Illini West Whitetails

The Story of Pursuit

 

 

took the boys (Mitch age 10 & Cameron age 5) to the Farm in Hancock County during the second weekend of November for three reasons.  First reason: We wanted to visit with my mom and dad (Grandma & Grandpa Murphy).  My dad, Myles, was recuperating from recent neck surgery - anterior cervical fusion.  Second reason: I had promised the boys that I would take them to see the famous football dynasty that I had once led as co-captain: the Carthage Blueboys.  The game was great. The Blueboys pummeled Cambridge in the third round of the Class 1-A high school football playoffs (and continued on for the three-peat, to become the only school to win the Class 1-A Championship three years in a row).  And the final reason: I needed to spend some time in the woods to bow hunt during the absolute, best time of the year, the rut/pre-rut or just prior to the does standing.

 

On Saturday afternoon, November 11th, I hunted the Perch deer stand.  I hunted the Perch because it was late in the day (due to the football game) and because the weather was unseasonably cold.  The Perch overlooked a picked cornfield, which was providing high quality forage during this abnormally cold weather.   At 5:05, I passed on a four-pointer at twenty-five yards. There were four other deer in the field, but no slick-heads or shooter bucks within bow range (incidentally, on the first day of the 2000 shotgun season and my 40th birthday, I harvested a button-buck from the Perch).

 

On Sunday morning November 12th, I did not hunt. We all went to Mass at Saint Marys (West Point) and had a good visit with Mom & Dad. After Sunday brunch at around 1 o’clock, my brother Pat, my eldest son Mitch, and I devised a plan to rattle up a buck in the bottoms along Long Creek. We drove my truck around the property to set up near the thicket/dead-fall area adjacent the creek by the Rock Dam (My buddy George & I built the Rock Dam in 1976 as a science project “Hydroelectric Power”, during our H.S. Freshmen year). 

 

I climbed into Maple Manor stand that overhangs Long Creek near the Rock Dam, and radioed that I was ready (FRS radios are invaluable). Pat and Mitch were positioned up-wind, on the southwest side of the thicket.  We figured that the buck would respond to the rattling by moving around the thicket on the down-wind side, near me. After three mock fight series (2-3 minutes of rubbing/rattling/grunting followed by 10-15 minutes of waiting) with no respondents, we decided to try another location.  While Pat and Mitch were leaving the thicket, two bucks were seen on the hillside to the southwest.  Pat was going to take one of the bucks so we all waited.  After about 25 minutes, the bucks moved away rather than toward Pat and Mitch. We then decided to meet back at Maple Manor to discuss other options.

 

Pat wanted Mitch and I to see his new deer stand which he had positioned some 300 yards east of the Maple Manor.  Pat showed us to the area where he had hung one of his handcrafted, semi-portable, wooden stands (models still available at a discount price to the Big Buck Contestants).  Pat suitably dubbed the new deer stand the Swamp Stand.  The Swamp Stand is located in an ox-bow area of the creek bottom near a small, perennially flooded wetland. 

 

The Swamp Stand looked very promising.  There were two scraps nearby, one beneath a hedge tree and another beneath a crabapple tree along the bank of the dried-up wetland. I congratulated Pat with yet another good choice of stand location.  We made some minor adjustments to the stand including: adding a pull-up rope; and, turning the stand to face west for a better-shot angle and to avoid being silhouetted by sunrise & sunset conditions.

As we performed the adjustments, Mitch went on a scouting mission.  Mitch reported his discovery of a deer trail that connects the swamp area with the creek bottoms to the east.

 

At this point in time, we decided to move to our selected deer stands for the afternoon hunt. Pat was going to sit in Quad Stand since we had so disturbed his beloved Swamp Stand.  Mitch and I were going to hunt Mockingbird Stand.  We left Pat and were driving back around the farm when I stopped at Grandmas Lane to glass a deer that was crossing in front of the point of the pear tree draw.  The buck had heavy beams with three main stickers (not counting the brow tine) on one side and more than three on the other.  Mitch exclaimed it to be a “monster buck”!  The buck moved with a stiff-legged gate, exemplifying his eagerness to procreate. We watched in amazement as the buck walked and then trotted across the field and into the wooded draw/waterway on the southwest side of the pond

We drove on to mom and dads’ house, and then, I stepped into action.  I convinced Mitch to stay put and hold Sophie (our Weimaraner pup).  I would try to intercept the buck.  Mitch was pissed because he wanted to go with me.  I told him to this may be the only chance for us to bag his proclaimed “monster buck”. 


I grabbed my fanny pack, charcoal suit, and bow, and took-off toward the pond.  As I crossed an exposed portion of open field, I hunkered down, continuing swiftly by the cabin.  I sprinted across the dam and up to the stand site located in the southeast corner of the 10-acre field.  I donned my Scent-Lok suit as I caught my breath at the base of the Magic Stand AKA (formerly) Dam Stand.   I climbed into the stand, got out my grunt call and looked at my watch, 2:45 pm. 

 

The buck had been moving across the field in a southwest to northeast direction.  I was hoping he would continue that trend, following the contours of the natural cover located in the wooded draws and waterways lying between the pond bank and the edge of the harvested soybean field.  The buck had entered the cover on the southwest side of the pond, while I sat in ambush, waiting for him exit near the northeast side. 

 

I started with a series of three soft grunts on my tube.  I listened and heard some noise coming from the pond. I was excited, but cautioned myself to remain calm.  I waited about 5 to10 minutes and then gave another series of grunts.  This time, the noise was crunching leaves.  A squirrel? Maybe the buck!  After about 5 minutes of impatiently waiting, I gave a third series of grunts. Some animal was definitely in the woods near the pond.  I listened and watched intently.  Low and behold, out steps the buck and he is magnificent!  At this point, I would have traded my bow for a camera.  The scene was reminiscent of a Terry Redlin print you’d see at the fundraising banquets.  This massive buck is stepping out of the bush, with his head held high, ready to kick some fork-horned ass.

 

I took several deep breaths to calm myself and gather my senses.  The buck had entered the field beyond bow range, however, as he angled across the bean stubble, he closed the distance between us.  The buck would not get any closer that he was at 30 to 35 yards out.  There was nothing to obstruct a shot, so with confidence in my abilities, I committed to taking the buck.

 

I drew my bow and whistled.  He stopped, I placed the pin and released.  Just as I released, the buck began walking.  I held fast and watched through my bow as the arrow flew toward the deer.  I was sure of the hit by the flight pattern of the arrow and the reaction of the buck.  I was unsure of the hit location or whether the hit was lethal.  I watch with uncertainty as the as the buck ran in an awkward, unsynchronized gallop across the field and down into the Grassy Knoll

 

I immediately radioed Pat and began spewing out gibberish about the deer, the shot and the uncertainty involved.   As I rambled on, I settled myself down and told Pat I’d pick him up at 4:45 near Lone Oak at the edge of the cornfield.  Just as I finished talking with Pat, I notice another nice buck moving from end of the pond draw.  I didn’t concern myself with this buck, my binoculars were back in the truck and I had things on my mind.  (However, this might have been the large 8-pointer –14”-16” G-2’s, that a Carthage firemen recovered from the frozen ice of Carthage Lake #1 –adjacent to our property, sometime between the shotgun seasons.).

 

I went back to the house; changed clothes; got the flashlights; and filled the Coleman lantern.  At  4:45 pm, Mitch and I picked up Pat. We closely examined the field, marking the location of the shot and the hoof prints left by the fleeing buck.  We found no evidence of blood or my arrow.  Daylight was fading and at 5:45 pm (about 2 and a half hours after the shot), we began our pursuit.  I wanted to wait longer to begin tracking, but the boys had to get back to Springfield that night. 

 

Blood were first noticed within the Grassy Knoll about 20 yards from the field edge.  The blood trail was light but fairly consistent.  From the Grassy Knoll, the buck had moved down into the creek bottom following the established deer runs.  We followed the trail to a place where the buck had laid down.  We were excited at seeing the amount of blood at the lay-down.  But the excitement faded as the buck moved from the lay-down into thicker parts of the bottoms.  The buck was moving at an ordinary pace.  The blood trail showed no evidence of a hopelessly wounded deer, there was no swaying or staggering. 

 

Our excitement rebounded when we came upon a second lay-down along the creek itself.  At this spot, we found the arrow along with more blood.  Close examination of the arrow found it to be an older, broken-off 2216.  I was shooting 2315’s.  The only person I know that shoots 2216 sized arrows is Bwana (AKA Todd Gross).  This must have been Bwana’s arrow from the crab-claw racked buck he had mortally wounded in 1998 (skull & rack found in 1999).  We used the arrow as a mumbly-peg to mark the location of last blood. 

 

From the second lay down, the buck had got up and crossed the creek at about a 60-degree angle.  Luckily, the buck had held his course and we were able to find specks of blood the opposite creek bank.  My boots filled with icy creek water as I carried Mitch across (so that his feet would not get wet), however, the numbness in my feet was negated by the epinephrine pumping through my body. 

 

As we trailed the blood, Mitch had a revelation.  The buck was following the same trial that he had previously observed that afternoon.  How coincidental!  Mitch’s scouting information sped up our search as we leap-frogged each other along the trail.   We following the buck trail as he moved directly toward and then under the Swamp Stand.   From the Swamp Stand area, the buck moved west-northwest toward our property boundary with Coeur’s.   With the amount of blood we were seeing, we hoped that the deer would be piled up at the fence that separates the properties.  With high anxiety we approached the fence…….. But no deer. 

 

It was obvious the deer was hurting.  The buck couldn’t jump at his first confrontation with the fence.  The deer crossed the fence at a low spot.  In the barbed wire, we observed two chunks of liver entangled with a thin stringer of viscera. Without hesitation we crossed the fence and pursued onward.  Within 50 yards of where the buck had crossed, we found his third lay-down.  From the third lay-down, the buck had moved along and then across the creek. It took some time for us to find the blood trail on the opposite creek bank.

 

As the buck entering the heart of Coeur’s mature timber, tracking become extremely difficult.  It was pitch dark, and our lights were fading.  The bucks bleeding had also slowed.  With fewer blood drops and little undergrowth, our eyes were straining to the find the occasional drops in the dead leaves.  At 8:00 pm, Mitch reminded us of the time and complained of a stomachache (hunger). 

 

A fourth lay-down was found near the Central Logging Road.  The buck had rested briefly and then traveled across the logging road moving further northwest.  We continued finding scant specks of blood moving in the northwest direction.  The buck had made his way past a specific feature of Coeur’s timber, a ditch with trees growing through a junked auto. At 8:30 pm, we planted Bwana’s arrow for the last time.  Time and blood had run out.  Mitch was hungry and I had to get the boys back home to Springfield.  We hung a calumine stick above the arrow and trekked back to mom and dads’ by 9:00 pm. 

 

The two-hour ride back to Springfield was quiet, for both boys had fallen asleep.  Mitch had completed his homework before going to dreamland.   The radio droned the late Sunday evening NFL game, but my thoughts were concentrating on the events that had just transpired.  There was no deer in the back of my truck, and I felt uneasy and anxious.  I questioned whether I had taken appropriate action.  I should have waited to begin tracking until I got back to the Farm the next day. 

 

As expected, I had difficulty sleeping Sunday night.  Monday morning, November 13th, was equally frustrating.  Now, Cameron was sick and Pam could not take off work due to an important morning meeting.  I would not get back to the Farm until that afternoon.

 

On the drive back to Carthage, I racked up the minutes on my cellular phone, but managed to confirm our access to Doc Coeur’s timber.  The property west of Coeur’s is an adjacent timber owned by Bob Curtis.  I also wanted permission to search Curtis’s timber due to the proximity.  Bob Curtis had a problem giving me access since he had leased the hunting rights to Inseroth’s.   Bob Curtis gave me the phone numbers for the Inseroth’s, but I was unable to make contact with any of them. 

 

At 2:30 pm, I meet Pat, WOP and Tin-man at the north end of Coeur’s timber.  We drove in the gate and down the Central Logging Road.  Halfway down the road and to the west was the ditch with the junked auto, which marked the location of the trailhead leading the final blood spot.  The Lord was shining down upon us.  About 150 yards from the final arrow marker we found the buck.  Celebration ensued.

 

The typical eight-point buck has good mass and three deduction points (eleven total points).  The inside spread is slightly over 16 inches, while the G-2’s are 10” long and the G-3’s are 7” long.  The taxidermist has roughly scored the buck as 146 gross and 140 net. The buck is definitely from the subspecies that Stan “Stand” Komperda has appropriately dubbed Odocoileus virginanus Murphyous robustus.