I climbed down from my stand this morning after a 3-hour sit, my tag still intact and still in my pocket.

I had a pretty good buck–a heavy 3×4 with a bladed brow tine–come screaming to my rattling at first light. He ran, then walked directly beneath my stand on the timbered edge of a picked cornfield. I drew my bow, but I just couldn’t let an arrow go.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t a great deer. In most places in America this would be a career bow deer, a 120-class 2-1/2-year-old. But I’m in Illinois‚ Golden Triangle and I’m determined to shoot a 140-inch or better deer, or go home bloodless.

As I walked back to the pickup, I mused over the task I had set to achieve: To kill a Pope & Young buck in three days in one of the hottest whitetail counties in the nation. That meant plenty of time on stand, but it also meant getting spectacularly lucky and getting a big boy to walk inside of 30 yards of me. Long odds, indeed.

I may not have perforated a deer, but I learned a lot. I learned to trust rattling at this chasing stage of the rut. I learned that big deer do indeed grunt like rooting hogs. I learned to love the stand and the way the day unfolds from a single vantage point. I learned to love watching plucky squirrels and nervous turkeys and to pay close attention to any doe that seems edgy because it means a big buck is probably nearby.

And I learned to love this part of the Midwest, with deep limestone creeks and fertile upland cornfields and great, genuine people. With luck, I’ll return to Brown County. I saw an awful lot of bucks that will be real bruisers next year. And, thanks to me and my restraint, they’ll be waiting for my return.