Dan Ferguson’s 20-pointer
Scorable Points: 20
Kill Date: Nov. 18, 1994
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was written by Jack Ehresman, former outdoor writer at the Peoria Journal Star.
Nothing seemed to go right for Dan Ferguson as the November 1994 Illinois firearms deer season approached, and the pattern didn’t change when he headed to his stand on opening morning. But Lady Luck suddenly smiled, and five minutes into the season Dan was standing over one of the most beautiful non-typical bucks ever taken in the state.
A native Peorian who now resides in Chillicothe, to the north, this 36-year-old sportsman had hunted deer in western and central Illinois annually since 1978. He recalls having taken about 19 or 20 whitetails, none of which exceeded 8 points.
Since 1990, Dan had hunted a place north of Peoria, an area that has produced some of the finest trophy animals in North America. But three days before the start of the first shotgun season, the landowner told him a relative would be hunting in his place Dan had to locate a last-minute spot or be satisfied with wearing his orange cap around the house.
Most deer hunting in Peoria County occurs on private lands, and because of its big-buck reputation, these areas are spoken for long before the whitetail season arrives each year.
But Dan wasn’t about to keep his shotgun in the closet. After hearing the disheartening news, he immediately contacted a farmer friend from that area.That same day, he wound up obtaining permission from his neighbor to hunt a small, tail-end piece of timber that begins just north of Peoria and stretches along the Illinois River bluffs 45 or 50 miles north into Marshall County.
“At first he (the new landowner) said no, but the fellow I was with was a seed-corn dealer,” Dan remembers. “They got talkin’ about corn, and he finally said, ‘I do have 60 acres I just bought this year. I’ve never walked around on it. Let’s drive over and take a look. If you like it, you can hunt on it.’ ‘’
The patch of timber was intercepted by a road but contained an interesting creek-bottom draw.
“I took a quick look and liked what I saw ... natural deer country,” Dan says. “It was a funnel draw, and there were enough signs there — an active scrape, five or six trails, and a lot of rubs — so I knew a buck was using it.”
Dan also knew the patch of woods, located about a half-mile from the Peoria County line, was situated within a 15- to 20-mile radius from which three immense bucks had been taken in the past:
For starters, there was Mel Johnson’s huge typical, taken by bow in 1965. With a net Pope and Young score of 204 4/8 points, it is not only the state record but the world record by bow as well.
Richard Pauli’s 267 3/8-point Boone and Crockett non-typical was shot on the opening day of the 1983 shotgun season and still stands as the largest gun kill ever to come from Illinois.
And then there was Jill Adcock’s 188 3/8-point typical in 1993, one of the largest typicals ever taken by a woman in North America. Had not 5 inches of antler been broken off, that head would have netted almost 200.
Additional scouting was out of the question, but Dan did find a few minutes after his day’s labor as a heating and air-conditioning worker to return and pick out a tree for his portable stand on opening morning.
“I went after work and got there about 15 minutes before dark,” the hunter says. “I knew basically what part of the draw I wanted to hunt, stomped around pretty quick and marked the tree with survey tape, so I could find it early opening morning.
“I have a real old portable Baker tree strand, so I picked out a tree I knew I could get into with that stand.”
On opening day, Dan usually is situated on his stand about 30 minutes before legal shooting time. Despite his planning, such a situation did not evolve when the ‘94 season arrived.
“Opening morning came, and it seemed like everything was going wrong at home. I was running late,” the hunter recalls.
And once he arrived at his hunting destination, that little black cloud still hung over his head.
“As I drove toward the timber I was going to hunt, three dig dogs started barking and chasing my truck. One of ‘em looked like one of those Rottweilers. They all looked mean,” Dan says.
“The dogs chased the truck all the way back into the field and barked. I was afraid to leave the truck. Being in a new place, I didn’t know the fellow who owned those dogs, and the last thing I wanted to do was kill a dog to defend myself on somebody’s ground that I had just gotten permission to hunt.”
Dan waited about 10 minutes before the dogs returned to their barn yard. But that ate up precious time, making a late start even later.
When Dan tightened the wing nuts and secured his stand, legal shooting time had already arrived. With all of the barking and commotion that had occurred, the frustrated hunter reasoned he would sit several hours before any deer moved in his direction.
“I was in a hurry and made all kinds of noise ... slipped once going up the tree,” Dan notes. “I just knew I had pushed everything out of this draw. I was really relaxed, ‘cause I figured, What’s the use? I’m just gonna sit here a couple hours until other hunters start movin’ and push deer into this draw.”
Wrong. Seconds after Dan got into his stand, he noticed a slight blur amid the woodland shadows.
“I had my gun tied on a rope and had pulled it up and was just untying it when I picked up movement out of the corner of my eye about 100 yards away,” recalls the soft-spoken hunter. “Here came that big rack. He was coming right across in front of me in a quick walk, and I knew I was going to get a closer shot at him.”
Dan scrambled through his pockets for slugs, then slammed two into the shotgun.
“I never even had time to pull up my gun string or anything.” he remembers. “I just let loose of it.” When the deer reached an open spot about 60 yards away, Dan shouldered his Browning Auto Five — a gun he’s owned for 15 years — took aim and quickly squeezed off two shots.
“After my first shot, he went down behind some multiflora roses into a creek bottom,” Dan notes. “I put a couple more slugs in the gun, and when he came out of the creek, I was waiting. At the time, I didn’t know if I had hit him or not.”
The deer appeared again, slightly closer. Dan was prepared and fired another shot. The big buck crashed to the ground, lying motionless.
“One of the three shots got him, but I don’t know which one,” the hunter says.
Dan scrambled over to where his unlikely trophy lay. “I looked at the rack and started countin’ points. I got up to 10 on one side and almost started hyperventilating.”
Dan field-dressed the animal and then wore himself out dragging it more than 150 yards to his truck.
“It field-dressed at 194 pounds. I only weigh about 140. And after I got him to my vehicle — a GMC Jimmy — I couldn’t get him in. I tried everything: pulling, pushing, sliding. Luckily, I had taken along my mobile phone, so I called a friend who lived close by. He and his son came over right away and helped load him up. They were excited about him, too.”
On the way home, a more experienced friend told Dan he had a certain B&C buck, so the hunter stopped at Wolf Hollow Archery in Rome. There, owner Larry Pollack scored the deer at 226 inches, emphasizing he was being conservative.
After the 60-day drying period, Tim Walmsley, who published the book “Trophy Whitetails of Illinois,” officially scored the buck at 229 4/8 net points.
“What impressed him was the mass on the main beam,” Dan recalls. “It’s kind of a funny main beam. It gets thicker as you go away from the skull, and about midway it starts thinning out again.”
The 20-point rack has 10 on each side and only a deduction difference (for asymmetry) of 3 1/8 between the two. Greatest spread measures 28 2/8 inches. Most experienced observers say the buck was 5 1/2 years old.
At the time he was scored, the deer stood as the 15th-largest firearms non-typical ever documented in Illinois, and No. 130 in the world.
Dan took the head to the Illinois Deer and Turkey Classic in March, where competition is held for heads, based on points, non-typical or typical classification and whether taken by a gun or bow.
“I had a ball with it at the classic,” he says. “I ended up being No. 3 in my division. Any other year, I probably would have won.”
Although justifiably proud of his deer, Dan also is realistic and remains humble about it.
“I honestly think somebody was moving around back there, and he (the deer) was moving out. He didn’t look like he was on a doe. I don’t know to this day how that ground lays in the back part, but I believe somebody pushed him out.
“I’m not a super-skilled deer hunter like some people,” Dan claims. “I just don’t have time to do it like I’d like to. I know so many guys that know 100 times more than I do about deer hunting, but they’ve never killed a deer this big. I was just lucky.”