Nineteen years ago, Gary Hintz, now owner of Bucks and Bulls Archery in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, took a four-day weekend jaunt to Illinois, determined to find a new place to hunt. After an arduous 998 miles of driving, checking out public land and knocking on doors, Hintz found 3,000 acres to lease, and he leases them to this day.
Hintz has been shooting archery competitively for more than two decades, and stories told by other archers of Illinois' giant bucks spurred Hintz's inaugural Illinois exploration. You see, he'd grown tired of the hunting pressure and lack of monster bucks in his Wisconsin hunting locations, and change was in order.
Learning the Ropes
"During the first few years of hunting in Illinois, my friends and I killed some smaller bucks because we didn't realize that the property held some giant bucks," Hintz shared. "We soon started being more selective and began killing larger, more impressive bucks."
Of the outstanding bucks he and his friends have claimed over the last 19 years, one in particular stands out from the rest. It's the buck Hintz nailed during his 2016 shotgun hunt.
Let the story begin.
A Relationship Develops
Hintz first learned the buck existed when it was 3 ½ years old.
"He was about 20 inches wide with two smaller drop tines at that time," Hintz recalled. "I saw him and found his sheds every year until he was 7 ½ years old. When he was 5 ½ years old, I saw him seven times from my treestands, but I just couldn't get a shot at him."
Gathering the magnum buck's sheds really helped Hintz establish the buck's home area and concrete a game plan.
"Each year, I spend a lot of time in Illinois during the spring to look for sheds," Hintz said. "We found all of this drop-tine buck's sheds and captured all of his trail-cam photos within a one-mile stretch," Hintz said, "so I knew where he was living.
"I saw the buck on a field in January 2016 on the last day of hunting season," Hintz added. "I returned to that exact spot in April and found one of his sheds almost immediately. My girlfriend, Christine, and I searched the rest of the day for the other side, and she found it less than 100 yards from where I'd found the first. I was thrilled to have both sides."
While its common knowledge that trail cameras provide solid intel to deer movement, Hintz is challenged by living in Wisconsin and running a full-service archery pro shop. He solved the dilemma by utilizing Covert Blackhawk Wireless cameras in order to monitor the buck remotely.
The Buck Becomes Houdini
Like a ghost, once Hintz scooped up the buck's impressive shed antlers in spring 2016, the buck disappeared — a phenomenon that left Hintz perplexed since the buck had usually been very visible in person and on the trail cameras. Was the buck still alive? Had he been poached or killed by a vehicle? Only time would tell, and despite those questions that invariably lingered, Hintz didn't give up.
The Puzzle Pieces Come Together
Fast forward to the December 2016 Illinois shotgun season.
"I was hunting some CRP ground along a river bottom," Hintz told. "It was so windy that day — we're talking 40-mph winds. I started off sitting on a hillside out of the wind. I couldn't see as well as I wanted to, so I walked about 40 acres and climbed up into a ladder stand. I honestly thought the tree was going to tip over — it was cracking and moving all over the place."
Hintz soon climbed down, walked a bit deeper to an elevated Big Dog tripod blind secured to a tree and climbed up.
"About half an hour before dark, the buck appeared and walked right up to 40 yards," Hintz said. "After wondering all those months if he was even alive, I was relieved to once again lay eyes on him, and finally have the opportunity to finish this story. Of course, I became a little nervous once I realized that this was my chance. I didn't want to miss. But, I had a good solid rest, and I just let him get real close before shooting him broadside at 40 yards."
Hintz double-lunged the legend, and the buck went down in a matter of seconds.
"At the shot, the buck ran directly toward me, then expired just 15 yards away," he said.
A Bittersweet End to a 4-Year Quest
"I actually shed a few tears," Hintz remembered. "I called my girlfriend and a few different buddies, and they couldn't even understand what I was saying because I was so shaken by the encounter. All I could muster was 'I got him, I got him!'"
A tooth was collected and mailed to a lab in Montana for aging.
"The results showed that the buck was 7 ½ years old," Hintz told. "Taking a deer that old isn't something you get the opportunity to do very often."
Unsurprisingly, Hintz now has his sights set on another drop-tine buck. With the success he's had over the years, perhaps he'll have another drop-tine-buck story to share with us in the near future.