The Test at the Grigsby
Here's one for all you die hard whitetail hunters. What would you say if you were asked to help start a new Deer hunting operation from the ground up on ONE farm consisting of 13,000 acres in central Illinois? Before you answer, you must read this story!
I was called last year by one of my best friends, Dick McCormick, who I've known for the past 15 years. "Are you sitting down?" he asked. He continued by adding, "I just had a conversation with a ranch manager that wants to lease me the 13,000 acres that he controls in central Illinois. I think it could be a great opportunity to get into the guiding business, but I won't do it unless you come back and run it for me. What do you think?" he said. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I do remember that there was a long silence before I said anything.
I have been hunting from state to state, living my dream of hunting, guiding, filming and writing all about it for the last ten years. All be it, "hand to mouth" and doing countless other odd jobs to survive, I have NEVER been tied down and very adamant about sticking with the great outdoors as a career.
TIME TO SETTLE DOWN
Although I love to hunt deer, elk and turkey are my favorites. The last of the three is the MOST important to me, and it has garnered me 27 Grand slams in the last 15 years. As I sat there and thought to myself--"Well, I've never settled down, but I do know Dick and more importantly he knows me, I can make money and still get to hunt my turkeys, elk AND all of my family lives within minutes of the farm!" I was in from that very moment.
Then came six grueling, but necessary, months of projections, reports, surveys, spreadsheets, contracts, waivers and countless meetings. You need to understand that this was the first time that this farm had been leased out for commercial hunting. The family has a lot to protect, and wanted to make sure that everything was in order before entering into such a long contract.
This farm is truly "one of a kind!" It exists in an area where it's tough to find 500 acres in one piece, let alone 13,000! It is made up of the typical scenery found in the mid-west: rolling hills, hard woods, creeks, corn, beans, winter wheat and alfalfa. What it has that many of the rest lack is BIG DEER and lots of them! As if that's not enough, but it borders 15,000 acres of trophy managed state ground. Yes, that's right, 43 square miles in ALL!
I was beside myself just waiting to get started with the daunting task of learning the ground, the animals, their patterns, booking hunters, fixing up the lodge, hiring guides and a cook, buying and hanging stands, pegs, ratchets, locks, meeting the neighbors, etc.
LOCALS LEND MORE THAN A HANDOur biggest step forward was that I befriended some locals that had been on the old lease. They had 65 years collectively between them of not just deer hunting, but deer hunting on OUR 13,000 acres! With that one ace on our side we were off to the races. We placed seventy tree stands plus several ground blinds in the most PRIME places that any hunter would only dream about.
Even though we jumped headfirst into a race that had started months before, we ended up doing all right. We started booking hunters in April, while the ink was still wet on the contract, and ended up with 23 in all, four of which didn't call in time to buy their licenses before they were sold out in four days. Six months after Dick inked the deal, we were up and running with 19 archery hunters.
THE RULE BOOK GROWS
So where to go from here? It started with some basic rules to ensure that we would have quality bucks for years to come. The rules were as follows: Limited number of bow hunters; No shotgun hunting; $500 fine for any buck taken under 125 inches; NO stillhunting; NO hunting the first three weeks of the season; NO activity on the property from Sept. 15th to Dec. 15th except for deer hunting; ONLY hunt a stand when the wind was right for it; Be scent FREE, scent FREE and more scent FREE!
We did our best to make sure that everyone had a great time while hunting here, but we stressed that these rules had to be obeyed. Before the hunters could get bummed out with these "rules," we assured them that ALL hunters before, during and after them would adhere to these same rules. After really thinking about it they were very happy with such strict rules in place. The end result was seeing and being closer to more deer than ever before on the farm.
SO HOW'D WE DO?
I know you're thinking I should get to the results. How many of your hunters got a buck? What was your biggest deer taken? How many hunters had an opportunity to shoot a P & Y deer? What was the biggest deer seen? After the dust had settled from our three-week season, the 19 hunters had killed 9 bucks. That's 47% success in an industry with an average of 25%. Our biggest deer was a 152" 12 point, all but two hunters had a shot at a P & Y deer, several passed on deer that were 150" or bigger, a few wounded and or missed bucks and made more blotched attempts at big deer. We saw at least seven different Boone and Crockett bucks from the stand. The hunters had four good shot opportunities but nothing materialized. We did find the sheds of one of those giants that one of our hunters drew blood from. The sheds taped out at 190 inches! It was a 12-pointer.
We were very happy with the way the season went, yes, we would have loved for ALL of our hunters to bag out, but that will never happen. What we will guarantee is that we'll do everything LEGALLY in our power to make sure that all of our hunters have a GREAT week with us. The fact that they are coming back this year and bringing friends speaks volumes. Plus these next quotes are just a sampling of the many heard from our hunters:
"I just saw the biggest buck that I've EVER seen in the wild!"
"How much does it cost to just come to eat and hang out?"
"I am ruined after hunting here."
"There were SO many deer, I didn't know where to look anymore."
Even though those were incredible references, to our credit, we are most proud of this next one which comes from another one of our visitors.
To say I was impressed with the potential of the Grigsby would be an understatement. Over the past seven years as Executive Director of the Quality Deer Management Association, I have had the opportunity to travel to nearly every state in the whitetail's range and tour countless properties. I can honestly say that I have never seen one with the potential of the Grigsby . . . I am confident that if managed wisely, the Grigsby will soon be considered one of the top whitetail hunting destinations in North America.-- Brian Murphy, Executive Director Q.D.M.A.
So after all of that maybe you're saying to yourself "That sounds awesome, I would love to run that show." You would be right only IF you didn't care too much about deer hunting. You see, whenever you are in the business, you usually don't get time to do it yourself. I hunted three times in the month of November for a TOTAL of five hours. Whenever all of the hunters were set, AND there was some free time, I would always make sure that the rest of our team got to hunt first.
Don't feel sorry for me. Even though my fall buck hunting was slim to none I did harvest several does, I also got to hunt for elk and turkeys and I'll chase more turkeys this spring. The Grand Slam is what I care about, so I guess I'll stick with this deer-guiding gig for another year.
WHAT'S IN STORE FOR 'O4?
This fall of '04 is going to be incredible! Muzzy Broadheads is putting together the SUPER BOW of HUNT'S WEEK that we are hosting. It is going to be a pro-am hunt. The pros will be Babe Winkleman, Michael Waddell, Stan Potts, Bob Robb, Tom Miranda and Muzzy's own David Langston. To buy a raffle ticket and be entered into the drawing so you can win one of the other six spots and hunt with the pros on the Grigsby, simply call Muzzy at 1-800-222-7769.
We not only have a few choice spots left on the Grigsby, but also on some other farms that we have leased in the area as well. Remember, this is an area that I know has produced several 200" deer THIS year alone, plus many more Boone and Crockett-class bucks!
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Please check out our web-site at CENTRALILLINOISOUTFITTERS.COM Once you're on the site, go to the ILLINOIS DEER HUNTS link. From there you can click on the MOST WANTED and CAPTURED links to see some of the deer from this year.