Despite having limited time to bowhunt last season, avid whitetail hunter Joel Carpenter was determined to make every minute spent in the woods count, and he did so with amazing results!
I started hunting whitetails 17 years ago when I was 14 years old. At that time, I also started reading North American Whitetail. Like many other deer hunters, I always dreamed of being in the magazine with a monster buck, but I thought that was a far-fetched dream. However, my 2008-2009 bow season finally made it come true!
Joel's timing was perfect. On the day he shot his awesome non-typical (November 12), the rut was in full swing and bucks were chasing does all around him.
I hunted the firearms season during my first few years of deer hunting. Then, when I was 19, my dad bought me my first bow for my birthday. After only a few weeks of hunting the archery season, I became totally obsessed with bowhunting. That obsession has gotten worse every year since. During my first five years of bowhunting, I pretty much shot every deer that walked by. After I finally got that out of my system, I was ready to raise my standards and start looking for some mature bucks.
I hunt mainly around my hometown of Coal City, Illinois, located in Grundy County.
Although it's not a well-known big-buck county, quite a few trophy bucks are taken in this area every year. And even though the gun-hunting pressure is fairly heavy in Grundy County, I've managed to be pretty successful with my bow. My biggest buck before the 2008 season was a 150-inch 10-pointer. I've also taken several other mature bucks.
FINDING THE 'RIGHT' SPOT
The ground I hunt in Grundy County consists mainly of long strips of woods located along the Mazon River. I have access to a large tract of woods that is about 400 acres.
The land was once strip-mined. Because of this, it's sometimes difficult to hunt because of the swirling winds. In the past, I've often found spots that look awesome, but they can't be hunted effectively because there are no trees that I can get high enough up in to beat the wind. That problem has always frustrated me, but I have managed to find some good spots where I can hunt a consistent wind.
Several years ago, I found a great stand location while doing some post-season scouting.
Little did I know that this would be the same stand location from which I would shoot my biggest buck ever during the 2008 season. As soon as I walked into this area, I had a gut feeling that it would be a real hotspot. That turned out to be an understatement!
The area is a natural funnel where several trails intersected. I knew immediately that it was the type of terrain where bucks would be cruising for does. I found an "almost perfect" tree on top of a ridge that would give me a good shot at the intersection, but there was one big drawback. In order to use the tree effectively, I would have to climb up about 35 feet.
I wasn't very crazy about that idea, but if it meant getting a chance at a real monster, I was willing to try it. After putting some artificial cover around my Gorilla Silverback stand, I was hidden pretty well. I planned on saving this stand until November. I don't usually hunt these woods until the rut, and when I do, I try to hunt all day. I usually take a week off work at the beginning of the month (at least two weeks before the gun season starts), and even though the woods I hunt are designated as "bowhunting only," the deer in the area are still fairly skittish.
LIMITED TIME TO HUNT
Even though I've always spent as much time in the woods as possible, it's gotten increasingly harder in recent times because I got married a few years ago and we had a son. But my wife, Krystle, has been very understanding, and she lets me have my hunting time. Going in the 2008-2009 bow season, I knew my stand time was going to be more limited than ever because my second son, Kole, was born two weeks before the season started. My wife needed some help with the new baby and my 2-year-old son, Gavin.
Joel poses proudly with the beautiful mount and his 2-year-old son, Gavin.
In October, I hoped to hunt enough to get a couple of does under my belt for the freezer and to get in some good practice. All along I had planned on taking a week's vacation in November, but I decided not to at the last minute because work had been slow because of the economy, and I wanted to work as much as I could. I felt lucky to have a job during this recession. I still planned to take a couple of long weekends to get in as much stand time as I could.
The first time I took off was on Nov. 7. I saw a couple of good bucks but never had a decent shot. I hunted my special spot again on Nov. 9 and saw two shooters and some does. After that, I wanted to give the spot at least one more chance. I planned to take the day off on the following Friday, but the weather forecast indicated that the wind was going to change on that morning from a south wind to a north wind, and the forecast called for it to stay that way until gun season started a week later.
A DAY LIKE NONE OTHER
I don't like taking time off during the middle of the week, but in this case, I knew I had to hunt this stand one more time before the wind changed. So, I took the day off on Wednesday, Nov. 12, and climbed into my stand early that morning at about 5:30 a.m. It was 34 degrees with a 10-mph southwest wind, perfect for this stand. Little did I know what the day had in store!
I had been in the tree for only 10 minutes when I heard a buck crashing through the woods. He was chasing a doe and grunting like a pig. Then, despite the darkness, I could see them walking 30 yards from my stand. I couldn't wait for it to get light. The action was nonstop all morning long. At about 6:15 a.m., a buck that I estimated to be only a 2 1/2-year-old bred a doe 15 yards away from my stand. I knew this stand was hot and I planned to wait it out all day if I had to.
An hour later at 7:15 a.m., I could see another buck coming my way. He was a 3 1/2-year-old 10-pointer, and I couldn't make up my mind if I wanted to shoot him or not.
Usually, when I feel this way it means don't shoot. But I decided to take him.
It was a 15-yard shot, but I lost sight of him right away because the woods were so thick.
I wasn't sure if the shot was good, so I figured I would give him a couple of hours before I started tracking him. I still had another buck tag to fill, so I nocked another arrow.
Things were quiet for the next 45 minutes until an 8-pointer, scoring around 140 inches, chased a doe around in front of me and bred her for a couple minutes. I got ready for another shot, but he never came into my shooting lane.
A TREE ON HIS HEAD!
I had been watching the 8-pointer for about 15 minutes when I heard a buck grunt behind me. I turned and could not believe what I saw coming at me at a fast pace. All I could see were points everywhere. It happened so fast I wasn't able to get excited. He walked directly below me and stopped five yards away. I decided to take the shot, even though it was almost straight down, because I was confident I could make a lethal shot with my Mathews Legacy. As soon as I let the arrow fly, I saw that it was a good hit. He ran about 80 yards before I lost sight of him. I could tell he wasn't going much farther.
I called my friend, James Krull, who was hunting on the same property, and told him I had just shot a huge non-typical buck. He tried to get me to wait at least an hour, but I only waited 20 minutes because I felt my buck hadn't gone far. As soon as I started following his trail, I found massive amounts of blood. After 100 yards, I walked over the hill and there he was! I couldn't believe how big he was. I counted the points three different times . . . 19 in all! Not one point was even questionable. I finally had achieved my lifelong dream of putting an arrow in a true monster!
Suddenly, I remembered that I still had another buck to find. I followed my first buck's blood trail for about 120 yards and there he was! What a day! He was a respectable buck (scoring in the 120s) but nowhere near the size of my monster. James showed up shortly after that and he helped me get both deer out of the woods. It took us three hours. I couldn't wait to show off my big deer! I didn't expect him to get all of the attention he did because I didn't realize how high he was going to score.
I later took my buck to the Illinois Deer and Turkey Classic in Bloomington in early 2009 to get the rack officially scored. With a net score of 214 6/8, my Grundy County monster ended up taking second place in the non-typical archery category. The massive rack had over 70 inches of abnormal points. I figured that he was probably 4 1/2 years old. I had found his sheds from the year before when he was 3 1/2, and I decided to have them mounted using the cape of the 10-pointer I shot the same morning I arrowed him.
Looking back, it all still seems like a dream to me. I know I will probably never have another hunt like the one I experienced on Nov. 12, 2008. Nothing can top this feeling. . . . At least, not until my boys, Gavin and Kole, get to go with me and shoot their first deer! All my time and hard work finally paid off and I'm very lucky to have a wife who lets me spend a lot of time participating in the sport I love.
A lot of people have said to me, "You might as well quit because you're never going to shoot a bigger buck." Maybe so, but I can guarantee you that come November, I'll be sitting in my special stand trying to kill another Grundy County giant!