Dream hunts: Local hunters see Alaska, Colorado as destinations for big-game chasing

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jul. 22, 2016 10:10 am

QUINCY -- Bill McMillan typically saves all of his vacation days for October and November when he travels nine hours and more than 500 hundred miles to deer hunt.

This year, however, he decided to burn a few vacation days a little earlier.

He's burning up in the process.

"Did I pick the hottest week of the year to come here?" said McMillan, who is from Dearborn, Mich. "I wanted to check the property and see if there were any signs the deer herd might be healthy, but it's almost too hot to go do that."

McMillan leases property in Adams County to hunt during the archery and firearms deer seasons, calling the opportunity to chase trophy whitetails "a dream come true, especially when you put a 160-class deer on the wall."

He's done that twice sign he started making yearly treks here a decade ago.

"There's no place in the world I'd rather come to hunt," said McMillan, who was spending four days in Quincy this week. "This is a destination hunt for me."

McMillan's not the only one.

Come October, and for the better part of the two months that follow, many of the trucks you pass on the highways and gravel roads throughout Adams and Pike County won't have Illinois license plates. Hunters travel hundreds of miles in every direction to chase trophy bucks in Adams and Pike counties.

Yet, where do the local hunters who have hunted whitetails their entire life want to go to chase a big-game trophy?

Alaska and Colorado seem to be the most popular spots.

During a recent opportunity to engage local hunters, 20 life-long Adams County residents were asked where they'd like to go to harvest an animal they can't kill in Illinois.

Although the type of animal differed -- moose, bear, elk and caribou were all mentioned -- 19 of the 20 hunters said they were willing to pay to hunt in Alaska or Colorado.

The lone alternate voice was Reed Beckwith, who dreams of hunting elk in Montana.

"That's big sky country," Beckwith said. "I've been there and marveled at the beauty of Montana. To take an elk in an environment like that would be about perfect."

Most other hunters think the untamed nature of Alaska makes it the perfect hunting ground. Besides, chasing big game on snow-covered fields is remarkably intriguing.

Jim Fitzsimmons took his wife on an Alaskan cruise for their 20th anniversary, and while at port, they had the opportunity to experience some of Alaska's backcountry.

Within an hour of being led to a remote field by a guide, they came within 100 yards of a mature bull moose.

"You're told to look at a spot where no leaves are moving, and then suddenly a gigantic animal comes out of there, shaking its head and tearing things up," Fitzsimmons said. "I couldn't stop looking at it. It was magnificent."

The only problem was this wasn't a hunt.

"After that, I made my wife promise I could go back," Fitzsimmons said. "I didn't have a gun, a bow or anything with me with a moose in range.

"That would be a dream kill for me."

Others think tracking a bear would be more challenging and more rewarding simply because it's more dangerous.

"You could get mauled by a bear," said Charlie Conners, who has done a caribou hunt in Alaska. "There's a real possibility you get close enough to a bear with your bow that you might have protect yourself to save your life.

"Imagine the adrenalin you would have pumping through your body in a moment like that."

Any hunt in Alaska, Colorado or Montant would elicit such a reaction because of the challenge. Deer hunting loses its luster for some local hunters over time because they know when, where and how to get a trophy buck.

Setting a new course in a new state for new game is the only way to make dreams come true.

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