Illinois Hunting: The Snakeman Scores

The Snakeman had been feeling a little snake bit. After all, he lived in the land of big bucks. Where was his?

“It seemed like every show I watched on the Outdoor Channel was about Illinois, and somebody was getting a big buck,” said Derek Schnoeker (pronounced Schnaker, hence the nickname), Steeleville, Ill. “I was born in Illinois, and had been hunting Illinois for about 10 years, but hadn’t gotten a really big buck.”

Back in 1997, as a 17-year-old, he’d gotten a beautiful 11-pointer, non-typical, but it had been a long dry spell since then. Illinois deer hunting begins with an archery season, followed by a three-day shotgun season held over the second weekend in November. Then archery season returns, and later, a four-day second shotgun season.

In the wee hours of Nov. 22, 2009, Schnoeker headed into the woods with his father and brother, Dennis Sr. and Dennis Jr., for the second day of the state’s first shotgun season. They were hunting on private land in Randolph County, which is in southwestern Illinois.

Derek headed to the same stand he’d hunted for the past seven years, a spot picked out by his father. It’s a thick little area surrounded by mature hardwood stands, with plenty of water and easy access for the deer.

His brother took a stand in the thick stuff about 70 yards to Derek’s left, with Dennis Sr. locatd much farther from the two brothers. It was a clear, cold day, with a heavy frost, perfect for deer hunting, but Derek had little optimism. Although he was happy to experience the beautiful fall morning hunting with his father and brother, he wasn’t expecting to see a big buck.

His mindset was about to do a 360-degree turn.

“It was just a little after first light, when a doe ran out and just high-tailed it through this little thick area,” he said. “I couldn’t believe the size of the buck that was trailing her.

“I was so surprised, and they were going so fast, that I just shot too high and missed him completely,” he added. “And for some reason he just stopped — they never stop. Usually when you miss they just hit another gear and go faster. This one stopped and stood there, about 50 yards away.”

Quickly, keeping his eyes on the buck, he ejected his spent shell and jacked another into the chamber.

“I was hunting in a ladder stand and I swear that shell tinged off every step on its way down,” he said. “The buck is just standing there trying for figure out where the shot came from, and with all the noise it wasn’t hard for him to figure that out.”

His brother had seen the same deer, but opted not to shoot, feeling he didn’t have a good enough shot given the distance the deer was from him and the speed at which it was traveling. Dennis Jr. heard his brother’s shot, and shortly after that, shot number two.

“The second shot hit him and he just turned around, as if to run back where he’d come from,” Derek said. “But he just turned around and went down, with his momentum taking him head over heels.

“I got down really quickly and ran over to the deer,” Derek continued. “My brother was there in no time. We couldn’t believe how big it was. Dennis sent our dad a text message, and he came right over, too.”

Illinois hunter Derek Schnoeker with his huge buck. If you’re in a “drought” in your hunt for deer, take heart — droughts can end in a flood of happiness!

The buck’s irregular rack scored 180-6/8, with 23 scorable points, plus a few smaller points. As often happens, the massive buck was one none of them had seen before in the area, not that year or in previous years hunting the same land.

It was time for some celebrating.

“We were making phone calls, and there were many people who wanted to see the buck,” Derek said. “We loaded him up and I took him to my grandma’s house, just about 15 minutes from where we were hunting. All she could say was, ‘Oh my Lord, Oh my Lord.’ She was really happy for me, and couldn’t believe the girth of the deer’s body, along with the rack.”

Next Derek took the deer to his mother’s (Melody Schoeppel) house, and then to his home, so that his wife, Erin, and her father, Dave Elsea, could see the buck.

“We’ve always hunted as a family,” he said. “Each take in the field is as a family.”

Then he began to prepare the deer for the taxidermist and the butcher.

“My hunting friends had gone hunting,” he said. “I showed them pictures, but they just couldn’t wait to see the finished mount.”

The mount is proof for Derek and his friends. The Snakeman has ended his snake bit period, in a big way.

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