By Bernie Barringer
What do shooting a mature public-land buck and a pair of tennis shoes have in common? Listen up and you’ll hear a story of how a bungled hunt turned out to be a success because of these seemingly unrelated elements.
Lee Heise is a serious bowhunter from Perryville, Missouri. Dissatisfied with the quality of deer hunting in that part of his home state, he decided to start looking at public hunting lands on the other side of the mighty Mississippi River. He discovered some areas with good bucks in southern Illinois, but he also found intense pressure on those properties.
“The hunting pressure is extreme,” Lee states. “The farther I would walk into public land, it seemed like the more the hunting pressure would ramp up. If you hunted seven days in these areas, I’ll bet someone would walk in on your hunt during five of those days. I wanted to quit.”
Good thing he didn’t. He soon learned to “think outside the box” by looking at small areas other hunters might overlook.
“I have been seeing more deer since I got away from the areas that attract hunters,” he notes. “Over time, I found some new spots — and some pretty good ones.”
Lee would glass areas in the evenings and scout on foot. Over time, he began turning up some decent bucks and learning more about how these bucks related to the public properties and the pressure. It was to one of the areas where he’d seen some decent bucks that he was headed in the predawn darkness of Nov. 14, 2017.
Lee had just concluded the 70-minute drive to his chosen hunting location when he stepped out of the truck in the dark and realized he’d forgotten something important: his hunting boots. Not willing to hunt all day in his sneakers, he decided he had no choice but to drive all the way home to retrieve his boots. It wasn’t exactly a great start to a day in the rut.
When the bowhunter finally arrived back at his hunting site it was full daylight, and he felt he needed to make a change in plans.
“I hang and hunt a lot,” he says. “So I decided to go to another spot only 80 yards from the road and put up my Lone Wolf stand.”
Lee had previously looked over this area on aerial photos and had liked what he’d seen. Plus, with optics he’d identified some shooter bucks in his long-distance scouting. There was a swamp nearby, along with a cut corn field, thick briars and cattails. In short, it looked like a place in which a good buck would live, and nearby was an area that looked like doe bedding cover. With all those positives present, the bowhunter decided to make the plunge.
When Lee got back off the road he began to see deer trails and a high spot that looked good to him, so he picked out a tree and went to work putting up his portable tree stand.
In short order, he saw he was absolutely right about the location being doe bedding cover.
“I had does all around me as I was setting up,” Lee says. “There were goose hunters out in the cut corn field, and I could hear them calling, talking and even shooting, but the does ignored them. They were not bothered by the sounds of cars travelling the road only 80 yards away.”
Lee had been on stand for about two hours when he heard a loud, deep grunt that sounded almost like a growl. He wasn’t even sure what he’d just heard was a buck . . . until he looked in that direction and saw a doe walking his way with a big buck following her. The doe walked by on a trail only 10 yards from his stand, and at that moment the bowhunter knew he was likely to get a chip shot at the big 10-pointer.
But as so often happens, the buck changed his course. Instead of passing broadside, he came right to the base of Lee’s tree. That obviously was far from ideal.
“He started working a scrape and licking branch on the tree I was in,” Lee recalls. “I was only 15 feet high, but he didn’t see me, even though he was looking right up at me when he worked the branch. I didn’t have a shot!”
Rather than try to find a way to get an arrow into the buck, Lee patiently waited. Finally, as the doe walked off, the buck turned to follow her. This presented the bowhunter with a nearly straight-down, quartering-away shot, and he made the most of it.
“The deer ran right toward my truck and disappeared from sight,” Lee remembers. “I waited 30 minutes before getting down, and then I decided to go to my truck before following the blood trail. When I got to the road, as I stood by my truck I looked back toward the stand — and there he was, lying dead only 30 yards from me.”
It was Lee’s first public-land buck in Illinois and a really good one for public property anywhere, with a net Pope & Young score of 143 5/8 typical.
“It was the first time I had ever laid eyes on that deer,” the bowhunter says. “But I had seen some others, so I knew there were good bucks in the area.”
So Lee Heise’s strategy of doing the things other local bowhunters weren’t doing, and hunting a place they’d overlooked, paid off handsomely last season. A punched nonresident either-sex tag provided clear evidence of that.