I was born in a blue collar hard working little community called Bunker Hill in Dunmore PA. And like every red blooded guy in the neighborhood, we each had our very own individual nickname. It so happens mine came about because I was always in the woods up behind our house, affectionately also called the tracks….my parents would say what can you possibly be doing all day up the tracks? If they really knew they would probably have had a heart attack..
Surrounded by friends and family with nicknames like Buzzy, Fuzzy, Hambone, Mashy, Eli May, Squirrel and Goose, I think mine was at least a bit more normal…LOL The guys I used to pal around would say, Jim is in the woods so much he’s just like Daniel Boone….. SOoooo AKA Daniel Boone became Boone or Booner for short. So for the past 45 years or so of my life I am still Booner to most of my boyhood chums.
I have had the opportunity to hunt outside of PA on trips to Montana and Wyoming in the past for Elk. Not to mention two great trips to Africa for Dangerous and Plains Game, both times successful I might add. But the animal I spent the most of my time pursuing throughout most of my hunting career has been the wiley and skittish whitetail deer. I have spent countless days and hours in the woods chasing this beautiful animal with Rifle, Bow and now Muzzleloader. I have counted for my fair share of PA whitetails over the years, but the biggest racks I have ever taken were eight pointers probably in the 110 to 115 point class, and that was only twice. Try as I may, year after year in PA the areas we hunted had very few trophy class whitetails. This set the stage for my latest trophy hunt in Southern Illinois.
Over 35 Years ago when he was just around twelve or thirteen years old I got my nephew, the future Dr. Louis Genello interested in hunting for PA whitetail deer and small game, and he turned into a die hard deer hunting machine. I know Louie loved to hunt with the bow and was looking for a hunt in a Big Buck State. His travels led him to Rocky Branch Outfitters in Southern Illinois. He hunted there in 2004 for the five day archery season, and even though he didn’t score, he came back with stories of all the monster bucks that he had seen. Heck he even had a video and pictures from his actual stand…. that was more than enough proof for me.
So for 2005 Louis and I made reservations with Rocky Branch Outfitters in Southern Illinois, run by Darrell & Diane Hafford. We booked an archery and muzzleloader combo hunt for a total of eight days of hunting, five days bow and three shotguns or muzzleloader. I have to tell you that Rocky Branch Outfitters is truly a Trophy Class Whitetail Operation. First you are only allowed to shoot 3.5 year or older deer, if you do make a mistake and shoot a 2.5 year old deer; you will be fined additional $500.00 big bucks..! It may sound harsh but it insures that only trophy class bucks are taken and the younger bucks on Rocky Branch’s more than 7,000 gorgeous acres get a chance to become big boys. I saw more shooter bucks in the 130 to 150 class in eight days in Illinois, than I did in 35 years of hunting in PA, not to mention another BOONER that was even bigger than the one I shot!
It was Saturday November 18th 2005 the first day of the Illinois Firearms Season, either Shotgun or Muzzleloader, I opted for the latter because I felt it gave me more extended reach over a 12 gauge shotgun. The day started with a chilly 24 degrees and promised to be clear and bright and with the rut just getting into high gear, I thought it would prove interesting. I would be using a new ladder stand at the edge of a soybean field, with two food plots, one to my right and one to my left on either side of the bean field, it proved to be a deadly combination. All morning long a procession of does came and went from either side of the field, I also had a spike walk right by my stand at less than 20 yards away. By mid afternoon it slowed down and I watched two more bucks saunter by, one small eight point at over 180 yards away and another five point sneaking across the left food plot. The magic hour was fast approaching, the very last hour before dark is probably the best chance to see these big guys doing their thing.
The time was 4:40 pm and as I was scanning the fields to my right when I saw this high white 10 point come out at the edge of the farthest field, and he was a sight to behold. As I watched him through the binos I hit the laser and it measured just over 400 yards away, wayyyy to far for this smoke pole. The 10 point started acting weird and running around in small circles, I thought to my self what the heck is this guy doing. When all of a sudden a BOONER came out of the brush, his rack was at least two feet high and two feet wide it was dark with white tips. Both bucks faced each other and in one fluid movement the Booner charged with his mighty rack held low to the ground and bowled over the 10 point….. The big ten went head over heals and took off for higher ground. Mister Booner did this little prance around and just stood there, puffed up, proud, and king of all of his domain.
Weeelllllll… me …I lost it… I thought, I just gotta get a shot at this buck, My back pack went flying out of the stand, no time to lower it with the rope, slung the rifle over my shoulder and slid down that ladder as fast as any fireman on a three alarm blaze. I hit the ground running and was through the bean field in no time flat. I had to climb two barb wire fences, and run to the edge of the next field, what I didn’t count on was NOT being able to cross the swollen river to get to the other side, we had torrential downpours with tornados touching down two days before and the water was still way to high to cross. With my shooting light fading fast I pushed my way to the small rivers edge and stuck the muzzleloader between the Y branch of a small tree, I lasered the distance at just over 275 yards, the shadows were getting much to long, I could still barely see the monster buck at the edge of the field, my breath was coming in ragged gasps, I held the scope cross hairs at the second thickness and….. And…did not fire… even though I wanted desperately to do so, he was just too far and I didn’t want to take the chance on wounding such a magnificent animal. This leads me to the next days hunt.
I had made plans with Darrel the owner and our guide to hunt on the other side of the river in the morning, hoping to get a crack at the Booner. Chances were that he was long gone, and if he would reappear it would probably be in the later evening again. My nephew Louie and I talked it over and he talked me into going back into my original stand in the morning. If nothing happened there, I could cross the river and hunt the other side in the afternoon.
Again the day dawned crisp and cold, the suns rays were breaking just over the top of the field and I saw absolutely no deer what so ever since I got situated in my stand at about 5:45 AM. If I saw that Booner in the adjacent field this morning, after being talked into my original stand, I would shoot both Louie and Darrell…I kept scanning the far field where I saw the Booner the night before, I just made a laser check on the farthest knoll with the binos when in my view finder a buck appeared. As I steadied my binos he turned around and stood at the top of the knoll, all I could see was a mess of a rack, a very heavy and high rack, I immediately let go of the binos, my rifle was all ready set up like a rifle rest on my daypack on the frame of the tree stand, savvy experience you say… nawh just dumb luck. I found him in my scope and fired almost immediately. Again the shot was burned into my memory. What I didn’t count on was the massive cloud of smoke from my muzzleloader that obstructed my vision of the shot; I did not see where my Booner went. I had a clear view to the right, and I know he didn’t go there. I also had a clear view to the left, open field, he sure as heck didn’t cross there, and that left only one choice straight back.
At this point I took my time getting everything together to get down from my stand, I knew I was not coming back come hell or high water without finding my Booner, one way or the other. Two minutes after the shot Louie was on the walkie talkie asking me what I shot, he said the shot sounded like a cannon going off and knew immediately it was me. The shot I took was right at 165 yards on the money. I was shooting a Winchester X-150 inline muzzleloader with 130 grains of Hodgon Triple 7 pellets. My bullet was a 250 grain TC Shockwave with sabots. This load shoots about 2100 FPS from the muzzle and groups a hair over one inch at 100 yards; I was sighted in at 1.5 inches high @ 100 yards….. And yes that puts me about dead on at 150 yards…. I also knew that the Booner was standing directly in line with the first big tree next to the fire break, so it would be a simple matter of walking out to the field, lining myself up with the crooked tree and laser 165 yards back to my ladder stand. Bingo triangulate to exact spot I shot at my Booner.
Well that’s all good and fine, but when I found my exact spot I also found no blood, nada nothing, my spirits started to drop and I became worried. I replayed the shot over and over in my minds eye. It was a good shot, and it felt right, he had to be hit. There was about 40 yards of field directly behind the spot I shot and then it went in to the woods all the way to the river for about another 40 yards. I criss crossed the open field area for about an hour; the only logical place he could have run was straight back. At this point I walked about 100 yards up the hill and would zig zag my way back and fourth to the rivers edge and down to the opening of the field. As soon as I entered the woodlot at the top, a Doe was standing about 30 yards in, she saw me and was still looking back over her left shoulder. As soon as I started in again, she finally ran. Hmmm I wonder if my Booner was tending this Doe and she was reluctant to leave him. Well after my fourth zag I happened to turn my head to the left and saw the white underbelly of my Booner lying up against a side bank. As I walked closer and closer, I could see his head was partially obscured by a tree. As I made my way to the left and finally saw the rack a gasp came out of my mouth, I’m not sure but I think I did an Irish gig around the deer for a minute or two. The rack was not very wide, only 15 inches wide to be exact, but it had great mass, it also had 6 points on each side that were very thick high and wide. All I could think about is my God I shot a 12 point BOONER….
The next call I made was to my nephew Louie on the walkie talkie, Louie had scored on a beautiful eight pointer a 131 class B&C on the last night of the last day of bow season. When I called I said I got him, he asked me how big, and I said I think I beat you, his next question was how many points? After I counted to 12 he said, just call Darrel and congratulations.
I called Darrell on my cell and told him I had a deer down and to come pick me up, he said he was on his way and never even asked me how big the deer was. When he arrived I told him I was sorry and said that I shot a six pointer and it probably only measured about 100 in B&C….. what I didn’t tell him was that it was six points for each side….LOL Before Darrel arrived I positioned the bucks head and laid it on top of a tree stump so it stood out in all his glory, I still didn’t realize how high my Booner would score. As Darrell came across the field he asked me why my hat was laying on the ground, I explained that was where the deer was standing when I shot. It was a good spot trick, but absolutely no blood anywhere. I again apologized for shooting a small deer and he said lets check out the deer first just to see where it stands, as we started into the woodlot Darrel said where is he I don’t see him, I then pointed to the tree stump with the Booners head resting on it. Darrel’s first words where OH MY GOD, you shot a Booner, come and give me a hug, I don’t know who was more excited Darrel or me. He then started field measuring the rack with his hands and guessed it between 185 and 193 gross B&C, later after the buck was caped and the rack was cut from the skull it was measured more precisely and it was a gross scored at 190 and 3/8 B&C, with the rack having almost 40 inches of mass alone.
Well I rattled on long enough, pun intended. I have been so fortunate to have another hunting dream come true, and I always give thanks to the lord above for the time that I have hunting his magnificent animals. It’s times like these, collecting a fantastic once in a life time trophy whitetail, sharing the experience with a close family member, and great new found friends, for me, this is what makes it all worth while. What more can a hunter ask for….
Amen brother……. And hope I meet you on the next hunt….. AKA (Booner)