May 17, 2016
When you're hunting a free-ranging mature buck, it's extremely unusual to have a solid timeline that extends over several years. There nearly always are going to be gaps in whatever pattern we decipher, resulting in a lot of ups and downs as the quest continues. In most cases, just when you think you finally have him figured out, everything changes...and then, it's back to square one.
In March 2012, eastern Illinois bowhunter Adam Crumrin found a big 5-point shed measuring 74 inches. If the other side roughly matched and the buck had a reasonable spread, the gross score would be well in excess of 160 inches by the Boone and Crockett system. Based purely on the antler's mass and overall look, Adam estimated it had been dropped by a 4 1/2-year-old whitetail.
The bowhunter set up several trail cameras on the property, and by mid-summer he had some good photos of the buck. By now he'd blown up into a 6x5 typical scoring over 190! With this type of buck in his hunting area, Adam understandably began counting the hours until bow season started.
Amazingly, by mid-December the archer had had 13 in-season encounters with the buck — but none resulted in a shot being offered. The deer was quite
unpredictable in his pattern, rarely doing the same thing twice.
One day in mid-December, Adam was set up for an evening hunt. On this particular evening, several does had entered the field. With only 15 minutes of legal hunting time left Adam noticed a buck standing in some cover adjacent to the field. The buck wasn't nervous — he just stood and watched the does, obviously looking for anything out of place. With five minutes of hunting time left, the buck walked into the field and stopped broadside at the slam-dunk range of nine yards. The bowhunter's long-awaited chance at the huge deer finally had arrived.
But wait. While adjusting his video camera, Adam noticed he was out of video light. Legal hunting light remained, so he could have tried to shoot the deer anyway — but he didn't even pick up his bow! As it turned out, that was the last time he saw the great whitetail all season.
By this time, Adam had told one of his hunting buddies, Randy Baker, about the buck and had shown him several trail camera photos. Randy's response was, "We need to name him. And since no one else knows about this buck, we need to call him Elvis — because he'll be more famous dead than he is alive." And so, starting then and there, the hunt become one for "Elvis."
That spring, Adam found no sheds from the deer. By mid-summer, however, he'd again started getting trail camera photos. By now Elvis had blown up into a 6x7 typical that would score close to 200 inches.
On Nov. 14 that year, Adam was perched in his tree stand well before dawn. Right before shooting light, he saw Elvis running toward him, chasing a doe. The buck ran right under Adam's stand without stopping. For the next half-hour the bowhunter had periodic glimpses of him chasing the doe and roaring almost constantly while running through the woods. But as usual, there was no chance to get an on-camera kill.
Everything calmed down for several hours. Then, at 1:30, Elvis again ran right under Adam without offering a shot. There were no more sightings that day — or on any of the next 13 straight, which Adam spent hunting from daylight till dark.
On Dec. 12, Elvis walked right behind Adam's stand — but again there was no shot.
Two days later the weather started changing in midday, and Adam took off work and headed to his stand. He was hunting over a picked corn field. Fairly early, several does entered the field. Then, just before sunset, Elvis appeared and approached the stand.
Adam recalls having been as calm as anyone could be with a 200-inch buck in range. He checked the distance and got 35 yards on his rangefinder. But as Adam started to draw his bow, one old doe standing right under his tree stand saw the movement and stomped her foot. The buck looked that way, but by then Adam was at full draw. He knew the buck was alert and figured he'd crouch at the shot, so he aimed low. But when the arrow was released, the buck didn't move — and of course, the arrow hit low.
"We need to name him. And since no one else knows about this buck, we need to call him Elvis — because he'll be more famous dead than he is alive." And so, starting then and there, the hunt become one for "Elvis."
After replaying the shot on his camera, Adam confirmed the marginal shot placement. Disappointed, he got down from his stand and left the area as quietly as possible.
First thing the next morning, Adam and fellow bowhunter Charlie Guyer started trailing the buck. Unfortunately, after following over a half-mile of very spotty blood, they lost the deer's trail. The friends spent several days over the next two months continuing to search, but they never found any further sign of what had happened.
The only good news was that, in the process, Adam found both of the buck's sheds from the year before. But as winter turned to spring and eventually to summer, there was no sign of the deer's most recent rack or of the animal himself. The obvious question that wouldn't leave Adam's mind was, "Did he survive?"
While checking his trail cameras in early summer 2014, Adam discovered a possible clue as to why Elvis was so hard to pattern: There were several dogs chasing deer in the area. To the bowhunter, that was reason enough for this buck to be extremely erratic in his movements.
On July 19, Adam pulled a camera card and there was Elvis, looking as healthy as ever. The buck even still had a dark spot where he'd been hit, just above the brisket. The other interesting change was that the now 7 1/2-year-old buck had a distinctively non-typical rack.
Adam continued to get photos of the deer every two to three weeks throughout the summer. On Sept. 1, the bowhunter put up two Lone Wolf tree stands in the area the buck now seemed to be calling home. One was set for a north-northwest wind, the other for a south-southwest wind.
Opening day was Oct. 1, and it found Adam in one of his tree stands. He didn't see Elvis that day, but the giant was still around; Adam's trail camera later got images of him on Oct. 6, 7, 8 and 9. The photos suggested the giant was bedding in a standing corn field and coming to a bean field to feed each evening.
Adam was at work on the rainy morning of Oct. 15. But when he checked the forecast, he saw the rain was predicted to quit before dark. He immediately decided to take off work early, so he could hunt from a setup that favored the day's south wind.
Adam got set up around 1:00 p.m., with the rain still coming down. But around 4:30 it quit as predicted, and the sky started to clear. Soon, a few does came into the bean field directly downwind of the stand.
The bowhunter had set up his Ozonics scent-elimination unit and had put out some Evercalm scent. Still, the does got a little on edge when they moved directly downwind of the stand. In fact, they eventually left the field. Fortunately, just 10 minutes later they came back — and now they weren't as spooked. What's more, they had a 160-class buck following them. And behind him was Elvis!
When the "smaller" buck got into the bean field and downwind of the stand, he seemed to know something was up. However, he continued to feed. Elvis was right behind him and walked into the beans as well.
Adam already had checked the distance as he came to full draw. "I was thinking, 'I can't believe I'm getting another chance at this buck. And I'm going to kill him, even though I'm out of camera light.'" There was still legal shooting light, and after so many close calls with this giant, getting the deer shot mattered far more than getting it on video.
Adam grunted at the huge buck with his mouth and stopped him at 35 yards. And this time, the arrow — a Black Eagle tipped with a Rage Hypodermic — hit perfectly.
After replaying the shot in his mind, Adam was convinced Elvis would be down in short order. So he contacted buddies Brad Davis and Tom and Cindy Rothrock to help him retrieve the deer. Sure enough, Elvis had gone less than 100 yards.
When Adam finally got his hands on the giant, he couldn't believe his three-year quest was over. The first thing he noticed was how many abnormal points the deer had put on during the last year. Elvis has a gross typical score of 195 6/8 inches, with 12 measurable abnormals that total 28 3/8. The 7 1/2-year-old buck has over 40 inches in circumference measurements. When everything was added together and deductions had been made for asymmetry of the 6x7 typical frame, Adam had his first net Boone & Crockett whitetail, with a net non-typical score of 213 4/8.
After three years of anticipation and getting numerous trail camera photos, along with the highs and lows of hunting Elvis, Adam finally was able to put his hands on the impressive deer. For this hardcore whitetail enthusiast, it was the ultimate hunting experience.
ADAM'S UNIQUE SYSTEM
We're blessed here in the Midwest with bucks that have great genetics, as well as more food than most places (mainly corn and soybeans). The one trophy factor that's generally lacking is age. Adam agrees that most bucks have their largest antlers at age 6 1/2 or 7 1/2. And to try to get more local bucks into that rough age bracket, he has a unique system.
"I have four or five separate properties I hunt," he explains. "If I take a large, mature buck off a particular property, I don't hunt there again for between one and three years." In essence, Adam takes out a buck, then turns the property into a sanctuary for that span.
In my 25 years of writing about some of the best whitetails ever shot in Illinois, the No. 1 constant has been comments along the lines of, "The buck came from a sanctuary." Adam's management plan ensures he has several sanctuaries working each year. The 3 1/2-year-old buck that might get shot on another tract can survive to achieve maximum antler growth. And the lack of pressure helps make him easier to hunt when he finally reaches peak size.
Adam does point out, "The only downside to hunting the way I do is that after a buck reaches the age of 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 years, he's so smart it becomes very difficult to put a tag on him." That said, Adam will admit that he keeps cameras on all of the properties each year, even those he's allowing to rest. If a real giant suddenly should appear on one of those tracts, the sanctuary schedule might get bumped up a little!
By strictly bowhunting and trying to self-video his kills, Adam arguably has taken on the supreme challenge concerning giant bucks. It's not easy. "Even when I think I'm doing everything right, sometimes it still takes me three years to kill a buck However, when I saw Elvis on the ground, it was worth the wait."