By Mark Kenyon

We’ve chronicled the story of our friend Clay Craft over the past couple years, and it’s a tale I love telling. Clay is a young man of only around 12 years, but his big buck success stories read more like that of a 40 year old man! Clay has harvested many tremendous bucks, and he’s continuing that trend this year with this giant Illinois whitetail he took during the Illinois youth season in Pike County on October 7th. Congrats Clay and keep up the great work! – MK

“This property in Illinois was a new lease for us so we did not have any history with the farm or the deer on it but when this big bodied 8-point showed up on the Reconyx he was instantly on the hit list! There was no doubt that this was a mature buck and I have always had a thing for big 8 points. When Clay and I looked through the pictures I knew Clay had his eye on the big 8 as well, as he was constantly going back to that buck’s picture.

Several weeks of trail camera pictures produced very few sightings of the big 8 on the farm. I couldn’t figure out where he was coming from or going to, he would just show up. I figured we would not get a crack at him til the rut. But as fate would have it the Big 8 showed himself on the second morning hunt of the Illinois youth season. We were set up in a Box stand overlooking some standing cornfields. I really did not expect to shoot something out of this location but went there for the vantage point it offered. I figured we could at least see some deer moving and could get a better idea of what the deer were doing on the farm.

Right as it cracked daylight I saw a single doe heading for us, we watched it walk down the edge of the corn and could tell it had seen some other deer that we could not see. I kept glassing in the direction the doe was looking and finally made out 4 more does. About 8:00 am something from down in the bottom spooked the does and they headed directly to our stand stopping at about 30 yards to look back. We couldn’t tell exactly what spooked the deer but I figured it was a coyote. No sooner than those does spooked Clay said “Big Buck, Big Buck, Big Buck”. As I looked in the direction Clay was looking, the Big 8 appeared from the corn stalks. We knew instantly which buck he was and Clay wasted no time getting the gun ready and out the window. The buck trotted down the field and stopped to look back at about 80 yards but was quartering away at too much of an angle for Clay to make a clean shot. After his brief look back, the buck started trotting off directly away from us. I did every thing I could to get the buck to stop, finally I just yelled at him and he stopped just 3 steps before disappearing in the woods offering Clay a 165 yard broadside shot. Clay had shot the gun plenty and he knew the first hash mark down in the Brunton Scope was dead on at 150 yards, so he put it right on the buck’s shoulder and squeezed off a shot. The bullet found its mark and after a 100 yard track job the Big 8 was piled up.

The early season youth hunts different states offer are a great opportunity to get kids in the outdoors. I think these times afield are important in shaping todays children and hope more kids get involved in this great sport of hunting. I truly hope the memories I am making with Clay are what he remembers once I am gone.” – Bryhn Craft

To see more from Bryhn Craft, a land specialist for Whitetail Properties, visit Whitetail Also, be sure to check out the episode of Heartland Bowhunter TV this year that featured Clay’s 2011 kill. It’s a terrific episode, featuring an incredible young man. Here’s the link – Heartland Bowhunter S5E5 – Clay Craft