Updated: Mar 17, 2021
January 1st, 2021... day one of distancing ourselves from the memory of a challenging 2020. A nasty ice storm had passed through the night before and with nothing else to do I decided to check trail cameras to see if my number one target buck for 2021 was still around. Turns out he was... however not exactly in the condition I had hoped for.
November 2020... The buck I had been hunting my entire "rutcation" was at 15 yards. After a couple years of trail camera pictures, I thought he was finally mature enough for me to try and put a tag on him. This was the moment I had been waiting for. However, it was fifteen minutes past shooting light and the only thing I could do was watch him through binoculars as he frantically searched for his missing mate, grunting every few steps. Despite the lack of light, my binoculars were able to give me a decent look. Without the distraction of needing to grab my bow and fill a tag, I was able to give him an honest assessment. After watching the reunited couple clear the ridge opposite my escape route, I climbed down and headed to the truck. On the drive home I played it back in my head several times and eventually came to the decision that he would benefit from one more year of growth to show his full potential. So, I decided to call the hunt for "3g" off and move on to another property and another animal. That would be the last time I laid eyes on the up and comer, alive.
Back to January 2021... Bow season had been more special than I imagined it would be. Two buck tags were filled, both on film, and over 300 inches of antler was at the taxidermist. Over the past month I had reveled in my blessings and spent my free weekends watching football, working around the house and occasionally escaping to the freedom of the timber with hopes of filming a friend kill a big deer. Albeit, with no luck... sorry Trevor. Thanksgiving and Christmas had come and gone. A brief experience with covid 19 quarantine was becoming a memory and it was time to ring in the new year with new vigor. After barely making it to the ball drop, I was sound asleep and awoke the next morning to a quarter inch of ice. My dad and I would not be making our annual New Year motorcycle ride with this weather. So, I decided to skate the four wheeler out and check my cameras and see if ol' 3g had survived the volley of lead known as Illinois gun season. I pulled the first card to find 800 pictures. Good news! The deer were obviously loving the plots I had planted to aid them through winter. I was eagerly approaching camera two when a patch of deer hair caught my eye. I backed up to see if I could find the unlucky donor. Immediately, my eyes locked on antlers and without a second thought I knew it was him. He was clean to the bone, antlers still intact, and only a few yards from the edge of the plot that I assumed he would be frequenting. I walked up to him and immediately pulled out my camera. Stalactites of ice hung from his antlers from the storm the night before. It was an unfortunate sight but a beautiful one. I proceeded to take pictures as my mind wandered through the scenarios that caused his premature death. Was it an errant shot from an unlucky hunter? It surely wasn't starvation with all of the available food in the area and a lack of snow. Maybe he had been in a bad fight. No matter what it was, his story would end here.
I sent a snapchat to some hunting buddies, breaking the news. I knew they would agree that it was too bad, he had a load of potential. I let it sink in that the chase to match wits with this brute would not continue. I smiled. The allure of witnessing an absolute giant whitetail, in his natural environment, come by a stand that you have placed in anticipation of his routine is second to none. This would not happen. However, I had stories to share and memories burned into my brain from previous close encounters. Now this beautifully rare photo opportunity and his antlers would be a tribute. They would be a reminder of a past life and a moment in time. This deer grew up in the same timber that I did. He died, as all living things do... and proved once again that no matter how much you fight it... nature always prevails.
PHOTO GEAR USED ON THIS TRIP-