Bucks and ducks

Jeff Lampe

The October lull is here for deer hunters.

A few fortunate bowhunters like Scott Boyd, Scott Knupp and Amber McKenzie have already put a trophy buck in the pickup.

But for everyone else who has been spending time in the tree with little to see, relief is coming. As sure as leaves turn color, temperatures dip and the state issues a press release about deer-vehicle collisions, whitetail breeding season will arrive.

That's why for many, next weekend is the de facto start to archery season. From Halloween to mid-November is generally considered peak of the rut in central Illinois. It's a time when bucks that have been limiting movements to evenings suddenly lose their inhibitions.

That will be a welcome change for archers, many of whom have been grumbling about unseasonably warm temperatures. Of course the heat hasn't bothered everyone. In fact, Boyd of Cooperstown has already enjoyed the best bow season of his life even though he's only hunted twice.

That's because back on Oct. 3, Boyd shot a 17-point Brown County buck that has been unofficially green-scored at 195 6/8 inches despite a broken brow tine. As is so often the key in the early season, Boyd targeted a known buck bedding area to kill his deer.

After hunting the second day of the season and not seeing a deer, Boyd arrived early to his stand along the LaMoine River — a spot he is allowed to hunt because he mows the owner's yard. By the time the Rushville police officer settled in, he heard a deer blowing at him nearby. As daylight arrived, the scene became clearer.

'Something caught my eyes about 70 yards in front of me in the tall weeds,' Boyd said. 'I kept looking and it kept moving. Then I thought, ‘That looks like antlers.' '

Moments later the big buck stood up in the thick weeds, shook off and walked toward Boyd.

'The whole time my heart was just about to come out of my shirt,' he said. 'That baby was really thumping.'

A bowhunter since 1990 with a few 'decent' bucks to his credit, Boyd said he had missed shots at big deer before. So he was nervous history might repeat. But after the buck passed behind a tree, Boyd drew, fired and downed one of the best racks reported in Illinois this season.

'I haven't been back out since,' Boyd said. 'I'll probably never top that one.'

Hunting a bedding spot also paid off for Knupp of Macomb, who shot a 13-pointer on the morning of Oct. 13 in McDonough County. Knupp was hunting an overgrown creek bottom from a stand on the edge of the thickest brush, right where it opens up to a hardwood timber. The spot is a common bedding area for bucks after they feed in nearby crop fields.

Before he saw his buck, Knupp heard the sound of antlers hitting wood.

'All of the sudden there he was at 15 yards,' Knupp said. 'It was just starting to get light, and he was in the thick stuff. I could tell he was a decent buck, but I wanted to make sure he was at least 3

1/2

years old. He took a couple more steps, then heard a raccoon in the creek and froze. I had a clear look at him head on, so I looked at him through my binos. I made up my mind to take him.'

Knupp said the buck grossed 165 6/8 inches, field dressed at about 230 pounds and has pushed him past a personal goal: his top six bow kills have grossed more than 900 inches combined. With one Illinois buck tag and one Iowa tag still left, he's now aiming to top 1,000 inches.

Instead of hunting adjacent to a bedding area on the evening of Oct. 16, McKenzie set up between bed and food, intercepting her 12-point Fulton County buck as it traveled to an alfalfa field. McKenzie, 22, has been hunting for four years, and this is her second deer with a bow. The buck green-scored 164 inches, according to Lewistown taxidermist Ryan Malott.

'We've been watching him since early spring,' said Matt McKenzie, Amber's husband. 'That's her first buck ever, but she's passed a bunch of good deer waiting for a mounter. She's got more control than I do, I guess.'

Right now, most bucks still have control, too. That will change soon. When it does, no doubt there will be more big buck stories to tell.

JEFF LAMPE is Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail jlampe@pjstar.com