The mental and physical anguish of trying to harvest a 200-plus-inch buck on his Illinois farm nearly cost Joe Price of Maryland his sanity. Was the accomplishment worth the price? You bet it was!
"Joey, calm down!" Sharon Price commanded with a thunderous whisper. "You're too loud! We're in WalMart." Joe, Sharon's husband, had just opened an envelope containing trail camera photos.
Joe's main-frame 6x7 trophy whitetail had everything the hunter could ask for: width, mass and plenty of long tines! The record buck also had a distinct limp caused by a serious leg injury, possibly from being hit by a car.
Stunned by a picture of a giant non-typical caught on film, he involuntarily blurted an expletive that earned Sharon's immediate disapproval. The image of the huge whitetail and how to harvest it soon encompassed Joe's every thought.
For almost 10 years, Joe and Sharon had owned and operated an auto service center near their residence in Chestertown, Maryland. Joe, his teenage sons Michael and Nicholas, then 14 and 13, and his father John had taken numerous whitetail bucks around home, but tagging a true giant had always eluded them. Joe had also hunted Saskatchewan, Montana and Texas. By 2004, his best buck was a 155-inch Canadian 8-pointer.
GO WEST, YOUNG MAN
Intrigued by the frequent articles in North American Whitetail about 200-inch-plus bucks from western Illinois, Joe and his family headed to the Prairie State in March 2004 to try to purchase a farm. Several Maryland friends had bought 164 acres near Siloam Springs State Park, said to be the pinnacle point of Illinois' famed "Trophy Triangle" region. This 3,323-acre state park is located in Adams and Brown counties near the border of Pike County. Almost 1,000 acres of the park are protected from hunting. The remaining 2,300-plus acres are managed with a 4-point rule.
Joe and Sharon found a 134-acre tract only one mile from Siloam Springs Park. The farm was made up of 55 acres of crop ground and 79 acres of oak woods. The price was right, so they made an offer to purchase. The family returned in June to take possession. Joe immediately started planning several legume- and cereal-grain-type food plots. During the 2004 season, son Michael scored on the only buck taken on the farm, a fine P&Y-class 10-pointer with three non-typical points.
In 2005, Joe arrowed a 140-inch main-frame 8-pointer. He knew bigger deer were passing through the property, but the farm needed additional water and food plots to hold mature bucks through gun season. Joe built two ponds in early 2006 and he decided to plant a diversity of deer food. He also purchased an adjoining house and three acres. This eliminated motel bills and offered the family a place to store maintenance and food-plot equipment.
YEAR OF THE DROUGHT
In 2006 a local tenant planted most of Joe's tillable ground in soybeans. Joe made a trip to the farm in April and planted 4 acres of Round-Up Ready corn in two strategic areas.
The corn was bordered with a wide strip of Imperial Whitetail clover. Joe returned to Illinois in June and again in July to check his Stealth trail cameras and food plot progress.
His outburst at Wal-Mart over the photo of the giant non-typical occurred during that July visit.
Drought had taken a toll in western Illinois by Joe's August trip to Lincoln Land. It was evident that the corn plots were doomed. However, the clover on the shaded timbered edges looked surprisingly good. So Joe chopped and tilled the corn under and planted Tecomate Max-Attract 50/50, a six-seed fall blend.
By the Illinois bow season opener on Oct. 1, the area had gotten some badly needed rain and the Tecomate acres resembled a plush green carpet. Furthermore, Joe's dozen trail cameras had taken additional photos of the giant non-typical and numerous shots of several 140- to 160-class bucks. When Joe and Michael climbed aboard their tree stands on the afternoon of the season opener, the temperature hovered at just over 90 degrees.
Both hunters sweated profusely even though dressed in T-shirts and light pants. "I thought I was crazy for wasting the money and time to hunt conditions like that," Joe said.
With less than 15 minutes of legal shooting light remaining on that opening day, Joe got his first glimpse of the great non-typical whitetail. No shot was possible. The huge buck appeared to have a slight limp. Joe and Michael hunted two more days without seeing the deer again. Then they had to return home to Maryland. Joe could barely sleep at night or function at work without dreaming about the huge-antlered whitetail. The thought that he would never see the deer again haunted him.
"PATIENCE, PERSISTENCE PREVAIL"
The Price family named their Illinois property the Triple-P Farm for "patience, persistence and prevail." With this as a motto, Joe would gladly pay the mental, physical and financial cost required to harvest the great buck. Killing a 200-inch whitetail was his personal goal, and this might be his chance to cash in. He had counted 20 points on the big deer's rack and hoped that it would gross over the 200-inch mark. The only way to tell for sure was to hunt hard and smart and put the buck on the ground.
Joe returned to Illinois in mid-October with his brother-in-law Jimmy Elgin. Jimmy spotted the buck three days in a row and also noticed the deer's limp. They moved a tree stand closer to a brushy outcropping where the buck might be bedding. Joe hunted the stand two days without seeing the buck and returned home to Maryland for the sixth time that year.
Joe wrestled with the thought that moving too close to the bedding area might have run the buck off his property. Being away from the farm ate at him. Concentrating on work was almost an impossible task. Only two days after being home, Joe turned things over to Sharon. He and Michael then jumped on a plane and headed for St. Louis. They hunted four more days without seeing the buck. Several 10-pointers tempted Joe at close range.
A 160-class 10-pointer seemed very aggressive and dominant. With the peak of rut nearing, had the big 5x5 run the non-typical off the farm? Joe wondered. Joe and Michael flew home.
After only one day at home, Joe again turned business matters over to Sharon and hopped another flight to St. Louis. Sharon had never seen her husband so possessed. She worried about the season's outcome. Could Joe handle not tagging this buck'‚.'‚.'‚. or watching someone else tag it? She wondered.
The shot Joe had hoped and prayed for finally came on
his eighth 2006 trip to Illinois in late October. Unfortunately, Joe was shaking so badly that the bowstring hit his arm, launching the arrow harmlessly under the buck. Joe's heart sank to his stomach. As luck would have it, the non-typical was engrossed in chasing a doe and had no clue about the hunter's presence or about the impending danger. Distraught about the shot, but happy the buck was still on the farm, Joe once again headed home to Maryland.
The rut was in full swing when Joe headed back to Illinois on Nov. 1 with two good hunting buddies, Terry Cannon and Matt Mundorf. With a grin on his face, Joe jokingly told his pals that if either man killed the big non-typical, it would have to be mounted life-size and left at the farmhouse. Neither Terry nor Matt knew if Joe was serious, and both men decided to cross that bridge when and if it happened. Matt had just taken a 184-inch 15-pointer by muzzleloader in Maryland, so he was on a roll.
Joe saw the buck again on Nov. 3. For the next few days, hunter and hunted played a game of cat and mouse. When Joe sat in one stand, the buck would automatically walk under the stand he had just been in the day before. Finally Joe was down to his last day, Nov. 10. The dominant 10-pointer had returned to the farm, and Joe had not seen the non-typical for three days.
At 7 a.m. that morning Joe spotted the 10-pointer headed in his direction. He elected to try to remove this dominant male from the gene pool with hopes of shooting the non-typical during firearm season, slated to open on Nov. 17. Joe compensated for his earlier low miss and shot over the 10-pointer. He all but threw his bow out of the tree.
A GIFT FROM HEAVEN?
Ten minutes went by, and Joe was still chastising himself for the miss. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the movement of a big-framed buck headed his direction. It's got to be the big-10 coming back to see what happened, he thought.
Focusing his binoculars, Joe was stunned to see the big non-typical instead. It was on a point-blank course toward his position. He grabbed his Mathews Switchback and began mentally preparing for the shot. The buck finally stopped at 36 yards out. Joe ranged him, but couldn't force himself to shoot after missing this deer and another at 30 yards.
Shaking uncontrollably again, he needed time to calm down. The buck moved closer to 31 yards. Then, for no reason, the huge whitetail about-faced and trotted out to 80 yards. Joe couldn't believe he had missed the opportunity. His patience, however, was about to pay off. The non-typical about-faced yet again and walked to within 18 yards of Joe, turning perfectly broadside. This has to be divine intervention, a much calmer Joe now thought.
He drew, centered his 20-yard pin slightly low behind the buck's shoulder, and released an arrow that flew a perfect path. The buck dropped within sight. Standing over the long-sought trophy with tears in his eyes, Joe made his first cell phone call to Sharon. No one wanted to hear the words, "I got him!" more than she did.
Joe's "long distance" non-typical buck carried 21 points on a 6x7 main-frame rack. It grossed 205'‚4/8 and netted 195'‚5/8 non-typical P&Y points. It's suspected that the deer's limp was the result of a vehicle collision one or more years earlier. Joe's buck had also been gored severely in the hindquarters, possibly by the big 10-pointer.
The story doesn't end here. Michael, Nicholas and Joe all tagged dandy 10-pointers during the late November firearm seasons, and Joe's nephew, James, took an attractive 8-pointer. Obviously for Joe and his entire family, the price paid both physically and mentally for such amazing success was well worth the energy expended, and the rewards that were reaped during the 2006 season on Joe's Illinois farm can never be measured in dollars!