We have now finished the last day of the seven-day shotgun season for deer. Six days of great weather and the last day, six inches of snow. The first three days went by smoothly but we didn’t harvest as many deer as I thought we would. The DNR stated that Illinois deer harvest for those three days was set at 151,000, which was about 3,000 less than last year.
Hunters from Bureau County started out early when Jarrett Carr dropped a deer in the youth hunt. Then my sons, Kristian and Kai Wahlgren, got their first Illinois deer during the first season. I enjoyed hearing from Kai that he really had buck fever. This was his first deer hunt.
Then I got wind that our old buddy, Jimmy Robbins, dropped a large buck during Thursday of the second season. He had just gotten to his stand about 3:30 p.m. and waited for only an hour for this big buck to walk by. Jimmy decided that now was as good a time as any so he shot. He was right on target and dropped the 240-pound, 11-point buck. Jimmy estimated that the buck will score 160+.
But none of these stories can match my next adventure story. Several years ago, tragedy entered the life of Justin Lilley, 26, of Princeton. Due to a horrible accident, he was left paralyzed from the waist down. This was quite tough on a young lad who had been quite active all his life.
This fall changed his life considerably. Through the encouragement from his best friend, Mike Peterson, and his brother, Kyle, 23, he joined them in some dove hunts this fall. They rigged him up with a special apparatus that allowed him to shoot doves. He got six of them this fall. He also like being outdoors and being active.
Later into the fall, his brother Kyle asked him if he wanted to try deer hunting. Sure, why not! This turned out to be a team effort. Neighbor Cody Calkins gave Justin an old hunting shack that he didn’t use anymore. Mike and Kyle revamped the shack to make it more accessible for Justin in his wheelchair. They lowered the window allowing Justin easy access for his crossbow.
Then one afternoon, Kyle got off work early and suggested they go deer hunting. They got into the blind and began the wait. And wait they did. Nothing! Then it was about 20-30 minutes before dusk. They would soon have to call it a day.
Right then, a doe walk up within 25 yards of the blind and stopped. Then the doe quartered a bit and Justin thought it was now or never so he shot. He thought he missed. He put his head down and started to apologize to his brother.
“We waited all this time and I missed,” he said.
“What?” Kyle said. “What are you talking about. You got her.”
Justin still didn’t believe it, so Kyle said, “Let’s go get her.” They got out of the blind and Kyle pushed Justin 30 yards and there the doe lie. Now Justin was thrilled. He had waited all that time, plus had been encouraged by his friends and now he had harvested his first deer. What a thrill.
This is more than a deer story. As I thought about this whole story, I marvel at how much perseverance Justin possesses. Not only in the deer episode but in life. I also think of what this meant to Mike and Kyle. To see Justin have success was one of the greatest things that could happen to them. These three young men will have an autumn they will never forget.
Lee Wahlgren is the BCR Outdoor Columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.