move it closer to one or the other.
As Nov. 16, opening day of Illinois’ 2007 shotgun season, was nearing its end, Josh was kicking himself (yet again, his brain chided) for not choosing. If he’d been nearer the ditch, he’d be standing over a 150-inch 5x5.
But that’s the way a shotgunner’s gut is wrapped. All too often, stand location is chosen more for how far one can see.
Josh, who’s the eastern sales manager for a clay targets company, was hunting with his father, Dennis, that unusually warm day in Jersey County. He’d driven over from his Ohio home (six hours), while his dad lives a mere 20 minutes from the 240-acre farm for which they have permission to hunt.
2007 was the fifth year for Josh to hunt the place. He’d shot nice deer — all wearing between 150 and 170 inches of antler — in 2003, 2004 and 2005, though he’d struck out in ’06.
Things were not looking good for ’07 either. He’d seen only one doe that morning.
“It was disappointing. You get all hyped-up over opening day, and then the deer aren’t moving,” he said. “We generally go out and see at least half a dozen does and some small bucks.”
After slipping out at lunchtime for a bite to eat, he helped Dennis move his stand. Josh didn’t return to his own 12-foot ladder until almost 3:00.
An hour and a half later, he saw the 10-pointer at 125 yards, heading for the deep ditch that serves as the whitetail highway in that section of woods. It paid absolutely no attention to Josh’s urrrrps and wahhhhs.
Whether juiced over his chances of intercepting the buck or because he felt he had nothing to lose, Josh decided to get down and creep toward the ditch. He was hoping he’d see the buck again, preferably in range or at least within stalking distance.
He figured it was an easy 140- to 150-incher — not his best, but certainly a shooter in his book.
The buck was nowhere to be seen when Josh reached the drainage, so he decided to keep going toward a cut bean field, the landowner’s favorite spot. Because of chores, the man wasn’t hunting that day.
As Josh crept up to the kidney bean-shaped field, he saw the big 5x5 standing in the middle of it about 150 or 160 yards away — farther than he cared to shoot. Staying at least 10 yards inside the tree line, he skirted the field to see if he could get closer. If the buck didn’t move, he might be able to slip within 80 yards.
There was just enough time, too — about 15 or 20 minutes before legal shooting light was gone.
When Josh got into position, however, he realized the 10-pointer’s gaze was locked onto something. Turns out, it was staring at a much bigger buck and a doe about 100 yards from Josh.
“I think that doe wanted to go to the 10-pointer, which was just hanging back and waiting,” he said. “But the big one had other ideas. It was trying to push her back into the timber.”
The big buck was constantly moving, trying its best to keep the doe from getting past it. When it finally stood still at 80 yards, Josh squeezed the 20 gauge’s trigger. It was the farthest shot he’s ever taken at a deer, though the scoped shotgun was sighted-in at 100 yards.
The slug freed the doe.
Afterward, Josh walked the 500 to 600 yards back to his ladder stand, where he was to meet his father at sundown. When his dad walked up, he asked, knowing the shot had come from the farmer’s usual hunting spot, “Did you hear the farmer shoot?”
“It wasn’t the farmer,” Josh grinned. He says he couldn’t have kept a straight face if he’d tried.
“I would’ve been happy as I’ve ever been to shoot that 150-inch 10-pointer,” he admitted. “But I have to say: As soon as I laid eyes on this buck, my heartbeat probably doubled.
“I knew it was big, but I tried not to focus on its rack. I didn’t get the full appreciation until later,” he added. “Even so, when that deer hit the dirt, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs. But Dad was still hunting, and I didn’t want to mess things up for him.”
Strangely, Josh’s decision not to move his stand is why he wound up with the bruiser buck that had somehow remained invisible on that and the neighboring farms. If he’d been at the field’s edge, he wouldn’t have seen the 10-pointer that led him to the 20-pointer. If he’d been closer to the ditch, he would’ve shot the 5x5.
Hunter: Josh Taylor
Official Score: 196 4/8
Composite Score: 213 3/8
-- Reprinted from the September 2010 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.