Prairie State's 2008 Giant Bow Kill

Prairie State's 2008 Giant Bow Kill

Chuck Hamstra downed a monster non-typical last season while hunting in Whitehead County. Read on for his story. (September 2009)

Chuck Hamstra holds a massive shed from the trophy 21-point non-typical whitetail he arrowed last season on his northwest Illinois farm. Taxidermy by Shawn Petersen. Photo by Bill Cooper.

Situated in northwestern Illinois, a stone's throw from Albany and the Mississippi River, Chuck Hamstra's farm encompasses the same rolling terrain where his grandparents settled during the early 1930s. Over the years, in addition to maintaining the family's farming lifestyle and strong work ethic, Chuck also developed a passion for hunting, especially deer hunting.

"Neither my father or grandfather were hunters, so I'm not sure what happened with me," Chuck laughed. "I must have picked up an extra gene or two from somewhere. But whatever the reason, I seem to have passed the interest on to my children and grandchildren."

The Hamstra farming landscape includes numerous agricultural fields of various sizes, interspersed with small acreage wood lots, brushy ravines, CRP lands and winding tree-lined creek drainages. In regard to whitetails, the habitat simply couldn't be much better.

The farm's home site, which is centrally located along a high ridgeline, originally included a stone farmhouse that was built in 1856. Chuck's parents and grandparents had used the old house, but unfortunately, it was completely destroyed in 1996 by a tornado. The monster storm also eliminated several nearby buildings and barns, plus two large silos. A new house and farm buildings have since been rebuilt on the same site.

With agricultural fields nearly surrounding the ridgetop location, it is fairly common for Chuck or his wife, Judy, to spot deer from the house or barn. For the most part, these are incidental sightings made at various times throughout the year, but occasionally, a buck is sighted that warrants special attention.

During the fall of 2006, Chuck was working on equipment near the barn, when he happened to see a large buck crossing one of the open fields. Gun season was open and he assumed hunters on one of the adjoining properties had probably jumped the deer.

"The buck was well over 200 yards away," Chuck said. "But even at that distance, and without the aid of binoculars, the deer's rack was obviously very large. I continued to watch the buck until it eventually disappeared into a brushy drainage ravine between two of our fields. After several minutes elapsed without the deer reappearing, I was pretty confidant that it had bedded down in the thick cover."

After contacting his sons, David and Kevin, Chuck quickly related what he had seen and where he thought the buck was located. Grabbing their shotguns, the two hunters walked to the lower end of the ravine, split up, one man on each side of the thick brushy cover, and slowly began to advance toward the spot where their dad had last seen the deer.

"The buck came busting out on my youngest son Kevin's side and he missed the deer completely," Chuck said. "Later, he told me that he'd gotten close enough to get a pretty decent look at the buck's heavy rack, which appeared to include at least two drop tines.

"From my high vantage point, I had continued to watch the buck cross two additional fields, before eventually entering a distant block of woods on a bordering farm. Earlier that day, I had seen other hunters at the same location and naturally assumed it would be only a matter of time until the shooting started. But surprisingly, not a shot was fired! I have always been amazed at how an animal the size of a mature whitetail can somehow go undetected in relatively sparse cover, especially a fairly open wood lot."

The buck was not seen again that fall, and during 2007, the deer was sighted only twice; both encounters took place at night, when members of the Hamstra clan were coyote hunting. The second sighting was in early January by Chuck's grandson, who reported that the buck had already shed one side of its rack.

"I had no doubt that the buck was primarily nocturnal," Chuck said. "Even so, I had planned on bowhunting a good bit in January. Weather conditions that time of year can sometimes alter a deer's movement pattern, and I had a hunch where the buck was located. But those plans were cancelled when I heard that the deer had already shed one of its antlers."

Three months later, around the middle of April, Chuck received a welcomed call from Greg Hayen, a good friend who occasionally did a little spring gobbler hunting on the farm. Greg told him that while he was turkey hunting along a wooded ridgetop near the old cemetery, he had found a big non-typical shed antler that might possibly have belonged to the drop-tine whitetail.

"While describing the antler, Greg mentioned that there were nearly as many points sticking one way as the other and he wasn't exactly sure how it had been positioned on the deer's head," Chuck said. "He went on to say that the antler would be lying on the tailgate of his truck and I could come by and pick it up whenever I had a chance. I immediately told him to put the shed antler inside the truck and I would be there in 30 minutes."

After picking up the shed, Chuck stopped by to see Rudy Morgan, the owner of R&R Sports in nearby Clinton, Iowa. The two men have been friends for over 20 years and annually travel to Wyoming each fall to bowhunt elk.

"I saw Chuck come walking in the store, carrying this huge hunk of bone and asked the obvious question as to where he had found the antler," Rudy said. "He immediately responded that it was the shed from the big drop-tine buck he had been after for two years. I told him he was never going to kill an animal as old and smart as that buck; the deer probably knew where every stand on his farm was located. He just shook his head and gave me one of those, 'Wait and see,' grins."

The shed's measurements provide some perspective as to why the antler might arouse more than merely a passing interest. The main beam measures 26 7/8 inches and has five typical points, including an 8 1/8-inch brow tine, a 10 7/8-inch G-2, and a 9 1/8-inch G-3. There are six additional abnormal points, including a 10 5/8-inch drop tine with a 3 6/8-inch fork, and another 8 2/8-inch drop tine. The shed antler totals 113 4/8 inches.

Later that fall, on a warm afternoon during the first week of November, Chuck was settled in his combine, busily picking corn, when around 4:30 in the afternoon, he decided to call his wife and check on the whereabouts of his sons. She quickly responded that they had already left for the woods to get in their tree stands.


y first thought was, What's wrong with this picture? The rut is going on and I'm picking corn while both of them are hunting," Chuck noted. "I immediately headed the combine toward the house."

There was no time for Chuck to change clothes and clean up. He quickly grabbed his bow and hunting gear, put it in the back of his vehicle and headed for a tree stand location along a brushy creek bottom about a half-mile behind the house.

"As I was going out the door, Judy reminded me that we really didn't need any more mounts hanging on the walls. I told her OK," Chuck said.

"I normally don't drive very close to where I'm planning to hunt, but in this instance, with barely an hour of daylight left, I decided to drive just a little farther. Unfortunately, as I was about to stop, I jumped a bunch of does and they all went charging off through the brush and down along the creek. That was disappointing to say the least, but with the rut going on, I knew anything was possible, so I climbed on up into the stand. Luckily, the wind direction that evening was ideal."

Shortly after getting situated, the hunter took out an old grunt tube that had seen many years of use, and grunted several times. Minutes later, he repeated the grunt sequence.

Chuck was looking off to the right, along the creek, when out of the corner of his eye, he suddenly saw a large buck step into view just below him. Only 12 feet above the ground, the hunter could feel the deer's presence as much as see it.

"There hadn't been the slightest sound; it was almost as if the buck simply materialized out of thin air," Chuck said. "With the deer only 10 yards away, I couldn't risk turning my head, nor did I want to make eye contact. A large limb was hanging down from the tree and I had seen other bucks occasionally use the limb as a licking branch. I kept thinking that maybe this deer might do the same thing; almost on cue, the buck abruptly took two or three steps forward and stretched its neck up toward the limb."

Taking advantage of the deer's momentary attention lapse, Chuck quickly swung his bow around, drew and released, all in one motion. At the shot, the big whitetail bolted forward so quickly he was never able to get a clear view of its rack.

"All I knew for sure was that the buck was big and I had made a good shot," the hunter noted. "Several seconds later, I heard the deer crash to the ground."

Not wanting to take any unnecessary chances, he climbed out of the stand and drove back to the house to wait for David and Kevin. That wait turned out to be much longer than he had anticipated because at dark, Kevin had several bucks chasing a doe around under his tree and he didn't want to climb down until they left.

"Once the boys returned, I briefly told them the hunt story and we all headed back to the creek," Chuck said. "On the way, Kevin asked if I thought I had shot the drop-tine deer and I told him that I simply never got a good enough look at the rack."

After arriving at the location, a blood trail was quickly found and within minutes, Kevin and David began whooping and hollering. The buck had traveled less than 60 yards.

Across the river in Clinton, Rudy had been home only a short while when his phone began ringing. After answering, all he could initially hear were the sounds of several people talking in the background, and then he identified Chuck's voice.

"He kept repeating, 'I killed him, I killed him, I killed him,' " Rudy related. "I finally responded, 'What are you talking about,' and he said, 'I've killed that big drop-tine buck; you and your son need to get over here.'

"Chuck had said they were still out in the field with the buck, but from all the noise and voices I kept hearing in the background, I assumed there was a large crowd of people gathered around," Rudy said. "But when I asked him who was there, he responded that it was just him and his two sons. I thought to myself, Wow, are you guys wound up or what, and then I told him that we would be right over."

Rudy happened to arrive just as Chuck was pulling into the shed; the huge buck was stretched out in the back of the truck. The deer had a field-dressed weight of 199 pounds, which would easily place the live weight figure over 260. Although there have been heavier bucks taken on the farm, none were ever more impressive, especially when considering the deer's size combined with its massive set of antlers.

"Most of Chuck's family, including all of his grandkids, immediately gathered around the truck to get a close look at the buck," Rudy said. "At that time, Chuck's wife, Judy, hadn't seen the deer yet, and during all the years of knowing her, I had never once heard her utter even a mild cuss word. But as she walked around the corner and spotted the buck, her surprised reaction included a short prophetic phrase that punctuated the moment, and for at least a few seconds, diverted the grandkids' attention away from the deer. Considering the buck's appearance, I have to agree that her comment fit the occasion."

The huge rack includes 21 scorable points, 11 of which comprise the basic 6x5 typical frame. From an appearance standpoint, the rack has tremendous character, due primarily to the presence of four drop-tines. Two of the drops originate off the bottom of the right and left main beams, in the normal manner. The other two flare backward from the base of the right G-2 and left G-3 tines. Impressive antler mass throughout the rack, plus webbing in several of the tines adds even more character.

In regard to scoring, the non-typical rack grosses a great total of 202 5/8. Unfortunately, significant asymmetry deductions between the right and left antlers, reduces the final non-typical score by over 21 points, to 181 4/8.

When compared to the shed from 2007, which scores 113 4/8, the rack's right antler dropped slightly in size, scoring a total of 98 5/8. Most of the difference was due to a shorter main beam and 10 fewer inches of abnormal points.

The Hamstra buck is an exceptional example of what can happen when there is excellent habitat management, and young bucks are allowed an extra year or two of growth. This combination doesn't automatically mean all bucks will become record-book contenders, but it does mean they will achieve their genetic potential.

Although the tornado of '96 wiped away many of the farm's early trophies, there have been other notable whitetails taken. While hunting with a muzzleloader during the 2003 season, Kevin crawled to within 60 yards of where a giant buck was bedded in a brushy CRP field; the typical 10-pointer scored in the high 170s.

Whitetail bucks, such as Chuck's drop-tine monster, may be notoriously unpredictable, but sound deer management is the exact opposite. The Hamstra farm is a perfect example of what can be accomplished, and there is every reason to believe the big-buck trend will continue in the years ahead at their location.

The walls at Chuck's house may never harbor any additional mounts, but that really doesn't matter; standing in one corner is an awesome non-typical buck that in all likelihood will not be topped.

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