NAME: Austin Cole
SADDLE GEAR: Phantom Saddle kit, Predator Platform
I started the year 2022 off by not only preparing for my 1st big Illinois trip but also trying for a baby with my wife. We secured our 300-acre lease in Calhoun County, IL and a few weeks later also secured a baby delivery date around prime rut time. Fast forward to October; I canceled both the IL opening weekend and my Oct 13-17 trips due to Hurricane Work in Puerto Rico. An attempted Public Land Quota hunt in Georgia mid-October was canceled due to my wife going into premature labor. So, at this point I started to get in baby mode rather than buck mode thinking our boy was coming sooner than expected. My next planned trip was Oct 28th-Nov 5th, and I knew it would be my last and only trip before my baby boy arrived in December, (If he waited that long). I got the go ahead from the wife and a sliver of hope from the doctor that she’d make it to December, so I finally hit the road on Oct 27th Illinois bound.
8 hours into my trip at the KY/IL border I stopped at a hotel to wait on my in-laws. Having purchased some lighted nocks from Rural King, I planned to shoot my bow a little in the hotel parking lot before they arrived. That is when I realized that I left my quiver of arrows at home back in Georgia. All the excitement and anxiousness I had was immediately crushed. I HAD EVERYTHING in my truck that would fit, including all the backup extras for emergencies BUT forgot the one thing you never forget…arrows! I managed to find a decent bow tech in a random sporting goods store online and I was at his door when they opened. I purchased his last 5 arrows that fit my liking and settled with a 3 blade 2″ expandable broadhead that he recommended (which I wasn’t a fan of). Re-sighted my bow at 20 yards and just hoped it got the job done. Deep down I was not confident with this set up, the arrows were inconsistent, not tuned to my bow, and everything was rushed… Not a recipe for success and certainly not how I operate. Nonetheless, it got me hunting and to me, that’s all that mattered. For 9 days, I hunted in what was supposed to be prime rut, crisp cold mornings but turned out to be 60-80 degree days, rain, high wind and no rut activity whatsoever. By day 7-8 I was losing motivation, making excuses, and throwing my own pity party in the tree as every Doe was busting me, getting blown at, missing opportunities, making mistakes, and just absolutely missing out on the peace and tranquility that hunting provides, success or failure. Two of our target bucks had already been shot and injured in October never returning on camera, which added to my fading motivation. But I humbled myself and prayed for forgiveness for my feelings of entitlement and realized what a blessing it was that I was even hunting, much less in prime real estate for giant bucks. It was then that I started to gain some moral and confidence back.
My last hunt on November 5th started with sleeping in, missing the morning hunt. Winds were 30-40 mph and I just wasn’t feeling it, plus I left my hunting boots out in the rain forcing me to wear my 5.11 Tactical zip up boots that smelled like rotten sweat and stale laundry detergent. The punches kept coming… but it’s all I had to wear so I wore em anyways. That evening I climbed up in my saddle which I moved to a new location 2 days prior. Waiting till the last few days to push closer to the bedding area. I told my wife, “I’m shooting the first doe that walks out so we get some meat.” I pulled up the Georgia/Florida football game on my phone and watched the whole thing, just enjoying myself on the last day as much as I could with no confidence towards a buck. As the sun started to set and I realized the Dawgs had taken the W I put my phone away. I began to see movement across the bean field behind me…Some bucks in front of my last stand location about 400 yards across the field, some does on the horizon. I noticed a body appear at the top of the ridge in front of me and immediately I said, “Shooter”. He disappeared back in the woods which I assumed he would do to feed on acorns before hopefully crossing into the beans in my shooting lane on my left. He reappeared again 10-15 minutes later taking every step this young doe took. I repeated a prayer in my head over and over, “come this way, come this way…” hoping she would draw him into my lane that I trimmed earlier, but of course she didn’t. She proceeds to my right, which isn’t ideal for saddle hunting. She stepped up to feed and began licking a branch before she went off into the woods. I managed to range her at 32 yards and I said to myself, “If she goes in right there, he will follow, and that’s where I’ll shoot him if it works out.” Still not really thinking anything was going to happen, I adjusted the site on my bow, and barely managed to get my bow from the left of the tree to the right without being busted. Miraculously the buck, which I finally identified as one our #1 buck that we last saw on camera months ago and referred to as, Split G2 stepped up to the licking branch where the doe had been. I pulled back, whistled, clicked, finally grunted “meh….MEH” and managed a shot through the tree limbs at 32 yards right behind the shoulder and absolutely lost it in the tree. I didn’t see the arrow or lighted nock on the ground, but I just knew it was a good shot. Called my wife freaking out in tears. Without pushing too deep I looked at the shot location, no blood, no arrow, and pure anxiety set in… We waited an hour, went back in and found a pin size drop, then a pea size, a leaf full, and within 20 yards he reluctantly opened up leading us right to where he laid about 30 yards from the shot. The arrow entered behind the shoulder and was sticking out of his opposite rear end almost all the way out. I assumed he was quartered to a lot more than I thought, but it worked out in the end. On the last day, the last 10 minutes of light, on my last trip to Illinois this season a valuable lesson of persistence, trust, and humility was learned. This was my biggest buck to date, the first deer from my saddle, and one that taught me more lessons than any deer before which I now have to pass on to my son. Green scored at 166 7/8″. I am 100% in baby mode now, it’s 11/28/22 and still no baby, and on high alert! My next scoring session will be in pounds, ounces, and inches.
Prayer requests for a healthy delivery of Brantlee Wayne Cole! and GO DAWGS!