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Nathen Barto’s 10-pointer

October 29, 2007

Illinois hunting and fishing

Trophy Tidbits

Scorable Points: 10

Kill Date: Oct. 29, 2007

County: Montgomery

Season: Bow

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here in the words of Springfield bowhunter Nathen Barto is the story of his hunt for a 10-point Montgomery County buck.

I’d been hunting a newly opened area of public land in Montgomery County that had the potential for some really great action. There weren’t too many people hunting it yet so I figured this would be the best chance for a nice buck.

I hadn’t had much time to scout so I used USA photo maps and Google Earth to do a little “electronic scouting.” I found what I thought to be the best looking area and concentrated my efforts there.

This just happened to be the furthest away from the parking area as I could get. There was a bottleneck of timber that connected what looked to be two prime bedding areas with CRP on one side and cut corn on the other. I’d hunted a few times prior to this further away with the hopes of doing some distant glassing to see where the deer were moving in and out of the timber.

Each time I would hunt, I’d set up a little closer to what I thought was the prime area. To my surprise, the deer were bedding in the taller CRP, and not in the timber as I’d expected. The area was hard to get into for morning hunts. As with most public hunting areas, you have a designated parking area, and you have to enter the land from that parking area. This would not allow an approach to my selected hunting spot as the deer were still in the open fields around where my ambush site was to be.

On Oct. 29, 2007, I’d finally hunted my way to the funnel and set up my Lone Wolf Assault and climbing sticks in the perfect tree. There was a short tractor path that bisected the tree line funnel which connected the CRP field to my left to the corn on my right. There was a small creek with a little water in it that followed the funnel I was hunting. My hopes were that the deer would come out of the CRP, follow the tractor path across the creek, and head to the corn to my right. This would give me a perfect 15-yard shot.

Around 3 p.m., a doe and fawn came up the trail 5 yards directly behind me in the timber and followed it out to the CRP. These two were going the wrong way!

After they disappeared into the CRP, I noticed some movement to my right near the cut corn. There were two big doe and a couple fawn following the tree line to the tractor path. I’d decided at this point, it would be nice to have some fresh meat in the house so I was hoping they would make their way down the tractor path.

They hung out for about a half hour and just milled around the area where the tractor path entered the corn field. It looked as though they were getting ready to head my way so as always, I did a quick scan to see if anything else was heading my way before I committed to one of these plump does heading my way. As I looked along the far timber line around the CRP to my left, I noticed the back and rear end of a single deer just above the light colored CRP grass against the darker timber.

I figured it was another doe feeding on grass on its way to the corn field. I kept my eye on it just in case, and lo and behold, he raised his head and there were antlers on it. My game plan had just changed.

The wind was perfect. I had live decoys to my right, and a really nice buck to my left. If it went perfectly, the doe to my right would keep feeding in the spot they’d been in for awhile, and the buck would make his way around the CRP, following the timber line. When he got to the tractor path, he (on my left) would see the doe (on my right) and follow the tractor path to check them out.

I was already picking out my shooting lane. Well, he made it to the tractor path saw the doe, and put his nose up and starting winding them. I hadn’t noticed the wind changed and was now blowing from my right to left. He sniffed their downwind scent for about 30 seconds, and I guess decided they were the doe for him, and continued on his original path.

Panic set in. If he continued on his path, he would be directly down wind of me and to my far left. I had one opening through the timber, and it was going to be a 35-yard shot. I had to make the shot before he got down wind of me or it would be over.

I shoot left handed so my stand was not exactly set up for shooting to my left. I quickly positioned myself, drew back and waited for him to get to the opening. Luckily he wasn’t moving too fast, I had just enough time.

As his head entered the hole, I made my best doe impersonation, he took one last step and stopped perfectly. The release felt great, and I followed path of the arrow to boiler room. He spun around, ran about 15 yards down the CRP and then cut into the CRP. He crested a small hill in the field and was now out of site.

It came together so quickly, I never had a chance to get the shakes. But what had just happened was now taking effect. I had just shot the biggest buck of my life. And on public land to boot. At first my hands started to tremble a bit.

I immediately hung my bow up and check to make sure my safety harness was still connected to the tree. I always wear my safety harness, but I just needed a little reassurance as I was starting to get a little light headed. I folded the seat down on my Assault and sat down.

Then the butterflies started, and the trembling turned into shivers, it was a great feeling. I immediately called my wife and told her I’d shot a decent doe and I’d be a little late getting home. She congratulated me and said my dinner would be on the stove when I came home.

I sat in the tree for another 20 minutes, then lowered my bow to the ground and packed everything up for the long walk out. (This is the exact reason I bought the Assault and sticks in the first place) I figured by the time I got the stand down and walked back to the truck to get the cart it would be about an hour and that would be plenty of time to wait. I marked the spot the buck was standing and headed to the truck.

By the time I made it back to the shot site with the cart, it was pretty dark. I left the cart at the shot site and started the trailing. The blood trail was not the greatest. This made me a bit nervous.

The shot looked great, just behind the shoulder. It might have been a little high, but only by a few inches. Definitely a double lung shot. I followed the trail into the CRP and the trailing was fairly easy as you could tell the path the deer took. I followed it through multiple bedding areas, then he headed for the timber. The blood started to get better in the timber.

I figured he was running pretty fast through the CRP which would explain the less than ideal blood trail. I followed blood about 25 yards straight into the timber to the creek bed which was pretty dry except for few small pools here and there. The buck cut to the left and stayed on a deer path next to the creek for about 30 yards.

The blood then cut back to the left away from the creek towards the CRP field and just stopped. I thought maybe this is where he stopped to check his back trail as he now would be facing directly towards where he entered the timber. There was a decent pool of blood at this spot. I’d been marking the trail with bright orange surveyors’ tape and the trail to this point was clear.

He’d followed trails the entire time and never got off them. I started making small circles looking for more blood but came up with nothing. Now there’s no way he could just stop bleeding entirely. There’s got to be one drop somewhere which will give away the direction he left this spot from. So down on my hands and knees. I searched for what seemed like forever, and nothing, not a speck of blood, not a print, nothing. I then checked my watch, 11:45 p.m.

Holy cow. I didn’t realize how long I’d been trailing this deer. He hadn’t really traveled that far at this point, maybe 150 yards really fast through the CRP and 55 yards in the timber. I decided that should back off for the night and come back at first light just in case it wasn’t as good a shot as I thought. I had my trail marked well and would start at the end in the morning.

I was back at first light and it was pretty chilly. During the night I had tried to envision what the buck did after he turned and checked his back trail. Maybe that was it, maybe he checked his back trail, then went back on his own trail. I followed the trail back along the creek, which is now on my left. I figured he would take the path of least resistance and checked every place I thought a deer would cross.

I finally came to the lowest spot on the creek bank, and sure enough, there was a big set of tracks that crossed at an angle to another low spot on the other side. At this point I’m on my knees peering down the creek bank which is about a 10-foot drop, looking for any sign of blood before I try to get down there. I looked for a couple minutes, then on a single piece of light tan grass, was a single spot of blood. It was about 5 inches from my face. 

I slid down the bank, followed the tracks to the other side, and there were a few more drops of blood at the top where it looks like he stood for a minute to decide which way to go.

I scanned the area as best I could to see if maybe I could catch a glimpse of a white belly, or antlers sticking up, but I believe this side of the creek was an old hedge row and was pretty thick. I then started to follow the trails coming from this crossing in hopes of finding a drop of blood or sign on one of them. Of course, the last one I check is the one I find blood on.

It ran along the creek to the left and cut up across the old hedge row. So I followed this trail, crouched down a bit looking for blood. Not really looking ahead. The trail comes out of the hedge row and cuts back right a bit and as I look up, there’s a deer lying on its belly facing away from me about 5 feet away. I was a little startled by this. I then saw my white vaned and crested arrow protruding from his side and realized this is my deer.
All I had was my cell phone at the time to take pictures with so I did the best I could. I then field dressed and started the long haul back to the truck. I didn’t bring the cart into the woods as it wouldn’t have been much help with all tangles and the creek. It really wasn’t that far from where he dropped to the edge of the timber. I have a piece of 1 1/2-inch PVC with 15-feet of rope I use to drag deer with. I tied the rope to the antlers and gave a pull.

Now I’m not a small fella, but I could barely budge this monster. It took me about 10 minutes to get him 20 yards to the edge of the creek. Getting him down the creek bank was easy, getting him up the other side was not. I made a couple phone calls, but couldn’t get a hold of anybody, so I was on my own. I drug him to the far side of the dry creek bed to the point where he initially crossed.

I climbed up the bank, sat on my butt and dug my heels in as best I could. I grabbed the PVC, which has a hole drilled in the center, and the rope is secured with a knot so as to make a T-handle. I pulled back as if rowing a boat, then rolled the rope around the handle like rolling up a newspaper with both hands.

Once I got him to the top, I made one last lunge and got him far enough up where I could take a small break. I finally got him all the way up and sat there for about 10 minutes and caught my breath. After getting a drink and eating a granola bar, I drug him to the edge of the timber and loaded him on the cart. The cart is rated for 250 pounds., and I thought for sure the wheels were going to pop off.

This deer was big, even field dressed I guessed him at over 250 pounds. I now had the deer on the cart, and all I had to do was wheel him the mile and half back to the truck. Not as easy as it sounds. By the lay of the land, it was mostly a slight uphill grade all the way back, and the cart didn’t exactly “roll” very well over the soft ground. I’m pretty sure the old roads between the CRP fields and timber had been tilled or plowed and weren’t exactly the best surface for narrow cart wheels. I took a break about every half hour or so but finally made it back to the truck.

My wife was little surprised to see such a great set of antlers on a “nice doe.” I hung it in the garage, caped it, took the meat to the processor and the head to the taxidermist. It took three of us to get the caped body out of the back of the truck. The processor said it was the biggest bodied deer he had seen in a long time and said he thought I’d brought in a small cow at first. I never had the antlers officially scored but I’d guess he’s around 150.

He was a main-frame 10 pointer with three stickers near the bases.

Illinois hunting and fishing

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