Ben Thomson Buck: 239-Inch Hawkeye Hoss
November 05, 2013
Ben Thomson had no idea a big non-typical even existed in his Iowa hunting area last year. Then he pulled the memory card from one of his trail cameras, and everything changed.
"It all started back in August, when I was going through photos and discovered a giant non-typical on a farm I've been developing for better hunting," he recalls. "The buck had four drop tines, two of which were shaped like clubs. Best I could tell, he had 22 points and possibly more. To say I was excited would be an understatement. I nicknamed the buck 'Hoss,' and he became No. 1 on my hit list."
It's easy to see why. Ben had located a truly world-class deer. Even in Henry County, Iowa, those don't come along every day.
"My plan was to hunt the buck during the archery season, when his travel pattern would be the most predictable," Ben says. "If that didn't pan out, I'd go after him again during the late muzzleloader season."
"The farm is approximately 380 acres," Ben notes. "About half of that was planted in soybeans. Two small woodlots consume around 40 acres, and about 120 acres is CRP. The only other food sources were corn fields on the properties to the north and south."
Ben felt he needed to tweak the habitat, but he wasn't quite sure how. Then a buddy stepped in to lend a helping hand.
"The property had so much CRP, I didn't know where or how to start making habitat improvements," the hunter says. "My friend Jeremy Gabeline brought out some heavy equipment and helped me clear a couple areas for food plots. We burned off the CRP near the fence line and planted alfalfa. Little did I know then, but the alfalfa would play a key role in attracting and holding the buck on the property."
"The early muzzleloader tags (a resident-only season) went on sale about the same time I got those first pictures," Ben says. "I normally hunt late season, but my friends Bo Russell and Ryan Egan had been pressuring me to buy an early-season tag. Deep down I knew my best chances of shooting 'Hoss' would be early, while his travel pattern was somewhat predictable. Even so, I was reluctant to give up the late season.
"I work third shift, and Ryan called one morning to tell me there were only 80 tags left. The very thought of someone else shooting the buck haunted me to the point where I couldn't sleep. I got up and moseyed into the computer room and ordered a tag online."
What a choice that proved to be.
"From the trail cam photos and glassing, it was obvious the big buck was spending the majority of his time in a small willow patch in the middle of the CRP field," Ben says. "With the exception of one lone tree near the alfalfa food plot, there wasn't any means of getting closer to his core area. However, from there I could watch the entire CRP field, including the willow patch."
OCT. 1: 1st Sighting
"Hunting opening day of archery season (Oct. 1) has been a tradition, and this year wasn't any different," the hunter explains. "The wind was west-northwest that afternoon, so I decided to hunt the fence line stand."
Ben got to his spot a little later than usual, and it put him in a tight spot.
"I was caught off-guard by a doe that suddenly appeared while I was climbing into the stand," he says. "I stopped and scanned the CRP field and spotted a big 9-pointer walking down the waterway. It was the same buck that had been traveling with Hoss all summer.
"The buck continued slowly toward the corn field on the neighboring ground, but suddenly came to a stop and looked back. That's when I saw the antler tips of another deer emerging from a shallow swale. My heart skipped a few beats when I realized it was the drop-tine buck. It was the very first time I had laid eyes on him, and words can't even begin to express the excitement I felt at that moment.
"Another 20 minutes passed before both deer wandered from sight," Ben remembers. "My biggest dilemma then was getting back to the truck without being seen. Instead of taking the short route, I decided to walk all the way around the property. It took 45 minutes longer but proved to be the best alternative."
Catching a Poacher
"I wasn't able to get back out until the afternoon of Oct. 4," Ben says. "When arriving, I surveyed the area and spotted a Jeep parked along the fence line on the neighboring ground. I thought to myself, Ah, a little competition. Not a big deal, considering I'd seen someone rattling from a stand along the fence line before.
"I didn't think much more about it until a gun shot broke the silence. I thought, What the heck was that?
"Through the binoculars I saw a yearling doe running away from the stand on the neighbor's," Ben continues. "A short time later, I watched a guy climb down. He was carrying a gun and acting suspicious. Shortly after that he walked up to a doe lying on the ground. Almost immediately he whipped out a knife and began field dressing the deer. I couldn't believe my eyes. I got my cellphone out and called the local DNR officer and told him what had just happened. The officer asked for the exact location and said he would be there in 10 minutes."
While waiting for the officer to arrive, Ben watched the guy drag the doe into the brush, then cut a few tree branches to cover her.
"I saw the DNR coming down the road, and from my cellphone directed him to the exact spot where the guy was," Ben recalls. "Afterwards, the officer called me back to say thanks. The guy claimed he was squirrel hunting and couldn't resist the temptation when the doe and yearling came walking by.
"(To make a) long story short, the guy got two tickets and had his gun confiscated," Ben says. "I've never heard of anyone hunting squirrels from a treestand but have often wondered what he would have done, given the opportunity to shoot a big buck."
OCT. 5: 2nd Sighting
"The following afternoon the temperatures had dropped: just the type of weather one could only hope for in early season," the hunter says. "There was probably 45 minutes of shooting light remaining when the heavy 9-pointer appeared along the waterway. Shortly after came a 160-class 11-pointer I also had on trail camera.
"I was anticipating the drop-tine buck would show at any moment. Sure enough, not long after that Hoss appeared. Even at 200 yards, I was ecstatic to see him again. Like the first evening, he continued down the dry creek bed toward the corn field and eventually disappeared. I had seen eight bucks that evening, and my confidence was building."
OCT. 7: 3rd Sighting
"I didn't hunt the following day but decided to go out the next morning," Ben continues. "I hadn't hunted that stand in the morning and wanted to confirm the buck was using the same route leaving the corn field and going to his bedding area.
"Several deer passed through the first hour. Around 8:15, I spotted more movement. It was the drop-tine buck, following the creek bed toward the CRP field. Eventually he bedded down. Even from 200 yards I could see his antlers through the tall grass.
"Over the next 45 minutes, I watched him stand up and bed back down twice," Ben says. "I thought about trying a spot-and-stalk through the CRP, but knew my chances with a bow were slim at best. Rather than risk blowing him out of the area altogether, I climbed down and headed home. If his travel pattern remained the same, I was confident I'd get a crack at him in early muzzleloader, which was only a week away."
"It was tough to do, but I stayed clear of the area the entire week," Ben says. "My mother (Chris) and I went out to the range one evening to shoot the Encore, just to make sure it was still spot-on at 150 yards.
"The night before opening day, I asked another supervisor to come in early so I could hunt the next morning," the hunter explains. "I went home and gathered up my gear and took a scent-free shower. Rain was in the forecast, but nevertheless I headed to the stand anyway.
"It started raining shortly after sunrise, but I stayed in the stand until about 9:30. Although I had high expectations, only one doe came through the entire morning.
"I went to my brother-in-law's house, where some friends were gathering to watch the Iowa Hawkeye game. There was also a benefit softball game for my father-in-law that day. I hadn't slept since the afternoon before but agreed to watch our four kids so my wife, Juli, could play in the game."
So it wasn't exactly shaping up to be a memorable opening day of muzzleloader season. In fact, nothing that had happened to this point would suggest Ben's decision to grab one of those limited tags was a good one. Watching for a monster non-typical had been taken off the menu by a need to watch the kids. But things were about to change.
"The first few hours were hectic without sleep, but my father-in-law came by that afternoon and took our three oldest kids. Shortly after I called my aunt, Mary, and she offered to take our 4-month-old so I could slip out for the evening.
"All week the wind came from the northwest," Ben says. "But it switched direction to southeast when the rain moved in. The drop-tine buck had been traveling into the wind on every occasion, so I didn't have much confidence hunting the fence line stand, but headed there anyway."
During his first hour while on stand, Ben saw a doe but nothing else. The hunter decided to shift gears.
"Considering the wind direction, I figured Hoss would probably head toward the south side to feed in the soybeans," he says. "There are a couple of creeks that parallel the soybean fields on the south end that I could sneak along. I couldn't take sitting any longer and decided to climb down and try a little spot-and-stalking," Ben explains.
The Right Move
"Staying low in the creek bed, every so often I'd peek over the bank and glass the fields. There wasn't anything in the first field, so I continued toward the next. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything in that field, either. Needless to say, it was more than a little disappointing," the hunter notes.
"There was still plenty of shooting light remaining, so I decided to check one last field on the way back to the truck. Slipping along the creek to a spot where the soybean field bordered the timber, I peeked over the bank. I didn't see anything, so I continued toward the edge.
"I couldn't have taken more than two steps into the field when I spotted the big 9-pointer," Ben says. "As I scanned the field, I saw the drop-tine buck 50 yards beyond his buddy. By then, both deer were looking directly at me."
The hunter's next move was simply an instinctive one.
"I brought the gun up and cocked the hammer back," he says. "I looked through the scope and desperately tried to settle the crosshairs but couldn't. I was so excited — the crosshairs were wandering around the entire body and never came close to the vitals."
But then, Ben managed to recall the last text message he'd received from Bo that day: "If you get a shot, be sure to take a deep breath and gather your composure first."
"With that in mind, I took a deep breath and leaned into the gun and settled the crosshairs," Ben says. "The instant the gun went off, I ran through a cloud of smoke, expecting to see the buck running off. Instead, I was surprised to see him lying in the field.
"I don't think I've ever run that fast in my life," the hunter says. "I couldn't wait to put my hands on the rack. I remember lifting the head and saying to myself, Oh, my God! I finally got him! Almost immediately I called Juli to share the news. Afterwards, I sent a text to Bo and Ryan that said: 'BBD!'
"I've been known to be a practical joker, so it stands to reason why they didn't believe me at first. Long story short, they both met me at the house, and we went out to recover the deer."
A Colossal Rack
"For years my goal was to shoot a buck that would qualify for entry in the Boone & Crockett record books," Ben says. "No doubt this deer far exceeds my expectations and is truly the buck of a lifetime."
Indeed. The rack has 24 scorable points, 14 of those non-typical. Adding the 77 4/8 inches of abnormals to the gross typical 5x5 of 168 6/8 yields a gross non-typical score of 246 2/8; after deducting for asymmetry on the typical frame, the final score is 239 5/8. That makes the Thomson buck one of the best muzzleloader bucks ever from Iowa.
"I'd like to say thanks to Bo Russell and Ryan Egan for their persistence to buy the early muzzleloader tag," Ben says in reflection on the hunt for Hoss. "In addition, I'd like to thank Jeremy Gabeline. Without his help, I'm quite sure the property wouldn't have held a deer of this caliber."
Editor's note: If Bo Russell's name sounds familiar, perhaps it's because his own huge Iowa buck from last fall was in our September issue.