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ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL.

Even as I write this, prior to the end of most deer seasons, I feel safe in proclaiming good news. It's been a solid year for whitetail hunting, with plenty of folks taking home tasty venison and even hauling impressive racks to taxidermy shops.

With at least 10 million hunters out looking for whitetails, there always will be millions of deer in the legal harvest. And there always will be huge bucks among them. Call it the law of averages at work. Every deer season is special for someone.

That said, no one can deny some years are just better than others. And it seems 2018 will go down as one of the best seen lately.

As we've come to realize, the fulcrum of trophy whitetail production now lies in the farm country of the Midwest. As goes the season in the "breadbasket" of North America, so goes our impression of what kind of overall year it's been.

The Midwest's herd was hit hard by natural events earlier in the decade. The major drought of 2011 and the outbreak of hemorrhagic disease in '12 led to swift and steep decline. With low fawn survival and high natural mortality of adult deer, gaping holes developed in some herds.

Sadly, Illinois became a poster child for those tough times. Once among the best trophy deer states, it was hard hit by drought, disease and in places, just too much hunting pressure. The number of big bucks on trail cameras and in the backs of pickups dwindled. Many hunters and landowners began to wonder if a rebound ever would come.

Well, guess what? Illinois is starting to bounce back. The amazing buck featured on our cover and in an exclusive feature starting on pg. 18 calls attention to that fact. Whether or not this non-typical from south of Chicago is a world bow record we don't yet know, but he's clearly one of the top bucks ever tagged.

Of course, no one deer is proof of a resurgence. But Luke's was far from the only great buck shot in Illinois in '18. So while you might consider the Prairie State to be yesterday's news for big deer, note that it could become tomorrow's, too. Same for some other farm states whose trophy whitetail obituaries were being written.

But maybe the most important comeback to address here actually pertains to people, not deer. It has to do with Luke and many other veterans of military service.

Last November, mutual friend Adam Crumrin helped me connect with Luke, leading to some great chats. I learned he'd served two tours of duty with the Marines in Afghanistan. I also learned that he feels bowhunting helped him find the peace of mind many fellow veterans never rediscover upon getting back home.

Luke says his bowhunting buddies in Illinois deserved this huge buck far more than he did. But he's the one whose tag the giant wears, and he recognizes that's put him in a unique position to help. To that end, he's urging other veterans to try bowhunting and to seek their own peaceful places in the woods--whether those woods are in Illinois or elsewhere.

Luke naturally hopes fellow veterans who take up bowhunting will someday connect with big deer of their own. But what he really hopes they connect with is themselves. That's a great perspective, and it's one we at North American Whitetail wholeheartedly endorse.

GORDON WHITTINGTON Editor in Chief

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Title Annotation:MY STAND
Author:Whittington, Gordon
Publication:North American Whitetail
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:Feb 20, 2019
Words:575
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