December 28, 2016
When the rut's on in Illinois, there's no place Kyle Wieter would rather be. So it's no surprise that Nov. 9, 2015, found the host of Sportsman Channel's Adrenaline Junkies and fledgling cameraman Tyler Yehling in a tree in the Prairie State.
The stand was on a 700-acre tract Kyle was still trying to figure out, so he'd set out that morning in hopes of arrowing a management buck he'd been watching. Kyle figured the buck was hanging around a certain area of the farm, because, after velvet shedding, "He was the only sheriff in town at that point." The mature buck had a bad attitude and bullied other bucks out of the area.
Kyle rattled, and sure enough, the buck came in looking for an intruder. He got an arrow through the boiler room instead.
With this old buck out of the picture, there was now room for younger bucks with better antler genetics to move back in. Plus, Tyler was able to get some good experience in videotaping a kill for TV. He'd need it sooner than he might have thought.
After they'd taken care of that deer, there was barely time left for an evening hunt. So they decided to simply watch the south end of the farm, hoping to learn more about deer movement on the property.
As it turned out, though, on their evening watch Kyle and Tyler laid eyes on a giant: a buck neither even knew existed.
Kyle whispered to his cameraman, "That's a giant! That's truly a world-class animal."
The buck was instantly dubbed "The King," due to the crown of stickers protruding upward from his left G-2 tine. But he'd have been worthy of the name anyway. He crossed at a narrow point between two patches of cover, and he made haste in doing so.
As excited as the hunter was to see this monster, it meant extra pressure for Tyler. That morning had been his first recording of a hunter shooting an animal. With a deer the likes of The King running around, Tyler would need to bring his A-game if there were an opportunity to get the kill on camera. But Kyle had confidence in his young cameraman.
The next morning, nothing but the wrong wind could keep the two from going after the monarch they'd seen. So what happened? Naturally, they got the wrong wind. Kyle wasn't about to risk it.
But then, around noon, the wind shifted to blow directly from the south. That was exactly what Kyle had hoped for. There was still another issue, though: The only time they'd ever laid eyes on the buck was briefly the evening before. Kyle didn't know the deer's habits. He wasn't even sure the buck was still in the area. The men would just be acting on a hunch.
Even though the wind had changed in his favor, lacking knowledge of the buck's habits or travel patterns, Kyle decided to play it safe and not venture as far into the property as he had the night before. He and Tyler headed to a location north of where they'd seen the buck the previous day.
Plus, the night before, the buck had headed from south to north, so Kyle was hoping he'd be in the vicinity. The main goal was to observe. From this stand, the hunter could see a long way down a narrow field. He was just hoping to get another glimpse of The King.
The guys settled in around 2:00, and they didn't have a long wait. At around 4:00, Kyle looked up and saw The King standing in the field.
The buck was over 200 yards away and walking perpendicular to them. Kyle whispered to Tyler, "That's the giant from last night. Get ready, man. I'm going to rattle."
As soon as Kyle hit the antlers together, the buck snapped his head up and looked their way. The hunter then slowly turned away from the deer and rattled again. The King had heard enough. He made a beeline for the stand at a trot.
After covering half the distance, the deer slowed to a fast walk. But he was still traveling in a direct line toward their position. Then he disappeared into a small depression in the field.
Kyle went into panic mode as the deer took longer than expected to become visible again — but then noticed the tips of antlers coming up from the dip. Unfortunately, the huge deer was now walking away, back in the direction from which he'd just come.
Kyle reached for his grunt call and let loose. Nothing. Knowing that sometimes deer don't hear a call due to their footsteps, etc., he hit the call again, louder than the first time.
That did it. This second set of grunts caused the buck to whirl around and start back Kyle's way, quickly crossing the depression in the field and closing to within 80 yards. The buck kept coming, postured and stiff-legged. Hunter and cameraman were about to get their chance.
The buck kept coming, straight on, never turning one way or the other to offer a shot, and walked right into the timber. Kyle drew and readied for a shot, grunting at the deer as he approached an opening. The buck walked right through it. Then, for seemingly no reason, the brute snapped his head up and looked directly at them.
Kyle was at full draw but had no clear shot. The buck backed up about three steps: a sure sign departure was imminent. But before the deer fled, he happened to stop where there was a small opening right behind his shoulder.
Kyle released. The arrow zipped through the deer, and the shot looked good. Kyle was just waiting for the buck to topple over in sight. But he didn't. In fact, the deer ran far enough that Kyle knew he'd crossed onto a neighboring property. Not the best case when you haven't yet even met that neighbor.
Watching through the viewfinder, Tyler was certain Kyle had made a perfect shot. But the hunter himself wasn't ready to celebrate. He glassed his arrow from the stand and thought it showed evidence of a gut shot. So the pair climbed down and inspected the arrow. Sure enough, it didn't look good.
"I couldn't figure out how in the world that had happened until I thought it through and reviewed the footage," Kyle says. "His right front leg was back a little bit, and the arrow deflected off his shoulder blade, angling back."
Kyle decided to back out. He and his cameraman walked three-quarters of a mile out of the way to get back to the truck, just to avoid going through the area where the buck might have gone.
Not sure what to do, Kyle put on his thinking cap. He contacted John Engelken (or "Tracker John," as he's widely known) to line up a time when he could bring out his deer-recovery dogs. But John couldn't make it out until the following evening; his deer-recovery service is contracted by outfitters, and he already had a few calls ahead of Kyle's.
We can all relate to the sleepless night Kyle was facing. "No matter how much bowhunting experience you have, everyone needs a vote of confidence," he says, referring to the phone calls he made that night to close friends in an effort to keep his hopes up.
The next morning, Kyle and Tyler went back to see if the buck had expired before crossing onto the neighbor's land. He hadn't. They tracked him to the edge of a creek and had to call it quits, as the creek marked the property line.
At 11:00 that night, Kyle met John in the local Walmart parking lot. Rain was on its way, which John reassured Kyle wouldn't be an issue for his dogs. In fact, it could help. The 40 mph wind forecasted to accompany it, however, would be a problem. Long story short, the dogs tracked the deer to the same spot at the creek where Kyle had lost him.
So they did the only thing they could: They worked the entire property line, hoping the buck had doubled back onto Kyle's side. They searched until 7:30 that morning but had no such luck. With little hope left and other obligations, John left.
Out of desperation, Kyle made a phone call to the game warden. "I showed him our footage of me shooting the buck," he says. "That way, if someone tried checking the buck in, he would know that I shot it."
Time went by, leaving Kyle to think he'd lost the buck of a lifetime. "Two days later my phone rang. It was the game warden. He said the neighbor had my deer!" Another local warden had been called by them to issue a salvage tag.
Kyle had caught a lucky break — sort of. He'd driven by the landowner's house and had called him numerous times since shooting the buck, yet had never been able to reach him. Now he knew the neighbor had the deer.
Before Kyle could get too excited, however, the officer reminded him that the neighbor didn't have to hand over the rack. So Kyle did the only thing he could think to do: He paid the neighbor a visit.
"I couldn't believe it," he says. "After spending days trying to reach him, I drove over to his house, and the guy was outside. We talked for four hours. He was the absolute nicest guy you could ever imagine. He was thrilled with the fact that I'm hunting next to him and that the property isn't leased by an outfitter." Of course, this all came as a huge relief to Kyle. You just never know how people are going to react in situations such as this.
Kyle then showed the landowner the video footage of the deer, and the landowner agreed it was the same buck found on his property by his son-in-law. They'd assumed he'd been shot from the road, as he'd been found only about 150 yards from one.
There was another hitch, though: It was still up to the son-in-law as to whether he wanted to return the deer. Fortunately, that turned out to be no problem, either.
When Kyle asked if he'd be willing to give up the buck, he said, "Look, it's your deer. You shot him. You even have video proof. Absolutely, you can have the deer. The buck just happened to cross over onto our farm, and we appreciate the fact you had the respect not to cross onto our property without permission."
By this time the deer was already at the taxidermist, so Kyle had to go get the deer there. He then called the game warden to check it in as bow kill, which he technically didn't have to do. The process to obtain a salvage tag was already in motion. The officer informed him that since it was, Kyle could let the process continue, letting him retain his second tag and continue hunting bucks.
Kyle says he never even considered doing that. He was extremely thankful for the deer and for the way things had turned out with the neighbors. He wasn't about to ruin any of that mojo by being greedy. He'd shot the deer, and it had been recovered. He was glad to tag it.
Kyle later found out why he'd had no luck in reaching the neighbor by phone. "Oh, you called my home phone? I hardly ever check that thing," the man told him.
And what did the neighbors ask in exchange for returning the buck? A handshake agreement that if the shoe is ever on the other foot, and a deer they've shot makes it onto Kyle's side of the fence, they'll be able to retrieve it. Of course, that's fine with Kyle. "I have no desire to keep someone else's deer," he says.
And he couldn't be happier with the folks on the other side of the fence, repeatedly expressing sincere gratitude for their assistance. "Because of this situation, I got to meet my neighbors and form a relationship with them," Kyle notes. "We now share trail camera pictures and that sort of thing."
In fact, catching wind of how the two parties have since been working together, another adjoining landowner reached out and now wants to work with them to manage all of their properties in a like-minded fashion. So it ended up a win-win for all involved: just as deer hunting should be.