A father and son experience the lows — and highs — of a lifetime in one incredible minute.
Damien Butts had buck fever, on his son’s behalf. His 9-year-old son, Zachary, had a shotgun pointed at the biggest buck either had ever seen. A doe and the buck, just 10 yards behind her, had been trotting past their two-person treestand when Damien doe-bleated enough to stop the buck in its tracks, right in an opening.
Damien remembers hearing hard breathing, he and his son, in unison.
"It seemed like 15 seconds went by, and no shot — I was watching the buck, but I could see that Zachary was moving his head, trying to find the buck in the scope," Damien said. "He wears glasses, and when he turned his head just a little I could see that somehow he’d lost a lens out of the glasses."
The first part of the Illinois archery season had ended the previous week, and Damien had been hunting it hard.
"I’d seen plenty of bucks and does, and everything was chasing," he said. "I’d seen two bucks in the area, but they were coming out right before dark and I couldn’t get a shot."
Hunts Three-Day Shotgun Season
"I had passed on a bunch of little bucks, waiting for the big ones," he added. "I knew we’d have a lot of action and couldn’t wait to get out into the woods with Zachary for the three-day shotgun season."
Friday morning, the two saw five or six does, and in the afternoon saw a big buck, with plenty of mass and tall tines, but couldn’t get a shot. Saturday morning, they saw four bucks and a couple does, but elected to pass.
"Zachary was getting tired — we’d been getting up early for two days — and the weather was sunny and decent," Damien said. "We had the gun across the shooting rail and Zachary had been laying down for a short time — and somehow a lens had come out of his glasses."
Zachary was using his grandfather’s gun, a single-shot H & R with a scope. They’d set up their two-person stand at the edge of a small piece of timber, only about five or six acres in size. A small wheat field and an overgrown Christmas tree farm were along the sides of the chunk of woods.
Damien had just fielded a call from his brother Jason, telling them he’d shot a buck. He and Zachary heard deer coming through the leaves and spotted a nice doe, to their left, traveling along a pasture fence and heading for the wheat field.
Bleat Stops Buck
"The buck was right behind her, and all he had on his mind was her," Damien said. "I could have done a Texas two-step up in the stand and I don’t think he would have noticed."
That’s when Damien bleated to stop the buck. The doe continued, and soon disappeared into thick cover. Zachary couldn’t find anything in the scope and the buck was soon on the move again, after his doe. Damien bleated again, this time stopping the buck at the edge of the cover.
"Where he’d stopped was in the shadow, making it even harder for Zachary to pick him up," Damien said. "Neither one of us wanted him to get away, and we knew he was about to."
Zachary handed over the gun, saying, "Here dad, you shoot him."
"I just pulled up and shot," Damien said. "He jumped into the cover and we couldn’t see him."
A Doe Appears
As they strained to see the buck, the doe suddenly came back and stood in the open, not 40 yards from the stand. Damien quickly reloaded the gun and handed it back to Zachary. With the doe so close, he was able to get the sights on her, and she dropped at the shot.
"I had to hold on to him to keep him from going down there, he was so excited to go see his doe, and look for the buck," Damien said. They made some calls, to Zachary’s grandparents and to his uncle Jason, before climbing down to look for the buck.
"I found blood, but lost it after only a few feet," Damien said.
Damien (left) and Zachary Butts and their Illinois buck.
Damien and Zachary walked down an old logging path, going about 150 yards as they looked for sign with no luck. They turned back to return and restart the blood trail, and on the way back turned onto another path.
"We actually made a big circle," Damien said. "And when we got on the other path we saw the antlers from the buck, sticking up about 50 yards from us."
"I don’t think either of us will ever forget that morning and it made it much more special for me to be with Zach for it all," Damien said. "Everything happened so fast, but we’ll remember it forever."
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