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Uno: The 5-Year Quest for an Illinois Monster Buck

Watching this buck grow from a promising youngster into a true monarch was amazing. So was finally catching up with him.

Uno: The 5-Year Quest for an Illinois Monster Buck
The emotion of closing the deal on this Illinois giant can be seen on the author’s face. His wife and the rest of their family had devoted themselves to the quest for years. Photo courtesy of Kyle J. Heuerman

Back in summer 2014, an Illinois buck my wife, Jennifer, and I had nicknamed “Omag” was my deer of interest. Over three years I’d been unable to find his summer core area, so I contacted a neighbor and acquired permission to run trail cameras on his land. Little did I know my longest journey for another buck would start in the weeks following.

The two fields on which I placed cameras had different crops. I didn’t locate Omag there, but in checking cameras, I did find a unique buck with a brow tine that stood out from the rest. His left one was significantly taller than his right. We began to call this deer “Uno,” the Spanish word for “one.” My best guess on age was 2 1/2 or 3 1/2 years old.

I was able to find Omag and end my bowhunting quest for him on Nov. 1. Throughout the remainder of that season I had encounters with Uno regularly, but in the post-season I wasn’t able to find either of his sheds.

That summer another buck had my interest, and he lived in the opposite direction from where Uno had summered the year prior. When hunting season rolled around, trail cameras were deployed in the fall range locations, in hopes of providing intel on the target buck I was after. It wasn’t long before Uno made his first appearance, freshening a scrape during the night. Uno still sported a typical 8-point frame with one brow tine still taller than the other, but now had grown splits on each brow. The jump in inches he made in one year was certainly impressive and I was hopeful to lay eyes on him in person.

Nov. 5 my wish was granted as he fed into my soybeans, pushing several does around, then walked past me at a mere 30 yards. That would be my one and only encounter with Uno in ’15. Although I only had one encounter with the buck, I still had trail camera pictures of him frequently throughout the season. Unfortunately, I again was unable to locate his sheds. Everything about Uno really made me believe he was 4 1/2 years old that season, and I was anxious to put him on my target list for ’16.

It didn’t take long to pick right back up where we’d left off in ’15. Uno showed himself frequently. But now something major had changed. His rack was still a typical 8-point frame, but now his name would seem silly; he sported two towering brow tines, with only one being split. I’ll never forget that first card pull, looking at those pictures in sheer amazement. I’d never seen another buck with brows as impressive.

My anticipation of the ’16 season was high, as I’d located both bucks I wanted to target. But though I did continue to get a fair number of photos of Uno, I didn’t have a single encounter with him. I was able to tag the other mature buck in the early part of January ’17. On Nov. 12 Uno snapped off his right G-2 tine, and I never gave him too much more thought until after the season. At that point, I began to focus on ’17. He’d be my No. 1 target buck if still around.

Once the season ended, the real work began. Although my wife was pregnant and we were in the middle of building a new house and shed, I was determined more than ever to tag Uno. Planting a smorgasbord of food plots, hanging new stands, moving old stands, trimming lanes, thickening bedding areas and engaging in thorough post-season scouting were just some of the things I planned to do in preparation for fall.

Before the work started, I needed to revisit the intel I had. Fortunately, some patterns had held true over the few years I’d followed Uno. He’d summered in the same place every year. For another, he’d been visiting only one area of our ground during open season, and he was never there for more than a few days at a time. Uno wasn’t a visible or aggressive buck compared to others and was almost always gone again after Dec. 1.

I narrowed my focus to one pinched-down area I felt would offer me my best shot. This pinch was between two big bedding areas. The time frame during which he’d traveled through our ground was anywhere from Oct. 27-Nov. 15. According to historic weather data on the dates when I knew Uno had walked our ground in daylight, it was evident he knew how to play the wind almost perfectly. With limited time to take off work, I knew I’d have to make good calls on which days to hunt him.

When I pulled my trail camera cards the first time of ’17, I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. Uno was now a world-class whitetail with his biggest rack to date. He again had a main frame 10-point rack with towering brow tines, along with a big split on his left brow. Everything about him was bigger. I thought about Uno literally every day from that point forward.

On cue, he showed up in the same time frame as years prior — but only at night. It wasn’t until Nov. 9 that I got my first daylight photo. The game was on.


Nov. 13 would be my only encounter with Uno in ’17. A mature doe came down from one of the bedding areas with him close behind her. All she had to do was come through the pinch, as almost every other deer had done earlier that morning — but for whatever reason, she continued straight into the food plot. Her route put Uno at 55 yards from me, and I wouldn’t risk that shot.

Seeing the giant with my own eyes and playing that mental video back time after time kept me coming back for more. But on Nov. 17, God had other plans for me: Jennifer delivered our firstborn child two months and 10 days premature. Thus ended my season, but I was thankful my wife and newborn daughter were doing great.

Again I was unable to find either of Uno’s sheds. Looking ahead to fall, I planned the same basic course of action as years past. However, I moved a couple stands around to hopefully make the pinch between the two bedding areas a little tighter. I also planted corn in the food plot for the first time in years, to hopefully entice Uno to be a more frequent visitor.

When summer arrived, Uno showed up with another incredible rack. He now had a clean 10-point frame with a small kicker off one base. Those twin-tower brow tines were now clean with no splits.

The farmers were ahead of schedule and harvested crops quite a bit earlier than in years past. Based on that, I was more optimistic than ever. With other corn picked, I really thought Uno might show up earlier than normal, and possibly frequent our property more — but that wasn’t the case. Although my standing corn was a hit with a lot of other deer, the giant I wanted was again a no-show during daylight hours.

But another buck I truly believe played a major role in my catching up with Uno in ’19 was showing up. We’d dubbed him “Titanic,” as he appeared not to have missed a meal in years. I elected to pass him in ’18, which led to his running off another 4 1/2-year-old buck I had extremely high hopes for in ’19. That buck was soon a prized possession of my neighbor. Titanic was a bully and would let no bucks get close to his lady friends.

On Nov. 6, Uno was trailing a doe directly to my stand when out of nowhere she went on high alert. Uno stood at 60 yards behind his girlfriend, and both went back the way they’d come.

On Nov. 7 I was convinced they’d come back through in the morning, and I was right. At almost 9:00 a.m., to my left I noticed three does standing at 30 yards. They were out of breath and alert. As I stood to turn on my video camera, the does busted out of the area, running full blast past my stand. I saw nothing behind them — but then, all of a sudden, a perfect sunbeam through a maple still holding its leaves revealed Uno. Before I could even say his name to myself, he walked through my opening and took chase after the ladies, along with three other bucks.

I was sick to my stomach. Uno had been only 30 yards away for who knows how long, and yet I hadn’t been able to see him due to that one maple. Had I been ready, I could’ve made the shot when he cleared the tree.

Nov. 9 would be my last encounter with him that season. He was on the cruise at 60 yards out, looking for a doe, and clearly wasn’t coming near my stand. On a good note, I’d captured more daylight photos and videos of Uno in ’18 than in all other years prior combined. I hadn’t filled a buck tag but felt optimistic about ’19.

After the season, I hiked more miles than ever looking for his sheds. I triple-checked almost every piece of ground I was able to search and yet came up empty-handed again. After searching every place I could think of, I had a thought: Could he be going back to his summer corridor after season?

Surely not, I said to myself, considering the lay of the land. I know plenty of bucks do this, but considering this deer’s summer range was just two wide-open crop fields with a really small fencerow, I thought there was no way he’d go back there. Yet it was the only spot I could walk that I’d never checked.

I’d been in Uno’s small summer corridor for under five minutes when I found his right antler from ’17. Unfortunately, squirrels had taken their toll on it, but this provided another key piece to the puzzle. I didn’t find the left side but felt confident I now knew his travel route better.

Or so I thought.

Leading up to last bow season, almost every neighbor was asking me about the buck with the big brow tines. I’d been careful about what we posted on our Team Radical social media outlets, but that didn’t matter; the neighbors all had seen Uno at some point in ’17-’18. My secret was no secret. In fact, we were private-messaged on our Team Radical Facebook page a cell phone photo of the deer from ’17 — a shot taken about four miles north of our ground. And not long after that, I found out a fellow hunter had videotaped the buck a couple miles south of me and across the river.

On a 1-10 scale (1 being lowest, 10 being highest), my confidence level went from about 9 to 1 in a hurry. Uno was traveling a huge loop across a river, county roads and a major highway. I was in disbelief that a buck of his age would make a loop so big. This went against just about everything I knew — or thought I knew — from years of hunting mature bucks.

As much as Uno’s massive home range stumped me, a couple factors brought my confidence level back up. I knew he’d still been alive at the end of the previous season, and my best shot was still to focus on the same time frame as in years past. I told myself to not focus on what I didn’t know about the buck, but instead to focus on what I did.

Uno buck standing in snow
Shown here in a video frame from just before the shot last fall, Uno was as magnificent in bow range as the author knew he would be. Photo courtesy of Kyle J. Heuerman

I just needed one picture of him in velvet to really know he was still there. In the meantime, I frost-seeded my corn plot into Real World Wildlife Products clover and chicory. I wanted a food source that could withstand high browse pressure and last well into November, if not December. Spring arrived before we knew it, and the clover came up perfectly. With a little maintenance to the plot and a few tweaks on tree stands, I eagerly waited for summer and another chance to find Uno.

Typically, in years past I’d have a set of pictures of him by the end of July. But two weeks into August, I had yet to get a single one. With rumors of EHD circulating the web, I had a couple hairs on my head turn gray.

Then, on Aug. 16, my Spartan cellular camera sent a that made my jaw drop. Uno was not only alive but was sporting his biggest brow tines to date — and possibly his biggest overall rack! It had taken moving my camera a whopping 10 yards to get me back on track.

After a handful of great pictures that summer, I was ready to put my game plan into action. But there was a problem: Titanic. He’d miraculously put on a lot more headgear and was impressive. However, his rack wasn’t of nearly as much importance to me as his attitude was. Knowing he could potentially whip Uno and push him out of the area, I put the bully on my target list.

I felt Titanic was the only wrench in my Uno plan — but once again, God had another idea. Jennifer was pregnant with our second girl and wasn’t due until Dec. 8. But on Oct. 24, I was nestled into a stand when my wife called to say she was going into labor. Under two hours later she had an emergency C-section, and we had our beautiful girl.

Jennifer of course had limitations of what she could do. In fact, she wasn’t allowed to even pick up our nearly 2-year-old daughter. On top of that, two days later my annual bronchitis set in, preventing me from seeing our new baby.

At that point, I felt helpless. Thankfully, we have an amazing family. I was able to make one sit a few days later, then hung a Lone Wolf stand on Halloween during high winds, rain, sleet and snow. After I somehow beat the bronchitis, we made hospital trips for a little over a week and were able to bring our newborn home. This was a lot better than spending two months at the hospital, as we had with our first baby.

Even though we were all home now, finding time to hunt wasn’t easy. I’d take our first child to daycare at 6:00 a.m., then drive home NASCAR-style to hop into a tree and be set up by 7:00. I’d check in with Jennifer frequently, and God bless my mother-in-law for stopping in to help with the girls while I was on stand. (I want to be clear, though: My wife was my biggest fan through all this. She encouraged and motivated me to chase Uno almost daily.) Of course, I felt guilty and selfish almost daily sitting in a stand but kept pushing through it.

And then, I caught a break.

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but on Nov. 8 I shot Titanic — and on the next hunt, I had the season’s first sighting of Uno. After seeing both bucks in person, I could honestly say it wouldn’t have been a close fight; Titanic would have pushed Uno around with ease.

The morning of Nov. 12 started off cold and slow. We had a fresh blanket of snow and a wind chill of -5 to 0 F. By 8:30 a.m. I’d seen only a few small does — but then a light switch flipped.

Looking into my clover plot, I could see a deer. The sun reflected a little light on antlers 200 yards away. Pulling up my binoculars, I couldn’t believe my eyes: It was Uno, right behind a doe. They walked through the switchgrass, past my cell camera and into the woods where I’d shot Titanic just four days earlier.

The deer disappeared, and I started to make a game plane for the afternoon. Then I caught movement again across the field in the timber. To my surprise, there were six bucks, including Uno, chasing does back and forth as hard as they could. Uno postured several times to show he was dominant and after 10 minutes disappeared again into the thicket I’d hoped he’d end up in.

Based on past hunts, I had high hopes the deer would enter the thicket and lie down for a little while before coming back to the field. I sat on stand until 11:00 a.m. while good friend Jake Vancil made the drive from Springfield to film the afternoon hunt. If we could make it to the stand without bumping deer, I was certain we’d see Uno and have a good chance of taking him.

We were set up by 1:30 p.m. — and a short 10 minutes later, a group of seven does appeared, with Uno trailing. They were headed right to us, and we readied ourselves for the moment of truth.

The wind then started to swirl, and the doe Uno was behind stopped at 52 yards. The giant buck was standing in the open, but I just didn’t feel comfortable with the shot. I was confident in making that shot on a practice target, but you can never guess what a deer’s reaction to a shot will be. I passed.

The doe knew something wasn’t quite right and went back in the direction from which she’d come, leading Uno out of sight. I was pretty certain we wouldn’t see him again that afternoon, but we had a great hunt nonetheless.

Overnight the wind was predicted to switch from northwest to southeast. But I decided to hunt the pinch again, as I had the previous morning. My hope was that Uno would work the far north side, giving him strong visibility of what little cover lay to his north and the upper hand on scenting anything to the south. Thankfully, my sister-in-law offered to take my elder daughter to daycare that morning, allowing me to be in the stand a little earlier than normal. The temperature was six degrees, and the wind was virtually calm at sunrise.

Taking my time in the crunchy snow, I made it into my stand without bumping a deer. Minute by minute of light then ticked away . . . but nothing. With snow on the ground my visibility was superior in the open timber, and with next to no wind I was confident I’d be able to see or hear anything approaching from a good distance. Cautiously, I turned my head as if it were on a swivel, scanning the area far and wide.

Then, slowly, I looked to my right — and Uno was walking into the pinch at a mere 25 yards.

My first thought was, HOW? How did he sneak up that close to me without seeing or hearing him from a long way out? Frantically, I turned on my camera and microphone, adjusted the settings, acquired focus and tried to figure out how and where I was going to get my shot.

I was facing the tree I was in, with my camera arm and camera on the left side and my bow hanging on my right. Uno was walking left to right on a steady walk. Quickly I grabbed my bow and lifted it over my safety line — but then realized I couldn’t pull off that shot, due to my camera and camera arm being in the way. There was no time to adjust them, as by then he’d have been on the right side of tree.

After directing the camera at the lane the deer was walking toward, I slowly lifted my bow over the safety line again — only to have my broadhead catch the tree bark, making a slight rattling sound on my arrow rest.

I froze, but Uno never heard or saw a thing as he continued his slow and steady walk. With him now on the right side of the tree, I quickly came to full draw and gave a quick MEEAAHH, stopping him dead in his tracks. I settled the pin and launched the first arrow I’d ever released at this legend.

I wish I could say I hit exactly where I wanted, but it was a touch forward. Immediately I focused the video camera on Uno, grabbed my binoculars and watched the deer come to a halt 60 yards away. I could tell he was severely hurt, and I prayed he’d go down there. However, he slowly made his way over a small ridge and out of sight.

Knowing I could see him if he came out of the bottom, I watched intently. After not seeing him for a few minutes, I decided to pack up, get down and head back to the truck, giving Uno plenty of time to expire.

I had almost everything packed up when I saw him lying on the face of the next ridge. Certain he hadn’t been there all that time, I watched him through my binoculars. He kept laying his head to the side, every so often lifting it to look away from me.

I had to make a quick decision: Get down, sneak up to him and shoot him again, or wait at the house a few hours and then trail him? I was confident I could sneak up to him undetected, as the wind would be in my favor and the little ridge between us would keep me hidden. So while still on stand I visually marked two trees I needed to get to for another shot opportunity. Giving the situation no more thought, I lowered my bow and slowly descended the tree.

After nocking another arrow, I slowly worked my way toward where I’d last seen Uno. Every time the wind picked up, I inched closer to the two trees; when it would stop, I’d stop. In total, it took me about 10 minutes to stalk 40 yards.

I knelt and belly-crawled the remaining 10 yards to the two trees on the ridge. Keeping them between the deer and me, I slowly rose to my knees. Immediately I saw Uno in the same spot, bedded down, quartering away and looking away from me. Unfortunately, even after acquiring a range of 45 yards, I realized I couldn’t take that shot; there was no clear path to his vitals. The only way to get a shot would be to close another five yards across wide-open space.

Slowly I drew my bow, rose to my feet and walked toward the bedded buck. Now at 40 yards, I was in position — and Uno still had no clue I was there. I settled the pin and released the arrow.

As soon as I pulled the trigger, I knew something was wrong; the arrow didn’t fly straight at all and went just under the buck. Looking back, I’m almost certain it barely deflected off a small limb and went right under him.

To my amazement, though Uno lifted his head in fully alert position, he was still looking away from me. As fast as possible I nocked another arrow, took a step, settled the pin again and slowly squeezed off a well-placed arrow.

This one hit mid-body, and he let out a loud, deflated grunt. Uno ran another 60 yards and stopped. Immediately I found him in my binoculars but could only see his back half. Within seconds he frantically waved his tail side to side, and I was certain he was about to go down.

To gain a better vantage point, I took one step left, only to have a tree between us. I dropped my binoculars and looked with my naked eye, then again through the binoculars. I still couldn’t see him and I was confident I would have had he run or walked off.

After five minutes I backed out, planning to give Uno more time to expire. Upon reaching the truck, I phoned good friends Jake Vancil and Chris Walker. They dropped everything and started on the 2-hour drive to my house.

My next phone call was to friend and tracking expert Ron Slifer. Ron’s dog Dio is a tracking phenomenon, and I didn’t want to take any chances. Dio was my insurance policy in case Uno wasn’t lying in his earlier bed. Ron said he’d be at my house a little after 1:00 p.m.

Chris, Jake and my other Team Radical members were 100 percent confident the buck was dead where I’d last seen him. However, Ron was skeptical; he’d seen so many bizarre things happen over years of trailing wounded deer. At that point, my emotions were just a mess.

After Jake, Chris, Jennifer, Ron and I suited up, we headed for where I’d parked my truck that morning. Ron said a quick prayer, leashed up Dio and walked for the second impact site, hoping to pick up Uno’s trail. On the way there, we found a lot more blood than I’d expected from my first shot.

Once we’d homed in on the second confirmed hit location, it didn’t take Dio long to pick up the trail. Reaching the top of the next ridge, we had our eyes peeled and lips shut, just in case the buck was still alive.

Then I looked over my right shoulder and saw him. Uno was lying dead where I’d last seen him.

I had no words and dropped to my knees. An overwhelming sense of relief hit me. I’d ended my quest. I finally rose to my feet, grabbed my wife’s hand and walked with her to the deer.

Kneeling next to Uno, I just stared in disbelief with tears in my eyes. Six years of history and four years of pursuit were finally over. I’d later find that the right brow tine was 10 3/8 inches, the left an even more amazing 13 0/8. Uno’s gross “green” score came to 191 6/8.

There are still no words to describe what my family and I went through on this journey. Many days I’d questioned my ability, sanity and character. Am I too invested in chasing Uno? Am I sacrificing too much on the home front? Those are the types of questions I’d kept asking myself. I’d never had a deer beat me so long and leave me feeling so defeated. I’d never had one consume my thoughts as much as Uno had. Uno had done all of those things to me.

In the end, I truly feel the chase was worth it after seeing my wife’s reaction and receiving so many heartwarming messages from friends and family. Uno was and always will be a legend to me, my circle of friends and family. I have the utmost respect for him and will never forget the long chase.

So this story is about much more than just a deer. Not only did I learn a lot about hunting trophy bucks along the way, I learned more about myself, my family and my friends. I thank God and all of them for giving me the strength to follow through on this quest. Without them, there would have been no dream come true.

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