Hunting Trophy Whitetails in Illinois

Hunting trophy whitetails is one of the most challenging hunts in the world. You have heard a lot about Pike & Calhoun Counties being the premier spot to hunt these illusive animals. It’s our goal at Harpole’s Heartland Lodge to make sure your trip is everything you expect it to be. The following will make your overall experience more enjoyable.

Hunting Trophy Whitetails In Illinois Expectations

If you have never hunted the Midwest, it is very easy to have high expectations because of all the hunting shows that are filmed here. It is our goal for every hunter to harvest a trophy animal and we will do everything possible to make that happen. But sometimes weather and deer movement prevent that from happening. One week everyone in camp will see shooters, the next week it’s possible no one will see shooters. No one can control this, but what you can control is your overall experience regardless of deer movement. Have a positive attitude and have fun! (Remember the milkshake!) A fun camp is a large part of the overall experience.

Mental – This is the number one challenge for most hunters. Each day that passes that a hunter does not see a shooter buck, their spirits drop a little. Your chances of harvesting a buck on the last hunt are as good as your first hunt (remember Joe!)

Seeing Bucks – You are not going to see shooter bucks every time you sit in a stand. One 30-second opportunity on a 3–6-day hunt, is a successful hunt. There will be days, possibly multiple days, that you will not see a shooter buck.

Trophy deer hunting is not an accumulation of what you see each day. Rather it’s a very short window of opportunity that can happen on the first day, last day or not at all. It becomes a mental challenge. Many hunters start out positive but then decline each day if they are not seeing deer (if they see deer however, they are happy.) Staying mentally sharp and positive is key to a successful whitetail hunting trip.

Guides – Trust your guide. He wants you to harvest a buck as bad (sometimes worse) than you do. Hunting these bucks in the mid-west may be different than what you are used to, so rely on your guide to help you be successful.

trophy whitetail archery and gun hunts IL Scent Control

Large bucks primarily use their nose to survive in the wild. We will do everything possible to play the wind correctly but sometimes thermals and wind changes cannot be controlled. Good scent control can help your odds when this happens.

Clothing – Keep your clothes as scent free as possible. Wash them in scent free soap before leaving and store them in a scent proof container. Scent eliminating clothing is highly recommended.

Boots – Knee high rubber boots should be used.

Lodge – Do not wear your hunting clothes and boots inside the lodge. These should be stored in your scent free containers.

Spray – Use scent eliminating spray to help control odors.


Every year we have more deer missed than actually harvested. The number one reason is that guys are not prepared for their hunt. Michael Jordon practiced the game winning shot over and over. Visualize and practice your killing shot over and over before you arrive.

Confidence – Practicing will give you the confidence you need to be successful.

Shot Placement – A good shot is the key to recovering your animal.

Sighting In – Don’t wait to sight your bow or gun in when you get here.


Take any doubt out of your mind by learning how to field judge and scoring trophy whitetails before you arrive.

Video – Dr. James Kroll has an excellent video available. You can also purchase this DVD online.

Hunting October whitetails in Illinois The Hunt

Everything above will prepare you for that moment when the buck of a lifetime presents himself within shooting range. Make sure to slow things down and take a clean and ethical shot.

Range Finder – Please bring a range finder and range all the yardages around your stand. Keep testing and repeating these yardages to yourself as you are sitting in the stand. Misjudging yardage can cost you the deer of a lifetime.

The following tips apply to your archery hunt.

Angle – Do not take a quartering to or straight down shot. At best you will hit one lung and you will not find your deer.

Moving – Always stop the deer before releasing the arrow. A simple can do it. You have plenty of time, so don’t rush the shot.

Aim – Don’t try to tuck your shot right behind the front shoulder. Many times, the deer will move his shoulder back as you are releasing the arrow resulting in a shoulder hit. The kill zone is much larger than you think so aim at least 4 inches behind the front shoulder.

Be Ready – Every year many hunters come back to the lodge and say they had a shooter book within range, but they couldn’t grab their bow. Keep your bow on your lap, ready for that 30-second opportunity. It can make the difference between harvesting an animal or going home without a deer.


This is the most important of all the things listed here. A sure way to ruin a great trip is by getting hurt.

Stands – Most accidents happen on the last step getting in and out of the tree stand. Pay extra attention during this time and make sure you have at least two body parts (arm & leg) on a strong support while climbing. (Don’t ever rely on a limb.)

Harness – Always wear a safety harness while in the tree stand.

Ice & Snow – Pay extra attention when conditions are worse than normal.


Gary Harpole

Harpole’s Heartland Lodge


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Last Updated: January 20th, 2022

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