September 22, 2010
For these three whitetail hunters, the dream of tagging a trophy buck suddenly morphed into the nightmare of defending the legitimacy of their kills.
The mature buck was on a mission. His course of travel would lead him past Kyle Heuerman's stand but not within bow range. In fact, the giant 10-pointer was going to pass by at 75 yards and do so at a fast trot. With a video camera recording and nothing to lose, Kyle fished the grunt call from his pocket and played a tune that got the buck's attention. Almost instantly, the buck turned on a dime and headed right for the tree where Kyle was busy trying to run the video camera and prepare for the shot with his bow.
Jeff Dasenbrock (rt.) and Kyle Heuerman were able to defend the legality of their same-day bowkills because they had captured the events on video.
At a range of 10 yards the bruiser stopped but was sharply quartered towards the ready hunter. Kyle refused to shoot at that angle. With the camera eating up tape, the buck finally moved and offered as easy a shot as any bowhunter could ask for. The only problem was that the buck had moved enough that he was no longer within the camera's lens. With the same discipline that had led Kyle to pass the bad shot angle, he also passed the opportunity to take an easy shot simply because the camera was not positioned to capture the event. Kyle quickly repositioned his camera but was only able to capture footage of the buck walking out of his life without an arrow being released.
The discouragement was obvious as Kyle talked about the events into the rolling camera but the same determination and desire that allowed this buck to remain alive and unharmed would also serve to drive Kyle's season and hunting career to an even higher level.
From the events already outlined in this article it would be easy to assume that Kyle is a deer-hunting veteran or grizzled pro. The facts are much different however. Kyle is actually a 20-year-old with whitetail fever burning in his veins like most hunters will never understand. Many veterans are not able to pass marginal shots when they are presented by a trophy-class buck, and passing a chip shot at a monster buck just because the camera isn't catching it is not something that many hunters can do.
Nine days later on the morning of November 16, Kyle teamed up with friend Jeff Dasenbrock to try to tag one of the monster whitetails that had been giving them the slip day after day. Three days of rain had suppressed the local deer movement, but this morning was different. The rain had stopped and a cold front had ushered in a clear and frosty sunrise. With Kyle manning the video camera, Jeff was at bat in the same tree with his Mathews bow. Apparently Jeff had enjoyed an eventful night as he kept falling asleep, and Kyle would have to continually wake him as he feared Jeff's snoring would alert every deer in the county. On one of those "nudges" Jeff woke to Kyle pointing into the woods and whispering "big buck!" Jeff wasn't buying it and gave Kyle one of those "yeah right" grins. Somehow he figured out that Kyle wasn't joking and looked down in time to see a nice 10-point buck walking into range. With Kyle running the camera, Jeff made a perfect hit on the buck. Kyle captured the whole thing on video, including the buck falling. Jeff had to be wondering if he was dreaming as he had just shot his biggest whitetail ever at 134 inches.
Jeff was ecstatic and wanted to go look at his buck but Kyle was not about to let that happen yet as it was not even 7 a.m. and deer activity was rampant. Besides, Kyle had his bow beside him and now it was his turn to be the star. Kyle kept the camera rolling as Jeff got on his cell phone and called his mother to tell her the good news. Kyle noticed Jeff's eyes widen and his voice get shaky as he told his mom he had to go because another big buck was coming. Kyle knew Jeff wasn't joking by the look in his eyes, so he handed him the camera and grabbed his bow.
Jack Jansen was also able to prove that he harvested his massive Illinois buck thanks to video footage and multiple witnesses.
As soon as Kyle saw the buck he recognized it as a monster that he had seen two days before as the buck crossed a lane on the property. From his initial sighting he thought the buck was a "Booner," and seeing the giant working towards him now just reaffirmed that notion. The giant whitetail soon hit the blood trail of Jeff's buck and became nervous.
Kyle gave a single grunt from his call and then wisely waited for the buck to make the next move. The old warrior definitely heard the grunt but wasn't about to come rushing in to check things out. Instead, he slowly and methodically began working his way towards the waiting hunters as he tried to gain the wind advantage. After several minutes, the buck was finally in range and Kyle brought his Mathews to full draw.
Even with a buck of this caliber, Kyle wasn't going to shoot unless the shot was captured on film. As he followed the buck through his sight, he whispered to Jeff, "Are you on him?" Jeff quickly replied, "I'm on him," but did so loudly enough that the buck heard it and looked right up at them. They were busted but it was too late for the buck. Kyle instantly touched off the shot at Jeffs confirmation that he was filming it. A well-placed shot sent the buck on his death run, and unbelievably, he too fell dead within sight of the two excited hunters.
It was all caught on film. Imagine, two mature bucks bowkilled from the same tree less than an hour apart, and both hunts were captured on video. Jeff and Kyle not only captured the shot on each buck but also got good footage of the bucks approaching and both bucks tipping over dead. Now the celebration really began. They called some friends and then waited in the tree for the friends to arrive so that they could film the recovery of their bucks.
Kyle's buck later ended up grossing a little over 180 inches and netted 178 inches and change. In a perfect world, the story would end here with a couple of young hunters riding off into the sunset after each had filmed the other shooting the biggest bucks of their lives. Our world is not perfect, however, and sometimes the problems of the world find their way to the deer woods.
TROUBLE ON THE FENCELINE
Kyle and Jeff shot their bucks on land owned by Kyle's grandfather. The location where they shot their deer was well back on the property, across a creek and past several ravines and ridges. When their friends showed up to film the recovery of the bucks and to he
lp get the deer out to their truck, one of the friends who lived close by suggested that it would be much easier for them to haul the deer out through the neighbor's property across an open field. He even stated that he knew the neighbor and would call him on his cell phone to get permission to do so.
Not only did the neighbor deny the group permission to cross his land but within a few minutes he was on the scene standing at the boundary fence yelling at Kyle and his friends who were some distance away on the property they were hunting. They went as a group to the fence and a conversation ensued, full of expletives from the neighbor who was also a deer hunter and apparently not too happy that a couple of nice bucks had been killed in the area. He made it clear that the group was not to step onto his property. Kyle's group ignored the neighboring landowner's antics and returned to the dead deer and hauled them out without ever leaving the property owned by Kyle's grandfather.
Again, this should have been then end of the story, and in most cases, it would have been.
Even when irritated, most people are clear thinking and levelheaded enough to walk away and forget it. Apparently that was not the case here, as Kyle was soon visited by local conservation officer Mike Phillips. Allegedly, the neighbor had issues with Kyle and Jeff for shooting a pair of nice bucks near his property and called law enforcement to accuse the hunters of trespassing on his land to retrieve their deer. Apparently he had no knowledge that the hunts had been videotaped. Furthermore, the complaining landowner made it very clear that he wanted possession of the buck Kyle shot. Illinois law does not allow a hunter to cross property lines to retrieve a deer without the landowner's approval.
To make a long story short, officer Phillips reviewed the videotape and Kyle was allowed to keep his buck and not ticketed for any violations.
The videotape clearly proved that Kyle and Jeff were legal in the taking of their bucks.
The question is, what if they had not had the videotape? In Kyle's case, here is a hunter with ethics strong enough that less than 10 days before he passed up a shot at a mature buck because of a bad shot angle, even though this buck was bigger than any he had ever shot before, and yet it is possible that had it not been for the videotape, he might have lost his buck. Think back over the past three or four bucks that you have taken. Would you be able to prove that each was taken legally if you were faced with untrue accusations?
Now let's move down the road 25 miles and fast forward from mid-November when Kyle killed his buck to mid-January. On the last day of the 2008 Illinois archery season, Jack Jansen of Effingham shot a tremendous buck grossing 220 inches that he had watched for four seasons.
While Jack did not get his shot on video, he did film the buck as it approached his stand and filmed the recovery. Jack was hunting in sub-zero temperatures, when most "die-hard" hunters were already looking forward to next year. Jack also had law enforcement called on him after he killed his buck. Luckily, Jack had credible witnesses with him when he recovered his buck, along with the video footage. He too was not ticketed and the complaint against him proved to be unwarranted.
I personally know Jack, as well as the two gentlemen that were with him when he recovered his buck. The three of them are some of the most ethical hunters that I know. I cannot imagine any of them doing anything illegal. Jack Jansen and Kyle Heuerman killed two of the biggest bucks taken in my area last fall, and Jack's was in fact one of the biggest in the entire state. Both hunters did absolutely nothing wrong but had to prove their innocence to law enforcement because of complaints from jealous hunters. Is that what our sport has come to?
Sadly, events like those surrounding the bucks killed by Kyle and Jack are becoming more common. That leaves all of us with the question of how we should handle it when we are fortunate enough to tag a monster whitetail. What steps should we take to prove our innocence?
A few years ago I had the misfortune of going through similar circumstances after I harvested a mature buck and was accused of wrongdoing. That event changed the way that I now approach my own hunting. Hopefully I can offer advice to the readers of North American Whitetail so that when you harvest your buck of a lifetime, you will be able to keep it and not have to deal with the issues that some of us have.
To begin, I now carry a video camera on every hunt. Besides being a good way to document the various bucks on the properties that I hunt, it also serves as a record of my hunts to prove that I am hunting legally. When filming, be sure to film obvious landmarks, which can help you prove exactly where you were when the film was shot. By zooming back and filming a wider portion of the landscape, it is very easy to pick out things like specific trees, which will verify your exact location.
If you are fortunate enough to kill a whitetail of record-book caliber and you have a video camera with you, verbally note your exact location on the film. For example, say something like, "It is about 2 p.m. on Jan. 3, 2009, and I am hunting two miles west of Springfield on Joe Brown's farm. My stand is at the south end of the cornfield behind his barn'¦" These details can help verify your story if needed but hopefully will keep things from escalating that far. Also, get as many credible witnesses as possible and have them present as you retrieve your deer. If you don't normally carry a video camera, try to get someone to bring one when they come to help you retrieve your deer and make sure you get all the witnesses on video.
Call anyone who is trustworthy and has a good reputation -- friends, family, your church pastor, anyone you might know in law-enforcement and possibly even the local game-warden. Conservation officer Mike Phillips who investigated the complaint against Kyle told me that he would gladly show up to verify the legality of any deer killed in his area. I am sure a lot of other game wardens feel the same way. Do not rely on just a couple of friends as your witnesses or even just a game warden. Instead, get as many witnesses as possible from as wide a range of sources as possible. You might think this advice seems ridiculous, but if you are ever put in a position of having your "buck of a lifetime" taken from you, you might wish you had made the extra effort.
If the buck you shot happens to run onto property where you do not have permission to be, track down the landowner before going onto the property and have a couple of credible witnesses with you when you seek permission to retrieve your deer. Depending on how this request goes, you may even want to ask the landowner if he would mind if one of your friends videotaped your request, "because you are trying to video the whole story of your deer." I would strongly caution against mentioning that the deer you shot is "a huge buck" or inviting the landowner along.
Sadly, big whitetails have a way of making rational people start behaving irrationally. The last thing you want is for the landowner to start seeing dollar signs att
ached to the deer that is laying unclaimed on his property. You and I may be well aware that in most cases even a 200-inch buck is only worth a few thousand dollars at best, but still we all hear stories every year of how some big sporting goods retailer offered to buy a giant rack for half a million dollars or some other ridiculous sum along these lines. The rest of the public has also heard these stories yet aren't close enough to the hunting industry to realize they aren't true.
Finally, let's act with class when someone else kills a giant buck and not let the few jealous and troubled souls tarnish the event for the fortunate hunter. If you know for a fact that laws were broken in the killing of any deer, then by all means report it. On the other hand, if you are simply hearing rumors, then just ask the person spreading the rumor if they know if anything they are saying is actually true and not just hearsay. Then encourage them to report the facts.
Someday it may very well be you who tags a monster whitetail. When that day comes, I truly hope you know the joy of hearing many sincere congratulations from other hunters and don't have to prove yourself innocent. Still, video footage and lots of credible witnesses can keep from tarnishing your dream.
Video footage of the bucks killed by Kyle Heuerman and Jeff Dasenbrock can be seen on Radical Whitetails volume 1, available at www.teamradicaloutdoors.com. Video of Jack Jansen's buck can be seen on Real World Whitetails volume 2, available at www.realworldwhitetails.com.