CLAYTON, Ill. — Geared up with everything he needed — scent-blocker clothing, a tuned-up bow and a sturdy climber stand among other things — Brant Garrett figured he better be prepared to hunt even if he had no plans to shoot.
He went to the woods last Thursday afternoon for the scenery and the sounds.
“It’s a peaceful change from working in an office,” said Garrett, a 43-year-old Adams County hunter. “You breathe fresh air. You hear birds and squirrels and geese flying overheard. People talk about getting away. Well, go hunting. You’ll get away from everything.”
You can’t escape buck fever even if you try.
Thursday was the opening day of the Illinois archery deer season, and Garrett told himself not to shoot a buck no matter the size. Let them pass. Let them grow. Let them get to the rut.
“You want to give a guy a chance,” he said with a chuckle.
The only deer he swore he’d draw back on was a mature doe. He wanted meat for the winter, but he wasn’t going to ron a yearling of its life or kill something small just to say he tagged a deer on opening day.
“I knew what I’d shoot and only what I’d shoot,” Garrett said.
He wasn’t alone. A vast majority of hunters went to the woods on opening day or the days that followed looking to fill their freezers, not hang a trophy on their wall.
“You want bucks to grow, to mature, to develop into true trophies,” said Bryson Smith, a 27-year-old who hunts in Brown County. “You don’t want to walk out of the woods asking yourself, ‘Should I have taken that shot?’ You want to know you took the right shot and made a good shot.
“So here’s the rule of thumb: Shoot does early, take bucks late. Let the rut begin before you buck hunt.”
That’s easy to do if you see does.
But what if you see tines that spark buck fever?
“You leave your bow hanging on the tree if you see a buck,” said Tim Collins, a 38-year-old Calhoun County resident who hunts private properties in Adams and Pike Counties. “Just do it. Take a doe. Get your meat. Make your jerky or your summer sausage. Take care of business while it’s still kind of warm.
“If you see a buck now, be patient. If you see him now, you’ll see him again. Don’t get trigger happy.”
It’s easy to say, tougher to do.
“I passed one up Thursday night,” Collins said. “I pulled my bow down, watched the buck come close. I counted the points, estimated the width of the spread and thought, ‘He’s a big one.’ I sat and watched and said to myself, ‘I’ve seen bigger.’ So I hung the bow back up. I waited.
“He hung around the field and gave me a great show, but I waited. I want meat right now. I’ll wait for a wall hanger.”