Published by archerchick on 17 Feb 2011
PRAIRIE STATE BUCKS By John L Sloan
If you want a Record-Book Buck, You Must Hunt Where The Record Bucks Are!
STEP OUT of the bunk house. The sky is clear and starry-cold. I
listen to a minute or two of the coyote choir tuning up in the
west. The wind sings a little as it gusts briefly through the wires.
Yesterday’s deluge is over and the cold snap, clear skies and wind
should dry things quickly. Today the deer should move.
I warm quickly as I walk across the still dark, freshly combined bean field.
I watch the distant tree line to hit the right crossing for the fence, the
hedgerow and the narrow line of weeds. As I enter the lower field, sweating
slightly, I tum for the southeast comer of the picked field. There I will find the
trail crossing the dry creek. If someone hasn’t moved it again, when I top the
far bank, I’ll be exactly 45 yards from the stand in the giant, double-trunked
sycamore. It is going to be a great morning!
The trees take shape. Pike County, Illinois, complete with blackland fields,
standing corn, picked beans, woodlots and brushy draws emerges from the
negative and develops into a color print view. I wiggle my toes for warmth and
remove the bow from the hanger. The yellow hedge apple leaves float by, bordered
by oak and hickory leaves in reds and yellows, It is early autumn.
An hour passes. I am entertained by four squirrels. They are in love.
A wood-pecker does his thing. A coyote, one with only three legs, tempts
me, but stays at a distance. Then comes a deer. I’m wrong, there are
two deer — both this year’s fawns, maybe six months old. Even at that
age, they will weigh close to 80 pounds Field-dressed. I pass. After
killing a fat doe yesterday, I have two more tags and I am waiting for
a good buck.
My friend comes back. He is a sleek six-point with a death wish.
Every day he tempts me. Even when I change stands, he follows
and tempts me. Today he plays games. I call and rattle a little. He
walks around me a couple of times. Two days ago, he walked between
my pack on the ground and the base of the tree. I tried to spit snuff
juice on him.
I am in Illinois, hunting for the fourth straight year.
Every year I have seen huge bucks. Every year I pass up
deer most hunters would love to have. I see deer every
time I go to the woods — some big deer. Just two days
ago, hunting a neighboring farm, John Christian killed a
l0-point that scored 127 points and weighed 215 pounds
field-dressed. I saw one even bigger three days ago.
My hosts are Bob Cox and his partner Phil Johnson.
They run Pike County Trophy Outfitters (Dept. BA, 53
Cottonwood, Chatham, H. 62629). Located four miles
from Perry, Illinois, their land covers two square miles of
the finest deer habitat I have ever seen. Large tracts of
woods split crop fields. There are creek bottoms and ridges
and brushy draws and grassy fields. The deer seem to like
the grassy fields. The bucks come to check the does there.
I never have seen so many deer moving in the open
fields. Let me give you an idea how strong their operation
is. They take only 10 hunters per year — five the
first week of November and five the second. They span
the prime time of the rut. Their stands all are located in
proven areas and they have at least four stands for every
hunter. They charge $2,250 for a week’s hunt. If you don’t
shoot a buck, they refund you $500. That is no joke! If
you don’t shoot a buck, they write you a check for $500.
You can take it with you or apply to the next year ’s hunt.
That, my friends, is confidence.
I arrived at the hunt headquarters midday, a week too early, according
to Cox. “Most hunting around here doesn’t get started until the first of
November. It is tough with the crops still in the fields,” he said.
“It is hard for some hunters to believe how these bucks — l mean
the big ones — stay out in these open fields. I guess they learn
that shotguns and arrows aren’t going to reach out 250 yards. But
when you can see in the fields and can see the bucks in them, you
can make a better guess as to where the stands should go.
“But anyway, I’ve got 15 to 20 stands hanging now, and the
rubs and scrapes are starting to show up. Maybe we can get on a
good one. I’ve got to go pull out a beaver dam. They have a creek
backed up to where the combines can’t get across. As soon as
they get the combines across, they can pick the com.”Go, combines!
We’ll hunt this afternoon.
I turned down Bob Cox’s offer to stay in the clean farmhouse they use for their
hunters. I elected to stay at the bunk-house with Cox and a couple of his
friends who hunt adjoining property. The farmhouse is complete with hot showers,
clean bedrooms, stove, refrigerator and whatever else you need, including
television. The bunk house is, well I guess it is cozier.
Some of the land Cox and Johnson guide on is owned by Johnson. I met him
briefly as he scurried between tractors and combines and augers. When it is dry
in late October, farmers put in long days. Once the crops are harvested, they have
time to hunt. The Pope & Young record-book heads on Phil Johnson ’s wall indicate
he gets to hunt some each year. There is no doubt about it, these guys
have big deer, and they know how to hunt them.
After a brief battle with the beavers, Cox and I changed clothes and headed
for woodlines that bordered a standing cornfield. I went up a slight ridge and
climbed into a huge hickory tree. Cox uses Staghom tree stands (Dept. BA,
410 West Lincoln, Goshen, IN 46526) most of the time. I found them to be se-
cure, roomy and comfortable. Many of the trees are so big he has
to put extensions on the chains. Cox spares no effort in hanging stands. They
are high enough and there are enough steps for anybody to climb up. Each is
steady and positioned for the best shot.
I had been in the one in the hickory tree only 20 minutes when the first deer
came by. It was a big ol’ doe and two fawns. Coming from Tennessee, I have
trouble with deer that weigh 120 pounds on the hoof being called fawns. Within
minutes, a herd of 19 came by and stopped to browse on the locust beans
falling near my stand. Unfortunately, this herd was all cattle and they stayed
until dark. Deer don’t particularly mind cattle, but they aren’t going to walk right
in the middle of them if they can help it.
The next morning, Cox and I slipped into a heavily wooded creek bottom be-
fore daylight. As so often happens to me, someone moved the tree we were looking
for. Finally we found it and I settled into another Staghom stand.
As it got light enough to see — the sun always rises in the north in Illinois;
I swear it does — I almost had a cardiac! Cox had said this was a good spot.
What an understatement! From the stand I could count seven wide, deep trails,
all crossing within bow range. I also could see four rubs and two scrapes.
Before long I saw a doe and two fawns, then one unidentified deer and the six-
point that adopted me. I knew that buck wasn’t the one making the rubs and
scrapes. There was at least one big buck in this area.
As Cox and I walked out the creek bottom, he continually pointed at rubs
and scrapes and such stuff. Yes, indeed, the rut was starting to heat up.
That afternoon, I hunted from another sycamore in a dry creek bed that bordered
a field of green clover. I saw some little stuff, but the wind was howling and
swirling. On the walk out, we spooked several deer; a couple seemed pretty big
The next morning we had a cold spell with heavy frost. I suggested we try rattling
in the creek bottom. It took me awhile to find the big, double-trunked
sycamore. Someone moved it again, but I was in it before I could see to shoot.
As daylight came, so did the deer. I saw seven that morning, including one that
probably was a shooter, and my pet six-point. Cox, hunting the same bottom
from a tree 300 yards down from me, had two bucks fighting in a grass field
200 yards in front of him. We both could have killed does. A scrape near his stand
had been worked overnight.
Back at the bunkhouse, Lee Woodward, another of the hunting bud-
dies, needed some help dragging one out. Lee killed a nice eight-pointer on
some land a few miles away. We aged the deer at 2 I/2 years. He sported some
sticker points and probably weighed close to 140 pounds field—dressed.
Woodward said the deer was with 25 others, coming out of the standing com,
right at daylight.
Well, it went that way for a week. One morning, Cox watched a heavy,
high-antlered buck enter a picked com- field. The buck was 200 yards from Cox
and headed my way. By the time he got to me, he was 80 yards from my stand.
That was a shooter for sure, probably close to 150 P&Y points. Just about every
time I climbed into a stand, I had deer within shooting distance.
One morning, I rattled in two coyotes. One afternoon, I had an eight—point
in the 120-125—point class stay with me for an hour. Sometimes does joined him;
sometimes another buck would enter the scene. This was in the broad open. I
watched him make scrapes and rub everything in sight. I saw deer on the sky-
line that would make you hyperventilate. As they say in the video business, I had
lots of encounters. Then it rained. It rained all day. lt rained hard. The wind blew in gusts.
We drove to Cox’s house in Chatham, an hour away, and enjoyed a hot shower and
some hot chili. We washed clothes. I had given Cox a set of ASAT Ultimate 3-D camo
and he wouldn’t let it out of his sight. I guess he was afraid I would take it back.
On the way back to camp, the skies began to clear and the deer were everywhere.
We counted seven bucks in the fields around the hunting area — big bucks, Pope &
Young bucks. Shooters!
That was Tuesday afternoon. On Saturday, Cox and I had hung one of my Non-Typical
stands to the side of an old logging road that climbed a short ridge and ended in a green
pasture. There were seven scrapes in the road. On Saturday, there had been five.
I climbed into the stand at 4: 15 that afternoon.
Wind was from the southwest and slight. It was perfect. She came first —
a young doe fawn. She was not in heat.The six-point, a different one from my
pet, didn’t care. As with a teenage boy, he just liked the idea of having a girl
friend. The young doe demurred and walked under my stand. The buck
jumped into the logging road, looked right and rattled his hocks out of there
in a hurry. My view to his right was blocked by the top of a tree and a bend
in the road. The bend was soon filled with a nice 10-point. When he turned to
follow the doe, I released. Another miracle! I am certain my arrow went
completely through that deer. I could not have missed at…at…10 yards. No, it was
I got down and walked around in a circle some and beat on the ground
with a stick. Then I picked up my clean arrow and sucked my thumb for a few
minutes. Ido not miss shots like that. At least, I am not supposed to. I
couldn’t even come up with a good excuse; I just missed. I don’t know how
many deer I saw while I was there. It was a bunch. As I said, I killed one and
could have killed several more. I could have killed a couple small bucks and should have
killed one nice one. The trophy potential of this place is tremendous and it
will continue to grow. There are a lot of 2 1/2-year-old bucks that will be 3 1/2
With the policy of no gun hunting and only 10 hunters per year, this place is
going to be good for a long time. Stand sites get rested and every stand I hunted
was in a superb location. It is one of the few places I have hunted where I actu-
ally felt every hunter would have a real chance for a Pope & Young record buck.
I can’t wait to see what it is like with the corn out and the rut in full bore. These
are deer such as they have in Alberta, but the weather is a lot more pleasant.
It was clear and the stars were out as I listened to the end of the coyote choir.
The wind was singing in the wire around the field as I headed the truck for home.
The deer would move today, and I do not miss deer at 10 yards. Golly, what a
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