by Gordon Whittington
“If you want to kill a big deer,” Jerry Bryant says, “go turkey hunting.”
The man knows whereof he speaks. After all, when he put that plan into action, the result was a 36-pointer that ranks among the top bucks of all time.
Jerry’s non-typical has been tentatively accepted by the Boone and Crockett Club at a score of 291 1/8 net points, which makes him an overall state record by a margin of nearly two feet, and a crossbow world record by an even greater margin. And, depending on the outcome of a 2004 review by a panel of B&C measurers, he could be certified as one of the planet’s overall top four bucks, including those not shot by hunters. (See sidebar below.)
Whatever the final score, this is the most impressive whitetail to enter the limelight in 2003. But unlike nearly all other headline-grabbing bucks, he isn’t from the most recent hunting season. The “Bryant Giant,” as he’s been dubbed by Peoria taxidermist Ron Meinders, was shot in 2001.
The only reason this story is just now being told is that Jerry asked us to hold off on publication until a legal issue had been resolved. There has been no controversy about the time, place or way in which the buck was taken. The legal issue stemmed from the fact that at the time of the kill, Jerry was involved in a contentious divorce. With those court proceedings now behind him, Jerry is eager to share this trophy with the hunting community.
That process actually began with the public unveiling of the mount at the 2003 Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic in Bloomington. There, the newly mounted deer was featured in a special display area hosted by North American Whitetail magazine.
CROSSBOWS IN ILLINOIS?
Unlike a few other states, including Ohio, Arkansas, Georgia and Wyoming, Illinois doesn’t allow the general use of crossbows during archery season. However, due to a serious arm injury suffered on the job, Jerry has the state’s blessing to use a crossbow for deer hunting.
“One day back in 1990 I was lifting some heavy equipment, and the next thing I remember is being in the emergency room,” Jerry says. “I just blacked out. The doctor said I’d ruptured the ligaments in my right forearm and that I really didn’t have any choice but to have surgery.”
Being right-handed made it easier for Jerry to approve the procedure to reattach the ligaments. But it did little to ease the pain following the 6 1/2-hour surgery. “I lost 27 percent of the strength in my right arm and 22 percent of my range of motion,” he says. “I was off work for four months before returning to light duty.”
Jerry had hoped the surgery would let him resume bowhunting. It didn’t.
“I’d been shooting a compound bow,” he notes, “and for two years after my surgery I tried to shoot it. But my arm would lock up, and even at 15 yards I couldn’t shoot a group smaller than 12 inches. I feared if I shot a deer I would only wound it, and I didn’t want to take that chance. I’ve never lost one.”
Luckily, in 1992 a coworker informed Jerry that Illinois allows a medically disabled hunter to use a crossbow. Jerry provided documentation of his injury, and his application for a permit was approved.
In the 11 years he’s now been hunting with a crossbow, Jerry has shot several deer with it, including an 8-point buck. But as November 2001 arrived, Jerry hadn’t been hunting yet that fall. In October he’d learned his permit was up for renewal. After providing the medical documentation of his injury, he’d once again sat back to await his permit.
Under normal circumstances that wouldn’t have taken long, but many things about that autumn were far from normal. Mail was traveling slowly, due to the nationwide anthrax scare. Jerry kept waiting for his permit to arrive, but day after day there was nothing in his mailbox.
Fortunately, he still was able to spend some time in the field during that period, and for that he can thank Fred Voorhees. Figuring that just being in the woods might help take Jerry’s mind off things back home, Fred invited him out on several occasions to his Fulton County farm.
Unknown to Jerry, an extraordinary buck roamed the area. In fact, the deer carried a rack far larger than any ever recorded in Illinois, a state renowned for trophy whitetails. The monster had been running that part of Fulton County for several years, and during that time, at least three of his shed antlers had been found. (See photo below.) Reportedly none of the sheds had been found right where Jerry ended up shooting the buck, but without question they all had come from that animal.
THE TOM & JERRY
One day early last November, as Jerry sat in the woods on Fred’s farm, he saw a big 10-pointer with a notably light-colored face. And there was another development: Just down the road, on a 121-acre farm owned by Fred’s brother, Richard, there were sightings of a huge turkey gobbler.
Jerry had never shot one with his crossbow and wanted to do so. (Illinois has a fall turkey season.) This bird was a real heavyweight, and he walked with a limp that identified him as one the local hunters had been after for years.
The crossbow permit finally arrived three days prior to the Nov. 16 shotgun season for deer. Now Jerry could quit scouting and start hunting. But where . . . and for what?
Fred offered to help Jerry set up on Richard’s farm, in an area where the big gobbler had been seen recently. Fred would hunt up the road at his own farm in hopes of taking the nice 10-pointer Jerry had seen there.
Interestingly, for the past three weeks or so Richard had bowhunted his farm, but on Nov. 14 he’d headed back to Ohio, where he and wife Linda live. Richard hadn’t seen many bucks during his hunt.
A day later, Fred took Jerry over to Richard’s farm, to a creek bottom where the tom had been seen. They set up Jerry’s 15-foot ladder stand in late morning, went to eat lunch and returned at around 2:30 p.m.
Fred drove over to hunt his farm while Jerry went to Richard’s, hoping for a crack at the big gobbler. The wind was from the south and the temperature near 50 degrees as Jerry climbed into his ladder stand.
At around 4:15 the hunter spotted movement. Five turkeys — among them the huge tom — were heading his way.
If turkeys didn’t have such great eyesight, Jerry might never have had a chance to shoot a whitetail that day. But as he reached for his crossbow, one bird caught the movement and went on high alert. All of them fled without offering a shot.
Turkeys gone, Jerry broke out a Twinkie and a Mountain Dew. But his snack was about to be interrupted, and in a way he never could have imagined. “All of a sudden, on top of a hill about 60 yards to my right, I saw movement,” he says. “I took my crossbow and laid it on my lap.”
It was a doe, and she was heading Jerry’s way. In fact, she soon was standing 15 yards in front of the hunter, her chest centered in the “V” formed by two trees. Decision time.
Jerry raised his crossbow and centered the scope on her chest. She couldn’t see him, because nearly all of her head was behind a tree, but he could tell she was looking behind her. She looked back three times . . . then ran on, crossed a small creek 75 yards to Jerry’s left and disappeared over the hill.
As the hunter lowered his crossbow, more noise signaled the arrival of another actor in this drama.
“I thought somebody was running through the woods,” Jerry says. “But it was a buck, and he was on the same trail the doe had taken.”
Since 1993, there had been no gun hunting on the farm in an effort to improve buck size and numbers. In addition, Fred had instituted a minimum buck size. Only those with antler spreads at least as wide as their ear tips (15 inches or so in the “alert” position) were fair game on the farm. This rule was firmly in Jerry’s mind as he sized up the buck prancing down the hill toward him.
“I could only see the right side of the rack,” Jerry says. “It was way past his ear and huge, as far as thickness goes. But I didn’t try to count points. I’ve never been able to shoot one when I’ve done that.”
Although the doe was long gone, her influence remained. The buck stopped right where she’d urinated: a mere 15 yards in front of the stand, his kill zone perfectly exposed. Jerry aimed at the chest and shot.
Rather than run, the buck just lowered his head, and then raised it, repeating the sequence four or five times. Had Jerry been shooting a regular bow, during this time he perhaps could have nocked a second arrow and shot again. But he can only cock his crossbow while on the ground, so all he could do was watch and wonder where he’d gone wrong.
Finally, Jerry elected to stand up, in hopes of seeing better. As he did, he felt a chill run down his . . . legs.
“I was holding my drink between my thighs,” he explains. “When I stood up, I spilled it all over me.”
As Jerry watched, in what had literally become a sticky situation, he saw the deer start to walk away, then stumble. Any remaining doubts about the shot vanished when the brute fell after a 15-yard walk. The broadhead had cut through t
he heart, leaving the mighty deer dead on his feet.
By the time Fred arrived, Jerry had checked out the rack and found that it carried far more points than he’d imagined. When Tim Walmsley measured it for entry into B&C, Jerry also learned that the buck — the only non-typical he’s ever seen alive — had a world-class score to boot. Now all that remains is waiting for the B&C panel to decide a final score for the buck at its meeting next spring.
Jerry freely admits that when he shot this buck, he didn’t know what he’d done. “I didn’t know anything about antler scoring,” he says. “Any average hunter could have done what I did. If anyone deserved to kill that deer, it was Fred. He’s put so much into that land, and he’s a good hunter who’s shot a lot of big bucks.”
But then again, “I really believe I was just meant to kill this deer,” Jerry concludes. “Maybe it’s because of the obstacles I had to go through.”
Whatever the explanation, there’s simply no arguing with the results.