For this 16-year-old Illinois sportsman, taking the state's top archery whitetail of 2002 was anything but child's play.
By Bobby Worthington
"The word is that a monster non-typical was bow-killed yesterday about 15 miles from here," my host said as I sat at the supper table following a cold day on stand.
"Did you happen to hear what it scored?" I asked.
"I don't know much about that," he said, "but it seems like I heard 230."
It was Nov. 11, 2002, and bucks in western Illinois were really running. The area is capable of producing a non-typical of the class described, but it seems I hear stories of 230-inch bucks every year in Pike County, and hardly any turn out to be true. I half-dismissed the rumor.
The next evening I visited a friend, Scott Andrews, at his archery shop in Pittsfield. Scott asked if I'd heard of a big buck in the county. I said I'd heard mention of it but had no details. Scott told me he'd heard a 16-year-old had arrowed the deer. "The young man walked up on it," he said.
"I'm happy for the lad," I replied, "but ain't that the luck? He's probably a beginner hunter going in late to his tree stand or leaving after a morning hunt when a rut-crazed buck walked up on him. Ain't that the way it usually goes with the really big deer? It seems like a lot of luck is usually involved in the hunt."
Gavin stalked to within range of the biggest non-typical arrowed in Illinois last year! Photo by Bobby Worthington.
"Well," Scott replied, "I'm not so sure from what I heard that this hunt was all luck. You should get in touch with the hunter and talk to him."
I did just that, and from the time I met young Gavin Risley, I was impressed with him. As we talked about his hunt, a remarkable story unfolded. My preconceived notion that he was just "lucky" faded as he talked.
First off, Gavin is no rookie deer hunter. The tradition was passed down to him at an early age from his father, Brian Risley, as it was to Brian from his own father, Marvin. Also, shooting this buck from the ground wasn't all luck. Gavin sometimes hunts from ground blinds made of natural cover, but most of the time he stalks deer. In fact, he'd shot others in this manner!
Nov. 10, 2002, was shaping up as any other Sunday for the Risley family. After returning from church, Gavin and his Brian were finishing lunch when Marvin called to say he'd just seen a nice 8-pointer in his wheat field. A fateful decision was made: to try to get Gavin a shot at the buck.
As they drove up the driveway to Marvin's house, Gavin and Brian saw the big 8-pointer chasing does around the field. Gavin decided to go sit in a fence row about 300 yards from there, in hopes the buck would run past him while chasing the does. If that didn't work, Brian would wait an hour, then walk through the timber to try to work the buck to his son.
When Brian reached Gavin, he told him he'd seen the 8-pointer go around the ambush. At that time, the young man felt sure his hunt was over. But as Brian had approached, he'd seen a really nice buck bedded in some cover. Brian said the buck, a "10- or 12-pointer," was lying against a brush pile near the creek on Marvin's land. Brian had avoided the buck and so thought he was still there.
Gavin and his father began to make out plans for a stalk. The creek runs west to east, and the buck was bedded on the south side of the water in a big brush pile. A bluff 35 to 45-feet high runs along the south side of the creek, with the brush pile maybe 30 feet from the bottom of the bluff. The wind was out of the northwest.
The plan was for Gavin to approach the creek from the south, sneaking to within about 100 yards of the buck. He'd then ease up the creek, staying back from the bluff edge so the buck couldn't see him. Gavin would then ease to the edge and try to get a shot.
The rack has a tight spread, but in every other way it's huge.
Meanwhile, Brian would work his way up the north side of the creek, staying 200 yards or so from the water. The hope was that the buck would wind him off in the distance, distracting his attention from Gavin, who'd be approaching from above.
As the young bowhunter began to move up the creek, he knew he couldn't get in a hurry. He inched along, stepping on mud and grass instead of the fallen leaves.
About an hour into the stalk, as Gavin approached where he believed he should look over the edge of the bluff, he got really nervous. That's understandable; after all, Brian had said the buck was a 10- or 12-pointer, and Gavin had never shot a buck that big. He stopped to steady himself.
Gavin was about to step up to the edge of the bluff when he heard the buck stand up in the dry leaves. As the hunter reached the edge of the steep bank, he could see the buck below him, standing and looking toward the north, where Brian was. As the deer stepped out of the brush, he was clearly growing nervous.
"I just glanced at his rack and knew he was good enough, so I pulled back my bow and fixed my 20-yard pin on his vitals," Gavin says. As he was finishing his draw, the buck turned and glanced at him. The deer then started to turn to run away, but it was too late; the broadhead struck just below the spine and angled downward, hitting both lungs. The buck wheeled Ãƒ' then fell in his tracks!
Gavin yelled to his dad that the deer was down. Brian started running, and as he got closer, he asked how many points the deer had. Gavin didn't answer, as he was still counting. Brian again asked, "How many points?" Still no answer came, as Gavin had lost count. He was still counting when Brian got there!
Father and son knelt beside the buck in amazement. After they got the buck home, Marvin was also overjoyed with his grandson's buck. It's fitting that three generations of Risleys participated in this hunt. Gavin gives his father and grandfather credit, for without their willingness to teach him about deer hunting and playing key roles in this hunt, he wouldn't have shot the buck.
While the Risleys were at the check station, local hunters began to gather to admire the deer. Gavin then left and picked up his girlfriend and went to a restaurant to eat. All of the hunters and other customers came out to see his deer. When he got home, four or five trucks were already there, filled with people wanting to see the buck. Then more hunters arrived. By 11 p.m., Gavin was realizing just how special a deer he'd shot.
The next morning, a neighbor who owns a small outfitting operation rough-scored the rack at close to 240 non-typical. That's when it really hit home that Gavin had shot a world-class deer. In fact, the official net score of 227 5/8 made him the state's top archery non-typical of 2002.
After Gavin got his buck, the Risleys realized they'd had a few encounters with him before. The first had been in 2000. That October was extremely dry, and the big bucks were coming to drink at a pond on Marvin's place. Gavin had hid in some old hay bales nearby.
One evening, as the hunter was watching numerous bucks chasing does, he heard clashing antlers in a nearby wood lot. After Gavin pulled out his call and gave a few grunts, the woods came alive with bucks. One had at least 12 very long tines. He came to within 70 yards of Gavin, but the then-14-year-old archer wouldn't think of taking such a risky shot.
The next evening, Gavin resumed his quest for the buck he'd nicknamed "Tall Tines." This time the archer hid in a small ditch, and after a short wait, he looked up to see "Tall Tines" coming down a scent trail he'd made. But just as the buck got within range he stopped behind a pin oak, offering no good target. Gavin decided not to shoot, and the buck turned around and went back up the trail.
"There were times when I wished I had taken the shot," Gavin says, "but as I believe the 12-pointer grew to be this enormous 20-pointer, I am very thankful now that I didn't."
The buck wasn't seen in 2001, and the Risleys feared he'd been killed. Then, in late October 2002, Gavin spotted the biggest deer he'd ever seen. The buck dominated all others around the pond, just as the 12-pointer had two years before.
Gavin hunted hard for the buck, but whenever the deer came out of thick cover, it was only long enough to look around before disappearing back into the brush. After a few days, Gavin quit seeing him at all . . . until that final encounter on Nov. 10.