Sissonville teen bags buck of a lifetime
As she walked the edges of an Illinois hayfield, searching for the trophy buck she hoped she had killed, 15-year-old Chelsea Shabdue couldn't help but wonder if her shot had missed.
She and her father, Mark, had already circled the field once. They hadn't found the deer, nor had they found any evidence that the shotgun slug she fired had found its mark. Their hopes had just about faded when Mark made one last check - and discovered the biggest buck his daughter could ever have hoped to shoot.
The hunt took place in Pike County, Ill., in an area renowned for trophy whitetails. Mark, who knows a landowner there, had been invited to come and hunt. Since Illinois' annual youth hunt would coincide with the outing, Mark asked Chelsea if she'd like to go along.
She said yes.
"I'd been hunting with my dad since I was 7 years old," the Sissonville High School sophomore said. "I had killed four bucks while hunting with him, but never anything bigger than a spike. I thought it would be fun to try for a really big one."
Success was anything but guaranteed. Pike County is loaded with deer, but landowners there usually specify that bucks must be of a certain size before they can be taken.
Just after dawn on Oct. 9, Chelsea found herself wishing the rules were different. She and Mark were sitting in their tree stand, staring down at a small herd of does and a nice six-point buck.
"The six-pointer wasn't a 'shooter' because it wasn't big enough," Chelsea said. "So we sat there watching it and the does feed. Then, out of nowhere, this giant 11-pointer showed up about 50 yards away."
Chelsea couldn't move for fear of spooking the deer browsing near her stand. The big buck surveyed the scene, saw something it didn't like, and started to run away.
"Dad fawn-bleated at it, and it stopped," she recalled. "I looked through the scope of the slug gun and saw that I had about a 6-inch opening in the brush to squeeze the shot through. Dad said to take the shot if I had it, and I did."
The buck kicked up its rear legs and sprinted off. Chelsea and Mark climbed down from the tree stand, certain they'd find the buck dead not far away.
After more than 20 minutes' worth of searching, certainty gave way to doubt.
"We circled a giant hayfield looking for that buck," Chelsea said. "I finally stopped because my boots were rubbing a blister on my heel. By then, we were starting to think I might have missed. Dad finally went back to the tree stand to retrieve some of our stuff."
While in the stand, Mark took one last look at where the buck had been when Chelsea pulled the trigger.
"I relocated the spot and climbed down to take another look," Mark recalled. "This time I found some blood. Four or five steps later, I found the buck and started yelling."
The giant 11-pointer had turned left instead of right, as the Shabdues at first believed it had. It had gone down behind a large brush pile, just out of sight from where they'd been looking.
Chelsea ran over to examine her trophy.
"My jaw dropped," she said. "I'd never killed anything that big. It was one of those bucks that grown men would be proud to get."
The rack will need to dry for 60 days before it can be officially scored, but Mark and a few other knowledgeable hunters believe it will total roughly 163 inches on the Boone and Crockett Club's scoring scale.
"I'm probably more excited about her having killed a buck like that than I would be if I'd killed one myself," Mark said.
When Chelsea returned to school after her hunt, she showed her classmates a cell-phone photo of herself with her trophy.
"The girls didn't pay much attention to it at all," she said. "The guys asked if my dad killed it and I just had my picture taken with it. None of the guys would really believe I'd killed it."
Despite her peers' skepticism - or perhaps because of it - Chelsea plans to try for an even bigger buck next fall.
"I'm going back next year, definitely," she said
Reach John McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1231.