Mike Cauble and his sons had known about this great Illinois megabuck for four years, but the charmed deer always managed to elude everyone. In 2008, however, young Jeremy set out to even the score with his muzzleloader.
The date was Nov. 20, 2008, the day before the first Illinois firearms season opener.
Fifteen-year-old Jeremy Cauble, his dad, Mike, and several other family members decided to set up a new ladder stand on the Cauble property near Bingham, Illinois.
To most hunters, it might seem a little odd to wait until the day before the season firearms opener to put up a new stand, but the reason was understandable. After a four-year quest for a giant buck, the family decided it was time to try to something different. In addition to Mike and Jeremy, other family members included Ryan, Jeremy's 11-year-old brother, and Brandon Finley, Mike's stepson, who is in his late 20s.
After several close calls with various Cauble family members over the past few years, the elusive buck had been named "Lucky" because it seemed that this wise old buck always had plenty of luck on his side. For instance, Mike had experienced several close calls with Lucky over the past few years while bowhunting. But it seemed like the buck always had a sixth sense about avoiding the hunter just at the critical moment.
Then, early in the 2008 Illinois bow season, a neighbor, Darrell Cole, had an encounter with the charmed buck at 10 yards. But Lucky stayed on the wrong side of the tree and never offered Darrell a shot.
A CHARMED WHITETAIL
The Cauble family hunters first discovered Lucky four years earlier when one of the deer's sheds was found from 2005. If that shed had matched its other side, Lucky would have scored about 165 inches as a 4 1/2-year-old 8-pointer. That's quite an impressive 4x4 in anybody's book!
In 2006, at the age 5 1/2, the buck went non-typical and jumped to 204 inches. After the buck had successfully avoided everyone during the entire '06 deer season, Darrell Cole found one of the buck's sheds and Mike found the other one. By this time, Lucky had become fairly well known and visible in the area. In fact, Chad Compton, a local conservation police officer, started keeping a close eye on Lucky in the general area where he lived. The last thing that Chad wanted was to have someone poach this great buck.
When the 2007 season rolled around, the giant non-typical produced a rack that measured 203 inches. The rack had changed very little from the year before, although the buck was now 6 1/2 years of age. As with the previous year, Lucky was seen in 2007 by Mike and several other family members. During gun season that year, Brandon missed the buck with a muzzleloader as the deer ran in front of him at 75 yards. Mike even saw the huge buck walking through his front yard!
One day after the 2007-2008 season had closed, Mike videotaped the buck with both antlers. The very next day he videotaped the buck with one antler missing. The video showed the buck trying to knock off the other antler! Obviously the chase was on to locate both shed antlers. Darrell found one of the sheds from 2007 and later acquired the other from another neighbor.
OLDER, LARGER AND WISER AT 7 1/2
During the summer of 2008, Mike and Jeremy started seeing the buck again. "But something had changed," Mike said. "He was much more visible and did not seem to be moving around and covering such a large area like he had in years past."
As the gun season approached, Mike noticed something else. "Lucky did not seem to be involved in the rut to the extent he had in previous years," Mike said. "It seemed to me that he was losing out to some of the younger 3 1/2-year-olds in the area."
By this time, Lucky's 7 1/2-year-old rack was not quite as wide as it had been the year before, but it carried more abnormal points. Based on trail camera photos, Mike and other family members guesstimated that the deer would gross around 240 inches.
Lucky had always lived in an area of approximately two square miles. His core area seemed to be inside a 100-acre block that contained a network of timbered draws, CRP fields, thick brush and several grassy waterways. It was located adjacent to the Caubles' 250-acre farm.
One week prior to the gun season opener, something unexpected occurred. A non-resident hunter from another state suddenly showed up. This hunter apparently had heard stories about the giant buck and he had drawn a non-resident gun tag. He obtained permission from the landowner to hunt the core area where Lucky lived. Every day for several days just prior to the gun season opener, this hunter walked and scouted the entire core area where "Lucky" spent most of his time.
"In truth, this may have worked to our advantage," Mike said. "I believe all of that scouting actually bumped the big buck out of his core area and he ended up over on our side of the road."
Mike had long ago established a set of rules for hunting his property. Those rules typically include never over-hunting the property, taking a substantial number of does each season and delivering hunters to their tree stands in a pickup truck (where they literally stepped from the bed of the truck into the stand). Also, any buck taken by an adult had to measure a minimum of 150 inches (youngsters were allowed to shoot any buck they wanted). And finally, no deer drives were ever allowed on the property.
JEREMY GETS A "LUCKY" STAND
The stand being set up on Nov. 20, 2008, was earmarked for Jeremy. It was a 16-foot "buddy" ladder stand. Jeremy planned to take a family friend, Ryan Taylor, with him the next morning. Ryan planned to try to videotape Jeremy's hunt. Ryan had recently joined the military and had been scheduled to go to Iraq in November, so he hadn't put in for a gun tag. His deployment had been postponed, however, and now it was too late for him to get a tag.
So Ryan agreed to videotape Jeremy and also accompany him as an adult. Since Jeremy was only 15 years old at the time, he was not old enough to hunt by himself. (Young hunters have to be at least 16 in Illinois to get an FOID card and hunt by themselves.
Although Jeremy could hunt legally with a gun, he was required to have completed a gun safety course and have an adult with an FOID card along with him.)
On Friday morning, Nov. 21, the first morning of gun season, Jeremy and Ryan were dropped off at their ladder stand by pick-up truck in typical Cauble fashion. The temperature was hovering at around 17 degrees that morning and everyone wondered how long Jeremy would stay in his stand before "freezing out."
Being the general family "hunt master," Mike was in charge of who went where. His strategy that morning was simple.
"We have one large piece of timber, and this was where I thought the buck was probably holding out," Mike said. "I told everyone that we were going to set up on all sides of that timber and see if the big buck showed up."
Just before being dropped off, Jeremy told his dad and brothers, "I'm not going to shoot a buck unless it's at least 170 inches."
SOME FAST-PACED, EARLY-MORNING ACTION
As daylight approached, Jeremy told Ryan that he was already getting cold. While Jeremy surveyed the surrounding area with his muzzleloader ready, Ryan watched in the opposite direction. Approximately 20 minutes after legal shooting time, Ryan tapped Jeremy on the shoulder and whispered, "Big buck."
The giant buck was only 40 yards away, moving through the edge of the timber as Jeremy turned and got the buck in his scope. Seeing the huge rack and the numerous stickers, Jeremy immediately knew that this was the buck everyone was after. The lone deer was walking slowly through the woods. Ryan was in the process of quietly asking Jeremy if he wanted him to stop the buck. "Do you want me to stop . . ."
Before he could finish his sentence, the next sound that Ryan heard was an ear-deafening BOOM! The buck hunched up and started running.
Jeremy had wasted little time in aiming and firing at the buck with his Savage Model 10 II bolt-action muzzleloader. Ryan quickly sent a text message to Jeremy's dad and brothers saying, "Jeremy just shot a nice buck."
Brandon sent a text back asking, "What did the buck do?"
Ryan answered, "He hunched up."
At that point Mike had a bad feeling about the shot. Brandon sent a text message back saying, "Stay in your stand for at least 10 minutes."
"THE 'CAUBLE BUCK' IS DOWN!"
After five minutes, Jeremy looked at Ryan and said, "I can't stand it any longer. We have to get down, and oh, by the way, I'm not cold anymore!"
Before he and Ryan started following the blood trail, Jeremy reloaded his muzzleloader, just in case. The blood trail went across a ditch and up a small hill. As the two hunters approached the crest of the hill, they saw the buck on the ground, dead, only 100 yards from the stand. The next text that went out to everyone from Jeremy was, "The Cauble buck is down!"
Jeremy immediately received a return text from his dad saying, "If you're lying to me, I'm going to kick your you-know-what!"
Jeremy then called his dad and said he needed help dragging the buck out. Mike responded by saying, "You shot it, you drag it! I'll bring the truck!"
After Lucky was loaded into the truck, some photos were taken of Jeremy with his prize.
Later on, the great whitetail was taken to Buck Taxidermy, operated by Kevin Buck.
After the 60-day drying period, the massive 21-point rack was measured by official scorer Skip Moore. The main-frame 4x5 rack netted 222 1/8 non-typical B&C points.
Although Lucky has a fairly narrow inside spread as mentioned (17 5/8 inches), his left G-2 measured a whopping 15 5/8 inches, while both G-3s and the right G-2 measured over 12 inches in length.
Over the previous few seasons, Mike had spent literally hundreds of hours hunting for Lucky. In the end, he was very proud that his son was able to connect with the buck. Mike later discovered that he actually had a trail camera photo of Lucky taken the morning the buck was killed. The photo was taken at 5:23 a.m. in a food plot 100 yards from the house. Less than two hours later, the great buck walked by Jeremy's stand!
It's a rare and special situation indeed when one family has the privilege and pleasure of seeing, hunting and documenting a great individual buck like Lucky. Not only do the Caubles have a great story to tell about a great Illinois buck, they can now enjoy seeing the mount hanging on the wall for years to come as a reminder of all the enjoyment he brought to the family. As for Jeremy, he'll probably never be the same!