The 80-acre farm in southern Illinois has been pretty good to Travis Cockburn and his family. It belongs to a lifelong buddy of his, and over the past 15 years, they’ve managed to kill several deer there, including some 140- to 150-class bucks. But the buck that showed up on a trail camera back in July was of a different caliber entirely.
“The farm has a creek bottom running through it with lots of agriculture in the area,” Cockburn says. “We got pictures of this buck in velvet, and really thought he was using the west side of the farm. But after hunting him throughout the season, we hadn’t seen him.”
The first split of Illinois’ shotgun season opened over Thanksgiving weekend, and Cockburn decided to try a different area of the farm, down in the creek bottom, that butted up to a big thicket. He shot a nice 9-pointer with his muzzleloader, and saw another giant 6-pointer. The area was full of buck sign, and Travis still had an archery permit for another buck in his pocket.
“After the first shotgun season closed, I decided to slip into that thicket with my climbing stand and bow,” Cockburn says. “There was only one tree in there that I could climb, but it was an oak with the top busted out of it from an ice storm we had a few years ago. It was re-topping, and even though all the leaves are gone, it allowed me to have a little cover at my back.”
Twenty feet up that oak tree, Cockburn settled in for the afternoon. A big cold front had just come through the area, and the temperatures were bottoming out. A steady drizzle was falling.
“It just seemed like the perfect afternoon, but I couldn’t hear a thing in the woods because the leaves were so wet,” Cockburn says. “I’d been watching a bobcat that slipped through, and then, at around 4:15, I happened to catch some other movement. That monster buck was in the creek, knee-deep in the water, coming right to me. When I saw him, he was already in bow range, and I didn’t even have time to get nervous.”
By the time Cockburn was ready to shoot, the buck was 18 yards in front of his stand. “He went broadside, I bleated, and he stopped. I hit him right behind the shoulder, and though it was a little high, I was high enough in the tree that the exit was perfect. That buck didn’t go 70 yards.”
Cockburn emailed us about a Rack Report story the next day, and at the time, the buck had yet to even be rough scored. He took him to the taxidermist, and the first measurement came out at 258 5/8 inches. We’re guessing he’ll be a tough one to beat for the biggest non-typical in the Rack Report this season—but who knows what the rest of the year will bring.