What makes a trophy whitetail buck a trophy? Is it the experience, the hours of scouting, practicing and time spent in the stand? Is it the memory of your first buck — that 37-inch 4-pointer that still sits proudly on display in your home? Is it the tall-tined, perfect 10-pointer or that massive heavy-horned eight?
The beauty of whitetail deer hunting is that the answers are unique to each of us. No two trophies are ever the same. The aspects of the hunt that capture our imagination and fuel our passion are as unique as the magnificent animals we pursue each autumn. There are a handful of deer each year that, by their sheer size and characteristics alone, capture our imagination. These racks all have a certain something — that "Wow" factor — and regardless of your taste for what makes a great trophy, you can't take your eyes off of them.
On the morning of November 20, 2009, Jason Zieren headed out for the gun opener in Illinois hoping to find exactly that.
AN ILLINOIS HUNTER
Opening morning of gun season was an age-old tradition for Jason Zieren, as it is for so many deer hunters. Bow season had come to a close, and excitement was sky high. Zieren had already seen a fantastic buck during archery season, and he hoped to get a shot at the double-drop-tined 10-pointer this first day of gun season. With the Remington 11-87 shotgun sighted in and ready to go, Zieren headed for the family farm feeling like a kid on Christmas Eve. The next morning couldn't come soon enough.
The farm had been in the Zieren family for many years, and Zieren was intimately familiar with the terrain. This would be his 22nd or 23rd year hunting the farm. After a fitful night of tossing and turning, Zieren decided enough was enough. It was time to head for the woods. He knew exactly where he was headed. Opening day would be spent overlooking a cut cornfield from the comfort of his climbing stand. The plan was simple: pack some food and sit all day. If that big boy showed up, Zieren would be waiting.
The Illinois gun season officially opened at a half-hour to sunrise. The anticipation of deer moving everywhere and that big buck from archery season showing up was slowly replaced by the reality that not much of anything was happening. Two hours passed and finally Zieren spotted some movement. Over the next couple hours, a few does and a couple small bucks moved through, but that was it. There were plenty of good bucks in the area, and although Zieren was a bit disappointed by the lack of activity, he had a game plan and was going to stick to it.
STAYING THE COURSE
Over the course of a deer season, two things happen. If we do a good job and are professionals with our craft, we begin to pattern the whitetails we hunt. However, no matter how well we do our job as hunters, wise old bucks begin to pattern us as well. Man is perceived as a threat in the whitetail woods, and the more time a mature buck spends in the woods, the better he becomes at avoiding hunters. Each year great bucks are taken at midday for this very reason. A hunter may not see a lot of activity over the noon hour, but chances are very high that if you see a deer, he's a wise old monarch that has chosen his times to move based on years of experience. Zieren hoped that would be the case today.
It was just past noon. The majority of the hunters were either at home grabbing a bite to eat or catching some well-deserved shut-eye. The day had been pretty slow. Zieren had seen a few deer, but nothing to get the least bit trigger-happy over. A few does had filtered into the cornfield. They were a welcome sight after such a slow morning. There were no bucks in the group, but at least he had some deer to keep his mind occupied. Plus, they make good bait for the big boys, Zieren thought.
Then the hunter caught some movement in another part of the field. That's a buck, he thought, maybe a good buck. Raising his binoculars, Zieren quickly became certain that the buck was a shooter. As the big-framed buck grazed in the picked field, Zieren thought to himself Forget about the rack. It was game time. Get ready for the shot. Be patient. Concentrate. Be patient.
Zieren would later share that he was struck by the width of the rack immediately and that nothing else registered. This was not the buck he had been chasing during archery season, but he was a dandy.
Steady€¦ Steady€¦ Turn just a bit more€¦ There €¦ Take the shot!
The next few moments were a bit of a blur. Zieren's thoughts raced as the deer whirled and ran out of sight. How did the shot feel? Was it a solid hit? Zieren asked himself.
At the same time, he was studying the deer's body language. Was he bounding away, tail high in the air, or was he hunched up, tail tucked? Zieren played it all back in his mind. The shot felt good and the awesome buck appeared to have been hit as he ran away.
AFTER THE SHOT
When a deer doesn't drop in his tracks, regardless of how well you think he's hit, doubt always creeps in. How far was he? Should I have let him get closer? Was I steady? How long should I wait to track him? How big was he? There are so many questions while we replay the last few minutes in our minds.
Zieren was confident in the hit. He waited 15-20 minutes and took up the trail. When he got to the spot where the buck had been standing, he was excited to find good blood. He was confident he'd have his hands on the brute in no time. The blood in the picked cornfield made for easy tracking.
Zieren stayed on the trail, following it out of the cornfield and into the woods. He felt confident the buck would be lying somewhere very close. Thirty yards away, the buck, along with three does, suddenly jumped to its feet. The does exploded out of sight. The buck scrambled down the ravine and back up the other side where it stopped and looked straight back at Zieren. With the buck at about 30 yards, Zieren raised his 11-87 and, looking through the scope, realized what a giant buck this was.
A second shot rang out in the woods, and as the whitetail deer kicked and turned away, Zieren was sure he had him. The adrenaline was really pumping now. Zieren raced after the brute, down the ravine and up the other side, figuring the deer would be there dead. Nothing. Zieren could not believe the fight in this buck. He was sure of both hits and confident the deer had to be nearby. Nearing a nasty thicket, Zieren prepared himself. This would be a prime spot for the buck to hole up. He was right. The buck struggled back to his feet and stood just on the other side of he brush pile. Zieren was able to finish the monster whitetail with one last shot at 10 yards.
What makes a whitetail buck a trophy? Is it the experience, the hours of effort spent scouting, practicing and sitting on-stand? Is it the memory of your first buck — that 37-inch 4-pointer that still sits proudly on display in your home? Is it the tall-tined, perfect 10-pointer or that massive, heavy-horned eight? The beauty of whitetail deer hunting is that the answers are unique to each of us. However, there could be no doubt that the buck that Zieren shot that afternoon was a trophy in every sense of the word.
The Zieren Buck is a main frame 10-point that green scores 183 5/8 gross and 179 5/8 net Boone and Crockett. That score itself is enough to get any deer hunter's attention. The "Wow" factor of this Illinois brute is in the width of the rack. The inside spread of 28 1/8 inches and outside spread measurement of 29 1/8 inches places this buck safely among some of the widest bucks of all time.