Travis Cockburn winced whenever he heard a gunshot during last November’s firearms season in Illinois. He, his brother and father weren’t the only hunters in Williamson County who knew a very large buck was hanging around their 80-acre hunting spot near Johnston City.
The Cockburns knew because Trent, Travis’ brother, had decided to set out a couple of Wildgame Innovations cameras that summer. And the giant non-typical, in velvet, had wandered in front of both.
Travis’ son, Caden, nicknamed it Ginormica.
“That first time … My brother called to tell me he had a (photo of a) book buck on trail camera. What he didn’t tell me was that it was easily the biggest deer we had ever seen!” Travis said, adding that the largest any of them had taken there to that point (Trent’s) wore 145 inches of antler.
The bodacious and nocturnal buck was thrice photographed, always between 2:00 and 4 a.m. The last image came on Sept. 1.
Unbeknownst to the Cockburns, the deer spent the next three weeks on the adjacent farm, where the neighbor’s trail cam photographed it 30 times.
After not seeing the buck in the flesh or on a camera during the first six weeks of bow season, Travis’ hopes began to dwindle. He was sure someone would shoot the giant deer when the gun season opened.
“Five other guys were hunting within half a mile of me that weekend,” he said. “I was afraid one of them would get it.”
When nobody did, the Cockburns figured the buck had taken up residence within a nearby sanctuary.
“The consensus was that the buck had been pushed onto neighboring property where hunting isn’t allowed,” Travis said. “It made sense that a mature deer that wily would respond in such a way to that much pressure.”
Travis went to the woods on Nov. 27, a Sunday afternoon, ever hopeful, but with little confidence the bruiser would appear.
“I saw only a bobcat until around 4:15,” he said. “And then I spotted something off to the side and turned to see this freak slipping down the creek, knee deep in water. In the span of 15 seconds, he was broadside to me at 18 yards.
“I drew, bleated and squeezed the release’s trigger,” he added. “Fortunately for me, the arrow found the mark. It all happened so fast, I didn’t have time to become unhinged.
“As the deer ran out of sight at 40 yards, I sent out a text saying, ‘I just shot the giant!’ For the next hour, I sat tight in my stand, texting and fighting off the urge to puke from excitement.
“Four hours later, we returned to find a great blood trail and a behemoth lying at the end of it,” Travis said.
“The speed at which word spread was ridiculous. Some guy walked into my office two days later with the exact trail camera pictures,” Travis continued. “He said he got them from a buddy in the next state!
“We still aren’t sure how that happened because, as far as we know, fewer than six guys had them.”
Editor’s Note: Want to read more tales about the world’s greatest whitetails? Subscribe to Rack magazine by calling 1-800-240-3337.
Hunter: Travis Cockburn
BTR Official Score: 256 4/8
BTR Composite Score: 273 4/8
Weapon: Compound Bow
Location: Williamson Co., Illinois
Date: November 30, 2011