Elite Eight: Illinois Trophy Buck

Finding big bucks takes work. Luke and Lance Terstriep knew this particular piece of land might be good, but before they could they give their opinions, their father, Luke, did his research and bought it. This gem is located in west-central Illinois. Now the work of learning the farm and figuring out how the deer react to the habitat began.

None of the Terstriep hunting trio are strangers to big bucks. The younger Luke has taken bucks that scored in the 140s, and Lance and Luke Senior have killed 150-class bucks. Together, they have almost a dozen huge racks on the wall.

The Terstrieps have had the fortune to hunt several pieces of prime whitetail property in the "Golden Triangle" of deer hunting in Illinois, but it had always been Luke Senior's dream to own his own slice of whitetail heaven. Finally, that dream had come true.

Based on the deer sign they had spotted on the new farm, as well as some dandy shed antlers they had picked up, all three hunters were excited to get their treestands hung and get started. The farm had an even distribution of row-crops and timber. There were a couple of good ditches and some timber fingers sticking out into the grain fields, and there were plenty of great ambush spots for their stands.

Young Luke had the first sighting of a huge buck early in the 2009 archery deer season. He watched a big buck feed across a bean field at about 150 yards. After the hunt, he called his family and told them, "I just saw a 170-inch buck!" He had no way of knowing that his guess was right on the mark.

In an effort to get more information about this monster, the Terstriep trio put up three Cuddeback trail cameras on the property. Not only did they want a better look at the buck, but they wanted to try to pattern him as well. Within two weeks, they had gotten three photos of the huge buck. Everyone agreed he was a record-book animal, which only fueled the fire already inside the hunters.

The Terstriep trio saw the buck three times in October without spooking him. They got trail cam photos of him on October 28 and November 4 and 5. With all this information, they still could not get a solid handle on his daily habits. He seemed to be using the entire farm. One of the cameras was placed just outside an area of the property that was deemed "Off Limits" for hunting by the group. They did not hunt or even enter this protected bedding area.

In mid-November, the temperature began to rise and the rains came. On November 15, it rained a full inch in west-central Illinois. Another inch fell the following day. Daytime temperatures were close to 50 degrees, and these conditions kept most hunters at home.

But Luke Terstriep Jr. could no longer sit inside and wait for better conditions. On the afternoon of November 17, he decided to slip into a stand that had not yet been hunted. The stand was in a fencerow that funneled deer between a pine thicket and a soybean field. The wind was finally right for this spot. He donned his Mossy Oak camo and headed out through a steady drizzle.

Luke knew the wet conditions would allow him to slip into his stand without making a sound, and he knew the drizzle and the rain dripping from branches would be in his favor. He also knew the dampness would mask some of his odor. These were all good things. He also assumed the bad weather had kept the neighbors out of the woods, which should have reduced the pressure on the deer. He made his way methodically to the stand.

Luke settled into his stand and began what would turn out to be the most exciting hunt of his career. It was not long before a doe stepped into the bean field. He watched her closely and noticed her body language. She was nervous about her back-trail. She kept glancing back into the timber. She was about 20-yards out into the field when Luke saw more movement on the field's edge.

He could tell the deer was a buck, but there was just not enough of it showing to tell how big. He slowly picked up his bow, just in case it was a shooter. The buck stood and studied the field for quite some time before stepping out. As soon as he did Luke knew he wanted a shot.

The buck continued to scan the field. He was broadside at 40-yards. As Luke quickly processed the information before him, he noticed the doe was now about 20 yards directly in front of his stand. If his camouflage would do its job and keep him concealed from her, the buck should follow her path and present a higher percentage shot. Luke recalled the words of his father to "be patient" and "wait for your shot opportunity." Luke Senior's advice was right-on.

With the wind and rain in his face, Luke waited on the big deer. In the meantime, four more does entered the field. Now the hunter began to worry about the number of eyes and ears that could pick him off. But by now he was standing with his bow up in shooting position.

How will I mess this up? he asked himself. He was trying very hard not to look at the rack, but that was impossible. It's over 150, he thought. Stop that! he scolded himself. Concentrate on the shot.

As the buck made the 90-degree turn to pass in from of him, Luke made his slow, methodical draw. He estimated the deer to be at 25 yards as he anchored his pin and calmed his breathing. The shot was near perfect and Luke Jr. watched the fletching disappear into the buck's chest. The huge deer spun and exited the field, taking the rest of the small herd with him. To the hunter's surprise, the female deer reappeared in just a couple of minutes.

Luke was more excited than words could describe. Once he regained his composure, he called his father and Lance for advice on tracking in the adverse conditions. It was getting late and the chance of the rain washing out the blood trail was a real possibility.

With deer still in the field in front of him, Luke waited as long as he could. Finally he just had to spook them and get on the blood trail. It was just getting dark when he found his deer. He covered it with brush and left to go get help. Terstriep felt very fortunate to have the scouting and planning pay off with this buck. With the first Illinois firearm season of 2009 just days away, they may have never seen this deer again.

A hunting buddy came to help. They were both excited about the size of the animal and its antlers. It had not quite sunk in totally to Luke.

"I'm soaked and freezing," he said. "Let's get this buck home, and then we can celebrate."

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