By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
Bob Bland sized up the hoof marks with his hands.
"At least this big," he said, pushing the tips of his thumbs and middle fingers together to form an oval. "Maybe a little bigger, but pretty darn big no matter what."
Whitetail deer have been crossing his small Adams County property with regularity, wearing down a trail that runs within 25 yards of his treestand. All the markings of big bucks are present -- hoof marks, tree scrapes, etc. -- although Bland hasn't seen any deer using the trail.
"Not one," he said.
That made him more curious.
So Bland dropped $200 on a trail camera and got the answers he sought. Captured digitally were pictures of two mature bucks -- a 10-pointer with a symmetrical sets of antlers and an 11-pointer with a broken tine -- using the trail every morning and evening.
"I've never killed anything bigger than an 8-pointer and have never seen anything bigger than that unless it was tagged and lying in the bed of a truck," Bland said. "These are monsters in my estimation."
It's made him eager to see what happens this weekend.
The Illinois firearms deer season opens a half-hour before sunrise Friday morning, and for the first time this fall Bland will be in his stand. He doesn't bowhunt, and he doesn't spend much time scouting. He waits for shotgun season to arrive and spends every minute he can in his stand.
"It's my holiday," he said.
Seeing one of those mature bucks cross his path would be a gift.
"That's never happened to me, getting lucky like that," Bland said. "I might get a little nervous if one of those big ones shows up."
The likelihood of it happening is getting stronger.
According to Paul Shelton, deer project manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the percentage of bucks harvested by bowhunters has increased steadily during the first six weeks of the archery season.
During the first week of October, Illinois hunters harvested 6,993 deer, of which 30.4 percent were bucks. Last week, bowhunters killed 10,070 deer, of which 65.8 percent were bucks. All told, 49 percent of the bowhunting harvest has been bucks.
Through Nov. 11, the total archery harvest was 41,025 deer, which tops the six-week total of 40,509 deer taken in 2011. The five-year average from 2007-2011 was 41,727.
Pike County leads all Illinois counties with 1,867 deer harvested during archery season. Adams County is fourth with 920.
Brown County hunters have taken 650 deer, and Hancock County has taken 479.