By Cody Altizer
It’s officially November, readers, and I sincerely hope that each and every one of you have already tagged your buck, or will do so in the coming weeks! It’s such a special time of year for us all. Between great deer hunting, cool crisp fall days, and time with family, we as hunters look forward to this month all year long and are grateful when it finally arrives. Soak it up, everyone! It will be gone before we know it.
Now, with all that being said, I recently returned home from a bowhunting trip in west-central Illinois with my good buddy, Willie Urish. We spent three days in a tree together chasing (almost) rutting Illinois bucks, sharing beers with fellow outdoor bros (shout out to the world famous Chase Burns!) and experienced a traumatic stay at a bed and breakfast with a weird, albeit very nice, old lady who had one too many cats!
The last story is a blog post for a different day, so I’ll just share our hunting experiences. It was a very unique trip in that I was the first person to be able to hunt this property not only this fall, but the first person to hunt it in well over a year. So, it was exciting in the sense that deer using this property hadn’t been hunted in a year, but also because we were going into the property a little bit blind. Willie and I shed hunted this farm in March and hung stands in July, so we THOUGHT we had an IDEA where the deer were going to be, but we weren’t really sure. However, we had perfect weather conditions to find out.
When I arrived to Willie’s place mid-Thursday afternoon the temperature was 78 degrees. By the time we had made the 1.5 hour drive to Willie’s farm, the temperature had dropped 30+ degrees and the thermometer on my car read 44 degrees and dropping. The coldest and quickest temperature drop in Illinois in 60 years had set the perfect stage for some prime hunting the following day.
Unfortunately, we didn’t experience that awesome deer movement we were expecting. In fact, we only saw one deer. A lone doe that snuck in from behind our set as we were attaching the camera arm to the tree busted us, and that was all she wrote for the morning hunt. The following afternoon we returned to the same stand and saw a doe, fawn, and a blind in one eye buck that caught our wind despite possibly being older than the wind. To further frustrate our efforts, we checked our Facebook and Twitter accounts over dinner that afternoon to see hunters all across the Midwest who cashed in on the cold front and were fortunate to harvest some absolute giant bucks. We were happy for them, but a little disappointed we didn’t enjoy the same success.
We returned to the same stand the next morning and our spirits were quickly raised. We saw 10+ deer, 4 bucks (two 2 year olds, and what were likely two 3 130ish year olds) filtering past our stand the entire morning. I think Willie was more relieved than I was that we were finally seeing deer. I tried to make it clear to him that I didn’t care how many deer we saw, but he was bound and determined to put me in position to harvest a good deer.
That afternoon we pushed the envelope and set up South of an alfalfa field that had just been getting hammered by the deer. We didn’t have a perfect wind for the stand, but we had one that we thought we could made work. It didn’t. An hour and a half into the stand the wind was blowing right in the direction from which we were banking on the deer coming from, so we elected to get down. “No big deal,” I thought. There is no sense in sitting in a spot with a less than ideal wind. It was the safe move and it was the right move. Willie and I packed up our camera gear and were ready to get down with a couple hours of daylight to spare. With the camera strapped around my neck I quietly began climbing down when I noticed a doe and fawn standing 30 yards in one our shooting lanes, completely unaware I was halfway down a hickory and oblivious to the fact that Willie was poking his head around the same tree.
With nothing to lose I figured I had made it this far, and hanging out on climbing sticks until she passed by seemed extremely uncomfortable, so I thought I would see if I could get down, nock an arrow, sneak into better position, draw, and shoot the doe. I know, it seemed like a long shot, but I thought it was one worth taking. Remarkably, I got to the bottom of the tree and was in the process of untying my bow off the hoist rope when the old doe spotted me. She and I had a staring contest from the better part of 5 minutes, and during that I managed to untie the bow, put on my release and was inches close to nocking an arrow before she gave a flick of the tail, looked back at her fawn to reassure her everything was okay, and began working her way to the food plot. Whew! Close one. Willie and I scooted out of there without bumping any deer excited about the closest encounter we’d had on the trip thus far.
Unfortunately, Sunday morning, the last morning of our hunt, found Willie sick and laid up in bed. However, he trusted me enough to head afield anyway and I climbed a tree without my guide and cameraman ready to put an arrow through an Illinois giant. Again, however, I came away empty handed. I did see more deer, 10+ for the second straight morning, and was about 3 minutes away from putting an NAP KillZone through the lungs of one of the 4 does that passed my stand. Unfortunately, though, it was just a tad too dark for me to feel comfortable taking the shot, so I elected to pass. It was a tough decision to make, but I wasn’t about to make a bad hit on a deer because I forced a shot. It’s either perfect shots or no shots for me in the whitetail woods.
Down to the wire, Willie and I decided to head back to the alfalfa set we had hunted the night before. We had a much better wind, we were close to food, and the majority of the deer were spending most of their time on that side of the farm. It was a good plan.
It wasn’t long after we got settled into the hunt that we started seeing some action. We had a beautiful 2 year old 8 pointer make his way towards our stand, beneath our stand, in front of our stand, behind our stand, back under our stand, and so on and so forth for about a half hour. Willie was able to capture some beautiful footage. Unfortunately, though, he just didn’t make the cut of what I was looking to shoot. Still, we had a cool encounter and I had already deemed the hunt a success.
As the evening went on we had another doe stage back in the timber while making her way to the alfalfa field, and I also spotted a fawn with a badly broken leg. She wasn’t bedded very far from our stand, and we had to have walked right past her on the way in. I felt very badly about this fawn. It took all she had to make it out the alfalfa field and if she came by our stand I was going to put my tag on her. I hate seeing animals suffer.
But, as it turns out, we didn’t get to find out if she would come by our stand or not. Not long after she got up in the field we had our hunt busted by a couple of roaming coyotes. They pushed out the 2 year old 8 pointer and the doe that was staging back in the timber that I had my eyes on. I immediately noticed, however, that they circled downwind of the alfalfa field where the injured fawn was feeding. Now, I have no idea if their intent was to kill this fawn, but it certainly looked like it, and I have no doubt those two coyotes could have ran her down and killed in her no time.
Without any idea that Willie and I were up in the tree watching, the coyotes quickly started making their way past our stand. I had my eye on one; Willie was locked on to the other. It took no time to close the distance and before I knew it we had a coyote closing at 30 yards heading right for the stand. I drew back my bow and picked a small opening. Unfortunately, the coyote darted in and out of that opening so fast I barely even saw him in my peep sight. I followed him through the thick understory and he stopped. I whispered to Willie, “I’m going to shoot him.” He responded, “Go ahead whenever. I’m on him.” The window for my shot was tight, but I was confident I could thread the needle and sent my arrow through a paper plate size whole in the understory, through both lungs of wily coyote, and 6 inches into the fertile Illinois dirt. The coyote barked, 360’d twice, ran right in the tree our stands were before dying 10 yards from the base of our tree. Coyote down!
Just like that, things had turned from bad to good and I had arrowed my first ever coyote with a bow, and Willie captured it all perfectly on film! We got down, recovered the coyote and headed out of the timber to take some harvest photos with a beautiful sunset.
I’ll admit, I would have rather shot a 140” buck on my trip to Illinois, but I’m super excited that I was able to arrow a coyote. As a deer manager, I don’t like coyotes one bit, but I think they are gorgeous and extremely intelligent animals, and it was cool to harvest one, especially with my bow. I can’t thank Willie enough for having me out there, and he and I have already been talking about a return trip next year! That is, if I don’t get back out there before that!
– Cody Altizer