Father and son take two special bucks on one amazing day.
I’m an avid bowhunter who enjoys shotgun season more for taking kids hunting than hunting myself.
When the 2012 Illinois shotgun season arrived, I was happy to have my 9-year-old son Matthew and my 15-year-old cousin Walker Simpson geared up and ready to go.
The plan was for Matthew and me to sit in our buddy stand, and Walker would set up nearby.
Matthew had two button bucks to his credit, and his goal was to harvest an antlered deer.
Our first day was incredibly slow. Despite spending nearly 9 hours on stand, we didn’t see any deer, coyotes or anything besides squirrels.
My son’s patience and persistence really impressed me, but mine was wearing thin. I don’t get skunked, nor do many Illinois hunters on opening day.
My brother, Mark, saw plenty of activity at another location, and when he offered Matthew that stand for day two, we jumped at the chance.
We headed there the next morning and saw deer in an adjacent weed patch as soon as the sun came up.
Matthew’s first shot opportunity came around 7 a.m. when a doe and two fawns walked within range. I asked him if he wanted to shoot and he said, “No, Dad. Let’s see what’s behind them.” Unfortunately, there wasn’t a buck on their trail.
At 7:30, a quality buck snuck in behind us. I didn’t say anything, giving it time to walk into a thicket so I could get Matthew situated.
I got him stood up and turned around with his shooting sticks in place just about the time I saw the buck again. In 10 more yards, it would step out of the thicket and present a wide-open, 60-yard shot.
Matthew still didn’t see it, and just as the buck started to come into the open, another hunter shot nearby. The deer spooked, ran through the opening and didn’t stop until he was 150 yards away.
Matthew’s comment when he saw it was, “Oh my gosh, Dad. That is a monster!”
As the buck trotted out of sight, Matthew began to shake uncontrollably. We got a good laugh as I explained buck fever to him.
A short while later, I got a text from a hunting buddy across the creek saying he had harvested the buck. Matthew’s response was, “Oh, man.”
Just 10 minutes later, I saw another buck in the weed patch. He was quickly coming our way, so Matthew sat up and got his shooting sticks in place.
The buck held up about 150 yards out, and while Matthew is a very good shot, I didn’t want him to try anything beyond 100 yards.
It turned and walked out of sight, but there was still plenty of activity in the weed patch.
We saw that buck several times throughout the next hour. It was the most aggressive deer I have ever seen, and he put on a good show, running off several smaller bucks.
While all this was going on, Matthew began to complain about a stomach ache. I thought his nerves were shot from all the action; he had never experienced a hunt like this.
We almost got down, but Matthew decided to hang in there. At 8:30, I again saw the buck moving our direction.
Matthew was already up, leaning over our shooting rail and complaining about his stomach.
The buck closed the distance and stepped into range at 80 yards. Matthew didn’t even notice.
The buck was chasing does everywhere and started to walk away again when my young hunter began to puke. He puked and puked — not a quiet puke, but the loud, gut-wrenching kind that feels like it comes from your toes.
Instead of heading for the next county, the buck seemed curious. It stopped, turned around and started to walk toward us.
That wasn’t exactly good news, because Matthew was still puking, and I was doing whatever I could to comfort him and keep him from falling out of the stand.
Because our tree had excellent cover, the buck never saw us. Matthew would puke, and the buck would stop and look our direction, but it kept coming.
When it stepped into the wide open at 70 yards, Matthew finished puking and said his stomach felt much better.
I asked him if he wanted to try to take the buck, and he said, “Yes, but first I’m going to take off this neck gaiter.”
Little did I know, the gaiter had formed a perfect cup around his neck, catching plenty of puke. As we took it off, mess was smeared from his chin all over his face and into his eyes and hair.
I cleaned him up the best I could with my gloves and sleeve. Meanwhile, the buck was still in the open but walking away.
We quickly got Matthew’s gun up, and I grunted to stop the buck. I tried to help Matthew steady the barrel since we didn’t have time to get the shooting stick in position, and the report of the shot happened much quicker than I anticipated.
The buck gave a big mule kick and ran out of sight. I was sure I heard it fall when Matthew turned to me and said, “Can we get down now?”
It took us about an hour to get my son cleaned up. I made sure he drank some water and ate a few crackers before we picked up the blood trail.
Fortunately, that was one thing that went smoothly that morning, and we had no trouble locating the deer.
Matthew was the happiest hunter in the county at that moment, and I was the happiest dad.
His first antlered deer was a 137-inch 9-pointer that we named Mr. Puke.
That same morning, Walker was hunting with us nearly a half mile away. He had watched a buck come over the hill and walk within 7 yards of his ground setup, but his gun misfired and spooked it.
Because he’s relatively new to hunting, a big buck to him could be anything 120 inches or so.
Walker, Matthew, and I arrived home shortly before noon that Saturday morning. I washed Matthew’s clothes, got him in the shower, and fixed lunch for the boys.
During lunch, I questioned Walker on the size of the buck he encountered. He described the deer as being way bigger than Matthew’s.
“It doesn’t have more points than Matthew’s, but the rack is much fatter and way taller,” he said. That got my attention.
Walker was going to his dad’s later that day, so his season was over. After lunch, I told Matthew to take a nap to help him recover.
My brother, Mark, called at 12:30 to discuss the evening hunt. I had no plans to go since my wife was out of town and I had a sick boy at home. I encouraged him to take a climber and hunt a thicket near where Walker encountered the big buck.
Mark saw numerous does at another location that morning and said he was going back there.
Around 2 p.m., my mom unexpectedly walked through my front door and said, “It’s deer season, son, and I know you want to be out there. Go hunting, and I’ll stay home with Matthew.”
Do I have the best mom in the world or what? She didn’t have to ask twice.
I quickly packed my gear, grabbed my climber and headed to the thicket where I tried to convince Mark to go.
It was a little after 3 o’clock before I settled in my stand. When I didn’t see anything for the next hour and a half, I began to worry I had walked in too late.
With only a half hour of daylight left, I heard a deer walking my direction near the edge of the thicket. When I finally got a look at him, I didn’t need to decide whether or not I wanted to shoot.
I had seen that buck the Sunday before while driving the roads and glassing fields. I had described him to my brother as a massive 8-pointer that would push 180 inches. I had trail camera pictures of it from 2011 when we estimated it to be in the low- to mid-170s.
By the time I saw him, he was already in range at 80 yards. This was not a young buck, and he was extremely cautious. He walked a few steps and then stopped to assess his surroundings.
He continued to move that way as I got him in the scope. He was walking right toward me, not offering a shot.
Finally, as he turned to stay near the edge of the thicket, I picked out a clearing not far in front of him.
When he stopped again to look around, he was about 10 yards from the opening. I took a long look through my scope and decided the shot was clear around his vitals.
He was slightly quartering toward me at 50 yards, so I put the crosshairs directly on his shoulder. I slowly squeezed the trigger and was thrilled to watch him drop like a ton of bricks.
I quickly reloaded my single-shot shotgun and acquired the buck in my scope. I was prepared to shoot again, but it wasn’t moving at all. I watched it through the scope for nearly a minute and then laid the gun on my lap.
I remember thinking, I just killed an absolute giant — the biggest buck of my life. That’s when buck fever set in.
Laughing to myself, I reached into my fanny pack for a bottle of water. That’s when I heard a rustling sound.
The buck had stood up, and just when I turned to look, he took off like he wasn’t even hit. I tried to get off another shot, but the thicket was too dense. I couldn’t believe it.
I thought I saw him stumble just before he went out of sight. I looked at my watch. It was 4:45.
I called Mark to tell him the story, and we agreed I should wait 20 minutes before taking up the trail. If I didn’t find it right away, I would back out and the two of us would return in the morning.
By the time I got down and packed my gear, it was 5 o’clock. That was long enough; I couldn’t take the anticipation.
I walked to where I last saw the buck, and when I didn’t find it, I felt like Matthew wasn’t the only one who was going to be sick that day.
Looking carefully, I noticed some kicked up leaves, so I followed the path. There was blood everywhere, and my sick feeling began to turn to elation.
About 10 yards farther, I saw a giant rack sticking up above a log. I was amazed at the size of the deer’s body and rack. The mass was unreal.
I called Mark to describe it, and he kept saying, “Are you serious?” The mainframe 8-pointer with four kickers ended up grossing 192 inches.
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This article was published in the October 2013 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.