It's always a heartbreaker when a giant buck that has been seen and hunted in a certain area is found dead. Such is the case with this Illinois megabuck.
Avid bowhunter Mark Beck had been hunting Big Louie for two seasons when he got this trail cam photo on Oct. 25, 2008. The big buck came in and worked a scrape during daylight hours, and 39 individual photos were taken. Mark was fired up, and he hunted the giant buck for the better part of the next 30 days.
When Illinois quail hunters Scott and Kyle Hacke went afield looking for some upland bird action in early January, the last thing they expected was to stumble upon the remains of what may have been the biggest deer ever to live in rural Menard County.
What killed the Menard County Monarch? How old was the trophy deer? Scott and Kyle certainly didn't have the answers, but they knew this was a buck that dreams are made of.
And how had the unrivaled king of Menard County evaded hunters for as long as he did?
That the buck was tracked for nearly a month by one dedicated hunter in 2008 and then mysteriously disappeared and died, only to be discovered dead by quail hunters, makes quite an interesting story.
THE BUCK OF A LIFETIME
John Grosboll has been an avid whitetail hunter and sportsman for over 35 years. He has nearly that many mounts to prove his success. He owns land in northern Menard County, and he puts great effort into creating upland bird habitat and utilizing conservation practices to create the kind of country he enjoys hunting. John keeps tabs on what's happening on his property, as well as on neighboring farms. But even with his decades of deer-hunting experience and time in the field, he never once laid eyes on this particular trophy buck.
"I knew there were two big deer in the area," John said. "I'd seen one buck with double drop tines myself. I'd only heard that another buck, a real monster, was here and that hunters were looking for him."
The bow season was almost over on Jan. 3, 2009. John limits the hunting pressure on his land to a select few and decided to let Kyle and Scott Hacke onto the property to do some quail hunting. All three men are avid upland bird hunters, and John has managed his property for quail and pheasants for several years. Kyle and Scott were hoping for a few birds but got a real surprise instead.
"We were hunting the northern filter strip from east to west on the Grosboll property when Kyle found the buck in the middle of the strip," said Scott Hacke. "The cover we were hunting was irregularly shaped with a square block of set-aside on the south end, bordered by a waterway to the east and north. Scott came up on the buck in the middle of the strip. I've never seen a buck like that out here."
The buck had been dead for a while, perhaps several weeks, but what stood out was its rack. It was massive, and nothing like what the Hackes had ever seen before. Coyotes had already pulled off most of the hide and decimated the body, but fortunately they'd left the head and bones intact. No one is sure how long the buck was dead before being discovered or how it had died; there wasn't any evidence to lead investigators to anything other than educated guesses.
Dead or alive, the Menard County Monarch was a rare find indeed!
Landowner John Grosboll had the huge rack mounted after Bill Jordan ofRealtree gave him a cape from a large buck he had taken earlier in the season. "The rack is always going to stay right here on my property," John said.
THE MYSTERY DEEPENS
"The rack measures 263 5/8 gross and nets 254 1/8 as a non-typical," John said. "It isn't leaving Menard County. It's going to stay right here on my property."
After the Hackes told John about their find, John immediately made a phone call to the DNR to have an officer come to the scene. One officer had suffered a broken ankle and couldn't respond, but John got the OK to recover the remains. Sometime later, DNR officials arrived to check for any game law violations and found no indication that the deer had been killed illegally, but there was really no way to tell. Therefore, John was entitled to keep the rack.
Had the buck died from some disease or injury? John had heard from a local farmer that the giant buck had been seen in the area late in the season. The farmer told him that the buck appeared to be in decline. The buck had lost weight and was looking haggard in comparison to its appearance several months earlier in the fall of 2008. (Of course, this could easily be attributed to the rigors of the rut.) The cause of death may have been natural, or it might have been from an encounter with another buck.
"Maybe this buck got into a fight with the other big buck we've been seeing in the area," John said. "I know that the other deer is in good shape because I've seen him. If they got into a fight, this buck may have lost, and his death was the result."
A ONE-OF-A-KIND WHITETAIL
John Kube, a retired DNR biologist and certified B&C measurer, was called in to measure the Grosboll rack. He lives in the county.
"The Grosboll rack is a very impressive set of antlers," said Kube. "The deer in Illinois are on the highest nutritional level plane anywhere in the country, and all it takes is for the animal to get a little age on it and it can become a very impressive animal."
Kube has seen his share of big racks and noted how symmetrical and well formed this particular rack was. He's not sure how old the Grosboll buck was because he didn't get the opportunity to age its teeth. His educated guess is that the buck was probably 4 1/2 years old.
Taxidermist Kerry Trueblood, also a Menard County resident, was likewise impressed with the Grosboll buck. "It's by far the biggest mount I've done in almost 20 years of taxidermy," Kerry said. "The skin was unusable, but Bill Jordan of Realtree was in the area and he donated a large cape from a deer that he had shot. I put on a 32-inch cape and used a Revolution Intimidator form, which is the largest one on the market. The cape was flawless and the resulting mount turned out great."
Bill Jordan happened to be hunting in the area when he heard about John's buck.
Naturally, he had to see it, so he paid John a visit. Bill was impressed with the huge rack to say the least. When he realized John's predicament regarding the spoiled skin, he graciously offered John the cape from a buck that he had taken earlier in the season in Montana. The cape from that big buck was still in the freezer back home in Georgia, and Bill made arrangements to have it sent to John.
MENARD COUNTY HABITAT
The habitat this big buck staked out as his own is in the northern part of Menard County, a little over three miles east of Oakford. John believes the buck ranged for about a mile to the Sangamon River's bottom and throughout the wooded sections and open fields. Some of the narrow strips of woodlots are lined with brush with a lot of edge habitat. Area cornfields provide a smorgasbord of great dining. All in all, the trophy buck was in deer paradise.
The buck was found lying on sandy soil that John had planted in native Indian and blue stem prairie grasses for quail habitat. This may have been a bedding spot or a nontraditional hiding spot that kept the buck out of numerous hunters' sights for so long.
"The buck was never seen in the woods as far as I know," John said. "He was always in a field or on the edge of the woods, not exactly where you'd expect to find him."
As some deer get older, they pick up experience and savvy that we often don't give them credit for. It's not unheard of that deer will move through low grass down on their knees to avoid hunters. Though this type of behavior isn't common, it shows that some animals can match wits with hunters and win.
Night travel is yet another way older bucks avoid hunting pressure. If the area picks up human hunters during the legal daylight hours, wise bucks tend to reverse the pattern and bed in thick cover during daylight and then move around after the sun sets. However, the Grosboll buck was seen and photographed during daylight hours, so he apparently did move around during the day.
ONE HUNTER'S SAD TALE
The discovery of the remains of the Grosboll buck was a real heartbreaker for avid bowhunter Mark Beck of Petersburg, Illinois. Mark had been hunting the Grosboll property for several years and had seen this buck the previous season. But the plot thickened on Oct. 25, 2008. That's when the buck showed up in 39 individual photos on one of Mark's trail cameras at about 5:30 in the afternoon. Mark was fired up after getting those daytime photos. After that, he spent the better part of the next month hunting the deer, right up until the first gun season on Nov. 21.
Mark and his children had nicknamed the buck "Big Louie." On the afternoon of Oct. 25 when all of the trail photos were taken, the big buck came in and worked a scrape that was located between two of Mark's stands. The reason Mark was not hunting that day was because he and his wife were attending a wedding.
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR
"I'd actually seen the deer the year before with his big drop tine, and we estimated then that he would score around 190 inches," Mark said. "His rack really exploded in 2008, putting on some additional 65 or 70 inches. We figured he was a fairly young deer, no more than 4 1/2 years old in 2008.
"A few days after all of the trail photos were taken, I saw him in some standing corn. The corn had not yet been cut because of all of the rain we had last year. I could hear him hitting his antlers on the corn stalks. He was only 25 yards away, but I couldn't see him.
Then he came out of the corn at 65 yards and I didn't have a shot.
"I saw him again later on, but he was again out of range. He was all over that farm, and it was a cat-and-mouse game trying to figure out where he would be. I've gotten to know Stan Potts pretty well, and I called Stan on a regular basis while I was hunting this deer and he would always give me his ideas about how to hunt him. I didn't bowhunt at all during gun season, and by the time I got back to the farm to hunt him in early December, he was probably already dead. Obviously I never saw him again.
"I don't think he died from fighting, because he didn't have any broken tines or chipped antlers. There was a road that he crossed on a regular basis, and I think a poacher shot him off that road and he went back into the area where he was found and died there. It was a sad day for me when I found out he was dead. The whole time I was hunting him, my kids, who are 8 and 6, would ask me 'Dad, did you get Big Louie?' every time I came home. It was an experience I'll never forget!"
Whitetail hunting in Menard County is a popular pastime. The total number of bucks taken in all-season hunting in the county in 2007 was 998. In 2008, that number dropped to 889.
Perhaps the end of this story hasn't yet been written. John Grosboll's other big buck, the one that very possibly may have outfought the biggest buck on his property, was still in those woods and bottomland fields as of the beginning of the 2009 bow season. He should be the dominant buck now and well on his way to matching his predecessor.
Will this buck fall to a dedicated hunter like Mark Beck during the 2009 season? Only time will tell.