Our Top Bow Buck From 2006!

Steve DeWitt just wanted to spend some time with friends and family in Adams County last fall. He never dreamed it would lead to him arrowing one of the biggest bucks ever killed in Illinois. (July 2007)

Steve DeWitt's 28-point bow buck had a final score of 226 7/8 non-typical inches, which ranks about 10th in state records.
Photo by Troy Spooner.

The incredible whitetail hunting in Illinois has become so well known that non-residents have been passing up deer seasons in their home states to travel to the Prairie State in search of the buck of a lifetime. Although many out-of-staters go home with mixed memories of what could have been, a successful few are hanging tags on some impressive racks.

Steve DeWitt of Zeeland, Michigan, wasn't looking to hang his tag on a buck of legendary proportions when he ventured to west-central Illinois. He simply wanted to spend some time with friends and family, and enjoy what Mother Nature provides. Sure, he knew the possibility existed to see some nice deer, but he never dreamed he would meet up with the type of a buck that tales are spun about.

Steve's story begins in 2005 when he and his brother-in-law Ryan Berghorst made the trek to the fertile lands of west-central Illinois to lay claim to a tract of farmland that would be a nice spot for a deer cabin. They searched and found a little slice of heaven in Adams County. After signing the closing documents, the two men wasted little time in learning the travel patterns of the local deer and began setting up tree stands.

The inaugural year was a good one for Steve, as he killed a 150-inch-class 10-point buck during the shotgun season. It was his largest whitetail to date, and it was a great way to break in the hanging pole at the new camp. The rest of the party saw many nice bucks, but Ryan was the only other hunter to score when he shot an 8-pointer. The season went down as a great success for the gang, thus setting the stage for bigger things to come in the future.

During the summer of 2006, Steve, his grandfather Marvin DeWitt, Ryan and Steve's brother Jim took a tour of the property one warm June afternoon. They avoided the heat and bugs by staying in the air-conditioned cab of the truck to drive the field edges and do some glassing with binoculars. As they made their way around an overgrown ditchline, a huge buck with points protruding from every angle of his rack leaped from the weedy cover and sprang for the woods. All four men were in awe as the buck in full velvet gave each of them a 40-yard stare before he made his way for the cover of the hardwoods. A simple glance was all it took -- even for 87-year-old Marvin -- to know they were viewing one very special whitetail. Marvin has hunted since 1973 pretty much all over the world. During his lifetime, he has viewed many exceptional whitetails -- both alive and dead -- and had never set his eyes on a buck with such a crown atop his head.

Both Steve and Ryan were speechless as they headed back to Michigan. Steve knew it was amazing to see the buck, but the chances of actually seeing him during hunting season and to get a shot at such an awe-inspiring animal are two different things. The memory of the buck haunted his dreams until October 2006 when those dreams would become reality.

Steve, Ryan and two of their friends arrived at the cabin on Friday night, Oct. 6, and made preparations for the next morning's hunt. The gear was unloaded and stowed, sleeping quarters were decided on and the men settled in for a restful night.

The giant non-typical has 28 scoreable points and tons of character. The rack has 20-inch main beams, good mass, palmation, drop tines and forked tines. The typical portion is a main-framed 10-pointer that grosses 180 inches, and the non-typical portion adds another 50-plus inches.

Saturday dawned clear and cold, and it seemed to have the makings of a perfect morning to be in the deer woods. After settling in his stand, Steve's routine of a morning prayer while waiting for first light was interrupted by the sounds of footsteps shuffling in the frost-touched leaves. Steve opened his eyes to discern what was making its way toward him. Before it was light enough to shoot, Steve watched a big 8-pointer making his way into the hollows. Steve really liked the looks of that buck, but Mother Nature had other plans for him. As the buck went out of sight, Steve settled back in and finished his prayer while waiting for full light.

The shuffling of leaves once again caught Steve's attention. As he turned to see what was headed his way, a mature doe and a young buck made their way toward him and then passed by at 20 yards, totally unaware of his presence.

"I take every precaution I can to minimize human scent, from rubber boots to carbon-activated clothing," Steve said. "The close encounter helped bolster my confidence that I had done several things right that morning."

A few minutes passed when Steve caught movement and saw a deer headed down the same path the big 8-pointer had taken. He grabbed his binoculars and could make out the right side of the antlers, and immediately had flashbacks of what he saw during summer in velvet. The quick glimpse is all that the buck would give him at a range of 90 yards. Although Steve wasn't sure it was the same buck, he knew it was a "shooter," and he would try a shot if the deer presented one. He readied his bow and double-checked his arrow and rest. The path the buck was on would bring him by at about 40 yards, which is right at the edge of Steve's comfortable shooting range.

"I have practiced at 43 yards to know what it is like to shoot at that range," Steve said. "It is not ideal, but to have practiced at that distance gave me the confidence to make a good shot."

Steve had two openings in which to try to snake an arrow through, and he decided if the buck stopped in either lane, he would attempt a shot. As the buck approached the first opening, Steve drew his bow and steadied his pin. The buck never broke stride and passed through the opening before Steve was ready, so he adjusted and readied on the second opening the buck was about to pass through. When the buck's shoulder eased into the opening, Steve steadied his pin and whistled. The buck stopped and looked around to figure out where the noise had come from. The arrow flew true, a loud whack resounded through the woods, and the deer spun around and ran out of sight.

"Thankfully, everything happened so fast that I never really had a chance to see how much bone was actually on top of his head," Steve said. "I think otherwise I would have been shaking too much to get a shot off!"

Still not sure of what just happened, Steve stood nervously in his stand while shaking from the adrenaline rush. Wild scenarios passed through Steve's head

-- "did I shoot over him and hit the tree behind him?" Then, he heard something familiar to many bowhunters: the sound of a deer trying to clear its lungs of blood.

Then things got complicated. While Steve was still shaking in his stand five minutes later, another dandy buck strolled down the exact same run as the previous two "shooters." As soon as this trophy got to the tree where Steve had shot, he stopped in his tracks, didn't move and stared up the timberline while not really being sure of his surroundings. As Steve looked in front of the deer, there was his arrow on the ground. He grabbed his binoculars and took a closer look, and it was just what every bowhunter loves to see: a bloodstained arrow! The new buck then paced back and forth, and finally after about 15 minutes, he vacated the area the same way he had come.

By now, Steve had a hunch as to what was going on, so he carefully climbed down from his tree stand and began to walk near to where the arrow was laying. About halfway to his arrow, Steve looked up the hill in the timber and he could not believe his eyes. There was a rack sticking 2 feet off the ground! Steve stood speechless while staring at the massive rack. Never had he imagined killing such a magnificent buck with so much rack on top of his head. The deer had only made it 10 yards before piling up.

The giant non-typical has 28 scoreable points and tons of character. The rack has 20-inch main beams, good mass, palmation, drop tines and forked tines. The typical portion is a main-framed 10-pointer that grosses 180 inches, and the non-typical portion adds another 50-plus inches. After the 60-day drying period, the official net score was 226 7/8 non-typical inches. That score would place the rack near Illinois' top 10 all-time in the non-typical archery category.

Once again, the fertile soils and phenomenal genetics that abound in Illinois have combined to crank out another Boone and Crockett buck. Get out there to dream the dream this coming season!

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