He knew the buck was big, but he had no idea just how big — until he looked over at his guide, who was trembling with excitement.
"Dude, do you know what you've just killed?" the guide asked country music artist Rhett Akins during his hunt at Timberland Outfitters in Illinois.
"No," Akins replied.
"You've just killed the biggest 8-point buck that I've ever seen," the guide replied.
The guide's comment meant a lot coming from someone who's witnessed some of the biggest bucks in the country, and Ben Plattner, owner of Timberland Outfitters, emotionally seconded that sentiment upon seeing the buck for himself.
"I was overjoyed for Rhett," Plattner says. "That deer was the most uniform and magnificent 8-pointer that I've ever seen come through my camp. When Rhett got that deer, I felt like my job was complete. I'd hung the stand in a good spot, and helping him retrieve that deer was my reward. That deer is proof of what Central Illinois has to offer."
Checkin' it out
Plattner invited Akins and Sam Klement, co-founders of the Country Goes Huntin' (CGH) charity event, to an opening-week bow hunt to show them what the great state of Illinois had to offer in hopes of hosting the first-ever CGH deer hunt.
But not even Plattner could have predicted just how impressed Akins and Klement would be after Akins harvested what may be the biggest free-roaming, 8-point buck ever shot on camera with a bow and arrow.
"We had heard great stories about Timberland Outfitters through other hunters, and I was so excited about going," Akins says. "Everyone knows that Illinois is where the big boys are."
On September 30, the guys met up with Wayne Burns of Outdoor Allstars TV for a VIP welcome party, which included all of the Illinois Game and Fish commissioners. They had a great time that night, but to their disappointment, they awoke the opening morning of the season to windy and hot conditions.
"I was only a little bit concerned," says Akins. "I was hunting in Illinois, home to some of the largest bucks in the country. I knew that they were out there, and that if I sat in the stand long enough and played my cards right that I'd hopefully have a shot at one of those big guys during the four days I had to hunt."
That morning, the hunters saw a few spikes and small bucks, but none of the big bruisers they knew were out there. At lunch, they returned to camp, where they shot their bows and picked guitars for a couple of hours. They returned to the woods at approximately 4 p.m.
"My guide and I jumped into a Bad Boy Buggy and circled a huge uncut soybean field that bordered a ridge," Akins says. "In between the ridge and field was a steep-banked creek. The woods were just loaded with white oaks that were dropping acorns. The stand faced away from the soybean field toward the woods, and we knew that if the acorns were dropping, the deer could care less about the soybeans."
At approximately 4:55 p.m., two 4-points and a doe ran in front of the stand. The two bucks continued running, but the doe stayed near the stand to feed on acorns. "The doe acted as if she knew that we were there, but didn't care," Akins says. "She even bedded down next to the stand for approximately an hour."
Then as Akins and his guide were watching the doe, a 140-class, 9-point buck appeared from the same direction as the other deer. He stopped approximately 50 yards to the right of the stand.
"Had I been hunting in Tennessee or Georgia, I probably would have harvested that buck," Akins says. "But I knew that there were bigger bucks out there. He fed on acorns for a while, then circled upwind all the way around us and ended up on our left side, which made me nervous, because the wind was blowing our scent in his direction — but he never spooked. Then a spike walked straight to our stand and stopped only 20 yards from us: It was obvious that something was making him nervous."
That something was probably the impressive 10-point buck that showed up next. The big deer was hidden behind branches, so Akins and his guide couldn't tell much about him, although they could see the kickers on his G2s. They knew he was a shooter scoring in the 150s, but they couldn't get a good look at him before he began making his way back up the hill.
"The deer started out to the left and kept going straight," Akins says. "I didn't have a shot at him, so I pulled out my grunt call to see if I could get him to turn around, or at least stop, so I could get a good look at him. He walked another 10 yards and then squatted down almost like a catcher on a baseball team. I'd never seen a deer do that before."
It didn't take long until Akins figured out why the nice-sized 10-pointer was squatting. He was cowering down to a much bigger deer. Only seconds passed before, a massive 8-point buck jumped over an old barbed wire fence approximately 70 yards away and made a beeline toward Akins' stand, most likely responding to the grunt call.
Akins knew it was a nice buck, but he had no idea just how large he was. He lifted his rangefinder to his eyes to range him, but the buck never stopped.
"The buck acted like a gobbler coming in to a call," Akins said. "He was standing only 7 yards away from the stand before I even had a chance to draw my bow. I was practically looking straight down on him. I didn't know what to do. The buck stood there, looking up at me. We just stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. I felt certain that he would blow and run off. My camera guy whispered to me, 'He's a shooter. Dude, shoot this buck!'"
Akins could tell by the intensity in his cameraman's voice that the buck was trophy size, and he didn't want to blow his chance. So when the buck put his head down and took a step, Akins drew his bow. The buck took another step, and then, apparently sensing motion, he stopped in his tracks. At that point, Akins let the arrow fly.
"There was no doubt that I'd hit him, but I'm always a skeptic about my shots," Akins says. "My guide was shaking when he asked me, 'Dude, do you know what you just killed?'"
Although Akins and his guide were dying to retrieve his deer, they decided to play it safe and wait in the stand for at least an hour. During their wait, they played the video footage back and saw that Akins did indeed make a good hit on the deer. They also had a chance to take a better look at the deer's rack and could see that it was enormous.
"My guide told me that judging from the video, the 8-pointer would definitely be a Boone & Crockett," Akins says. "So I got my phone out and sent a text message to my good friend Michael Waddell who was hunting in Kansas at the time. Using Michael's lingo, I text the message 'I just laid the smackdown on a freak nasty.' Michael was thrilled for me."
Akins then called Klement, Plattner, Burns and the rest of the guys in camp and asked them to come help retrieve the deer. Akins and his guide wanted to share the excitement with everyone. Once the group met up, they followed the blood trail and located the arrow.
"The next thing you know, we could see the horns up the hill, 50 yards away," Akins says. "Upon spotting the horns, everyone ran at a dead sprint to try to get to the deer first. When we reached him, no one could believe his size. Ben Plattner was so happy for me that he was almost in tears."
Getting the big, 280-pound deer out of the woods took everyone's help. When the hunters got the deer back to camp, they rough scored him at 163 to 165 inches.
"Everyone was telling me that I needed to mount the entire deer," Akins says. "I still didn't really know what to think. Again, I knew that he was big, but I just didn't understand how big. So, I began calling all of the hunting gurus I knew. I called Michael, David Blanton, Alex Rutledge and Kyle Hicks. I asked each of them what they would consider a big 8-pointer. They each said that 140 inches is a big 8-pointer and that 150 inches is about as big as an 8-pointer would get. I then replied, 'What would you think about a 165-inch, 8-pointer?' No one could believe that I harvested an 8-pointer that was that big. One of the guys even replied, 'There's no such thing.'"
Once Akins received confirmation from the professional hunters that he had indeed harvested a trophy buck, he was elated, especially after Waddell informed him that he'd taken his dream buck. Since then, he's been inundated with phone calls and e-mails. Everyone had heard about the deer and wants to see pictures of it.
"I actually feel a little bit guilty because I just happened to be in the right place at the right time," Akins says. "I hadn't tracked or scouted for that particular deer. I didn't even know he existed, but I'm certainly glad that the stars aligned for me that day."
Country goes huntin'
Sam Klement says he's thrilled about Akins' deer, and he's also excited about the possibility of doing the first-ever Country Goes Huntin' deer hunt at Timberland Outfitters.
The brainchild of buddies Klement and Akins, CGH was designed to bring together two Southern passions country music and hunting to make a difference in people's lives. The premise is simple: Invite the top hunting pros and country singers from around the country to come together to raise money for people less fortunate. In the past, dozens of charities benefited from this event.
"After six years of doing a turkey hunt for CGH, we feel that we're ready to branch out and do other types of hunts, and we believe that Timberland Outfitters will be the perfect place for a deer hunt," Akins says. "Those who have the opportunity to hunt at Timberland during the event are in for a real treat as Rhett quickly learned when he took his huge deer."
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