Rex McMorris Buck: 189-Inch Illinois Bruiser
March 24, 2015
All serious deer hunters in the Midwest are well aware of how cold it was toward the end of the 2013-2014 hunting season. Adjectives such as "frigid," "arctic" and even "polar" got a lot of use by anyone trying to fill an empty tag.
Rex McMorris didn't have to deal with a lot of that nasty weather in the field that year, but only because he was too busy to hunt much. Due to his work schedule, the avid central Illinois hunter didn't even get to venture afield during the first gun deer season, which spans three days in November. For that matter, work also kept him from doing much bowhunting, which he really loves. With December looming, all Rex had to show for his entire hunting season was a couple of does.
But things suddenly were looking better for the second gun season, which was set for Dec. 5-8. A few days prior to that Thurs.-Sun. season, Rex found himself laid off work. Of course, getting laid off isn't typically a good thing — but in this case, it did have its bright side. Rex finally would have some time to gun hunt his Tazewell County spot after all.
By this time the weather had turned downright brutal. In fact, by the second day of second gun season Rex barely even could stay on stand until the end of legal shooting light, even though he'd waited until 3 p.m. to begin his afternoon watch.
"When the temperature is only 5 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind is blowing, a couple of hours is about all I can stand," he notes. "I made it until dark but was just about frozen."
It didn't exactly boost Rex's confidence when the 2-hour sit resulted in his seeing not even one whitetail. But that really didn't surprise him. Deer in a large portion of the Midwest had taken a pretty good hit from epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in early fall. Rex himself had found several dead deer earlier in the season.
As he got back to his truck at dark on Dec. 6, the odds he was facing suddenly hit home. Between EHD, cold temperatures and the fact that it's already halfway through the second gun season, I might be crazy even being in a tree, he lectured himself.
Rex didn't even ponder going out again the next morning. But at around 2:30 p.m. that Saturday, he looked at his wife, Jolyn, and said, "I'm going deer hunting."
Her immediate response was somewhat predictable. "Are you crazy? You almost froze yesterday . . . and it's not any warmer today."
Rex's response as he headed for the door was to utter the classic line, "You can't shoot them from the couch." But even as he said it, he didn't realize just how monumental his decision to hit the woods would prove to be.
Fortunately, Rex didn't have to drive far to his hunting location. He arrived at the small piece of private property at 3:15. Using his climbing tree stand, he managed to get set up in the timber near a field by 3:30.
Within minutes, Rex saw a doe running toward him, acting as if she were being chased. This is a good start to what might be a really good day of hunting, he told himself. The doe hesitated for just a few seconds at a distance of about 80 yards, then took off.
"I immediately picked up my shotgun (a Remington Model 870 in 12 gauge) and focused on what might be coming behind the doe," the hunter recalls.
And so he waited. And waited. And waited some more. Eventually, 45 minutes had gone by since the doe's hurried passage, and yet nothing more had happened.
Just as Rex finally started to relax, he heard limbs breaking where the doe had stopped earlier. Not knowing what had caused the noise, the hunter tried his grunt tube and can call but still couldn't determine the source of the disturbance.
Roughly five minutes later, as Rex was scanning the area deer typically come from, he again heard limbs breaking. Looking in the general area of the noise, he saw a deer heading away from him up a ridge — and immediately knew it was a shooter buck.
From that point forward, Rex didn't look at the antlers; he simply grabbed his gun and started trying to find a hole to shoot through.
"I thought he was going away from me to follow a doe," the hunter recalls. "But instead, he started toward me on a ridge parallel to my location."
Rex finally found a clear shooting lane at 60 yards, well within range. But since the buck didn't appear to be spooked, he thought he might lure him even closer. Rex grabbed his Primos can call and hit it once. The buck stopped and looked his way, then changed direction. Then he headed directly toward the stand!
The buck kept walking, looking for the doe he thought he'd heard. Finally, at a range of just 20 yards, the giant stopped and looked up at the hunter. He did a couple of head bobs, trying to get a better look at whatever was hanging on the side of the tree.
"I could tell the buck was getting nervous and decided it was time to take the shot," Rex says. The buck now was slightly quartering toward him, so he put the crosshairs on the crease between the shoulder and the neck.
When the slug gun went off, the buck collapsed to the ground. Rex immediately pumped another shell into the gun, never taking his eyes off the buck in the process. But no follow-up shot was necessary. The buck was still down and from the looks of it, going nowhere.
After watching for a couple of minutes to make sure the whitetail really was dead, Rex got out his cell phone and called his wife. His first comment to her was, "I got a decent buck down." In retrospect, that might have been the understatement of the year.
Rex's next call was to his hunting buddy, Scott, to solicit help dragging the buck to the truck. Then the hunter sat back and waited — 25 whole minutes — before getting out of the tree.
Why so long? "After shooting the buck and watching him for several minutes, I started shaking and needed some time to calm down before coming out of the tree with my climbing stand," the hunter explains.
When Rex finally walked up to the buck and got a good look at the antlers, he began to realize just how big they really were. Now somewhat in shock, he tagged and field-dressed the deer.
"It was a good thing I only looked at the rack once (before the shot), and that it was from 80 yards," he says. "Or I might have completely lost it."
When Scott arrived, they proceeded to drag the huge buck to the edge of the field, then got the truck. They later determined the buck weighed 195 pounds field dressed, even though it was well past peak rut. The men took the deer to Mike Reatherford Taxidermy, where the trophy was preserved as a shoulder mount.
Rex wanted to have his deer scored at the Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic, which was set for late February in Springfield. However, by then he was working again, and he couldn't get off to go to the event. Fortunately, a month later he heard about the nearby Elmwood Outdoor Show and was able to take the buck there to be measured.
Tim Walmsley, an official Boone & Crockett measurer, scored the giant 6X6 typical. His reaction was succinct: "Awesome buck."
No kidding. The tall, massive rack has a gross score of 194 3/8 as a typical 6x6, with a net score of 189 4/8. The symmetry is as exceptional as the antlers' size. Put it all together and you have what evidently was the state's highest-scoring typical buck of the 2013-4 hunting season.
Rex McMorris is an experienced and dedicated deer hunter. But sometimes it takes a little extra dedication when the temperature is in the single digits and the chill factor is well below zero. As Rex's wife put it: "Are you crazy? You almost froze yesterday."
Well, sometimes "crazy" isn't such a bad thing!