By Gita M. Smith
Regan Martin winced. His lock-on stand’s seat had flipped up, announcing his presence to every deer in three western Illinois counties. A nearby doe startled and blew at him. Of course.
But nothing else ran away or sounded an alarm in the chill November air, so maybe it wasn’t so bad.
The seat complained again, this time as Regan flipped it back down and eased his body onto it. The visiting hunter from Louisiana said a word of blessing at the contraption before hanging his bow on its peg.
He might have given the stand the heave-ho but for the fact that it was so well suited for the gnarly cottonwood he and his fellow leasees called the killing tree.
The vantage point is perfect, even if the stand isn’t.
“It faces west, but deer come from the east,” Regan says.
Regan loves hunting the Land of Lincoln.
“Our camp was at the end of a road. Behind it were huge hardwoods, steep hillsides and almost 200 acres of CRP in the bottom next to an old creek bed. We put stands on the sides of the hills,” Regan said.
“There were six to eight trees big enough to put stands in,” he continued. “We kept a trail mowed so that we could walk in and out. During the rut, bucks crisscross the CRP to push the does out of their beds.”
Deer love to take cover in the thick, grassy expanse. But when they begin moving, and especially during the rut as bucks chase does, they tend to move westward past Regan’s favorite spot.
“Sometimes you have to twist around to see them coming, or wait until they come by,” he says. “But they definitely come by.”
His quarry on the morning of Nov. 2, 2016, was a specific buck.
“It had been caught on camera a bunch of times for more than a year. Then we heard that a friend, Nicole Thompson, had shot the buck. They sent out a tracker with a dog, but never found it. So we were afraid it had gone off and died,” he said.
They needn’t have feared. On the night of Nov. 1, the familiar buck walked in front of a camera.
Regan was elated. His good friend, biologist and recurve hunter Zack Morgan, asked him, “You going to hunt that deer in the morning?”
He thought a high position on one of the hillsides would be good. But Regan decided to go to the cottonwood overlooking the creek bottom.
Regan parked at the barn before dawn. He sprayed his boots with a doe urine scent and tucked his grunt call in a pocket. On his way to his stand, he passed a camera that had captured the huge buck’s image. He also startled a doe.
Then, when he grabbed his creaky stand, he was busted again by the seat. All Regan could do was wait for the woods to settle.
“The weather was nice and cold with a slight haze,” he said. “Just after first light, I saw a deer skip out into the trail we keep mowed, about 400-500 yards away. I checked it out, put my binoculars down, and picked up my grunt call.
“While the buck started coming in my direction, I was trying to figure out if it was camp-legal, which to us is a mature buck showing 140 inches, minimum. When it turned, I saw its brow tines and huge body.
“The deer was trotting toward me as I turned to get my bow, but when I looked back, it was gone,” he continued.
Regan picked up his binoculars again and although he couldn’t see the buck, he did see a small tree moving back and forth, as if it were being ravaged by a deer.
The second time he blew his grunt call proved too much for the feisty buck, and it came toward Regan at a full trot while the anxious hunter grabbed his bow.
“Fifty yards from me was a tree, the only cover I had. When the buck’s head went behind that trunk, I knew I had one second to act,” he said. “I pulled back and prayed I’d been quick enough.”
At 25 yards, the buck stopped and stared straight at Regan with its tail up.
“I told myself, Son, you’ve been in this position before, and you know that look: He’s fixing to bolt,’” he said.
Regan aimed at the buck’s white spot and let ’er fly. He watched his glowing Lumenok sail exactly where it had been pointed.
The wounded buck wheeled around, ran about 80 yards the way it had come, and turned into the CRP. Regan, breathing heavily, fogged his binoculars and had to dry them before he could take a look.
He texted Zack: I shit (meaning shot) a BIG one!
Zack’s response: I know that had to hurt.
This occurred about 30 minutes after sunrise.
“Zack intended to hunt until 10:30, so of course I was pulling my hair out and rethinking my shot: Was it good? Was the deer really big enough?”
When the duo finally began searching for Regan’s buck, they found neither blood nor hair. But when they waded into the CRP, Regan spotted his glowing nock.
“I hollered, ‘Here he is, and he’s a monster!’” Regan said. “Zack said, ‘Yeah, but I think that’s Nicole Thompson’s deer.’
‘“Not any more,’” I told him.