Illinois' New State-Record Bow Kill

Illinois' New State-Record Bow Kill

Chris Kiernan shares the story behind the biggest non-typical whitetail ever killed with a bow in Illinois. The "Big Non-Typical," as Kiernan had been calling the buck for nearly a year before he shot it, net scored 268 1/8 Pope & Young points.(July 2010)

It was mid-November 2008 in Kendall County. I was headed into my stand for an afternoon hunt when I caught sight of a big buck chasing a doe out in the field in front of me. I grabbed my binoculars to get a better look. The doe stopped about 30 yards in front of me and the big buck was just 10 yards behind her. He had a great frame — wide with good mass and long points. I also noticed he had a lot of junk on both sides of his antlers. He was an absolute giant!

After getting a good look at a giant non-typical buck in early October, Chris Kiernan determined that he would stay on the outskirts of the area until deer activity increased in order to lessen the risk of bumping the buck. He stayed out of the heart of the area until Nov. 1, when he would end up killing the new Illinois state-record non-typical bow kill.
Photo courtesy of Chris Kiernan.

I ranged him and got ready for the shot. I drew the bow and concentrated on the big buck's chest. As I settled the pin behind his front leg, I noticed an over-hanging branch. That branch was just too close to what I thought the arrow's trajectory would be so I let the bow down. The doe bolted and the big buck resumed the chase. From that day on, he was known as the "Big Non-Typical." This was my first encounter with him and after a few sightings in 2008 -- but no shots -- he vanished. I hunted through the last day of the season but wasn't able to get an arrow in the Big Non-Typical.

It wasn't until Oct. 12, 2009, that I finally saw him again. I could hardily believe he was still around and appeared to be as big as ever. Now that I knew he was still in the area, I decided to change my hunting strategy. I would put very little pressure on him early in the season, and just hunt from the edges to be certain not to bump him.

Resisting the urge to move right in on him was tough, but my experience has taught me to only pursue the big ones when they are vulnerable. I used very low-impact tactics to hunt him for the next two weeks. During this time I had one other encounter with him. He entered a bean field just 69 yards from me. He just stood there, surveying the field. This gave me the opportunity to get a very good look at him through binoculars. As he turned and walked away from me I couldn't believe the width and number of points on his rack. In 27 years of hunting, this was definitely the largest whitetail I had ever seen.

That evening, I called two hunting partners, Garret Armstrong and Larry Smith, to tell them about the look I got of the Big Non-Typical. I discussed with each of them my thoughts and intentions on pursuing the buck. I cannot stress enough the value of a great hunting partner, someone with whom to talk out the details. A great hunting partner can keep you motivated and confident.

On Sunday, Nov. 1, my cell phone seemed to ring non-stop with reports of great buck movement and success stories from a few local hunting buddies.

I decided it was time to move in just a little bit more. I shot my bow for a little while that morning and headed out around noon. I circled around the wood lot and walked directly into the southwest wind. As I slowly entered the woods, I picked a tree just 30 yards or so in and slowly began screwing in my tree steps, being careful not to make a sound. I hunt exclusively from a Tree Saddle. The set up is quick and quiet and a person can hunt in almost any tree. Once I had 12 steps in, I tied off the saddle and pulled my bow up. I had just gotten my gear hung on the tree when I heard a deer coming out of the standing corn.

Just 50 yards to my left, a deer entered the woods from the cornfield. It was not just any deer; it was the Big Non-Typical! I didn't even have my release on yet! I just sat there motionless as the buck picked his way along the edge. The buck walked into a thick area and I saw his rack rock back as if he bedded. I slowly checked him with my binoculars; he had bedded just 63 yards from me. I got everything ready and kept telling my self, "This is it, today is the day, and it's going to happen."

I had a lot of time to calm down while I waited for him to stand up. I began to think of the possibility that if he continued in the direction he was heading, there may not be a shot opportunity again! An hour and a half later, things started to happen. A young buck cruised through the woods upwind of the Big Non-Typical, and I heard him snort-wheeze. I didn't know deer could do that while bedded, but he did.

Soon after that, there was crashing in the standing corn and a small buck chased a fawn into the woods. I watched as they ran in circles and came within 20 yards of my tree. When I looked back to where the Big Non-Typical was bedded, he was on his feet. I knew it was time. I gave the big deer a couple grunts and he seemed to come to life. He trotted forward and stopped in the wide open -- he was 44 yards. It was definitely farther than I wanted to shoot but he was perfectly broadside and fixated on the small buck and fawn.

I drew the bow and surprisingly felt calm and good about the shot. I took a deep breath, settled the pin in the center of the deer's chest and shot. The arrow passed right through the buck, but farther back than I had aimed. The big buck took one jump and stood there. I could clearly see the hole the Striker broadhead left. The buck hunched up and walked slowly back past where he had been bedded and into a thicket.

I was very disappointed in myself and with the shot I had just made. As I hung there in my tree saddle, I replayed all that had just happened. I came to the realization that I had finally shot the buck I had been after for two seasons.

I wanted to give the buck ample time before I started my recovery. With the shot I put on the Big Non-Typical, I knew that as long as I didn't bump him he wouldn't go far. It was only about 3:00 in the afternoon, and I wanted to wait until almost dark to leave the woods and the buck overnight. I looked through my binoculars and was able to see my arrow stuck in the ground where I had shot the Big Non-Typical. I then scanned the thicker area where he had headed. To my surprise, I could see the outline of his rack and V of his tail. He had only gone about 80 yards and was just standing there. I knew the longer he stood, the better it was for me. I was hoping he would bed, but he didn't.

As sunset approached, a few does moved through the woods to go into the fields. I was getting ready to make my exit when a young buck put a little run on a doe and chased her past me. I heard another deer coming and as I looked for

the source of the noise, I couldn't believe my eyes -- it was him!

The Big Non-Typical was going to pass in front of me at less than 35 yards. He was having a hard time but he knew where he wanted to go and was trying to get there. When he came into an opening I drew the bow and made the shot. The arrow flashed through the buck just behind the shoulder. He bolted about 30 yards and stopped. I couldn't see him, but I heard him go down. I could not believe what had just happened: I shot the Big Non-Typical!

I resisted the temptation to get down immediately and I waited about 30 minutes. After I packed up my gear, I took a minute to think about everything that had gone right in order for me to take this magnificent whitetail. I climbed down just before dark. When I hit the ground, I could see the buck just 40 yards from the tree. I slowly approached him and realized -- NOW it is over! As I admired the rack of this buck, I was in awe with all the crazy non-typical points everywhere. I counted them three times and came up with 3 different numbers, all around 37 or 38 points.

As I knelt there in front of this amazing buck, I thanked God for the opportunity I was given. I also reflected on the years of support and encouragement I have received from my parents, Janet and Jerry. From the beginning, they have always been supportive of my hunting addiction. My wife, Maria, is one of the main reasons I have become the bowhunter that I am today. She encourages me to hunt whenever there is an opportunity, and she understands how important bowhunting is to me.

The next day, Garret Armstrong, of Elite Archery was in town to hunt with me. He willingly gave up his first afternoon to take photos. After our photo session, we celebrated the harvest with a few more of our friends. We stood around for a couple hours admiring the buck from all angles.

After a few days, curiosity got the best of me, and we green scored the buck at 266 4/8 net non-typical. After the 60-day drying period, Pope & Young scorer Jeff Pals came to my house to officially measure the buck. After a couple of hours, he came up with 37 scorable points, netting 268 1/8 inches. Pals congratulated me on my buck. He also informed me it would have to be panel scored in March of 2011 before officially becoming the new Illinois state-record archery non-typical. My response was, "That's fine with me. It's not about his score or any records -- this is a great buck and he will be admired and appreciated forever!"

For a state with sky-high trophy standards, Illinois somehow continues to keep cranking out record-breaking bucks. And in no other category is this more true than with archery non-typicals.

For 18 years, from 1981 to 1999, the state record for non-typicals by bow was held by Bob Chestnut's 245 5/8-incher from Vermilion. However, once that mark was beaten -- first, in 1999, by Bill Brown's 251 6/8-inch monster from Fulton County -- the pace of change atop the archery records accelerated to warp speed.

The Brown buck was among the first headline-grabbing whitetails shot in Fulton, but certainly not the last. Jerry Bryant bagged his 304 3/8-inch crossbow world record there in 2001, further solidifying the trophy reputation of this fertile county bordering the Illinois River.

That same year, Michael Ublish broke Bill Brown's mark for non-typicals taken with a vertical bow. His massive 254 6/8-incher came from Putnam County, giving the upper half of the Illinois River drainage yet another No. 1 buck in the state listings.

The standard was raised yet again in 2003, when David Jones arrowed a spectacular buck that netted 266 4/8 inches. This mammoth came from Mason County, farther down the Illinois River watershed.

Western Illinois' so-called "Golden Triangle" of Pike, Adams and Brown counties has a justified reputation as big-buck country, and each year thousands of resident and nonresident bowhunters alike travel there to try their luck. However, when it comes to record-shattering non-typicals, the Illinois River counties mentioned above definitely can hold their own. So if you're looking for a world-class bow buck, pointing your vehicle toward the upper half of that river drainage seems a logical first step.

And it isn't all about non-typicals. After all, Peoria County produced Mel Johnson's 204 4/8-inch typical, the longstanding P&Y world record in that category. Shot with a recurve bow in a bean field way back in 1965, this buck is truly a legend; few other archery typicals in the 45 years since then have challenged his claim to the title.

In fact, this Peoria County beast is so big he outscores every gun-taken typical in the state. Brian Damery's 1993 shotgun buck, a 200 2/8-incher from Macon County, is tops by firearm.

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