Illinois Arctic - Illinois

The snow was falling and the temperatures were dropping as we counted down the remaining days left to the Illinois deer season. We had been keeping a close eye on our HS Vita-Rack food plots for the last two weeks and with this last cold spell, the deer were hitting them hard. We consistently had a multitude of does, young bucks, and 4-6 good bucks working the food plots and then moving off to the still remaining standing corn fields.

December 29
I looked at my watch to see that it was only 4:00 p.m., then looked back through my Nikon Monarch X’s at the shooter buck making his way up the hill toward the stand Vicki and I would be in tomorrow. The bucks had been using that travel route the last few days and with plenty of camera light left, the only thought going through my mind was—please just do that one more day!

December 30
My Birthday! This was the first day we had to get in on these deer and unfortunately, Vicki’s last chance to hunt in Illinois for the season. With a south wind, the temps rose all the way to the low 20’s and once again, the snow was falling as Vicki and I made our way to the Ameristep ladder stand. We made sure we were in good and early and after getting settled in, it wasn’t long before the deer started moving through the woods. The first deer through was a buck!  The only problem was, he already dropped his rack! The rest of the day went on with young bucks, does, and half were dropped rack bucks walking by, but not the deer we were hoping for.

December 31
With a north/northwest wind, the stand location Vicki and I sat the night before would not work. So I went out early and hung a new set for a north/northwest wind right where we had seen the deer entering the woods. If all worked out right, it would be a 15-yard shot to the well traveled path the deer had worn into the snow and it also gave us the vantage point to see the entire valley below us.

My brother, Eric, met me at the office, we gathered up all the camera gear, broke out the hot hands packs, and bundled up for a cold night sit on stand. With the holiday weekend, we had the possibility of sitting for 4 straight nights, and if we didn’t freeze first, we would hopefully have a good chance at a good buck! As Eric climbed into the camera stand, he looked down at me and whispered, “There are already deer in the food plot!” I climbed up and once we had everything situated and settled in, we sat and counted deer in the food plot and tree lined river bottom just down below us in the valley. It was only 1:00 p.m. and there were almost 30 deer 200-300 yards below us!  We saw 3 of the bucks we had been watching; unfortunately that was as close as they came to us and we could only sit and watch as they fed on the food plot until filming light was over.

January 1
We slipped back into the same stand set as the day before; the temps had dropped down in the negative number with wind chill. We were in a good hour before yesterday but with the weather, the deer weren’t moving far from the food and we counted 20 some deer bedded down next to the food plot we had seen them in the night before.  As the evening progressed more deer gathered down in the valley and finally six does and a young buck made their way up to us.  They came in just as we had planned, entering the woods in front of us at 20 yards and browsing on twigs as they made their way along.

A short while later, the entire herd started working up the hill. I whispered to Eric, “We may get our chance!” There were three good bucks in the group and of course they were toward the back. The first deer that made its way up was a doe and as she closed in on the corner of the woods, she did the worst possible thing; she swung wide of the trails we thought they would take and came in further down the wood line.  As the other deer stringing up the hill followed suit, I checked them with my Archer’s Choice rangefinder to make sure I knew my distance.  Finally the bucks were making their way up. We passed on a good buck that had busted off his G2 and were hoping to get a chance at the last two deer.  Here he came—coming straight for our corner of the woods. In my head I’m trying to coach him on to the right trail, but he too followed suit with where the other deer came through.  I quickly checked on the last and biggest buck in the group but there was no certainty that he would get within range and I let Eric know to stay on the buck that was passing before us.  As he made his way through my shooting lane I let out a “maaa” and he froze.  Moments later a Beman tipped with a Spitfire Pro zipped through the air and we could hear the impact!

As I reached down to pick my arrow out of the snow, I could see good blood spray across the snow and turned to give Eric the thumbs up. Being pretty much frozen from our nights’ sit, we decided to head back to the vehicle to get warmed up and review the footage.  It was hard to see on the viewfinder but we thought the shot may be a touch forward and decided it would be best to wait to recover him in the morning.

January 2
Eric and I made our way back to the stand and with the mornings light, we could see the red line of blood running through the snow. The tracking job was easy as we made our way to where we saw him last on top of the hill.  As we came to the top of the hill we could see that he didn’t make it much past where we had seen him last!

I’d like to thank my brother Eric for being as crazy as me and going out in some nasty cold weather to film me those days—it wasn’t the nicest weather we’ve seen, but it sure was rewarding!

Hunter: Gary Smoot

Cameraman: Eric Smoot