The rut is on in Illinois
Scotty Battin never had time to get nervous.
After watching a doe run past his tree stand last weekend, the Mason City bowhunter (pictured above) heard a noise to his left. He glanced and saw a buck. With nice antlers. Battin pulled back on his bow. Took aim. And fired.
Moments later he was shaking with excitement as a huge 17-point buck circled his tree stand before dropping to the floor of the small Logan County woodlot.
So it goes during the whitetail rut. Odds are had Battin hunted the same location a few days earlier, he would never have seen that mature buck. But like clockwork, the arrival of November signals a time when big bucks lose their inhibitions in the pursuit of love.
Battin is one of several bowhunters who have benefited from the approach of whitetail breeding season. Every year in early November, big bucks start falling. This year is no different, as taxidermists report increased business the past week and big buck stories are showing up with increasing regularity.
The recent surge has made up for a slow start to the archery season and coincides with increased activity in the fields by farmers eager to combine corn. No question, this year’s late harvest has slowed bowhunting across much of Illinois. But with crops coming out and love in the air, archers can rightly view the days until first shotgun season (Nov. 21-23) as their prime time.
That’s why so many bowhunters have vacation scheduled for November. That’s why so many out-of-state license plates are parked along gravel backroads, some of those non-residents paying up to $2,500 for five days of hunting.
Sure that’s a lot of money. But now’s a time when a hunter from Mississippi can show up for a few days and have a chance to shoot a 10-point buck the likes of which would set his state on fire. That happened this week in Fulton County.
Now’s also a time when a farmer can jump out of his combine and head to his deer stand in blue jeans, a flannel shirt and a sweaty hat. And still shoot a buck. Chuck Hamstra of Albany (pictured below) did exactly that Tuesday night, when he shot a massive Whiteside County 18-pointer that should score better than 200 inches.
No question, the rut is the easiest time to shoot a buck for most hunters. Which explains why daily harvest ratios undergo a marked change. In the past week hunters shot 60 percent bucks and 40 percent does—the exact opposite of totals up until that point. During the peak of the rut, bucks may represent 80 percent of the harvest total.
Even so, hunting smart ups the odds in your favor. Battin is a good example. While working at Logan Correctional Center, he noticed bucks running does in the surrounding area. So he decided to leave the timber he had been hunting north of there for a small, 8-acre woodlot adjacent to a 15-acre prairie, a creek and grain fields.
“There’s always does in there and I had a hunch that maybe if I got over there and hunted, maybe a buck would come in,” said Battin, 28, who has been bowhunting since he was 11 and also does taxidermy work. “Man did that hunch pay off.”
Battin had never seen his big buck before, another sentiment expressed more frequently by rut hunters. While the early season is all about hunting bucks you’ve seen, scouted and maybe even filmed, the rut can bring newcomers from all over.
Fortunately for Battin, he didn’t get buck fever until after his deer was down.
“I couldn’t sit down and I couldn’t really stand up. How many times in a lifetime is that going to happen?” said Battin, who also shot a nice 22-pointer last year. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what did I just shoot?’”
What he shot was a massive 17-pointer that may well top the elusive 200-inch mark.
While that probably won’t be the biggest deer killed this year in Illinois, odds are anything bigger will come in the next two weeks.
Because the rut is on.