I have been gripped by a passion for hunting whitetails since 1984 when my high school band teacher invited me to hunt with him that fall. He gave me a damaged compound bow and some finger tabs. I bought some camouflage and some arrows. Our second trip out I shot a doe with the first arrow I had ever sent toward a deer.
I have been hooked ever since. I spent the next 27 years putting in some serious effort to bag a true trophy. In my mind, a buck scoring in the 170s would make a lifetime of hunting complete.
As the many seasons came and went, I began to think I was never going to bag such a trophy. I wasn’t without reward during those years; I’ve shot my share of bucks between 135 and 160 inches. However, after nearly three decades with a number of close encounters and a couple of missed shots on 170- to 180-class deer, I started to believe a deer of this class may elude me forever. That was OK, and I accepted the fact that it just doesn’t happen for everyone. But I kept trying just the same, and I began to look for other ways to make the hunts challenging, exciting and rewarding through the things I could control.
What I couldn’t do was make a big buck stand in front of me to get shot. So I looked at what I could do. There were several things I did to create that challenge and excitement. One year I practiced diligently to take a deer with my bow at 50 yards. I ended up killing a doe at 67 yards.
After reading much about it, I knew smokeless muzzleloading was for me. I bought a Savage ML11 muzzleloader. I spent a couple years tweaking it and finally took a deer at 304 yards.
After a couple of encounters with an 180-inch deer—including a clean miss with my bow—I decided to try shooting left-handed. This was for the times a buck would come to my weak side and I was unable to turn to get a right-handed shot. Since then, I’ve taken several does shooting a right-handed bow left-handed.
The next endeavor wasn’t so much a personal challenge as a new direction for me and my new hunting buddies—my children Lizzy and Devin. Youth season hunts in Iowa with my son and daughter have been the most rewarding hunts I’ve been on. My daughter got her first buck when she was 9 years old and my son when he was 5. Now they are 10 and 15 and have each taken several nice bucks. My daughter will admit she is the lucky one. She shot a 150-inch buck opening day one youth season, and last year she took a 167-inch 10-pointer that I should not have passed on.
The beginning of the story for me and this tremendous buck was when I saw him about 10 days prior. I took my son out during the second shotgun season using his youth tag. Youth tags are good for all gun seasons in Iowa. It’s a great policy so kids can keep hunting if they are unsuccessful during youth season.
Earlier in the year, I somewhat regrettably made my son pass on about a 150-inch 10-pointer because it was too young and he already has one at about the 140-class. This 10-pointer was perfect, with way more potential than 150. And I have become a stickler about not shooting young bucks with potential. That decision may have led to this giant.
So during second shotgun season, using my Remington 700ML, my son and I went out several times. One day we had a southwest wind, so I decided to hunt an area where we had seen deer feeding in the field. We needed a south wind of some sort to do it.
On our very first hunt in that field, with about 15 minutes of shooting light left, I saw a big body heading toward the rest of the deer and could see a nice rack through the timber. I told Devin to get his gun up and ready. I knew this buck was mature enough and had a good rack. When he cleared the timber and I could get my Nikon binoculars on him, I said, “Oh my gosh, a 180-inch 9-pointer!”
The buck made a path toward a few other deer and stopped broadside! I quickly grabbed my Bushnell Elite and ranged him at 112 yards. I told Devin to get the crosshairs on him!
We spent the next two minutes trying to get Devin steady. He was just a bit too short to have a solid rest. It was breezy and the does in the field were spooky. I was worried we weren’t going to have enough time to ensure Devin had good shot. Sure enough, two does flipped up their tails and headed in. The big guy picked up his head and decided to go with them. Our heads sunk. The buck never came back out during the few minutes of light we had left.
Still, we made the right decision. That was going to be a long shot for my 9-year-old, even though I know the gun can easily do it. I was very proud of Devin for not taking the shot. It was in his hands. The safety was off. He knew it wasn’t right, even at age 9. We went back two more times. This giant didn’t get the invitation, apparently.
Late muzzleloader season rolled in a few days later. This was the type of season that makes late muzzleloader fanatics stay home. It was warm and windy. No one shoots big bucks with south winds and 45-degree days right? I hit that spot two times. I didn’t see the big boy, but I was not discouraged. There had been no pressure and this buck should have no reason to leave.
The third time was a charm. I was watching a smaller buck way off with a couple of does. They were angling toward me and hit the timber. I watched the spot where I thought they would emerge back into the field and join a few does at 100 yards from me. Some time had passed so I figured they must have kept going through the timber.
At about the same time Devin and I had seen the big buck, with only 15 minutes of shooting light left, I saw some deer coming through the timber. One of them was a buck. They were heading right where I expected the earlier group to emerge. This group was different though. This group had a big buck with them. I pulled up the Nikon binoculars and started to feel the adrenaline push into my veins. It was the huge 9 pointer!
I had the same conditions, southwest wind at 18 mph, 45 degrees, and the deer were spooky again from the wind. Exactly like the last time I saw him with Devin. The giant entered the field about 200 yards away, heading right at me. He stopped at 108 yards to feed but he was facing me, and I needed to relax away the adrenaline dump. I did something that comes with maturity.
I quit looking at the monster that stood well within my shooting range and looked down, relaxed all muscles and took five deep breaths. I was steady and pretty calm. I got him in the scope and held solid on him, waiting for him to give me a broadside shot. He wouldn’t. I did the calculations to hit the vitals at this angle and held there waiting for a broadside shot. A thought went through my head that probably sealed the deal. I said to myself, “If one white flag goes up, take him where he stands.”
Seconds later, three or four flags went up, and the does headed for the timber. I looked back in the scope and my buck’s head was still down. I was on him solid. I squeezed. After the shot, I stayed on the scope. I couldn’t find him. So I looked up, trying to see a rack running with the rest. I saw four deer but no rack. It was toward the end of shooting light, but I could see approximately where the whole group hit the timber.
Since there was still some ambient light, I got down quickly to check for blood. I went to where he stood when I shot. No blood. I checked the trails going into the timber. No blood. So, I snuck back to my stand, grabbed my stuff and took a wide route out of there. With no blood trail, experience told me to look in the morning.
You would think I was in for a sleepless night. I managed five hours. Sleep was not difficult with an 108-yard shot. The shot was solid. I took a friend to help me look for him the next morning. We spread out and went south, then swung around and worked back north. On the way back north, I replayed last night in my mind, and it seemed logical he was with the few deer that went east and north. I actually started smiling to myself as we worked our way north because it made sense to me that that was where he went. I knew we would find him.
Indeed! I spotted him about 80 yards away, and for the second time in my life I approached a downed deer and it got bigger instead of smaller. For a second time, no ground shrinkage!
When I got to him, there was no blood. Not even where he lay. The bullet went in through the left scapula and I found it just under the skin where a belly button would be. With 2,250 fps muzzle velocity using a 300-grain Barnes Original, I didn’t think any animal in Iowa could hold my bullet at 108 yards. He sure did. We looked him over pretty good and took some field photos on the spot. I knew with the kickers and splits he was easily 180 inches.
We grabbed my Land Rover and loaded him up. I took him out to another friend who has a hanging rail with a scale built in. I hadn’t field dressed him yet. He weighed 252 pounds. After we weighed him, more friends showed up. One of them who does a bit of measuring asked if I was going to score it. I said, “Someday I suppose.”
“Not right now?” he asked.
I said, “You can if you want.” So he did. The calculator was up to 188 and we hadn’t even started on the non-typical points! I was truly surprised when he came up with a gross of 204! Yet this was just a green score using a string. I knew once it could be officially scored, that number would likely change.
His overall score is no mystery when you look him over with measurements in hand. This buck lacks nothing. He has good tine length and a decent inside spread. Then when you add in the exceptional measurements of 29- and 29 2/8-inch main beams and a whopping 42 inches of mass, along with 18 7/8 of non-typical points, he nets 189 7/8 non-typical inches! A real giant!
All of the close encounters and a few missed shots finally paid off. The knowledge, experience and maturity that comes from hunting whitetails for 27 years were “dues paid.” And my fading dreams of bagging a 170-inch deer were smashed by this true buck of a lifetime.