My 6 year quest for an Illinois giant

My 6 year quest for an Illinois giant

By: Travis Dalton

I have been hunting my home state of Virginia since I was 5 years old.  I can remember getting to carry the squirrels on my very first hunt with dad.  I can also remember the first time I got to carry the gun while dad carried the squirrels.  As I got older I progressed into deer hunting. A trophy buck for my part of the country was anything over 100 inches. I had taken a few deer over the 100 inch mark, but like most Bowhunters I wanted to get a buck over 125 inches.  After 30 years of hunting it became obvious that I needed to hunt somewhere that produced big bucks on a regular basis.  I always dreamed of going to Illinois to hunt, and after talking to my wife we finally decided to start saving for a trip.



My first trip to Illinois was in 2006.  After doing quite a bit of research on the internet and calling 10 or more references I decided to book a hunt with Illinois Trophy Bowhunters.  I called the owner, Steve Phelps, and I really liked what he had to say, so I booked a hunt for the first week.  One reason I chose ITB was because they only hunt the 3 weeks of the rut.  After arriving in camp I was put in a stand for the evening hunt even though my hunt didn’t officially start until the next morning.  I saw 3 does and a small buck that evening.  The next morning Steve told me to get my climbing stand and follow him.  After showing me the tree he had picked out, I climbed up and waited for daylight.  About 5 seconds after sunrise I saw a nice 8 point coming my way.  ITB has a 125” minimum rule and I immediately thought “shooter” when I saw this deer.  I made a good shot and we recovered the deer. That is when I noticed a kicker off the brow tine.  It was the biggest buck of my life at the time, a 125” 2.5 year old.    I immediately send in my deposit for the next year, and booked the first week again.



Now that I knew what a 125” deer looked like; I was determined to shoot nothing less than 135 inches.  I passed several deer in the 125” range and saw several that were well over 130 inches but they were all out of range.  I had an encounter with a 140” 11 pointer at 10 yards but never got a shot.  I missed a 150” 10 pointer on the last day. I was glassing a small strip of woods, and saw a tree limb that looked like an antler.  To my surprise it moved, and I realized it was an antler, but it was going away from me.  I blew my grunt call and used my can to bleat and he started coming to me.  At 50 yards he laid down in the field and that was when I realized he was with a doe.  After about 30 minutes he finally got up and came to within 30 yards.  The doe saw me draw and spooked just as I released my arrow. The buck turned to chase her and I missed.  There is nothing worse than the feeling of missing a giant on the last day of the hunt.  That taught me a valuable lesson that would pay off in the future.  Always keep one eye on the doe.  Steve offered me a late season muzzleloader hunt and I booked it.  It never got over 20 degrees but, on the last day I shot a 140” 9 pointer that was 3.5 years old.  I sent in my deposit for the next year, and booked the second week instead of the first week.



Now that I knew what a 140” deer looked like, that was going to be my minimum.  This was the same year I applied for, and got accepted to, the Mossy Oak Prostaff.  I sent out an email asking if anyone would be interested in filming my hunt.  Dwayne Moore volunteered but… little did we know what we were in for.  We arrived at camp with 70 degree highs and 90% of the corn still standing.  Needless to say we didn’t see much that year.  Obviously weather and crop harvests are two things an outfitter cannot control.   I sent in my deposit for the next year and decided to book the third week.


I brought my dad with me that year hoping he would get an opportunity.  I didn’t think the hunting could get any worse than the year before, but it did.  Instead of hot weather it rained every day and 95% of the corn was still standing.  I still saw a 160” 10 point twice but never got close enough for a shot.  At that point I was feeling a little discouraged, but again the outfitter has no control over the weather or how much corn is cut.  I sent in my deposit for the next year and booked the second week.


This time I made a trip to Illinois in the spring to shed hunt and scout the farm I would be hunting.   I hunted the second week at “Grizzly Creek”.  I passed two bucks that were close to 140” because I wanted one over 140.  I also had an encounter with an absolute monster that would have pushed 200 inches.  He bedded with a doe not more than 70 yards away for over 30 minutes.  It was one of the best days I ever had hunting, even though I didn’t get a shot.  I sent in my deposit for the next year and booked the second week again.


This was my 6th year with ITB.  I made a shed hunting trip in March and picked out two potential stand sites.  On the first day of my hunt I witnessed two bucks fighting that were close to 140. Just as the fight ended I did a snort wheeze.  Both bucks came by my stand 15 minutes apart and I passed on them hoping for something bigger. The second day of my hunt I passed a buck Steve had named “Off Limits” for obvious reasons.   He is a 2.5 year old typical 12 point close to 140.  Talk about genetics this is what managing a farm correctly will produce. Image

On the third day I misjudged the yardage and shot a 150 class 10 point through the backstraps.  I was thinking “another year and I missed my opportunity again!”  I take a look at the map and identified an area that nobody ever hunts. Walking in I immediately knew I had picked a good spot.  There were several big rubs and scrapes along a well-used trail.


My wife had bought me a Lone Wolf Alpha stand just for this hunt because it can be hung in crooked trees, which was exactly what I needed.  Checking the ScoutLook app on my phone I saw that there would be a south wind the next morning. Using my Hunter Safety System and lineman’s belt I hung my stand 20 yards north of the trail. The next morning I had a south wind which was perfect.  Around 9 a.m. a doe runs in and starts feeding 10 yards from me.  I heard a loud grunt and looked up to see a giant.  He is standing 40 yards away and is starting to circle down wind. I was still sitting down but my sabertooth release was already on the d-loop on my Mathews Z7.  I remembered what I had learned in 2007.   Keeping one eye on the doe and the other eye on the buck I slowly started to turn in my seat as the buck circled to my right.  He stopped broadside at 20 yards.  At that point I have turned all I can because my right elbow was against the tree.  I could see the doe had her head behind a tree and couldn’t see me.  The buck made a quick glance back the other way and I stood and drew all in one motion.  I kept saying to myself, “Take your time, pick a spot, and squeeze the release”.  My Firenock lit up as I watched it pass through, and I heard the pop as my arrow exited the opposite shoulder.  He walked down the hill about 5 yards and stopped behind a bush.  I’m thinking he is going to drop any second.  After what seemed like forever, which is probably ten seconds I started doubting my shot.  I get out my Leupold RX-II rangefinder and I could clearly see the hole from my 4 blade “Slick Trick” right in the 10 ring.  He took a couple more steps and I ranged him at 25 yards.  I shot him again quartering away and I saw my Firenock disappear behind his last rib and reappear in the bank behind him.  At this point he did the “tail wag” and his back end got heavy.  He stumbled down the hill and finally went down.  I started jumping up and down in the stand and the doe finally saw me and ran off which at that point it didn’t really matter.  I called my dad and waited for him so we could both walk up to this deer together.  We had several trail cam pictures from this farm and when I shot this deer I didn’t recognize it as one we had on camera.  When I picked up the antlers I immediately recognized him as the buck we called “Unicorn”.  I was the one that came up with that name because in the trail cam pictures he looked like he had a horn growing out of the middle of his head but it was actually coming off the base of his left beam.  I had joked with my wife that I was going to get the “Unicorn” buck.  He “unofficially” measured 161 7/8” (gross green score).  Having my dad with me truly made this a “buck of a lifetime”.

It was by far the best year of hunting I have ever experienced.  I would like to thank my wife for her patience and help in getting me this opportunity. I should also thank my dad for all his help. Contrary to what some people believe there are some good outfitters in Illinois and ITB is one of the best in my opinion.  If you book a hunt expecting to kill a monster you might as well stay home.  You have to go with the attitude of “I hope to see some good bucks”. With some patience and persistence I was able to finally make my dream of killing a monster buck a reality.  I will be sending in my deposit for next year.





Equipment list:

Mossy Oak Treestand camo, Mathews Z7 28” 60lbs.,  Gold Tip pro 5575, 100 gr. Slick Trick Razor Trick, Firenock lighted nocks, Montana Black Gold Flashpoint sight, T.R.U. Ball sabretooth release, Leupold RX-II rangefinder, ,  Lone Wolf Alpha treestand,  Rocky Boots, Hunter Safety System, Log6 Ozone generator

Update: May 5, 2016

Please read this if you’re considering booking a hunt with Illinois Trophy Bowhunters

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Most people think that a stabilizer is for reducing vibration and noise.  It can does help with vibration and noise but its true purpose is to help “stabilize” the bow.  It can also help balance the bow.  I have recently been trying an offset stabilizer called the “Stokerized SS1”.  So far it has proven to be very helpful especially at the release.  The bow will sit perfectly level after the release and not jump left or right.  This means it is also getting rid of torque.  If you have a sight and quiver on the right side of your bow you will have to push the top of the bow to the left to get your level right.  This translates into the shot when you release the arrow.  With the Stokerized stabilizer I can adjust it to offset the added weight and balance my bow.  Most companys try to market a stabilizer as a vibration and noise reducer but keep in minds its true purpose is to stabilize the bow.

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As mentioned earlier I prefer feathers.  I also like to fletch 4 instead of 3.  I would think that with the introduction of drop away rests 4 fletching would become more popular.  Sure it might be more than what is needed but in most cases more is better.  I’m going to try the Gateway Razyr feathers.  They are basically Blazers or Quickspins except of course they are feathers.  There is the issue of rain making feathers lay down.  I waterproof mine with a powder made by bohning.  This stuff works.  I spent a week in Illinois and it rained everyday all day.  My feathers stood up and never looked like rain had ever touched them.  It doesn’t add any weight or effect accuracy.

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Lighted Nocks

Are lighted nocks necessary? No but they are helpful. You can really pinpoint exactly where your point of impact was which can be very helpful when it comes time to track. There are several brands on the market and the prices range from $8 to $25 each. Petersons magazine recently did a test to see who made the brightest nock. Firenock was the winner. They are however the most expensive. The old saying you get what you pay for is often true. I personally have been using Firenock for 3 years now and I have had zero issues with them. I tried several other brands but they all failed in my opinion. I know what your’re thinking “no way will I pay $25 for a nock”. I still have the same 3 nocks I bought 3 years ago. Thats $25 per year. If I buy the cheaper ones every year and have to replace them every year in 3 years time I will have spent more than $25 per year. So in the long run Firenocks are cheaper. One reason they last so long is you have the ability to change batteries. Customer service is above and beyond what you would expect. The owner will often call you personally to discuss any issues you might have. FYI if you use a lighted nock it will disqualify you from entering it into the P&Y book. I shot a 162 in 2011 using Firenocks and I could care less if it gets entered in P&Y. Another issue with using lighted nocks is it will affect your F.O.C. (front of center). What this means is you want the front half of your arrow to wieght more than the back half. In other words if you balance your arrow on your finger it should be closer to the broadhead than the nock. Think about throwing a dart or a spear and you’ll get the idea. There are calculators to help you figure out what your F.O.C. is. I like to be over 10%. I solve this issue by fletching with feathers. A 125 grain or heavier broadhead will also solve this problem.

Good Luck Hunting


After doing some more research I have decided that lighted nocks will no longer be on my arrows. I now believe a hunting arrow needs the highest amount of FOC we can get. At minimum I want 15% and over 20% is even better. 

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Since nobody is paying me to endorse their product this will be totally different than anything you have heard in the past few years.  I personally prefer fixed blade heads and they must also be (COC) cut on contact.  Mechanical heads can and do fail.  You might shoot 100 deer without a failure but the next shot might be on a buck of a lifetime and it fails to open, you hit the shoulder and it doesn’t penetrate or it’s a steep angle and it glances off.  I have personally seen all of these things happen with a mechanical but never with a fixed blade head.  Mechanicals do have an advantage on gut shot deer.   Gut shot deer tend to die quicker when shot with mechanicals but people have a tendency to not wait long enough before tracking.  Tracking deer is another topic I will cover later.  Mechanicals are easier to tune.  This is mainly due to everyone’s obsession with speed and the lack of proper fletching.  That is two more topics that will be discussed later.  So why do I prefer fixed heads.

I never have to worry about the blades not opening or coming open in my quiver.  The blades can be sharpened by hand.  They will penetrate the shoulder blade of a full grown deer.  They will not glance off no matter what the angle is.  Cut on contact heads go through a deer so easy that a deer often doesn’t even know it has been shot.  I have seen deer continue feeding and never even look up until they suddenly get weak legged and fall over.

Now let me say this “any well placed broadhead will kill a deer”.  The key words here are “well placed”. Here is the main reason I don’t like mechanicals.  I constantly see people that want to use mechanicals as a crutch for poor shot placement.  They will often take shots that should be passed hoping the extra cutting diameter will hit something.  So whatever broadhead you choose to use please take high percentage shots.  Good Luck hunting

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Travis W Dalton


I have over 30 years of hunting experience.  In that time I have used some products that were great and some that were not so great.  It is my intention to share my experiences with fellow hunters to help them avoid making some of the mistakes I have made over the years.  I will provide totally unbiased reviews because I am not recieving any money for advertisements.  I am just like the average joe.  I don’t own my own land to hunt so I have to hunt public or ask permission.  Hopefully I can also learn a few tips and tricks from my readers.  I think for my first blog I will start off with a hot topic “broadheads”.  Coming soon

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