In a matter of about 36 hours, Tim Padgett experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
The Shiloh man made his annual trek to the Jim Edgar Panther Creek Fish and Wildlife Area near Chandlerville with a pair of friends. It was early in the archery deer season when Padgett’s crew set up camp the weekend of Nov. 11. It was the third year the group had gone to the public access land just west of Springfield.
Even though the 51-year-old civil engineer hadn’t spent hours in the field scouting the area, he felt confident that he would be able to use one of the two permits he had for the season.
He passed on a couple of does on the morning of Nov. 11 and then let an eight-point buck go that was just a tad too far away from him around 3:30 that afternoon. A half hour after seeing that buck, a 14-point buck strolled near him.
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“He comes walking in and was about 20 yards away from me,” Padgett said. “He made a rub and a scrape on a tree, but I didn’t have a good shot. When he started to walk away, I was finally able to get a shot off.”
The deer ran about 100 yards before falling. For Padgett, the deer was the biggest he had ever killed. His friends helped him process the deer and he took the antlers so that he could have a taxidermy mount made. It would be the biggest rack among a collection he’s amassed over the years.
He put the rack in the back of his pickup truck and continued to hunt. He went back to the same spot where he bagged the big buck four more times that weekend, but didn’t see another deer the entire time. Coming up empty in the other hunts wound up being the least of his problems.
When he returned to his truck on Sunday afternoon after another fruitless morning, Padgett found that his prized antlers had been stolen from the back of his truck. Other than meat in his cooler and some cellphone photos of his kill, Padgett had nothing tangible to show for the biggest deer he had ever killed.
“I was thinking that I would never see that rack again,” Padgett said. “It’s gone. I had a few pictures, but in the end, it’s like you never got it. It’s almost like (the trophy) was taken away from you.”
Padgett wasn’t about to let his big catch go without a fight, though. He reported what happened to the Illinois Conservation Police. He knew the chances of getting the rack back were slim, but thought the police might be able to find it for him. He provided police a close-up photo of the rack, hoping it might aid in the search.
On Monday, Padgett got a call from Conservation Police Officer Kevin Bettis, who is based in Menard County. The police had found his rack.
A Facebook post by the Illinois Department of Natural Resource Conservation Police said Bettis and fellow CPO Seth Thornley worked “with some long-shot leads which eventually led them to a suspect and subsequently a confession regarding the theft.”
It will be a few weeks while the case works its way through the courts — the rack is being used as evidence — but Padgett eventually will get his trophy back. Padgett might have to hit the road to get the rack, but he doesn’t mind.
“I’m willing to take a day off from work for that,” he said. “I can’t thank the officers enough. They put a lot of effort into finding it.”