March 22, 2021
By Joe Jankowski
On an evening drive home from an unsuccessful shed hunt, my grandfather mentioned a piece of property we could visit that was located a few towns over. It was a place he knew we’d find success.
As we pulled down the narrow drive that headed back towards the home, I laid eyes on one of the most gorgeous pieces of property I had ever seen. Large mature trees followed the path of the winding creek that ran parallel to the long lane. I had been driving past this place for years, never knowing what was down that lane, but what I did know was the big bucks I had seen living in the area as I normally drove past.
She stood barely 5-foot tall, but immediately I could tell she was a force to be reckoned with. After a long introduction, the strict but gracious landowner gave us permission to walk her property and shed hunt. I was under strict instruction that there was no deer hunting allowed here. None —ever.
I soon discovered that this lady had purchased a second home. When she asked me if I would be willing to watch her home and property for the winter, I gladly accepted the offer. She asked me how she could repay me for watching the place. Even though I knew the answer would be no, I asked her for permission to hunt anyways. She returned a long staring gaze, and an awkward pause lingered between us. She held her finger up in the air and said, “One deer, that’s it."
I could not believe it! My extreme excitement quickly turned into panic. I was not prepared. I spent all year at my other properties getting ready for the season, collecting intel, running cameras, planting food plots, the whole nine yards. I had almost nothing here, so the real test began. With just a few days before the season opener, I had very minimal intel.
I started by pulling plat maps. As I studied these maps one thing struck me, a small finger of timber only 15 to 20 yards wide ran from the road across the street, and all the way to the cornfield in the back of the property. It might as well have been a highway. From what I knew, hunting this funnel would be a preliminary move worth pursuing.
I walked out to my stand on October 3 at 2:30 pm. Instantly, I bumped a few does on my way in. It wasn’t the best start to the afternoon, but I knew I still had plenty of time. Things were quiet for a while, then around 4:00 p.m., just as I had thought, the deer began funneling down the finger between properties. As the evening light began to dwindle down, the buck of my dreams walked out of the funnel.
I stood up and was at full draw almost instantaneously. Close enough to count his eyelashes, the buck’s massive body filled my sight housing, and I let my arrow fly in a hurry. I sat back down in my stand, shaking in disbelief. My shot placement was not ideal. My arrow went straight into his back and did not pass through. There was no blood trail, and I knew that rain was coming. So, I climbed down from my ladder and made the hard choice to head home.
I did not sleep that night; I was sick to my stomach.
Upon returning the next day, I followed the finger where the buck had run. With every minute that passed, my worries increased. Disappointment was looming over me, and I began to feel helpless; just then, I turned and there he was! He had crashed 60 yards from my stand in the opposite direction!
I shot the buck of a lifetime, and I wanted to express how thankful I was to the landowner. She gave me an opportunity that would be hard to match. Before she left for her other home, she asked me if I still had other tags for hunting. I was taken aback by her question. I was confused why she asked. I had already taken an incredible buck on a piece of property no one else had been given permission to hunt.
I thanked her for the opportunity and responded to her question honestly. I made it clear that I would respect the terms of our agreement, and I promised that I would not hunt there anymore while she was gone the rest of the winter. Graciously, she then said to me, “Why don’t you just fill your other tags while you’re watching the place this winter.
I was amazed by the opportunity that had been granted to me. And I knew I’d better take advantage of the offer while it lasted.
I hunted myself senseless all of November, but things were drastically changing. The bucks I had seen throughout the rut had now disappeared. The corn was now harvested, which changed the entire dynamic of the property.
The once productive deer funnel now seemed void of action. My only hope now was to hold out for a cold snap during the first CWD season and remain diligent with wind direction and stand location. The first few firearm seasons were a complete dead zone.
However, on January 2, I walked out to my stand at 1:00 p.m. with high hopes, high pressure, very low wind and snow starting to accumulate. The perfect storm was brewing. I could not ask for better conditions. I positioned myself in a tree line in-between the corn field I had permission on and a bean field to the east.
Earlier in the season I had figured out the does were bedding in a CRP field south of the beans on the adjacent property, and then making their way down a ridge line to the cornfield. At 2:30 p.m. a group of does started slowly coming out of the CRP and making their way down the edge of the beans. They were heading towards that south ridge about 200 yards away.
Behind the does, a giant buck was at attention. He was too far away for me to judge thoroughly, but I could instantly tell he was a shooter. Over the next 30 minutes, I watched the does make their way to the cornfield. The monster buck slowly followed. An hour later, the does finally came off that ridge into the field I was in. One by one, the does passed by me. The last doe was beyond skittish, and she was continuously looking behind her. And for good reason.
Soon, the buck appeared. The does had led him directly in front of me! I put my crosshairs on his heart at 50 yards. Seconds later, he was plowing snow in the field. As I walked up to another Illinois giant, my mind was in disbelief.
I did it. I’d taken two once-in-a-lifetime bucks in a single season. And the story is proof it’s possible to take mature bucks on a new property with minimal knowledge of it prior to the season. Some call that luck. I call it knowledge, experience, determination, persistence and patience. You can’t be afraid to get aggressive and make the changes necessary, while always continually collecting data and intel as you go.
Be on the lookout for more of this amazing story in a future issue of North American Whitetail magazine. There we’ll include a full-length feature article with more details from the hunt, as well as more great photos.