By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Jerry Davis figured the punched-in-the-stomach feeling would fade in a day or two.
Almost a year later, it hasn't.
"I'd drive past a cornfield and see a deer standing in a clearing and it was like someone socked it to me again," Davis said. "That feeling just never fades."
A lifelong hunter who figures he has harvested a dozen or so deer with his bow, Davis never has had what he calls "the big one" in his sights.
"I've dropped an 8-pointer. And I killed a 9-pointer with a drop tine, which was pretty cool," Davis said. "The monster you want to show everyone pictures of ... well, that one's eluded me."
That's why he still cringes.
Last fall, two weeks into the Illinois archery deer season, Davis left work early on a Thursday and climbed into his treestand about 3:30 p.m. Deer had been crossing the field to the east of his stand in order to get to a nearby creek, and his trail camera had captured pictures of a 14-point buck using the pathway.
"The neck on that deer was enormous," Davis said. "It had to be to hold up the biggest rack I'd ever seen."
Yet, Davis hadn't seen the deer in the field.
"I'd count six, seven, eight deer making their way to that creek every time I hunted," Davis said. "Mostly does, though."
That changed on a breezy day.
Davis estimated he had been in his treestand about 30 minutes when two does moved within 40 yards of him. The breeze was blowing in Davis' face, meaning he wouldn't be scented.
"Conditions were perfect," he said.
And the buck he waited a lifetime to see was on the prowl.
"Maybe if the does had come within 20 yards of me I might have taken one," Davis said. "But I wasn't planning on drawing on either one. So I sat and watched them play and eat. They were content for the longest time. Suddenly, their ears perked up and they started looking around.
"I was wondering what spooked them. Then he appeared."
The 14-pointer that had been seen only in pictures was now working his way across the field to the does.
"My heart stopped I think," Davis said.
Asked if he was struck by buck fever, Davis shrugged.
"I really don't think so," he said. "I stayed pretty calm."
The buck moved slowly, trailing the does' scent. The closer the deer crept, the more anxious Davis admits he became.
"I thought, ‘Hurry up. Hurry up,'" Davis said.
The buck never did. It moved at a leisurely pace.
That should have worked to Davis' favor. He was able to load and position his bow before the deer was in range.
"All I had to do was be patient, aim and fire," Davis said.
It sounds so simple.
It really wasn't.
The deer came within 25 yards of the treestand and stopped. Davis needed the buck to turn broadside and he'd have the perfect shot.
"He never got totally squared up with me," Davis said. "But I still should have killed him."
Davis took a shot and grazed the deer's back. He found the arrow in the field with a tuft of hair and a couple small spots of blood on the broadhead.
There's no blood on the arrow.
"Disappointing," Davis said. "So disappointing."
He told the story of the hunt to his wife when he got home that night and kept replaying it his mind.
What did he do wrong? How could he have missed that shot?
"She told me not to worry that she was sure even the pro hunters on the TV shows missed deer," Davis said. "I couldn't get over it. I missed my chance to for a wall-hanger."
That feeling lingered until last week. With the Illinois archery season getting underway today, Davis was doing some last-minute double checking of his treestand and the area around it. He grabbed the digital card from his trail camera and thought he'd see if anything had been moving.
The monster was back and still bigger than life.
"I no longer feel like I've been punched in the gut," Davis said. "I believe I might have a second chance."
If he does, Davis swears he won't miss again.
"I want to show you a picture of him," he said. "I want everyone to know there is redemption."