The story of the Shelton Buck is one of a young man traveling from his home in Georgia to southern Illinois in pursuit of a white-tailed deer on public land. He had never hunted the 277,000-acre Shawnee National Forest and faced less than ideal hunting conditions. Yet he scored at record book deer.
Josh Shelton, a power lineman had only heard about the great public land deer hunting in southern Illinois. Several friends own a cabin on a small piece of property within the 277,000-acre Shawnee National Forest.
Spreading throughout much of southern Illinois, the forest extends from the Ohio River to the Mississippi River. It is composed of woods, water and fields interspersed with private land. Parts of the forest can be found in 10 counties.
The counties which contain a portion of the Shawnee National Forest are: Jackson, Pope, Johnson, Union, Williamson, Hardin, Saline, Gallatin, Massac and Alexander.
Hunters must be aware that some of the land is posted with no hunting and that such posting must be respected. Forest service lands are open to the public for recreational use. On Forest Service land, it is possible to park along a road and walk into the forest to hunt. There is plenty of room for everyone, so hunters can find areas in which to hunt uninterrupted with a little effort.
Deer are to be found throughout the forest and many trophy bucks come from this part of the state.
Josh began reading about the area in anticipation of someday hunting with their friends. He kept putting off the trip until the fall of 2009. Staying with friends he planned to hunt the public land.
Hunting conditions were not ideal due to recent heavy rains in the area which repeatedly wiped out most tracks. It was difficult to find which game trails were being used. “The woods were not crowded,” exclaims Shelton, “we only saw 5 or 6 trucks in there hunting the whole time.”
Josh spent his first day afield scouting. “I didn’t do anything but scout miles and miles of the territory.” reports Shelton.
He chose a heavily wooded section about a mile from some large crop fields. Looking for trails used by deer as they moved from feeding to bedding areas, Josh came across a line of scrapes. In addition he noticed some large rubs. “They were the size of my leg,” explains Sheton.
Hunting began for Shelton on the second day when he hung his treestand in heavy cover just off a well travelled trial. He hunted the morning and then did more scouting during the afternoon and returned to his stand for the evening hunt.
He did not see any deer while in the stand. But, as he was leaving, Josh spotted what he believed to be a 150-class buck going back into the area. It was enough to make Josh decide to give the area another try the next day.
“When I went back in there on the third day,” says Shelton, “I started finding trees with big horn damage and scrapes.” He located a good trail on the edge of some “thick stuff” and decided to hang his stand near it. Again there was a “pretty good bit of water and it covered the tracks.”
That evening a buck came to visit but it was not the 150-class buck he had seen the previous day. It was larger. This deer took a shaft from John’s bow and bounded out of sight. He was to find out later that it would travel some 400 yards before expiring in a swampy area.
One of the reasons that Josh’s buck scores so well is the basic philosophy of the Pope & Young Club scoring procedures. Size is not the only consideration. Symmetry is important. The length of the points and circumference, on one side compared to the other side of the rack counts.
The Shelton buck has main beams that vary from one side to the other by only 4/8th of an inch. The G-1s vary the most but that is by a mere 1 2/8th of an inch. The G-2s vary by 48th of an inch and the G-3s by 2/8th of an inch.
Josh’s buck scored a total of 173 5/8th inches gross. With the deduction of the difference penalty of 3 1/8th inches the final score was 170 4/8th inches. The score surpasses the minimum score needed for record book status by 45 4/8th inches.
Since the Illinois Department of Natural Resources does not collect data as to the size of deer taken in the Shawnee National Forest, it is difficult to get a picture of the trophy quality of the deer heard. Antidotal information is probably the best that can be expected.
Deer hunting in the Shawnee Forest is great. Public access is second to no other area in the state. It is the largest tract of public hunting land in Illinois. The trophy potential of the area is good and several record book bucks have been taken.
The Shawnee provides some excellent opportunities for public land deer hunting. Just ask Josh Shelton. With some study and a little advance scouting, it is possible to take an excellent trophy on public land in southern Illinois