By Dale Weddle
Tennessean Jason Rhoton had fallen in love with Illinois long before he got to witness the craziness of the whitetail rut in full swing. If his friends ever see a moving van in his driveway, they'll assume he's headed to the Land of Lincoln. Photo Courtesy of Jason Rhoton
With ancestors like Davy Crockett and Sgt. Alvin York, hunters from the Volunteer State can claim a pretty good bloodline when it comes to hitting what they shoot at. So what happens when a bunch of guys from Tennessee travel to Illinois when the rut is in full swing? Well, for Jason Rhoton and his friends, the trip north in the fall of 2005 was not a dull one, that's for sure.
Jason and eight friends, all Tennesseans, leased 1,200 acres of farmland there in 2002. All three farms were in Cass County. The owner leased the property to other hunters during the bow season, but Jason and his pals had exclusive use of the farms during the shotgun seasons.
"We took some pretty good bucks during the first four years, but we didn't hit the rut just right (the firearms season fell afterward) until 2005," Jason related.
The group headed north on the morning of Nov. 16, a couple of days early. The three-day season opened on Friday.
"We like to go up early and stay in a motel, to use the day before the season opens to scout around and hang stands," Jason said. "That year, the weather was in the mid-20s - perfect for hunting. David Dyer, Wayne Harper, Gene Patterson and I were going to hunt a 450-acre tract, while the rest of the guys split the other two areas.
"When we got up to hunt on Friday morning, it was a clear day with about a 5-mph wind out of the north. I rode a four-wheeler part of the way to where I wanted to hunt. We'd been hunting the area enough that I had the deer patterned. I was going to hunt from a tree where I'd taken a 9-pointer the previous year.
"After getting off the ATV, I walked about half a mile, pulling a drag rag saturated with lure. I was taking my own sweet time getting there when I bumped into two deer that blew at me. I walked down into a little ravine while they were blowing and snorting.
"I got into my stand about 20 minutes before dawn, thinking every deer in the woods knew I was there. As it got daylight, I flipped my can call, grunted, and then repeated. All of a sudden, a buck exited the woods about 140 yards away - in a field that was not part of our tract. The deer was bigger than anything I had taken, for sure.
"I grunted three more times, and that huge buck just came at me like a bull on a dead run. I shot at about 65 or 70 yards, and it went down.
"Afterward, my adrenaline level was so high that I just sat in the tree for about an hour. I knew it was a great deer, but I really didn't realize how big.
"While I waited, a tall-racked 10-pointer chased four does into the field. After they left, I got down and just dropped to my knees, whooping and hollering. Another guy heard me and thought I had fallen out of my treestand.
"David was about 1,000 yards away. I yelled at him about four times, and he finally came to help. While we were getting my deer out, a big drop-tined buck came out into the field. Wayne later shot that buck on the final day."
All in all, the nine hunters experienced a three-day hunt to call home about. But when they did, nobody believed them. Three bucks were shot Friday morning and one that afternoon; one was taken Saturday evening; two more were shot Sunday morning; and the final two hunters tagged out on Sunday afternoon.
When the shotgun smoke cleared at the close of the first season, the Tennessee hunters had a row of deer that looked like something out of an old magazine.
Jason's buck was massive. All eight circumference measurements exceeded 5 inches. The rack is a mainframe 10-pointer, helped by a second main beam on the right antler. The extra beam and its points tallied 31 3/8 inches.
Hunter: Jason Rhoton
Official Score: 190 1/8
Composite Score: 208 4/8"
-- Reprinted from the November 2007 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine