After two days of no sightings, Hunter Brandon made his opportunity count on the final evening of the 2023 Illinois youth season
|Rack Report Details|
|Time of Year:||October 9 2023|
|Weapon:||Savage 220 shotgun|
For most 13-year-old hunters, the prospect of a giant buck might be intimidating. But not for Hunter Brandon. Hunter has been deer hunting since he was 5, and he already had a couple 160-class bucks under his belt before this season even started.
Going into this fall, Hunter knew what deer he was after. The massive 6x6 had been around for a couple years now. Hunter’s Dad, Jeremiah, had seen the deer once in person the season before. “I knew last year that he had the potential to be something special,” said Jeremiah, “so I really wanted to let him go and see what he would do with another year under his belt.”
Hunter Brandon made taking the big 6x6 his main goal for the season.
Young Hunter wasn’t quite so sure. The lure of the 6x6 frame made the buck an enticing target. While Hunter chased him a few times last season, he never got a chance at the buck.
This summer, the buck showed back up. He’d put on lots of mass, some increased tine length, and now sported a drop tine and several additional points. Hunter said, “It was this buck or nothing for me this year.”
But the young hunter wasn’t the only one who had taken notice. Several neighbors were also getting pics of the big buck and he was on everyone’s hit list. The buck was a regular on the Brandons’ trail cameras throughout the summer but in mid-September, the deer disappeared. “I was honestly worried that he had relocated or that someone had poached him,” Jeremiah said.
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When the three-day Illinois youth season came around on October 7, Hunter and his dad took a stand near the last place they had gotten a photo of the buck. The evening passed with no sightings. Not wanting to take a chance on bumping the big buck onto a neighboring property, Jeremiah made the call to hunt an observation stand a few hundred yards from the buck’s main area for day two in hopes that they might catch a glimpse of him and formulate a game plan. But again, there was no sighting.
Luckily, the next morning the buck showed back up on camera very near the spot the hunters had waited on Saturday evening. The only concern was that the farmer was harvesting corn nearby and Jeremiah was worried that the activity might push the buck from the area. He filled Hunter in and told him he thought there might be a good chance at seeing the buck if they hunted the final day of the three-day season. Even though Hunter was scheduled for wrestling practice that evening, he quickly made the call that he would rather hunt.
An early morning trail cam photo told the hunters where they needed to be that evening.
The pair took up a stand on the ground in tall grass near where the buck had been that morning. Things were slow until they looked up to see the massive set of antlers moving out of the cover. Hunter had his Savage 220 slug gun resting on a tripod for a steady shot. Even though the buck was 150 yards away, well within Hunter’s effective range, the tall grass prevented a clear shot.
When the buck went behind some brush, Hunter and Jeremiah quickly gathered their gear and used the heavy cover to stalk toward the buck’s location. After covering nearly 100 yards, the hunters raised above the grass just enough to locate the buck. As they had been moving, so had the deer. It had fed its way through standing beans at about the same pace and was still 120 yards away. When the buck put his head down into the beans, father and son quickly covered the final 10 yards in the open so that Hunter could get a clear shot on the deer.
The buck was turned straight away from their location. Jeremiah cautioned Hunter to wait till he could get a view of the buck’s shoulder.
Extra points and drop tines gave the massive rack loads of character.
“He was watching the deer through his scope and he was rock solid. I was coaching him to wait for a good shot when the buck turned his head and body slightly to give him a view of the vitals and Hunter pulled the trigger. It actually surprised me when the gun went off,” Jeremiah said.
“I was a little nervous, but the shot felt really good,” Hunter added. They watched as the buck covered 200 yards before disappearing into heavy cover. Jeremiah suspected a 1-lung hit, based on the shot angle.
After backing out and giving the deer plenty of time, Jeremiah and Hunter took up the blood trail. The blood was lighter than they hoped, but looked good with lots of bubbles. The trail was pretty easy and the hunters quickly located the buck in the cover just beyond where they had lost sight.
A certified Pope and Young scorer, Hunter’s dad Jeremiah feels confident the green score will stand or even go up a little when the official score is made.
After lots of excitement, father and son took a good look at the rack. Hunter could now check the 6x6 frame off his wish list. In addition, the rack had 12 more scorable points for sure and 3-4 more that were borderline. The extra points gave the rack a ton of character.
After getting the deer dressed and home, a quick and conservative measurement came up with a green score of 218 inches. A certified Pope and Young scorer himself, Jeremiah feels confident that the score will hold or even go up just a bit after the required drying period.