Kyle Heuerman's Illinois Buck: 196-Inch Bruiser
June 04, 2014
Back in the summer of 2011, I had high hopes of seeing several specific bucks I wanted to chase later that fall in this bachelor group of 12 bucks. Most of all, there was a unique 10-pointer with an extra point that shot straight in from his main beam.
My judgment told me the buck was 3 1/2 years old and I should let him walk a couple more years, just to see what he would turn into. Because of the odd point the deer sported, we named him "Kick-It-In."
As early bow season began, I patiently waited to see the mature bucks I'd observed in the summer. Unfortunately, none of those from the bachelor group showed up while I was hunting.
However, Kick-It-In made a surprise late-season appearance under my stand. I couldn't wait to hunt him when he was a bit older.
The 2012 summer was one many hunters in Illinois will never forget, as epizootic hemorrhagic disease hit a big portion of the state. Velvet buck sightings were few and far between, and I never laid eyes on Kick-It-In. I went all of 2012 without so much as a single trail camera photo or encounter with him and was almost certain EHD had victimized him.
My girlfriend, Jennifer Weaver, has been a hunter since long before I started dating her. Finding a woman who truly enjoys hunting was perfect for me. We love chasing whitetails with our bows.
Throughout our five years of dating we've made it a priority to practice with our bows all year. And in the summer of 2013 we were both dialed in long before opening day. We couldn't wait to find the velvet bucks and devise a game plan for the upcoming season.
Finding the Buck
At the end of July we drove to our scouting spot and saw a large group of bucks in an alfalfa field. One buck stood out from the rest, but they were at long range, and I couldn't tell much about him. I needed a much better look.
The second weekend of August I got just that. I decided to move in a little, and the deer accommodated me. In fact, he finally closed in to within a mere 20 yards of where I was set up with my video camera. And the buck was Kick-It-In!
After getting plenty of great video and photos, I decided to back out and make a game plan for the upcoming season. I was going to base my plan off of the encounter I'd had with the buck back in 2011, in hopes he'd still be on the same pattern in 2013.
With a great stand of Real World Wildlife Seed soybeans as my food plot, I had a gut feeling the buck would be feeding there the opening week of archery season. The problem was that we really needed an east wind to hunt this stand, and such winds are rare in our area. So I just kept my fingers crossed the Lord would give us the wind needed to seal the deal on this trophy buck.
A week before season, I was starting to feel a little bummed. Kick-It-In wasn't on a single trail camera. Was the buck using the plot, but simply managing by luck not to be walking in front of any cameras?
I decided to take a drive out to the plot after work one day, to see if I could spot the buck. And to my surprise, I saw him — standing within bow range of my box blind on the plot! In fear of bumping him, I immediately backed out and drove away with a smile that could have been spotted from the moon. The season opener couldn't get here soon enough.
The forecast was for southeast winds on both Oct. 3 and 4, with a cold front blowing in after dark on the latter day. I called good friend Derek Brumleve and told him I was going to shoot the buck before the weekend arrived. Without hesitation Derek said, "I'm taking the whole week off to film you shoot this buck."
October 3 resulted in a no-show for the buck. The next afternoon the temperature was in the high 80s and our confidence wasn't great, but we knew a cold front was on the way. Sure enough, at 6 p.m. — with an hour of light left — Kick-It-In stepped into the plot with some does.
I let him feed for over five minutes before releasing an arrow at 35 yards. My initial reaction to the shot was that the buck was dead; his body had been only slightly quartered toward us, and I felt confident of my shot placement. Lost for words there in the stand, I was certain the quest for Kick-It-In was finally over.
As we reviewed the footage, my heart sank. The soybeans were so tall that it had been hard to see how the buck's foreleg was positioned. It turned out his shoulder had been tucked back to his midsection, resulting in an impact too far forward.
Based on this information, we decided waiting until the following morning to start trailing would be best. We trailed the buck for nine hours and 800 yards and even brought in well-known trailing dogs for the search — but to no avail.
To say I was sick would be an understatement. But I kept my head held high, confident I would find the buck alive again and hopeful of getting another chance to tag him. The following day I pulled every trail camera I could get my hands on and positioned them as a solid "wall" along a creek that bucks on our property use regularly.
Each day seemed like a year as I anxiously waited to check the cameras again. But even after I'd waited a week, the buck wasn't on any of the cameras. However, I checked them again on Oct. 18, and there he was! I had eight daylight pictures of him under my stand at 6 p.m.
It's probably a good thing no one was around me while I was reviewing the pictures. I jumped out of my chair, because I couldn't believe my eyes. A bystander would have thought I'd just won the lottery — I was that excited. The buck looked to be perfectly fine and was walking normally on all four legs. Now I had to completely change my game plan on where to hunt him.
With a busy work schedule, I was limited to hunting only weekends. Jennifer was in her last semester of nursing school, so finding time to hunt would be tricky. When she came home from school for the weekend, I generally would jump behind the video camera and put her in the spotlight. (Besides, she looks a lot better on video than I do.)
We decided to stay out of the buck's core area until the timing and wind were both perfect. We needed a west or northwest wind to hunt the stand. It's situated on the edge of a creek in a transition area among four food plots. The stand had proven itself year after year, and I was hoping for a repeat.
Jennifer and I had made the deal that she could shoot any buck other than Kick-It-In. I told her I wanted redemption. I even practiced with her bow in case the deer came into bow range while I was running the video camera for her.
But what Jennifer didn't know was that I'd planned all along to let her shoot Kick-In-In if the chance arose. I just didn't want to tell her that, as she'd mentioned several times that she didn't think she could hold herself together long enough to shoot a buck of that caliber. But she was dead on in practice out to 30 yards, and I was confident she could do it with a little help in calming the nerves.
Culmination of a Dream
On Saturday, Nov. 9, the wind was right for an evening hunt, but all we saw was a small buck following a few does. But after checking the forecast, we decided to leave our gear in the tree for the next morning's hunt. The temperature dropped significantly overnight and was in the low 30s when we set out before daylight. Quietly sneaking to the stand via the creek, we settled in for a cold sit.
Just after 7 a.m. we spotted the first deer. The great-looking young buck cruised through our shooting lane at 20 yards. Thirty minutes later, a mature doe started working our way — and behind her was a mature 8-point buck.
I quickly told Jennifer to get ready. But as she patiently waited for the buck to close another 20 yards, he and the doe suddenly bedded. They were still 50 yards out, and it was obvious he wasn't leaving her side.
The duo had been there for two hours when Jennifer suddenly said, "Big buck, Kyle. Big buck." I quickly turned on the camera, zoomed in . . . and realized the deer she'd seen was the one we really wanted. Kick-It-In was cruising the small ridgeline in search of love. I couldn't believe it, but the monster walked within 50 yards of the bedded 8-pointer and doe without a clue they were there. And then, I realized he was walking out of our lives.
I knew I had to do something. Of course, with the 8-pointer and doe bedded only 50 yards from us, any action would be tricky. Leaning over the camera, I whispered to Jennifer, "What I'm about to do is going to make this 8-pointer look right at us — so don't move."
Then, as loudly as I could in the 15 mph wind, I snort-wheezed. Sure enough, the 8-pointer whipped his head around as we stood completely still. Fortunately, he soon turned his head back away. Then he got to his feet. I quickly zoomed in the camera, and through the viewfinder I could see he was angry and looking in the direction Kick-It-In had gone.
Through the camera, I caught a glimpse of the monster heading directly toward us. But before getting into bow range, Kick-It-In made a hard left turn and headed for the 8-pointer. Both bucks bristled their hair, laid their ears back and began drooling. I knew we were about to witness a battle.
As the two bucks met, they crashed into each other — and the battle was on. The fight started off somewhat slowly, but it didn't take long to gain intensity. Limbs were falling as the deer pushed each other into trees. Leaves and dirt went flying. We didn't know if they ever were going to stop.
As this was going on, a yearling buck ran in and stole the doe from the mature bucks. The young deer and his prize passed us at 20 yards. Undoubtedly this turned out to be a key event, though not right away.
The two big bucks fought for nearly five straight minutes before Kick-It-In ran off the 8-pointer. At that point, both combatants initially headed away from us . . . but then the 8-pointer decided to come back and look for the doe. Not far behind was Kick-It-In. He quickly pushed his rival out of sight in the timber.
Taking a breather from that task, the huge buck decided to continue his search for love. Fortunately for us, he hit the scent trail of the mature doe and started zigzagging his way toward our tree.
With the buck closing the distance, I whispered to Jennifer, "Calm your nerves. You can do this!" I was trying to help settle her nerves before the buck reached her shooting lane. And to be honest, I was trying to get control of my own nerves, as well.
The buck was now just 20 yards from us and nearing the wide-open shooting lane. Jennifer whispered to me, "You have to stop him." Immediately I gave a bleat; when Kick-It-In stopped, she settled the pin on him and squeezed the trigger.
Following the shot, Jennifer felt 100 percent confident of a good hit. Sure enough, after running a short 80 yards the buck staggered and fell to the dirt. We couldn't believe it! It's a good thing we wear safety harnesses, because the shakes set in for both of us. I was beyond proud of her, to say the least. She had spent hundreds of hours practicing throughout the year for a moment like this, and it all had paid off in a big way!
We decided to give the buck some time, just to be on the safe side. In the meantime, we climbed down, retrieved the arrow and headed back to the truck to meet up with the rest of the family. They wanted to tag along as we put our hands on Kick-It-In for the first time.
We were speechless walking up on the buck. But then our silence turned to, "Oh, my God!" After looking over the antlers carefully, we could see the buck had broken off one of his points in the morning fight. The extra point was between his G-1 and G-2 tines and looked to have been perhaps four inches in length.
Despite this lost point, my measuring still yielded a gross non-typical score of 196 4/8. Hard work, persistence, land management and confidence gained from hours on the archery range had led to a dream come true.
We can't conclude our story without also giving thanks. First and foremost, to God for blessing us with an opportunity most hunters can only dream of. We also thank our family and friends for their continued support. And a special thanks to Charles Heuerman for making this amazing hunt possible.