While many hunters were out of the woods, stoking their own furnaces, Jerry Fitzgerald kept to his front-row seat at the whitetail matinee.
It was straight-up 1:00 when Jerry Fitzgerald happened to glance into the alfalfa field — the last place most hunters would look during the middle of the day — to see a doe and a shooter buck step out of the trees. He could’ve easily missed their arrival, and had he not practically yelled at the buck, the two deer probably would’ve melted back into the timber.
The hunter from Missouri often reads his Bible while in a stand, and it had been less than half an hour since he’d closed it. He knew better than to let his guard down for long, even if it wasn’t the best time of day for deer movement.
“You won’t believe how many deer are shot there in the middle of the day,” he said of The Hunt Club in southern Illinois.
That wasn’t the case on the leased land Jerry used to hunt in Pike County, Ill., which was much closer to his home in St. Louis. He’d let that place go when friends convinced him to visit The Hunt Club in 2008.
There, he could easily lose track of the number of deer he sees during the standard daylight-to-dark vigils. It’s a wonder his elbow still works after raising his binoculars so many times to see if an antlered candidate is “mature,” which means at least 4 1/2 years old.
The only reason he booked an outfitter hunt was because friends were singing praises, telling him what an incredible job the owners do with their thousands of contiguous and well-managed acres.
“Because there are so many bucks, you can be selective,” Jerry said. “But when that buck and doe came out into the alfalfa last season, I didn’t have to think about it. I didn’t have to reach for my binoculars. I could tell.”
Judging from flagging put out by an earlier bowhunter, Jerry knew the deer were at least 140 yards distant. And they were not getting any closer or stopping. He couldn’t sit there and do nothing. After two attempts to get the deer’s attention by grunting, he stepped up the volume even more.
“I really let out a roar,” he said.
That did the trick. When the buck stopped to look in his direction, Jerry squeezed the scoped 12 gauge’s trigger.
This was Illinois’ second shotgun season, and there were 25 to 30 people in camp. Jerry had seen 30 or 40 bucks in two days, the biggest a 7-pointer that had to be some kind of record — so big Jerry had to wonder if its antlers were somehow fake.
On Dec. 4, one of the guys there shot a 190-incher — the same afternoon the man’s son tagged a 140-something 10-pointer. Everyone in camp was pumped.
Jerry’s chance came on Dec. 5, the third day of the Thursday-Sunday hunt. He was 13 feet up in a 3x3 box blind, sitting in a swiveling chair, along the edge of the alfalfa field. His guide had dropped him off 40 minutes before daylight. Seeing deer throughout the day helped cut the 12- to-13-degree temperature considerably.
He hunted there in 2008 as well, when he photographed rather than shot a 145-incher, one of three 140-plus-inch bucks he let walk before squeezing the trigger in ‘09.
After the shot, the buck ran even closer to him. At the second boom, the deer ran to the edge of the woods at about 115 yards, allowing Jerry a third shot before it lunged into the tree line.
Jerry found a few drops of blood at the site of the first shot. More at the second. And a lot at the third. Thirty yards into the woods, he found the buck, called the owner and began taking photos with his cell phone to send to friends. He didn’t realize he’d scored a 222-plus-incher (composite) until that night.
The deer carried about 70 more inches than his best prior to that point (a Missouri buck he’d taken with a rifle).
“It was a blessing that I didn’t really know what I was shooting at,” he chuckles.
Jerry is smitten with The Hunt Club’s land and its whitetails.
“Lord willing, I will hunt this place ‘til the day I die,” he said. “It costs only a little bit more than leasing your own land!”
— Photos courtesy of Jerry Fitzgerald
Hunter: Jerry Fitzgerald This article was published in the October 2010 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.
BTR Official Score: 201 2/8
BTR Composite Score: 222 2/8
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