When Scott Moeller moved to Iowa from Wisconsin, he had no way of knowing if his lifelong dream of shooting a Boone & Crockett buck would ever become reality. But that was before he engaged in a multi-year quest for a buck called "Whiteface."
For years, this deer was fairly visible every summer. But once he shed velvet, his moniker might as well have been "Houdini." He'd vanish. Then, after the season, he'd reappear and stick around throughout winter — only to repeat the pattern the next year. It's not a rare pattern, but when the buck is a showstopper, it's a frustrating one.
Scott got hooked on whitetail hunting early, as boy in Wisconsin.
"I was 12 when Dad took my brother Ken and me to Sport Electric, a hardware store that also sold bows," Scott says. "He bought us a Bear Kodiak recurve. That next fall, I killed my first doe with that bow. The next year, I killed a 10-pointer. It only scored 110 inches, but for a 14-year-old to take it with a bow was a really big deal.
"When I turned 15, a local farmer I worked for gave me exclusive hunting rights on 15 acres of timber," Scott continues. "It might not sound like a lot, but I felt I had the world by the tail. I killed some nice bucks from that small woodlot and learned a lot about deer and hunting strategy in general.
"At the age of 20, I teamed up with my friend Scott Poppy and leased 170 acres of riverbottom ground," Scott says. "Quality deer management was just beginning to take off, so we embraced the philosophy and began managing for bigger and better deer. Scott and I made a pact that first year to not shoot anything smaller than an 8-pointer. Every year after that we raised the bar a little higher."
"I moved to Iowa for a couple of reasons," Scott says. "First and foremost, I wanted to start a construction business. And secondly, to pursue my passion for hunting big whitetails. When I first moved to Iowa in 2006, I went to work for a construction company. Three years later I partnered up with John Calacci to start our own business. Today we have approximately 200 employees.
"My wife, Janice, and I bought our first home in 2011. Our property butted up to a large block of timber. Problem was, our property wasn't big enough to hunt, and the owner of the timber didn't allow anyone to hunt. Nor did he hunt himself.
"Being an avid hunter, I searched for a place to hunt nearby," Scott notes. "But for the most part, all the hunting ground was either leased or spoken for. Eventually I found ground in southern Iowa and have been hunting there since."
But the area around Scott's home still intrigued him. And that intrigue cranked up with the discovery of a certain buck in the locality.
"I'd been watching one particular buck I nicknamed 'Whiteface' since we moved into our house," he says. "The buck had become a local legend. However, shortly after he shed his velvet, he'd disappear. I'm sure when he felt the first pressure of hunting season he retreated to his sanctuary in the big timber.
"Shortly after the season, the buck would reappear. In fact, at times Janice and I would have our noses planted on the picture window, watching him eat out of the bird feeder. It was exciting to watch, but at the same time painful knowing he couldn't be hunted," Scott admits.
The frustration was perhaps in part due to the fact it had been a few years since the bowhunter had taken a trophy, based on sky-high standards.
"I'd shot my last big deer in 2007: a 10-pointer that scored 168. Sure, I've had plenty of opportunities to shoot a big buck since — but with a dozen mounts already, Janice asked how many more I needed. Long story short, I made her a promise I wouldn't shoot or mount another deer unless it would make Boone & Crockett (net 170 typical or 195 non-typical). Keeping that promise resulted in a collection of several unfilled tags."
"In spring 2014 I looked for the buck's sheds but failed to find them," Scott says. "However, our neighbors, John Strauss and Rick Evers, each found one side. We measured the sheds and came up with a gross score of 186 without an inside spread.
"Shortly after that, I was talking to a neighbor down the road who'd recently retired. He mentioned he was thinking about selling the place. I don't think he had really made up his mind yet, but I asked how much he'd want for the place. It was only eight acres, but it jutted into the large block of privately owned timber. The timber is surrounded by crop fields, and for the most part the deer traveled through his property to get to it. Essentially, it was a travel corridor from bed to feed and vice versa.
"When he gave me a price, I didn't even hesitate to tell him I'd buy it," Scott says. "We took possession of the property in June, and by mid-July I was putting up trail cameras. By early August, I had pictures of 'Whiteface' and another buck I nicknamed 'Big 10.'
"To say I was excited about the upcoming season would be an understatement," the hunter recalls. "I went to work immediately planning food plots and stand sites, based on wind conditions. I continued to get pictures of both deer until they shed their velvet in September. At that time I figured Whiteface would go over 200 inches. Unfortunately, shortly after that, both bucks vanished without a trace."
Again Scott found himself wondering where the giant had gone. But he'd soon have an answer to that puzzle.
BOW SEASON KICKS OFF
"Beginning the first week of October, I hunted every weekend on the piece of ground in southern Iowa," Scott says. "I saw plenty of deer — and a couple nice ones, too. In fact, the first weekend in November the rut was getting under way, so I decided to sit all day. Over the course of the day, I had three different bucks come through that ranged from 150 to the mid-160s. The biggest was a wide 10-pointer I contemplated shooting. But I held off, not knowing for certain he'd top the 170 benchmark. I suppose it didn't help matters having Whiteface and Big 10 on my mind, either," Scott notes.
"I filmed the buck for 10 minutes while he made a scrape, and later I showed the video to a couple of friends. They told me I was crazy for not shooting that deer. I told them, 'A promise is a promise.'
"Fortunately, my job allows me to be more flexible with work hours," the bowhunter continues. "The first two weeks of November I normally try to hunt every day on the home place. I'd go to work early and leave around noon, giving me enough time to get home, shower and be on stand by 2:30.
"I hunted every afternoon the first week of November on the home place, and the number of deer I was seeing was absolutely crazy," Scott says. "I saw a couple of deer that were borderline shooters, but I continued to hold off. A couple of friends told me I was nuts for not shooting those deer. There were times when I questioned my own sanity.
"By the second week the rut was really going strong, but I still hadn't seen either buck on the home place," Scott says. "I got calls a couple of different times from neighbors telling me a big buck had been killed on the highway. Each time I'd go into panic mode and run to the scene to check it out. In both cases it wasn't Whiteface or Big 10. Even so, it was a little nerve-racking not knowing if they were alive or had just relocated."
PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF
"On Nov. 10, I went to work early and made plans to leave in time to hunt the afternoon," Scott recounts. "I was running a little late; it was probably 3:00 by the time I climbed into the stand and settled in.
"While texting Janice to let her know where I was hunting, a doe walked in from behind and stopped below me," he recalls. "I was frozen in an awkward position facing the tree and couldn't move. She started browsing below me, and I contemplated my next move.
"Suddenly, I heard a grunt and then the scuffling noise of a deer walking in the leaves. Whatever it was, it was coming fast. I couldn't get turned around, so I peeked over my right shoulder. That's when I saw Whiteface coming up the draw directly toward me.
"I was totally caught off guard. I set the phone down and started making slow, incremental moves to get turned around. My release was still in my sweatshirt pocket. By the time I started to put the release on, the buck had closed the distance.
"At 12 yards he stopped and looked straight at me," the bowhunter continues. "Again I was frozen in position and couldn't move. It seemed like eternity, but a few seconds later the buck turned his head to look at the doe. I tried to finish putting on the release, but the buck suddenly turned around and gave me the staredown. Ten or 15 seconds later he turned his head toward the doe a second time and made a couple of steps forward. He dropped his head and started making a scrape beneath a small tree, then raked his antlers in a deadfall. While he was busy doing that, I finished strapping on the release and grabbed the bow. When he finished making the scrape, he looked back at the doe and grunted, then made a couple steps toward her and stopped broadside. It was a bowhunter's dream shot — if I could get drawn back.
"Suddenly, the buck turned his head and looked straight away," Scott says. "I took the opportunity to draw, settle the pin and squeeze off the release. The buck kicked his hind legs into the air and charged off, running in a half-circle. He'd run probably 80 yards when I lost sight of him, but shortly after I heard a crash, and then it got dead quiet. At that point I lost it and couldn't function any more, so I had to sit down.
"I hadn't finished that text to Janice, so I sent one that said: 'BBD.'
"She texted back and asked, 'Which one?' And I answered, 'Whiteface.'
"I was certain the deer was dead but was torn between waiting or looking for him right away. I looked at my watch and it had been 22 minutes (since the shot). I couldn't take it any more, so I climbed down to take up the trail.
"At the sight of the buck, I started hyperventilating," Scott says. "The buck was absolutely huge. I lifted his head up and sat beside him. All my emotions came pouring out, and I couldn't help but get a little teary-eyed. I had such a deep respect for the deer, words can't express how thankful I was.
"The first person I called was Janice, and she asked if I had found the deer. I told her yes, and that he was at least a 200-incher.
"On the way I called my brother, Ken, to tell him the news. Next I called my longtime friend, Scott Poppy. When I got home I called my neighbor John Strauss and told him that I'd shot Whiteface. John said, 'I'm on my way!'
"When John arrived, we took the ATV down and loaded up the buck. When we got back to the house, all the neighbors came over. Most of them had been watching the buck for the past three years, and now they had chance to see him up close and take pictures.
"Afterwards, I took the buck to the Anamosa Bowhunters Club, a club I joined shortly after moving to Iowa," Scott says. "It was the same evening we had our monthly meeting, so there were quite a few people there. After the meeting we weighed the deer, and he tipped the scales at 226 pounds."
The 24-point non-typical rack has a gross 214 1/8, with a net of 209 0/8. Whiteface anchored third place in the non-typical division at the 2015 Iowa Deer Classic.
AND FOR AN ENCOREâ€¦
This could easily have been the end of Scott's happy Iowa hunting tale. But believe it or not, he turned around in October 2015 and shot another B&C buck on his land. This trophy netted 170 4/8 typical despite heavy deductions, giving Scott back-to-back B&Cs: one in each category. The deer placed fourth in the typical bow category at the 2016 Classic.
Scott Moeller fulfilled his lifelong dream by shooting a B&C-qualifying buck. For him to turn around and shoot another qualifier the following season is a testament to how little land it takes to actually provide serious antler opportunity. The right spot can clearly trump acreage.
What will the small tract of prime Iowa land produce down the road? That obviously remains to be seen. Regardless, it's easy to understand why Scott's new personal motto is, "If it isn't Boone . . . you shot too soon!"