Today we’ve got a great story of finding hunting success in the unlikeliest of placest from, our friend and Sitka Pro-staff member, Chad Bell. Chad has put down two great Illinois bucks this year and his most recent buck came along with a terrific story. Read on below for the low down on how Chad Bell put the drop on this giant Southern Illinois buck in the “Gar Hole” of his property!
“Friday morning found me headed back to “my piece” of ground which was an extra 108 acres we picked up at the last minute over the summer that we had a chance to scout while turkey hunting our main ground in April/May. Since we had three newcomers to our group this year, the 300 acres we had from the previous year wasn’t going to layout right to hunt with that many guns, so in order for me to be included, we had to get this extra piece and it was MINE! The problem with it is that until the summer time, there were cows in these fields and in the timber, so there is no undergrowth and the block of timber is basically an open highway that you can pretty much see through from one side to the other. If not for some elevation changes, ridgelines and low draws, it probably wouldn’t be real appealing to most as a hot spot for whitetails. In fact, the whole 10 days prior to gun season, three other guys were there bowhunting and they never even set foot on “my place.” My friend Jack referred to it as the “Gar Hole.” They thought they were real funny sitting over there on the property with all the food and most of the timber on it and where the majority of our trail cam pics came from of our hitlist bucks. They didn’t have a stand up and they wasted not one second of their precious time on that 108 acres and boy am I glad they didn’t because they probably would have boogered the place up.
So I take my dad to the north end and drop him off, show him how to navigate in the dark to the spot where I want him to sit and then I get around in a hurry to the south end because I have about a quarter of a mile hike to get to the spot I like to sit in the timber. Once I got into the woods, I found me a small clump of oak trees that had grown together at the bases and made a nice little cubby for me to crawl up in and stand up while I waited for the sunrise. Each time I go into the woods, I try to pay attention and learn something from that experience that I can use to make my next trip to that location better than the last. Well, I had figured out the travel patterns of these deer in these woods and also realized that this timber block is a huge bedding area. The deer were coming back down from the north end of our property that I had hunted that first evening, through a few timber blocks, then down a couple of draws in the middle of these agricultural fields and right into my “Gar Hole” to bed down for the middle of the day. After some great early morning action, I had several deer down below me coming into the timber, 3 small bucks and 12 does. As I brought my binoculars up to look and see if there were any mature bucks in the group, I noticed some movement up the ridge on the other side and it was headed down to where the other deer were standing in the creek bottom. I got a couple of glimpses, saw some white horns and could tell by the way he was walking down, stiff legged, neck swollen that he was a mature buck. He got into a direct open shooting lane at 120 yds below me and I had the crosshairs on his shoulder. He was postured up, hair bristled up on his body, letting the younger bucks know that he was the man in these woods. I had a slight intuition that he was a buck we had pics of and had named “Handlebars” but I wasn’t 100% sure. After watching him for about 3 minutes, he slowly turned with the others and walked back up the ridge on the other side to bed down. I eased out as quietly as I could so as not to spook the whole timber block out and ruin my hunt for the evening, because I was going back right where I was…in the middle of some prime action!
Friday evening, I hear what sounds like horns cracking together, so I start glassing the woods and catch the movements of deer, toe to toe, shoving each other around and locked up! Now this is getting good and I’m thinking that ole big boy I had seen this morning chasing that doe was over there and he was going to show himself. Gradually, the bucks made their way to the north end of the timber and out of sight. Apparently, out into the field where my dad was sitting and watching and he said that 6 bucks were out in the open field, locked up again, only bad thing was they were 350 yds away from my dad, well out of range for a shotgun and slug. So darkness came on day two and we went back to the hotel empty handed but full of promise for Saturday. While at dinner that evening, I told my buddies of our encounters and I told them I thought I had “Handlebars” below me but I wasn’t 100%, so I chose to pass. I couldn’t get it out of my mind that night, thinking that I had royally screwed up and with time starting to wear on my mind as it was fixing to be running short on us, I knew I had to get in early and stay a little later if not all day.
Saturday morning, Dec. 4th, I was back in my clump of oaks, in the “Gar Hole” well before daylight. I wanted to get in early and let the woods settle down a bit before daylight and I knew that the majority of the county was going to be in a full court press with the gun season dwindling down to the wire. Hadn’t seen a whole lot of activity after daylight and then about 7:15 a.m., my buddy Damon sent me a text that he saw a good buck walking down the draw in the field on the north end of my timber and was headed in my direction. Now, based on the travel patterns that I had witnessed during the first firearm season and so far during the second, I knew that those deer may come up and into the woods directly north of me at 110 yds or so, and would filter into the middle and head down the draw that they follow in the middle of the timber, which would put them at about 60 yds from my hiding spot. 7:50 a.m., I catch movement exactly where I thought it would come from….several does, then 1 buck, a second, and then there he was. Like a mature old whitetail does, bringing up the rear and stopping to check behind him every so often to make sure nothing is coming up from the rear. I got to watch him for a good four or five minutes as he would slowly ease his way toward me and the center of that timber block. Finally, he gets to 60 yds and stops, quartering toward me, half of his body behind a tree. He’s looking around and those horns are just twisting and jutting out from behind the trees everytime he moves. As I am trying to concentrate on holding my crosshairs steady and in the opening that I know he is going to step into, I am looking at his head, I know it is him, “Handlebars”. After letting him walk the day before, I am now about to have the chance to take another Southern Illinois bruiser at any second.
Heart racing, breathing heavy and fogging up my scope, I take a deep breathe, let it out and relax. The two smaller bucks with him head down the draw and right when he is two steps from getting below that ridge, he stops one more time and I squeeze the T/C Triumph .50 caliber, sending that sabot right into the oxygen tank and down he goes! I gave myself and him about three or four minutes, reloaded my rifle, and then eased my way over to peak down that ridge and see him laying there against a log. Success again in Illinois and I couldn’t have been any happier. A few things that played into my success were having the best hunting gear on the market today. SITKA GEAR and GORE OPTIFADE Concealment are two outstanding products that have contributed to my success twice already this year and I am looking forward to many more successful trips with my gear in tow. I can’t begin to tell you how important having high quality, warm, and durable gear and clothing is to being able to stay out longer and endure the frigid temps and rugged terrain from my home in South Louisiana to our farm in Illinois. SITKA and GORE OPTIFADE made the whole outdoor experience more fun!
Hunt Hard and Hunt Safe!”
Sitka Pro Staff