Well, the grind is coming to an end. We plan all year for the months of October- December, and oh boy, has it been unique in many ways. The first problem we ran into was the shocking lack of deer movement. It seemed like every time the weekend rolled around, or I had a few days off to spend in the deer stand it was 40 plus degrees. Usually, the weather doesn’t stay this consistently warm, and it seemed to take an annoying toll our deer movement. After I came back from Missouri, I concentrated on deer hunting in the swamp of Central Illinois. Often, right after Halloween, the deer start moving more during daylight hours. This year, my cameras were telling me that trend wouldn’t be making an appearance.
The first shotgun season was dedicated to Ella. This was her first-year shotgun hunting so I was excited for her to join me on this adventure. Of course, she wasn’t going to miss a day of school, so we planned to be out on Saturday. Saturday morning had me as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. I absolutely cherish the time I can spend in the woods with my daughter. I know she is growing up way too fast and my worries are that once she goes to college these opportunities may not be possible. She is a very dedicated young lady, and her schoolwork and future are very important to her. I have been trying for years to get her hooked on deer hunting and, in all honesty, I don’t believe I have been very successful. It seems she does it to spend time with her old dad and I am totally ok with that.
Unfortunately, Ella and I have spent several Saturdays in the deer stand and up to this point; we have seen one small deer all season. It’s hard to keep the kids interested when you just don’t see any game. We sat in our blind until about 10:00am. I glanced over to see how Ella was doing and soon realized she was losing interest. It was time to go get some breakfast and hope for a better result in the afternoon.
After breakfast we headed home to take a nap. After a couple of hours at home we headed back out to the stand, and we ended with the same result. We didn’t even see a deer in the afternoon. I knew she was discouraged. Heck, I was too. After spending many hours in the stand all I really wanted was for Ella to fill a tag and fill the freezer. It didn’t matter the size. We weren’t going to shoot Bambi but everything else better look out. This unfortunately would be Ella’s last hunt of the season. After so many times out and not seeing anything, she seemed to be over it. The kids today need instant gratification and it’s something that just doesn’t happen that often while deer hunting.
With Ella seemingly done for the season I turned my attention to trying to get some meat for the freezer. I hunted a couple of days the week after gun season and just didn’t see a thing.
With Thanksgiving closing quickly it was time for me to step away from hunting for a week or so until second shotgun season arrived. My son Gabe was back from California, so I was more concerned about spending time with him than worrying about chasing big Luey. One of the things that made me so happy was when I asked Gabe; what would he like to do while he was back from California? To my surprise, it was to go deer hunting with me. To say I didn’t shed a tear was a lie. Gabe hunted a few shotgun seasons with me but he was always more worried about hanging with friends so I really didn’t think he would be a hunter. We planned to head out on Friday of second shotgun season. Thursday was going to be warm and windy so I thought our best chance would be Friday or Saturday.
As my alarm started screaming on Friday morning, I woke up to see Gabe already up and putting his hunting clothes on. I thought to myself things have changed a little bit. I used to have to get him up three or four times before he would actually roll off the bed and start moving. This time he was ready to hit the woods. After our short drive we headed to the blind. As we sat there watching the sunrise I couldn’t stop smiling. I love having my kids with me in the outdoors, but I have never been one to force them to go. I tried to ask them every week if they wanted to go hunting with me and if they said yes great if they said no, I would just say maybe next time. I have never wanted to push them to be an outdoorsman. It’s something that you either want to become or you don’t. It seems maybe this has worked a little bit. My daughter Payton used to go with us to Wisconsin and she never seemed to really enjoy fishing or the outdoors, so I never pushed it on her. Now every time she comes home one of the first things, she says is can we go fishing. So, when she comes home, I always leave some time to spend on the lake or river.
As the second shotgun season come to an end, I was kind of over hunting in Illinois the rest of the year. We just don’t have the same population we once had. It seems every year CWD hits our herd. If a deer is three years old, it seems to disappear in August, and if you follow the water source you will always find a dead deer or two. You can watch a nice buck grow all spring and summer than they disappear in late August into early September. For a few years, I thought they just moved out of the area at that time but now after more research we seem to find them floating in the creek. I kind of knew this was happening again this year when a friend of mine sent me a text of a beautiful 14-point buck that was found on the creek bed near our property. That was a sign that if there is one there will probably be many more.
It seems the only chance you have at harvesting a mature deer is during the rut when the bucks start cruising our thickets for does, but that didn’t happen at all during the day this year. Almost all activity on our cameras has been at night. We kept thinking once it gets cold, we will see a few more deer during the day. As I sit here its 65 degrees outside on December 15th. The cold fronts never really came during the rut, so we just didn’t witness any rut activity at all on our property. I am sure it was there when we were.
There is one thing that is absolutely firing me up. We have this disease in our deer herd, and we can’t do anything about it. I know dang well that we could create an antibiotic or something to help give our deer herd so they can thrive once again in this great state. There is no reason that with all the science and technology we have that they can’t develop a food to feed the deer that will help fight this disease. Of course, then they would have to change the laws and allow us to feed this to the deer. Hunters are all about being conservationists. Why not allow us to spend the money on feed and allow us to feed our deer, in order to make them healthy. I know this won’t happen for the simple fact there is no way insurance companies would allow it. They would fight tooth and nail not to allow us to grow our herd again. The number of deer vehicles accidents have been on the decline and that is exactly what the insurance companies want. I just wish there was a way to help our herd; I am afraid with the deer populations dwindling, so will the number of hunters that pursue them. Hunting licenses and fees help many conservation efforts, and as it declines so will our ability to help.
As our deer season has dwindled down, it is time to start getting rid of the beavers and coyotes. Over the last couple of years, we have tried to do this on our own. The problem is we don’t have the time to run traps day after day. If you can only run traps on the weekend than those traps sit idle all week. We finally decided, as a group, to find someone to start getting rid of all the beavers, coyotes, muskrats, raccoons and anything else that have become a nuisance. Luckily, after joining a trapper’s group on Facebook, I was able to find a young man who goes to Bradley University who has been trapping for the last five years ands was looking for some ground in our area. It worked out perfectly. We handed over all our traps so someone would get some use out of them. I am excited to see how his season goes. We have consistently seen a group of five coyotes that seem to be everywhere on those 160 acres. Hopefully with his help we can finally control the coyote population. I am extremely proud that we are able to help a young trapper with some property.
Just as I thought my deer season was coming to an end I get a call from my sisters boyfriend asking if I wanted to go back to Missouri for a weekend. You can imagine my response. What day and time to you want to leave? He says how about noon on Friday. I said I will pick you up.
Friday afternoon arrived and we were off to Missouri. We had such a great experience over there, just a month ago, so I was excited to see how it was after the rut. We arrived and unloaded our gear than headed out to scout. There is a very large hill that over looks the valley, and you can see for a long way, so we set up there waiting to see if anything came to the fields. As we rolled around, we saw a few different does and one, really nice buck. We headed back for dinner and to set up our game plan. We only have two days, so we have to make it count. As Saturday morning arrived, we loaded up and were off to our stands. I thought about going to a couple of other places, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave the stand I saw all those deer at in early November. The wind was brisk and for the first time in a week I could see my breath. Temperature was 30 degrees with a real feel of 14. The wind was only going to get stronger as the day went on, but that didn’t dampen my spirits. The first hour passes with little more than a few squirrels rustling around. Then I hear a hen turkey talking behind me. As I watch her walk up the back of the stand just talking away, I hear another hen talking back. They both were heading towards each other, I assumed to meet up and then they walked right by each other and went in opposite directions. It kept me entertained for a while.
Soon, after the turkeys were off in the distance, I could see some movement from the woods in front of me. I swear, if I would have taken a picture, you could have seen the age differences in these deer. The first yearling walks out, then a second yearling. Next comes a 1 ½ year old doe and then one a little bigger that was 2 ½ to 3 ½ years. I sat there still as they were only 20 yards from me and directly down wind. They didn’t seem to care about me at all. I thought to myself maybe the big boy will come strolling through checking on these girls. As I was thinking this, I could see a bigger bodied deer coming through the woods. With the light partially in the woods it was making it hard to make out if it was a doe or buck, so I readied the crossbow just in case. As the deer broke out into the open field, I could see it was a very nice doe. I really didn’t have a desire to shoot her so I just watched as she came into the field. She soon caught my wind and looked directly at me. She couldn’t figure me out, so she bounced away about 40 yards and the younger girls followed. I watched these does go about 100 yards to my left and into a section of timber. Then, all of the sudden they are running out of the woods and out into a wide-open bean field. Once stopping in the middle, they wondered to the other timber and as soon as they arrived at the timber they bolted once again. The big doe was as skiddish as any deer I have ever watched. If something spooked her at all she was running. The little ones didn’t have a care in the world, but they followed everything she did. It was a nice day in the woods, and I was just glad to see some deer.
The rest of the trip I saw a couple of deer. Marc on the other hand found a honey hole. He saw 23 deer in two days and at least four deer over 140”. Unfortunately, all the deer seemed to stay out there at 70-80 yards and didn’t present a spot. I am very excited for the opportunity to go next year. After hunting this property for a couple of weekends we have learned how the deer travel. Now it will be up to us to place the stands in the right location and hopefully next year we both will find a giant.
Until next month. May your sunrises and sunsets be magical!