When just about everything that can go wrong with the pursuit of a huge buck really does go wrong, it’s easy to get discouraged. But sometimes, persistence wins out in the end. Just ask dedicated bowhunter Bo Russell. The huge Iowa non-typical he arrowed last season is a testimony to the rewards of smart scouting and hard work. Not to mention being adaptable enough to overcome some outside interference—including a crew of archeologists!
A Little History
Bo is a dedicated hunter who spends a lot of time getting ready for deer season. He’s been known to pick out a certain buck and focus strictly on him—for better or for worse.
“I got trail camera pictures of a big 11-pointer in September of 2011 and set sights on shooting him,” he says. “I hunted hard all season but never did see the deer. In fact, I was so focused on shooting that buck, I didn’t shoot a deer that year at all.
“The following spring (2012) I searched high and low for the buck’s sheds but came up empty-handed. To the best of my knowledge, nobody else found them, either.”
“I normally start running four to five trail cameras in early August, mainly set up on scrapes, rub lines and food sources,” Bo says. “Once I’ve located a couple of mature bucks, I keep my distance and scout primarily with binoculars or a spotting scope,” Bo says.
“Aerial photos are also helpful when scouting new ground. Not only do I use them to understand the lay of the land, but also the surrounding properties. It helps me determine where the natural funnels and bedding areas are located. And those spots generally make the best stand sites, too.”
Some hunters believe you need a lot of land if you want to take home a lot of antler. Bo knows that’s not necessarily the case.
“This particular piece of ground is only about 50 acres,” he says. “With the exception of a couple draws and a pond, it’s primarily flat. It’s actually a tree farm that has grown up over the years and is really thick cover now. The deer have made it their primary bedding area.
“Most of the trees aren’t very big, so finding one big enough for a stand in the right location isn’t that easy,” Bo continues. “It’s so thick I can’t see more than 40 or 50 yards through it. My best stand is located on along the fringes of the pines, where there are a few bigger trees. A cornfield surrounding the property was the primary food source (last year).”
A Difficult Start
Despite knowing there were some good bucks in the area, Bo wasn’t all that confident as he looked ahead to the 2012 archery season.
“I was on a two-year dry spell and hadn’t shot a buck,” he explains. “To make matters worse, I had started a new job about a year ago and didn’t have any vacation time. Other than the weekends, I was constrained to hunting the afternoons. My plan was to shower at work, then head straight for the stand from there.
“Early in the second week of October I pulled the memory cards from my trail cameras on the tree farm,” Bo said. “When I brought the pictures up on the computer, I couldn’t believe what I saw. There were pictures of a huge buck with a club-shaped drop tine on the left side, and he had 18 or 19 points. I nicknamed the buck ‘Southpaw’ and made up my mind to hunt him and settle for nothing less.
“I thought about the big buck all the time,” Bo said. “In fact, I started dreaming about him three or four times a week. It was crazy. From that point on I hunted every evening after work, and both morning and evening on the weekends. There’s no doubt, I was obsessed with the buck.”
“It was Oct. 26 when I got my first look at the buck,” the bowhunter notes. “Four does came meandering out of the pine trees to the north. They hung up about 40 yards out and started acting nervous and stomping around. Even though they were upwind, I suspected the wind was swirling and carrying my scent under the trees. For sure they knew something wasn’t quite right and eventually walked off and out of sight.
“I had just made a few blind grunts, and a couple minutes later I heard thrashing noises back in the thick cover of the pines,” Bo says of the first time he actually laid eyes on a colossal buck he called “Southpaw.”
“It sounded like a buck raking a tree and busting branches,” the bowhunter says of that initial sighting. “Heavy steps coming through the timber told me it was a buck closing the distance. Shortly after that, I spotted the unmistakable drop tine through the thick brush.
“Having a deer of that caliber closing the distance had me nervous, to say the least,” Bo admits. “Call it what you like, but it was a clear case of buck fever.
“When the buck reached the exact spot where the does caught my wind, he came to an abrupt stop. He jerked his head up and started sniffing the wind. It was a 40-yard shot, but there was just too much brush in the way. I thought to myself, I’ve just ruined the stand and any chances of shooting this deer.
“About that same time, he let out a loud snort and trotted back towards the thick cover,” Bo continues. “He snorted at least four or five more times before it got quiet. I was just sick about the whole ordeal, but sat until dark before climbing down.
“Oct. 28 found me heading to the same general area, but to a stand within eyesight of the cornfield,” Bo says. “The field had just been picked, so I figured it would be my best bet.
“It was just getting light when three does came out of the pine trees and walked into the cornfield, maybe 100 yards away. They started acting funny, looking back toward the pine grove. I figured something was following behind.
“Not long after, I spotted movement along the timber edge. I took a closer look through the binoculars and realized it was the drop-tine buck. I was excited, to say the least.
“I watched the buck for a good half-hour pushing the does around the field,” Bo continues. “Eventually they all ran back into the pines and disappeared. I figured they were bedded down for the day. Rather than risk bumping the buck leaving or coming back, I decided to sit
Knowing a big buck is nearby always makes it easier to stay on stand. And in this case, the hunter’s patience was rewarded with yet another sighting of his target trophy.
“There wasn’t much movement until 15 minutes before dark,” Bo says. “That’s when Southpaw came walking out of the pines behind the does. He wasn’t pushing the does, but instead just hanging out in the field. Eventually the does started meandering in my direction, but he just stayed in the field.
“It was getting close to the end of shooting hours, so I made a couple of soft grunts, attempting to draw him closer. He started coming but made a wide circle downwind.”
With Bo’s stand being inside the timber’s edge, light was fading rapidly. By the time the buck came within bow range, conditions were marginal.
“He stood right beneath the stand, grunting and thrashing trees,” Bo says. “I wanted to take the shot, but it was just too risky under the low-light conditions. Eventually it grew too dark to see, but I could still hear him. It was agonizing. Rather than take a chance bumping the buck walking out too soon, I sat for well over an hour before climbing down.”
By now, Southpaw had become a full-blown obsession. “Hardly a night went by that I didn’t dream about the buck,” Bo claims. “In fact, one night I actually dreamed that I killed him. Waking up that morning and realizing I hadn’t was absolutely depressing.”
“I took Halloween evening off to take the kids trick-or-treating,” Bo remembers. “On the way home from work I drove by my hunting area and saw an excavator and bulldozer parked near the field entrance. There was also a truck and several people in the field near my stand where the big drop-tine buck had been coming out.
“I was pretty mad and drove back to find out what they were up to,” Bo adds. “They told me they were with the University of Iowa Archeologist Society. The field was a possible site for a new highway coming through, and they would be doing survey work, excavating the ground for the next several days.
“Needless to say, I was pretty bummed out and wondered if anything else could possibly go wrong.”
Change of Plans
As hard as it might have been for Bo to keep a positive outlook on the quest for this buck, he wasn’t yet ready to throw in the towel.
“I have a couple other stands on the opposite side of the property,” he points out. “Considering the facts, I didn’t have much choice but to hunt one of them. For the next week I hunted my stand near the pond. I saw a few deer that week, including two bucks that hadn’t been seen before.” But Southpaw wasn’t among them.
“The archeologist crew took Sunday off, so that morning I decided to hunt the stand near the excavating site. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a single deer.”
“Sunday afternoon found me heading back to the same stand. The field was pretty torn up (from the team’s digging), and I remember thinking to myself that it couldn’t get much worse. Those thoughts had barely passed when two black Labs came running through the timber and across the field. Deer were running everywhere, but not the big one.”
By now, Bo couldn’t be blamed for feeling he was snakebit in the quest. But he soon found encouragement.
“Totally bummed out, I called my Uncle Gary on the way home and told him what had just happened. Gary said, ‘Good things come to those who pray.’ He was probably right, so that’s what I did.”
The Secret is Out
“Minus a couple close friends, I hadn’t told anyone about Southpaw,” Bo says. “However, after the archeology crew moved in, there were two vehicles parked down the hill just about every day.
“On Nov. 5, one of those hunters approached me with trail cam pictures of Southpaw working a scrape at 7:30 that morning. With the rut approaching, the buck was becoming increasingly visible during the daylight. I must admit, that had me more than just a little worried. The secret was out, and it was just a matter of time before someone shot the buck.”
For Bo, the good news was that the calendar was becoming more favorable for buck sightings. The bad was that deer patterns still were stirred up from all the recent human activity.
“The stand I chose (on November 8) had only been hunted once all season,” the bowhunter remembers. “Although the spot looked good when the stand was hung, I had absolutely no confidence hunting it. Nevertheless, it was time to change things up and try something different.
“Instead of going into the area the same way, I parked in a different location and took a different route to the stand,” Bo says. “I arrived at the stand around 3:00 without bumping any deer, so that was a plus.
“Two days before I had cut the tarsal gland off my neighbor’s buck,” he says. “So before settling in, I hung it 20 yards upwind of the stand. With any luck it would give the dominant buck the idea that a rival buck had invaded his territory. If nothing else, it would make a good cover scent.”
For the first hour Bo saw no deer, and he spent most of that time pondering how to get the buck during late muzzleloader season. But as he was about to find out, there would be no need for such strategizing.
“Around 4 p.m., I ranged a couple of trails,” he recalls. “The first was a clearing 49 yards away. The second was 25 yards straight out in front of me. Nothing was happening, so I decided to grunt a couple of times, and followed up with a doe bleat.
“A few minutes later I looked down to check the time, and when I looked back up, I spotted the big antler frame coming through the timber,” Bo says. “It was Southpaw, and he was heading in my direction.
“He was walking slowly down the trail previously ranged at 49 yards. As he continued, I kept telling myself to concentrate on the shot, not the antlers. When he got to the 25-yard trail, he turned ever so slightly and continued toward the clearing.
“Knowing it would likely be the last time I’d see the buck, I was committed to taking the shot,” Bo continues. “Two steps before the clearing, I came to full draw. And the second his vitals were exposed, I settled the pin and hit the release.
“At the sound of the string he lunged downward, but not far enough. The arrow struck the spine, and he dropped to the ground. Instinctively, I nocked another arrow and finished him off.”
“I could see him lying there, 50 yards away,” the bowhunter recalls. “At that point I was shaking so bad I had to sit down for fear of falling out of the tree. A few minutes later I climbed down for a closer look. I was in disbelief—that is, until I grabbed his antlers. That’s when reality sank in. I had shot the buck of my dreams, literally.
“He had great mass, and I counted 19 points, including a 12-inch forked drop tine on the left side. I sat
for the longest time admiring his antlers and reliving the events from the past two seasons leading up to that moment. It was the experience of a lifetime.”
Bo’s wife, Terra, got the first call. Then, the hunter phoned his friend, Ben Thomson, and Bo’s brother, Luke. Both soon were on their way to help get the deer out. When they arrived at the Russell residence, “There were a bunch of people at the house,” Bo says. “About half of them I didn’t even know. But they had heard about the giant and came out to see it.”
Eventually, more became known. “I later learned that a young lady shot the buck in 2011 about a mile south of where I was hunting,” Bo says. “The arrow hit the right shoulder blade and didn’t get any penetration. That might explain why I didn’t see the deer during the 2011 season.”
Interestingly, Bo found a pocket of infection under the hide on the deer’s right shoulder, as well as marks from that 3-blade broadhead. Did the injury to the right shoulder in ’11 cause the deer to grow the drop tine on the left side in ’12? Nobody knows for sure.
Lots of Antler
In March, Bo had his rack officially measured at the Iowa Deer Classic. The giant had a gross score of 246 4/8 inches and a net of 231 4/8. That made him the second-largest bow kill entered from last season. And likely one of the hardest earned.