Recovering Lost Bucks: Stories from Tracker John - Hadley Creek Outfitters Recovering Lost Bucks: Stories from Tracker John - Hadley Creek Outfitters

Losing a wounded buck is something most deer hunters can relate to. Hunt long enough, and you’re likely to experience it. Whether it was the result of a misplaced shot or simply bad luck, it’s a terrible feeling to lose a deer.

Fortunately, we’ve seen many of these situations turned around into happy endings. The man responsible for many of these recoveries is our friend, known around here as Tracker John. When a shot is taken by one of our hunters, and the buck can’t be recovered by our guides, John is the one we call in for help.

Over the years, we’ve seen Tracker John and his dogs come up with some amazing recoveries – a couple of them downright miraculous. John was kind enough to write down some of these stories and we’re thrilled to share them here.

Enjoy the following recollections from Tracker John:

As our pickup rolled down the gravel road, Hadley Creek manager Stacy Ward was pointing out draws, fields, and other land features, orienting me for my next search. A big buck had gone missing during the late season. The dogs and I would, now that the season was over, try to find the carcass to recover the rack. This requires area searching, covering a lot of ground in hopes of hitting the carcass scent.

Normally when we get called in to Hadley, I follow a guide to a blood trail with one of my dogs, where we attempt to recover a hunter’s buck by actually working the lost trail. Blood trailing is what we normally do, and over the years, I’ve done a lot for Hadley. It’s the high percentage technique.

Area search by contrast is needle in a haystack. There is no feedback, it’s all or nothing – you find it or you don’t. You really don’t have a starting point and you might be looking miles from the target. It is very time consuming. I was reminded of that while viewing the farm’s expansive features. It would be a formidable challenge, the uncertainty of which we all understood.

Perhaps to bolster my confidence for the long search ahead, Stacy and the ever popular guide, Gingi, who was also riding along, began recounting other trails and searches of mine that took much longer than normal, but ended in great success. From just this season was a day old trail which had been snowed upon, where we got drawn off course by some other unknown blood that so tired my favorite bloodhound, Janie, that I had to swap out to my young star, Willa, to finally make the find. That had taken most of a day.

Recovered Whitetail Deer

Gingi recalled another day old trail covered over by 6”of snow. That buck went 3/4 mile, but Janie had locked on and hadn’t taken long at all. You just never know.

Illinois Deer Hunt

Or there was the gut shot buck that had so much blood to begin the trail that they wondered why they couldn’t find it. Well, all day and a mile of negligible blood trail later, when we were standing over a low 170s typical, they had their answer… and their buck.

Next remembered, was one of my career all-time favorite recoveries – the Christmas miracle, a search for a 200” class whitetail. It started as a track and ended as a 4-day area search. It was found after so many story twists, so far away, and in such an unlikely place, that when I texted Stacy to tell him I found it, I simply wrote, “do you believe in Santa Claus!”

I’ve always enjoyed my trails at Hadley. The first time we were called in was 2006 or maybe 2007. I’ve found the guides who’ve trailed with me to be knowledgeable and good to work with.

When a hunter thinks he’s lost his trophy of a lifetime it can be a stressful situation. So it’s great to work with competent people who are also fun and can take some of the edge off the situation.

We were laughing and joking as we finished our farm tour. As we headed back down the road I was paying attention because I would need to return on my own to do the search. Normally driving to a trail, I confess I don’t pay much attention, I just follow behind the guide’s vehicle, and after the recovery I’m done, no need to return. This time, as I studied landmarks for where I’d need to turn into the farm, possibly over a number of days, things suddenly looked somewhat familiar. When I recognized a little farm lane, it hit me, ‘Hey isn’t this where I had the knife fight 4 or 5 years ago?” Stacy smiled and affirmed it was.

That was a crazy one. It was supposed to be a short, slam-dunk trail for the dog, but it sure didn’t turn out that way. Scenting was difficult and it took half a day to trail a 3/4 mile distance without a drop of blood, to a place nobody suspected the deer would go. But that wasn’t the end of it.

In thick briars, my dog on a long tracking line, got to the buck before I saw it. By the time I did, it had my dog Jesse, pinned to the ground with its antlers, working its antlers as if in a buck fight. When I ran over to try and keep the buck from killing my dog, the buck turned on me. He knocked me down and was standing over me trying to gore my chest. He was fighting for his life, I for mine. When it was finally over, we were covered in blood. I rolled the deer off of me, stood up, and began checking myself. I was relieved to discover all the blood was the deer’s.

Jesse got lucky and was okay too. Like I always say – track enough wounded game, sooner or later something is coming back at you.

Driving up the road a little farther, I flash-backed on some more scenery. I recognized another crazy blood trail from years ago on the opposite side of the road. The same hunter who shot the all-day 170” gunshot, had needed me again on this farm for a buck that went an unusual distance. The deer wasn’t dead. We jumped it a couple times finally getting a shot. In the end, the buck ran down the same gravel road we were now traveling and into a thicket. We trailed it down again. Another arrow brought the saga to an end.

As my recollections of the area came back to me, I realized, wow, there have been some pretty wild rides on this farm. And at Hadley Creek, overall, I could reminisce for a long time of other big bucks and exceptional trails run. Many great stories – some of them long, some of them wild.

And you know what’s pretty cool? The ride isn’t over!

Thanks Tracker John!

We owe a big thanks to John for all his help over the years. It’s never easy for a hunter to lose a wounded buck. But we’re glad we’ve been able to see a number of these situations turned around.

If you’d like to learn more about whitetail hunting in Illinois with Hadley Creek Outfitters, please explore the rest of our website. Our 2020 dates and prices are listed here and we’re currently booking for the upcoming season. For a photo recap from last season, take a look at our 2019 Season Gallery.