By Josh Honeycutt
Many hunters are just kids when they’re introduced to the lifestyle by a mentor. Usually it’s a father, grandfather or uncle. Regardless, someone introduced them to the grand adventure of whitetail hunting. And those who never had that really miss out. It’s a special relationship to hunt with family. The kindred spirit among hunters is strong, but it’s especially so among relatives who share the deer woods.
“My dad started taking me hunting with him when I was five years old,” says Cody Tucker, a central Illinois hunter. “I always wanted to be that little boy who tagged along with my dad every time he went hunting. I can still recall a lot of the hunts to this day, and the encounters we had in the field. He is still the first person I call when I harvest an animal.”
Many of Cody’s childhood whitetail encounters still rank high on the list, but he definitely had a 2019 Illinois season to remember. The state has long been a hotbed for record-book bucks, and it’s a place many out-of-staters dream of hunting someday. Fortunately for Cody, he gets to experience it for real, but the property where he recently killed a giant buck isn’t always a big-buck producer. But it certainly was last summer, when the colossal whitetail showed up.
“This farm is kind of hit-and-miss,” Cody says. “We don’t have a lot to hunt at the farm where I harvested Geronimo. It’s basically big ag fields of corn and soybeans, a lot of waterways and a fencerow on the backside of a big block of timber. I always run a couple cameras every year, just to keep tabs on what may show up.”
It’s definitely a good thing he did so last year. Because a giant was lurking.
In July, Cody began to capture images of him as soon as the cameras were hung. The huge deer resembled one estimated to have been 3 1/2 years old in ’18, so Cody assumed it was the same buck and made plans to pursue him. Fortunately, the massive deer kept showing up on the cameras the rest of summer and even as the archery opener neared.
About 80 acres of timber stretch out behind Cody’s preferred hunting spot. In the evenings, a lot of deer funnel out of that timber and into the standing corn and bean fields. The property’s intermittent waterways make for excellent entry and exit routes. Cody rides his UTV to where he can ease it into one of the waterways. Then he parks the vehicle out of sight and walks to his spot in the fencerow. This approach makes the area easy to access without bumping deer.
That’s exactly how Cody entered his stand on Oct. 3, leading to his first in-person encounter with Geronimo. During that sit he watched the huge buck feed out into the open beans, but never close enough for a shot opportunity with the crossbow.
Three days later, Cody returned to that stand. And wouldn’t you know? The huge buck reemerged. Cody again watched him for quite awhile. This time the buck came incredibly close to edging into range, but he just never reached Cody’s shot-distance comfort zone. Electing to pass, the crossbow hunter could only watch as the huge deer eventually turned and fed off into the distance.
“The first two encounters were unbelievable,” Cody explains. “I didn’t have my camera the first time I went out. The second sit of the year, I took my Canon Vixia camcorder and laid eyes and lens on Geronimo. I got five minutes of footage of him feeding before he vanished again.”
Then, on Oct. 7, everything aligned. Cool winds pushed out the warm, stagnant air.
“It was the first really good day for deer movement of the year,” Cody remembers. “The front cooled things down.”
Instead of climbing back into the same stand as the previous evening, Cody decided to brush in on the ground with cedar branches. Due to wind blowing in the direction of where the buck typically bedded, he didn’t want to risk walking all of the way to his regular stand location.
Cody settled in without bumping any deer, and it felt like a good day for action. Sure enough, it didn’t take long for a doe and two fawns to exit cover and feed out into the field. Then, a single doe popped out. A few minutes passed before another doe with twins emerged from the bedding area. The seven deer milled around in the open for quite some time. They seemed to really like the late-planted beans.
Anticipation built as the evening sun burned closer to the horizon. The conditions were perfect. Geronimo already had moved on two warmer days, so surely he’d exit cover during daylight with the onslaught of the cold front.
He did. Cody was staring off into space, hoping for a third encounter. That’s when he caught movement off to the side. Geronimo and his bachelor buddy, nicknamed “Beamer” (another big target buck), poked their heads out of cover and observed the scene.
Geronimo then walked down one of the waterways, eating corn along the field edge. Cody watched for several minutes as the buck fed closer to his location on the edge of the beans. Nerves shook the hunter’s arms and legs as the reality of a potential shot opportunity materialized.
After an agonizing hour, Geronimo finally closed the distance enough. The massive buck stopped at 43 yards and presented a shot opportunity. Cody took aim with his Mission crossbow and sent the arrow on its way.
The broadhead blew right through the buck’s boiler room, and he barreled out into the beans. But he didn’t make it out of sight before tipping over along the edge of a waterway. Geronimo was down for the count, and the celebration began.
“I’ve received tons and tons of text messages and calls from one end of the state to the other,” Cody says. “Geronimo is my biggest buck to date, and I’m so glad I finally got to put my hands around a true Illinois giant. It’s a check off my bucket list that I will never forget. As I look at him, I think back on how hard I’ve worked over the years.”
Geronimo truly is a great trophy, boasting a net score of 183 3/8. He’s quite a deer, even by Midwestern standards. It will be hard for Cody Tucker to top this early-October ground hunt for such an incredible whitetail, but that won’t stop him from trying!