The exciting events of the 2005 archery season are still lingering in my mind as I write this piece, and as crazy as it sounds, I suddenly find myself preparing for and eagerly counting down the days to the dawn of yet another year of Chasin' Trophy Whitetails.
It's amazing just how fast time flies when you're not paying attention. Somewhere between April and August I lost all track of time. I guess you can say that I got helplessly stuck on that wild ride we all call "Life."
There were family and work commitments, birthdays, business ventures, anniversaries and similar obligations that kept me on my toes throughout the spring and summer. Yet, with all of that going on, it seems like it was only yesterday when I was sitting at home in the middle of the cabin-fever-inducing month of March wishing for just one more minute in the deer woods. And now, as if by divine intervention, the Dog Days of August are nearing their end, and summer will soon give way to the glorious beginning of fall.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. Life is life, and it will never change, but it's time to slow things down for awhile and smell the buck lure. As it happens, I'm in luck. For in less than 10 days I'll be perched in one of my favorite tree stands patiently waiting and watching for Mr. Big to show himself during legal shooting hours. I do possess a fair amount of patience, but I must admit that I'm getting a little antsy with anticipation. In fact, according to my wife, my eyes are starting to glaze over at the mere thought of it all. Believe me, after only one year of wedded bliss it's a look my wife has now come to recognize and know very well -- she thinks it has something to do with the buck lure, but I'll never admit to it!
Last bow season was quite a learning experience for me. I began writing for Bowhunting.Net on a regular basis and started documenting my experiences for their Online Hunt segments. As a result I traveled thousands of miles, experienced some extreme highs and extreme lows, got more than my fair share of deer pellets kicked in my face and managed to take at least one decent buck for my efforts. (See: Peters Hunts Honey Creek Outfitters). It was all a little overwhelming to say the least, but the knowledge I gleaned from the trials and tribulations of last bow season is, to me, priceless. Hopefully I'll be able to use some of that newfound "wisdom" to my advantage this fall.
I'll be hunting with Kevin Harris of Honey Creek Outfitters for the second year in a row and look forward to matching wits and butting heads with the bruiser bucks of northern Missouri again. Kevin has some awesome ground with a good number of big bucks that call his area home.
For the past two seasons, this section of Missouri -- along with many other areas in the State that are governed by the Missouri Department of Conservation -- has endorsed a 4-point rule order (a buck must have four legal-sized, one-inch points on at least one side of his rack to be considered fair game), which is really starting to have a positive impact on rack size and the overall number of quality bucks that are turning up. Early scouting reports from Kevin confirm this to be the case in his area as well. I can't wait. It should be an exciting hunt!
My list of must-hunt hotspots for this year also includes Illinois and Nebraska.
It's no secret that west-central Illinois is famous for producing monster whitetails. For the past decade this area of the state has received more attention from trophy whitetail bowhunters than perhaps any other place in the world, and for good reason. Some truly huge bucks reside in this area, and each year several of them fall to a well-placed arrow -- the likes of which simply boggle the mind. One can only imagine -- I like to call it helpless daydreaming myself -- just how many big bucks roam the vast, corn-studded prairies that predominate in this region. I'd be willing to venture a guess that the actual numbers would be quite impressive.
As could be expected, my level of excitement topped the charts last fall after securing a highly-coveted, nonresident archery tag for Illinois. (I experienced a thrilling case of Déjà vu just a few days ago after receiving my 2006 buck tag in the mail). Although the tag permitted me to legally harvest a buck throughout the entire state, I focused my attention on, you guessed it: the west-central region. Given the high regard I held for my license status at the time, I soon scheduled a week-long bow hunt in this big buck paradise with an outfitter who convinced me that he was on the up-and-up. However, my excitement quickly turned to overwhelming despair soon after arriving at his camp.
The first indication that something was amiss came when I made the ominous discovery of several pickup trucks and fifth-wheels sporting out-of-state license plates in the driveway. I was supposed to be one of only two people in camp that week, but by the looks of things it appeared as if the circus was in town and I was the only one who didn't get the memo.
The longer I stayed, the worse things became. On my way inside the lodge, I met several individuals who clearly appeared to be bowhunting clients rather than guides, and several others who looked more like saloon patrons than staff members. The last straw came when the outfitter introduced me to one of his guides. The guide asked me where I wanted to hunt, and I confidently requested a stand site that no one had hunted up until now. A goofy smile swept across his face, and then he just stared at me like I was completely insane -- not a good sign by any means. Needless to say, it only took me another 30 minutes in the smoke-filled, bar-like confines of that nightmarish hellhole to make the decision to leave.
After driving close to 400 miles from my home in Springfield, Missouri, and investing a good amount of time on the road and money for a tag, gas and a license, you can imagine just how bad the situation must have been to force me to leave. However, once I made the decision to leave, I made a Geronimo-like mad dash for the door and sent a rooster tail of gravel flying in all directions. I immediately called my wife on the cell phone to tell her the bad news. With a severe case of complete disgust infecting my thought process, I was about to give up on the trip altogether and cut my losses, but she suggested that I should come up with an alternate plan to try and salvage an otherwise lost cause.
By mere chance, Michelle found several telephone numbers of outfitters in the area I had planned on hunting and then advised me to start calling to see if I could turn things around. After frantically dialing one number after another, I finally found an outfit that was worth my time. As luck would have it, I was able to set up a meeting the very next day with Illinois outfitting partners, John Konen and Greg Lompart of Swan Creek Outfitters.
Although I didn't get a chance to hunt with them during the '05 season, I had seen enough of their property while visiting with John and Greg to warrant a return visit. Without a second of hesitation, I quickly made arrangements to come back for a post-season get-together the following spring to do some serious scouting.
After waiting out the final stages of winter, I returned to the Swan Creek lease and soon discovered why this place is so special. An abundance of huge rubs and scrapes were highly visible, dotting the landscape from one end to the other. In addition, there were many well-pronounced deer trails that crisscrossed the property in nearly every direction -- not to mention the fully-intact, matched set of shed antlers that John found on a trampled deer run. As a typically-framed, eight-point rack, the antlers would easily score somewhere in the high 140s -- a trophy in anyone's book, including mine. The sign we found this past spring was nothing short of incredible, and you will have exclusive front row seats to the show as I will be highlighting the outcome of our scouting mission later this fall on Bowhunting.Net's Online Hunts.
My last, but certainly not least, destination of anticipation will take me to the fertile farm ground and funnel-producing woodlots of southeastern Nebraska. I'll be hunting a deer-rich piece of private property that I've been hunting for the past two years. I came close to harvesting a tall-tined, 140-class buck on this farm in 2004, but luck happened to be on his side at that time, not mine. Apparently the stars didn't line up just quite right to produce a shot opportunity. At one point I had him within 25 yards on three separate occasions, on the same day, and wasn't able to get off a shot. But I suppose that's why we all keep coming back for more, year after year -- the prospect of that one special day when everything goes just right; when the stars perfectly align and we end up following a healthy blood trail to its end and claim the trophy of our dreams.
Those who share my passion for bowhunting trophy whitetails will appreciate the spellbinding fixation that these special animals incite and inflict on us all. And, I'm sure most of you will agree that it doesn't get much better than to harvest a big buck after a well-laid plan comes together in our never-ending, and oftentimes, obsession-inducing pursuit of Chasin' Trophy Whitetails with archery equipment.
Until this fall…
Take care and Good Hunting!
Steve would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank the following sponsors for helping support his bowhunting endeavors this year: