For something a little different, a recap of my most recent hunting trip.
Went on my first IL deer hunt in like 4 or 5 years two weekends ago, I've been out west a bunch and had sorta gotten away from midwestern deer. Drove down to east-central IL and stayed with a friend who just bought a house nearby the public site I had a muzzleloader tag for. IL does a December muzzleloader-only season after the "firearm" (shotgun, some handguns and muzzleloader) season is over and it's usually a slower paced but more difficult hunt since the deer are moving more nocturnal. I took a half day Thursday, drove to the range to finish zeroing in my T/C Impact then drove downstate. My state biologist friend had explored the area a bit before and gave me a couple OnX pin suggestions on where to set up so I didn't need to do any scouting beforehand. Got out Friday morning for opening and settled down on a hillside overlooking a river bottom. This site and general area of the state was very appealing to me as it has what passes for actual topography in the state.
As the sun came up I noticed there were squirrels everywhere. If I had a .22 (and it was legal to squirrel hunt during deer season, which it isn't, for reasons) I could have gotten a limit in a matter of minutes. Around 9AM I stood up to stretch my legs and take a look around the area. I walked about maybe 20 yards over to another point of the ridge I was on and glassed around for a minute. I heard what I thought were a few of the dozen squirrels barreling through the brush down in the drainage below but it turned out to be a couple of does running through. They stopped at the water and then ate and drank for a few minutes. I didn't shoot one because A) I was on day 1 B) I had an either-sex tag. I was hoping a buck might have been following them but nothing appeared.
As I was sitting there watching the does I looked off to my side and saw 4 more does walking across another finger at about the same elevation I was at. I don't think I spooked them, but all of a sudden they took off into the timber. The does below me hung around for a few more minutes after that. You can almost make out the other group in this photo, which also shows some of the topography.
At that point it was about 10 and I figured there probably wasn't going to be much more movement until later in the day. I still hunted back to the truck and explored a drainage that had a ton of sign in it. Honestly, there was sign basically everywhere I walked in this site. I got the impression that there were tons of deer and hunters didn't venture very deep often.
Made an Instagram post about this sign and the need to respect closures to hunting on public lands. The anti-hunting public doesn't need more arrows in its quiver and dangerously defacing signs like this doesn't do us any favors. Actually got over 100 likes and a half dozen comments, which is a first for me so maybe it actually resonated with people.
In an uncommonly good mood after seeing deer on day one in IL.
Went back to the truck to make lunch and caffeinate myself. Tastes like melted Haribo cola gummies.
For the afternoon I checked out another recommended spot actually across the road from where I parked. It was a field mixed with prairie grasses, some agriculture remnants and a chunk of timber. I tucked under a tree in the shadows with my little pop up turkey blind and a folding chair. Set my rifle on a tripod with my Outdoorsmans head and V-rest and waited. With about 30 minutes to sunset left I watched two does walk across an opening about 400 yards away on what was probably private land. About 10 minutes later what was clearly a buck, maybe even a 6pt, popped out from the prairie grass about 100 yards from me. I quickly got glass on him and saw that he was actually a forkie. I watched him for a second and played the "do I shoot it?" mental game. I still had two days left, had seen deer in both spots I hunted so far and I figured worst case I could come back and find him again another time. He walked across the field and disappeared into the grass. A few minutes later he reappeared again, this time under 50 yards away. I started to wonder if maybe I should take the shot this time. He walked towards me into handgun range and again, disappeared into the grass.
Feeling pretty hopeful I would find a bigger buck I packed up for the night, grabbed some food in town and went back to where I was staying to go to sleep. It rained all night and when my alarm went off at 4:40AM it was still raining hard enough that I decided I was going to sleep a bit longer and let the rain pass.
With the ground wet I took still hunted into where I was the morning before, using the wet leaves to my advantage to minimize noise while also trying to avoid slipping on the slick muddy ground beneath. Mostly avoided that but still had a couple short slides. Worked back up the drainage I found the day before and came across that was simultaneously a brilliant and astoundingly dangerous looking homemade tree stand.
It was put together with hollow metal extrusions and actually pretty well thought out, except for the lack of any teeth to grip the tree, iffy welds and the questionable looking hardware probably found in a spare parts bin on a workbench. Whoever you are, Brian, you're either very dumb or very brave and I hope you use a harness in that thing. I suspect you don't, though. I initially thought it was a climber, but now looking at the photos again I'm not exactly sure how it's supposed to work since normally you'd have your feet on the lower climber section but the upper one here also has a foot rest. Maybe Brian's some kind of industry innovator and I've got him wrong. Pretty cool paint job on it. I wonder how old it is - definitely has seen some use.
Found the remnants of a homemade rattle call, too.
I made my way back to the overlook where I spotted the does the day before and spent another couple hours waiting to see if anything appeared.
After no signs of deer I wandered over to the ridge where I saw the does before. Immediately found some pretty fresh sign that was probably from the morning.
Not only did I find deer sign but I also found dozens of chewed up acorns in addition to the squirrels chattering overhead. Definitely coming back here in a couple weeks with a .22.
Found a heavily used game trail through the woods. So heavily used they wore down a fallen tree.
Working on another one.
Went back to the forkie spot for the second evening sit. Unfortunately I only spotted the does crossing over on private again, this time just before it was too dark to see. Seemed like they were moving less during the day.
Got back out again the next morning at the same spot hoping for anything to cross within range. Waited a few hours but nothing came by. Walked the field edge hoping to catch a glimpse of an antler tine in the grass but didn't see anything. Found fresh sign again which was probably from overnight.
Shot of the tree I was sitting under at the edge of the field.
Went to check out the non-huntable part of the park before I left for home. I'll definitely be back with a fly rod and canoe to paddle the river and look for smallmouth.
When I parked I noticed a bunch of birds flying around so I swapped muzzleloader for (a bigger) camera.
Northern Flicker - this is a new one for me.
All in all it was a great few days out in nature, even if I was again reminded "don't pass up on the first day what you'd be happy to bring home on the last."
Excited to come back to this spot for small game, waterfowl and fishing soon.
Yesterday I went for a walk in the local nature preserve. Saw some big deer.