Seasoned hunters like my brother Phil and his wife’s brother, Carroll, have deer hunted many years in east central Illinois, but the deer season of 1988 was forecast to be especially good. It was dry and there had been a better than average harvest of corn and soybeans. They were seeing a lot of deer that fall when Debbie, Phil\’s wife, decided she wanted to participate.
Debbie Kendall Wetzel was raised on a farm near our hometown of Marshall, Illinois, and her brothers considered deer hunting a religion. This hunt would be her first. She wouldn’t have gun technology on her side either. Illinois deer hunters are required by law to use shotgun or muzzle-loader firearms because that state is flat and wide-open farm country. Center fire rifles are not allowed for obvious safety reasons. Debbie’s choice for a gun that season was a single-shot 20-gauge shotgun. It was light, easy to carry, and as she found out during target practices, it was easy to shoot. She used a makeshift gun range at a cabin they owned in a wooded area near Clarksville to hone her shooting skills.
Being seasoned deer hunters themselves, Phil and Carroll knew what buck fever could do to a good hunter, let alone a first-time hunter like Debbie. She became an accurate shot using that shotgun, though, grouping 100-yard five-shot patterns inside a ten-inch diameter. They were all satisfied it would be good enough. Now it was all up to Debbie and her nerves.
Opening day of the Illinois deer season had arrived and was uneventful for Debbie that opening morning. The temperature that November day fluttered near 45 degrees. While they were all back at the cabin enjoying some lunch, Carroll glanced out of the window and saw a monster buck working through the dense woods several hundred feet behind the cabin. Grabbing his gun and calling to Debbie, they jumped into their jeep and drove out the road along a bottom to hopefully cut the deer off. Carroll had a good idea where the buck was going and dropped Debbie off halfway through the bottom. She climbed the hill to take a stand where she could watch either side. Carroll turned the jeep around, drove back toward the cabin and bailed out when he thought he was behind the deer.
Carroll had begun stalking the deer toward Debbie when he heard dogs barking as they picked up the deer\’s scent. Carroll knew his chances of getting a shot at the big deer were gone. Debbie was on the stand watching when she heard the dogs barking as well. She was thinking the dogs would spook the buck and neither she nor Carroll would get a chance for a shot. Then she heard brush breaking in front of her. The dogs were still off in the distance. The massive rack was the first thing she saw when the heavy buck appeared about fifty yards to her front, looking back toward the barking dogs.
She raised her little single shot 20-gauge and pointed it toward the buck. It turned and trotted into an opening unbelievably close to Debbie and looked back once more. It never saw Debbie when she fired her single shot 20-gauge. She immediately lost sight of the monster buck during the recoil. Debbie ran out to where she had last seen the buck. Nothing. The dogs had quit barking, probably because of the gunshot they heard from Debbie\’s direction. She looked again and saw horns sticking above the low brush just over the hill. She ran down the hill to find the monster buck dead. Back up the hill she ran to find Carroll. Carroll arrived and asked her if she had done the shooting he had heard.
Debbie was shaking like a leaf but smiling, like a coon in a corn patch, from ear to ear. She pointed to where the deer lay and Carroll went berserk when he saw its size and massive rack. He went back to the cabin to get Phil to help field-dress the deer. When they opened the deer, they checked to see where the slug had gone. It had taken the bottom of the buck\’s heart off and the buck had run less than fifty yards from where it had stood when Debbie shot it.
It took all three of them to load the corn and bean fed buck into the back of Phil’s pick-up truck. They took it to the check-in station where it was weighed. The field-dressed weight of the big buck was 250 pounds. An official check of its enormous rack showed 16 measurable points. However, it would have to be considered a non-typical rack because the 3 small points on each brow tine gave the rack a palmated appearance. The rack on Debbie\’s first deer scored 188 points Boone and Crockett after the proper drying period.
It wasn’t a record, but was the biggest buck killed in Clark County in many years. Debbie didn’t care. She had done something only a select few first-time deer hunters have ever done; kill a trophy buck on their very first hunt. She and Phil had a head mount produced of the deer and it hangs in their living room for all to admire. Of course, the usual question that many people ask when they first see it is, “Where’d Phil kill it?” And Phil is always the first to come to Debbie’s defense when he tells them, “Debbie killed it. It was her first deer.”