The entire hunting camp — 11 hunters and six guides — huddles around the small TV screen, all attention on the playback monitor.
Outfitter Dale Carter had been on stand with a cameraman in hopes of arrowing a buck on video, and his afternoon in the tree had proved rather exciting.
This was late October, the start of rut activity in Pike County, Ill. Carter had witnessed a great deal of deer chasing around his creek-edge stand set. When a hot doe ran under his tree, Carter seized his bow. Then into the video frame flashes a beautiful 9-point river buck.
It's full rut video documentation as the buck bounded hot on the trail of the doe. Using his grunt tube, Carter called soft, then loud, then screamed into the tube until the animal stopped in his tracks. Click here for this video
The bow string slammed home.
The buck was a mere 12 steps from Carter's tree as the razor-tipped shaft pounded the kill zone. Mule kicking, the buck raced off into the creek bottom as the camera panned back to Carter.
With the camera lens back on him, a huge grin comes to Carter's face. The camp members sound out a cheerful roar as they relive Carter's hunt.
Just a glance at Carter, and it's obvious how proud he is of his hunt. And rightfully so. Shooting a Pope and Young whitetail buck is a feat in itself, not to mention capturing it on video. The tape is quickly rewound to review again.
Few places in North America boast the trophy buck potential of Pike County, Ill. The county is located between the large Illinois River and the mighty Mississippi, two enormous drainages isolating this monster buck habitat.
Pike County's hills and thick forests merge with crop fields and streams that crisscross this famous Midwestern big buck honey hole. There the undulating landscape, with its abundant security cover and wind currents to alert bucks of danger, favors older buck populations.
Carter's Hunting Lodge specializes in rut hunts, with archery tackle only. The 12,000 acres and 175 stand sites have produced many bucks over the benchmark Boone and Crockett 170-inch score. Implementing a strict 140-inch or better policy allowed bucks roaming the river bottoms on Carter's land to grow to 4 1/2 years and older. That age that puts the genetically rich Whitetail racks into the 150 class — a thrill for every hunter who sits one of their pinch point 25-foot stand sets.
On a recent trip there, I was in camp for five days of a six-day hunt — without taking the bow off the rack. Pike County is no place to shoot a 130-inch buck and I am holding out to the end, despite having seen several borderline shooters. Trophy deer instincts urge the big rackers to work the side hill trails and hidden thickets, not to mention tending scrape lines and doe in the cover of darkness. It's these secretive bucks the hunter never knows about: bucks which are rarely seen and sift back into the thick brush without a sound.
The final day of my hunt, I selected a stand in a deep ravine that bordered bedding thickets. My thinking was that the stand guarded a stream trail that connected two bedding areas, and that a bruiser might work the security of the brushy valley at mid-morning — checking for does in both bedrooms.
Getting into the stand via the back door meant a 3:30 a.m. wake-up alarm and mile-long walk in the dark, with camera gear. We wanted to set up in pitch black before the deer left the feeding fields on top for the security of the thicket.
I checked my watch — 5:20 a.m. — as my cameraman made his final adjustments. Our tree stand perch fell silent. The morning was cool, and a heavy fog congealed around us. As the sun rose, it burned off the dense cloud. And to my amazement, not 125 yards from our treestand position, there lay a big bedded buck.
Through binoculars he looked to be a good 150 class with non-typical antlers and a massive body. Looking and listening as the whitetail deer lie perched out of bow range, my mind raced, struggling for a strategy. I popped the grunt tube with short grunts, increasing volume until the buck's ears perked.
The brute simply looked my direction. I decide to play a patience game, but continued to tease him with soft buck grunts every few minutes.
A full 45 minutes passed before the Pike County buck arose from its bedded position and began to trail towards us. Staying just out of bow range, the whitetail deer walked in nearly a circle, almost as if he was searching for the earlier grunts yet remained cautious enough to keep his distance.
The buck narrowed in, almost circling the tree. When his distance closed to 35 yards, I pulled my bow string back. My heart pounded as the buck stopped with a tree hiding its vitals from my view. The brute held his ground as if attempting to tease me. At full draw, I had no shot.
Finally, the buck angled away from me and broke cover into a small clearing. After a full minute of holding the raw power of the bow, I settled my straining grip, planted the pin on the vitals and touched the release. Click here for this video
The arrow left the bow in slow motion and traveled in a perfect arc to the buck's quartered away position.
Burying in to the fletching, the arrow supercharged the big buck. He kicked and began a short burst away to expire.
Watching from my treestand perch as the buck fell was a testament to modern archery tackle and to a well-placed shot. The buck was a dandy, a 14-point, non-typical, heavy tined buck with a peculiar crooked snout. As a bow hunt for whitetail, this is one of my most memorable: an exciting hunt when at one moment I had a shot and the next moment — none at all. It was an on-again, off-again ride in the tree stand and a hunt I'll never forget.
Pike County Bucks Video 1
Pike County Bucks Video 2
The episode of "Advantage Adventures" depicting this hunt will air on ESPN2 in November. For more information on the show, visit the ESPNOutdoors.com TV page or tommiranda.com.