Tips From An Illinois Trophy Bowhunter

Marc Anthony doesn't consider himself an expert on arrowing big deer, but with six world-class racks on his wall, the results speak for themselves. (August 2006)

Marc Anthony's last six bucks have an average gross score of over 170 inches.
Photo by Ron Willmore.

When the term "whitetail expert" is mentioned these days, most people immediately think of several people you routinely see on the The Outdoor Channel. In reality, there are probably far more "whitetail experts" whose names you have never heard of. The typical profile of these experts is someone who does not want to always be in the spotlight of the deer hunting world. These deer hunters typically let their results speak for themselves.

One such expert from Illinois who has not gone out of his way to promote himself is Marc Anthony. First and foremost, Anthony does not consider himself an expert. He just has this habit of routinely killing large bucks. Anthony is a homebuilder by trade, and owns and operates Look Alive Taxidermy in Goodfield. He still somehow finds time to work in a little bowhunting, and the results are impressive. In the last few years, his top six bucks with a bow have an average gross score of over 170 inches. Included in his top six bucks is a typical that has a gross Boone and Crockett score of 190 4/8 inches and a net score of 175 0/8 inches. Also included in the top six bucks is a non-typical buck that has a gross B&C score of 204 inches, and a net score of 195 7/8 inches.

There are thousands of bowhunters who have never even seen a Boone and Crockett buck. There are very few bowhunters who have killed a Boone and Crockett buck. And those bowhunters who have killed two are part of a very short list of people.

Having said all of that, how does one bowhunter put it all together on a routine basis? The following accounts of how Marc Anthony's top three bucks were taken may shed some light on just what you need to do in order to consistently be successful in the pursuit of big white-tailed bucks. On the other hand, the more typical response to these stories may be, "Why didn't I think of that?"

BUCK NO. 1

Let's start out by saying this buck was taken in total contrast to Anthony's usual approach to big bucks.

Anthony was hunting a 160-acre farm in Schuyler County in 1995. Schuyler County may not have the same reputation as Pike County or several other great counties in Illinois, but Schuyler has been consistently producing some really great bucks over the past several years. Although Anthony usually focuses his major efforts for big bucks in October, this particular year found him high in a tree stand in December still looking for a large buck he knew was in the area.

On a cool crisp morning in December, Anthony left his home at 3 a.m. and drove for two hours to get to the private land he was hunting on. His tree stand overlooked a large bottom area filled with a combination of mature trees and saplings. The location of his stand was no accident. While scouting during the previous January, he had located an extremely large rub line. The rub closest to his tree stand was on a large elm tree and the rub was over 3 feet high and approximately 17 inches across. The tree was totally trashed, with a large pile of shavings at the base. Anthony also noticed a very large set of tracks and followed them in the snow. The combination of tracks and the rub line ultimately resulted in finding what he thought was the buck's primary bedding area.

Anthony managed to get set up in his tree stand well before daylight. He had purposely taken the long way around in his approach to the stand in order to avoid the open area where he thought the deer could be feeding. It was now noon and he still had not seen a deer. Although Anthony was disappointed in not seeing a deer -- particularly in not seeing the buck he was after -- he realized that frequently before and after the rut, big bucks have a tendency to be loners.

Anthony quickly and quietly got down from his stand to stretch his muscles and grab a sandwich. He has found out that particularly when hunting all day, sometimes a brief break, even if it is just getting out of the stand for a few minutes, really helps maintain your focus. Within a half-hour he was back in the stand.

At 4:20 p.m., Anthony recalled, "I decided I had enough punishment for the day and started packing up my gear." While getting everything together, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He immediately saw it was a very large buck. After field-judging the buck at well over 150 inches, he picked up his bow and started intently looking for a shooting lane. The only opening he saw was pretty much at his maximum range of 40 yards. At this point, the long hours of practice paid off when everything goes on automatic. One second you are looking for a hole to shoot through, the next thing you remember is the sound and sight of the arrow connecting and the buck running off.

After letting the buck go for a while, Anthony, and the guy he was hunting with, Al Augustus, went to try to pick up the blood trail. It was now dark, and they could not find one drop of blood. Anthony had decided to wait until daylight to pursue the buck when he heard Al yell, "You are the luckiest guy I know!" Augustus had basically tripped over the dead buck not 20 yards from the giant rub that Anthony had found in January.

The huge 10-pointer had a gross Boone and Crockett score of 190 4/8 inches and netted 175 inches.

BUCK NO. 2

Anthony loves hunting in October. It is a time to enjoy relatively good weather, maximum fall colors, the first frost, and big bucks are still in some kind of a routine. It is during this time that Anthony feels he has the best chance to take a big buck.

Once again Anthony was hunting an area he had located in January -- big rub line, large tracks and all the indications a really big buck lived in the area. Although the tract of land he was hunting in Woodford County was only 50 acres, Anthony found what he thought was a giant bedding area/sanctuary. To prove to himself that a big buck was living there, he incorporated his "low tech" approach.

Anthony ties a lightweight thread across what he believes are the primary travel routes of a big buck. A lot of people may have heard of this technique, but Anthony has refined the procedure for big bucks. He typically ties the thread high enough that only a large buck with a high rack will break the thread when moving through the woods.

There's another key to his October hunting.

"After bowhunting for 17 years, the most important thing I have learned about big bucks is that in October, they don't travel far and usually bed

very close to their food source," Anthony said. "The key to using this information to your advantage is the ability to slide in between the food source and the bedding area while remaining undetected."

It is now Oct. 6, 2005, the exact same day one year earlier that Anthony took a gross 153 4/8-inch 10-pointer. Anthony is situated in his tree stand at 3 p.m. By 6 p.m., he is wondering if he will even see a deer. As with most bowhunters, sometimes they feel the need to loosen up their muscles by drawing their bow a few times. The third time he drew his bow, he saw movement, and while at full draw, suddenly realized there was a very large buck staring at him a few yards away! Full draw, no shot, buck staring him down -- not a good situation.

"How could I have been so stupid! I should have known to loosen up my arm much earlier," Anthony said.

After what seemed like an hour at full draw -- but was in reality only a few seconds -- the buck must have thought Anthony was just a really big squirrel because he simply turned and walked away into the thick brush. Anthony was wearing his Guillie Suit, and apparently it worked in breaking up his outline.

He watched the buck move away for about 10 minutes. He then decided there was only about 15 minutes of hunting time left and made a move most bowhunters would never have thought of.

"I decided to get out of the tree stand and see if I could get closer to the buck," Anthony said.

With the wind in his favor, Anthony very slowly and carefully crawled 50 yards. Suddenly much to his amazement, the giant buck turned around and started walking back toward Anthony!

"Suddenly I had nothing behind me but a couple of bushes, so I knelt down and tried to look like a bush," Anthony said.

The buck came to within 30 yards and turned broadside. When the buck put his head down behind some grass, Anthony drew his bow and made, "the best shot I have ever made in all my years of bowhunting."

He watched the buck run and fall within 50 yards of where the shot took place. As he walked up to the 20-point non-typical -- which grossed 204 1/8 inches and netted 195 7/8 -- his first thought was: Oct. 6 is definitely my favorite day to be in the woods.

BUCK NO. 3

It's late October 2004, and Anthony is hunting a seven-acre piece of land in Tazewell County. Once again, Anthony found this spot in January while scouting.

The location seemed to be a natural timber funnel between two large tracts of farm ground. The spot also had several large cedars that were so thick you could not crawl through them. The rubs and scrapes along the edge indicated that a large buck liked to spend a lot of time in the area. The only problem was there were no trees for a tree stand.

Anthony went into the area as quietly as possible, thinking the buck he was after could be bedded within 50 to 100 yards of where he wanted to set up. It was 4:30 a.m. when he got set up on the ground. He was not using a ground blind, but was just setting up on the ground, tucked back into the thick cover. He also realized that with a small bedding area such as this -- and the fact that big bucks have a habit of getting back to their bedding areas before daylight -- he needed to be in position very early.

There was water in a nearby stream, and Anthony had set up on the trail leading from the cedar thicket to the stream.

"There was only one way to the stream, from the cedar grove, and that was down the path I was hiding on," the veteran bowhunter said.

He also set up below the trail, knowing that the early-morning air currents would take his scent down and away from the trail. At 9 a.m., his cell phone rang. He couldn't believe he forgot to turn the ringer off! After his wife apologized for not knowing he was hunting that morning, Anthony thought he might as well just leave. He figured that surely every animal in the relatively small area he was hunting in had heard his cell phone ring. After giving it some additional thought, he decided it was such a good morning that he would stick it out for a little while longer.

Then it happened. At 9:30 a.m., he turned his head and saw a huge buck coming from the cedar thicket right down the only trail, headed toward him. He drew his bow and released the arrow at 10 yards with the buck quartering away slightly. The buck went 70 yards before going down. That buck barely missed Boone and Crockett, with a gross score of 167 4/8 inches and net score of 164 1/8 inches.

WHAT'S THE KEY?

So, what makes a self-proclaimed "I'm no expert" bowhunter consistently successful? Anthony outlined it as the following:

'¢ Do as much scouting as possible in January, February and March, before the annual spring "green up."

'¢ Try to kill big bucks before the rut!

'¢ Remember that your approach to hunting big bucks before the rut must be completely different than how you might go about it during the rut.

'¢ Wash hunting clothes in no-scent soap and don't put them on until after you get out of the vehicle.

'¢ Always wear a scent-free suit when hunting on the ground, and sometimes in a tree.

'¢ Hunt scrapes in bad weather only, because Anthony believes this is when bucks are most likely to freshen scrapes.

'¢ Pick actual hunting locations by wind, terrain and temperature.

'¢ Never shoot small bucks, and let them grow to be at least 4 years old.

'¢ Do long-distance scouting year 'round of suspected big-buck bedding areas/sanctuaries.

'¢ Never hunt the same spot more than twice in a week.

'¢ Wear rubber boots, gloves and quiet clothing. Never touch anything with your hands, if possible.

'¢ Hunt alone as much as possible.

And perhaps the bottom line is Anthony's final comment: "I have come to realize that big bucks are everywhere in Illinois. You just need to find where they sleep."

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