Illinois hunting and fishing

Tales from the Timber: Pulfer

March 31, 2009 at 05:05 AM

In 2003 I was living north of Chicago. With no place local to hunt, I traveled back “home” to hunt on some rugged strip-mine ground in Fulton County. I intentionally hunted the high ground because getting a deer out by myself was doable.

The low ground or “bottoms” was another story. The mine company piled the spoils in such a way that it created steep, almost sheer drop-offs into the bottoms. This made it impossible to get an ATV down there (not that I had one).

With this in mind, I concocted an idea of using a boat winch to retrieve a deer from the bottoms if necessary. I put 80 feet of rope on the winch and attached a strap so that I could anchor it to a tree. I also purchased a heavy-duty plastic toboggan to help drag my deer. The toboggan has proven to be one of my better investments.

I spent 10 days bowhunting there in early November. I passed up shots at several small bucks but had no opportunities to take a doe. On the last afternoon of my trip I twisted my right knee while climbing up out of the bottoms!

I returned 10 days later for the first shotgun weekend. I managed to get around the property alright wearing just a cheap knee brace until late Sunday afternoon. I was crossing a creek when a rock shifted under my right foot causing my already weak knee to buckle. The pain was excruciating!

I had to crawl up out of a ravine to get back to my truck. I had a long painful 200-mile trip back home and no deer to show for it. I thought that there would be no way that I would be able to come back to hunt the second gun season. I worried that this might be the first time in20 years that I wouldn’t harvest a deer.
I hobbled around home and work for the next week and a half. The knee did get to feeling better again. I returned to Fulton County for the second shotgun season with two unfilled permits and a heavy-duty knee brace.

The first day of season arrived with six inches of new snow and no deer. Friday, the second day, I shot a nice doe in mid-afternoon. The scary part was that I had to drag her out of the same ravine where I had blown my knee out during the first season. Fortunately the toboggan and the knee brace both worked wonderfully.

With one tag filled and a new found confidence in my knee brace, I decided to take a chance and hunt the bottoms the next morning.

I awoke Saturday morning with the sun coming through the trailer windows—I had overslept! It was already 7 a.m. I quickly ate, dressed and headed for my stand in the bottoms. The temperature was in the low teens which made the snow crunch annoyingly loud with each step. I laughed and thought to myself—what a waste of time this is! The sun was fully up and I was making more noise than a herd of cows; every deer in the county must hear me! I continued to my stand.
The cold was just starting to numb my toes when I heard a loud commotion coming from a few hundred yards away. Through my binoculars I could see several deer running towards me. They were being led by a large buck! When the buck reached my shooting lane, I made a perfect 60-yard, broadside heart shot. He only ran 20 yards. After getting down from my stand and counting the points on the rack, I cell-phoned my wife and told her that I had just shot a $400 15-point buck. She knows that is the taxidermist’s fee.
With the deer tagged and field dressed, it was time to try out my boat winch idea. I strapped the big deer onto the toboggan and anchored the winch to a tree at the top of a cliff. I began to crank the buck up out of the bottoms. It was a slow process at first but it was working just as I had planned.

I could just see the tip of the toboggan coming over the edge of the cliff. That’s when I made one more crank on the winch and the rope broke with a loud pop! From where I was cranking, I couldn’t see the buck and the toboggan falling back down the side of the cliff but I expected the worst. I ran to the edge and looked down, there was the buck about half way down, hung up on some saplings.

This was a good thing because now half of my rope was ruined. (Did I mention that I used cheap plastic rope?) After straightening and reattaching what was left of my rope, I started cranking the winch again. This time when the toboggan peeked over the edge, I ran to it and pulled it and the deer over the edge by hand. Finally, I had the big buck safely on top. The 80-yard drag from there to the truck felt easy. Once again the toboggan and the knee brace did their jobs.

The 15-point buck had a 22-inch inside spread and grossed 178 typical, 188 non-typical. With what I had to endure to harvest and retrieve this deer, it could have been a basket rack buck and it still would have been a trophy to me. It was pure luck and determination that put this fine buck on my wall.