Growing up in Greene Co., Iowa, I was never very good at sports. For that reason, Dad jokingly said I was a “punk kid.” But I didn’t spend my days running around with the kids in town causing trouble or chasing the girls till I was blue in the face. Instead, I was interested in hunting.
At a young age I caught the hunting bug from my grandpa and my dad, and I was infected. My dad shot traditional archery, so that’s how I was brought up. My grandpa was the first person recorded in Greene Co. to kill a deer with archery equipment since primitive times. When I was a kid, I would watch Dad shoot and think, “Dang, I want to do that!”
My first hunting bow was a Ben Pearson Hunter with a 40-pound draw weight. It had belonged to my grandpa. The bow had never killed a deer, but I was determined to change that. On a snowy Christmas day as a young bowhunter, I fulfilled that goal by taking my first deer. It was a giant doe that fell to a perfectly placed cedar arrow.
Hooked after that experience, I thought constantly about bowhunting. I worked on my shooting, and before I was a junior in high school graduated to a 50-pound Herter’s bow that belonged to Dad. I killed a small buck the first fall I hunted with this “new” bow, and later that season I also filled a doe tag behind our house. To that point, it was my best season.
In 2008, as a sophomore in college, I bought my first compound bow. All my friends were shooting them, and I couldn’t believe how successful they were at killing deer. They’d stack them up! During my time hunting with a compound, I was very successful. In fact, I was fortunate enough to kill three bucks each grossing over 170 inches, as well as multiple 140- to 160-class bucks.
Fast-forward to the summer of ’19. I’d been filming with Advanced Whitetail Systems and the Deer Society for the past year. After killing a great mature buck on video in ’18, I felt it was time for a change. I wanted to take up traditional archery again.
That change manifested itself during the spring ’19 turkey season, when fellow videographer and deer-hunting fanatic Colton Hall and I decided to chase turkeys with our traditional gear. On a beautiful late-April morning here in southern Iowa, we tripled out of the same blind! Colton took two gobblers with his longbow, and I took one with my recurve. I was hooked again, just as I had been as a kid.
Colton and I made the commitment to go all traditional or bust. So a pact was made to hunt only with traditional bows in the upcoming deer season.
It was at about then that one of my dreams — owning hunting land — became a reality.
I’d always wanted to be a landowner, but I never thought it would be possible. Financially, buying land is a daunting idea. That’s a lot of money. Loans can be hard to get, as most banks don’t like the idea of lending on recreational ground. So I had to search and find a lender who was willing to work with me.
Not really knowing anything about the whole process, I asked for guidance from my mom and stepdad. Both have a lot of experience buying land, and they happened to be looking to invest some money in a new property, as well.
After looking at several farms, we were drawn to a 35-acre piece that seemed to be all we were looking for in a small hunting tract. Nestled in the middle of big section of prime whitetail habitat, the farm had open fields of warm-season grasses on the north and south sides with a big timber system running northwest to southeast.
I knew the combination of ridges, funnels and three sides of access would prove a deadly setup for whitetail hunting. So we contacted the real estate agents and walked the farm.
Our offer was accepted, and after closing, we got to work. We cleared and seeded two small green plots: one on the north end of the farm, the other on the south end. Next we installed 5-foot tower blinds on each plot.
My plan was to hunt the fringes. By staying out of the plots but not going too deep into the cover, I’d be able to check deer numbers and analyze age structure. Also, I’d start to understand how deer used the farm.
After monitoring my cellular trail cameras through September, I witnessed exactly what I’d expected: an occasional mature buck and a bunch of does, yearlings and young bucks. But as October drew near, the number of deer seen starting to decrease. As it turned out, one of our nightmares had come true: We learned that epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) had started to take its toll on the southeast Iowa County landscape. We went from what neighbors had called one of the highest deer density areas to slim pickings in about four weeks.
EHD can kill very quickly and can decimate a herd. We weren’t the only county affected; it tore across southern Iowa just as it had back in ’12, leaving everyone in a state of panic.
Oct. 1 kicked off archery season and brought some of the best weather conditions I can remember. It was downright chilly during the first part of the month. In fact, it was almost too cold; the first couple times we hunted from the tower blinds, we had to break out the heaters!
But even with these crazy good cold fronts, deer movement was slow. Complicating things was an extremely wet fall. Crops were standing everywhere. (They’d remain in some places until December, when it finally dried enough for most of the farmers to get their crops out of the fields.)
As I continued to monitor the cellular cameras, prior to opening up my phone each time I’d visualize a giant buck working a scrape tree or checking my food plots for does. Those visions just didn’t seem to want to materialize, though, leaving me scratching my head as we started our hunting vacation.
We just weren’t seeing the number of mature deer we had in most “normal” years. We had to think a lot of the changes were due to the standing crops. I devoted most of my vacation time to filming my better half, Nicholette, attempting to take her first buck.
That plan all came together on the final morning of vacation, and we were on cloud nine! Up to this point, we’d done most of our hunting down south on farms other than my own. I just didn’t want to push too hard into my farm until something worth pursuing showed up.
November came in like a lion, and the cameras on my farm were on fire one day and dead the next. Sounds typical of the rut, right? At that point, I figured it would take a newcomer “hot” doe to bring a big boy around long enough for me to get a chance.
After a close call self-filming on Nov. 18 on a farm near home, I figured my chances of killing a mature buck were fleeting. But I knew I’d made things more challenging by going back to my roots and bowhunting with a recurve, as my grandpa and my dad had their entire lives. Quite honestly, I was prepared to eat my tag. However, Colton and I made the pact to hunt the entire season using traditional bows, and I made the promise to myself that it was the only way I was going to bowhunt from there on out.
On Friday, Nov. 22, I finished up a normal morning at work and jetted off to my farm shortly after lunch. I planned that Nicholette and I would do all-day sits the entire weekend. Since it was late in the rut and deer numbers were low, I knew mature bucks that were still out cruising would really have to cover some ground to find those last available does.
I pulled into the farm and sprayed down with Illusion Systems Gear Cleaner and PhaZe scent-control spray to be as scent-free as possible while hanging a new set. The weekend prior, in the northwest corner of my farm I’d spotted a bottleneck on a ridge that was covered in buck sign. Some mature buck surely would check those big rub and scrape lines while searching for remaining does over the next few days.
With a southwest wind forecasted, on the side of the ridge I picked a spot that would be perfect for an all-day sit the next day. The location was near the center of the top of the ridge.
Through the years, I’ve learned that most deer movement isn’t on top of a ridge except at night. Instead, I’ve found mature bucks like to utilize the side of a ridge, running parallel to the top, when cruising in the daylight. This limits their exposure while still being able to scent-check anything in front of them.
There was a split-trunk oak with good backdrop cover at about 18 feet, exactly where I needed it to be. To the right was a tree with the canopy busted off and hanging down, providing great cover if a mature buck worked down the middle of the ridge past me from the north.
Deer couldn’t travel on the downwind side of the stand location, due to blowdowns and a deep, nasty creek bank. That forced all deer activity upwind of my selected tree. I knew calling from this position would be bulletproof. After managing to get the set hung and a couple shooting lanes cleared in front of me in about an hour and a half, I sneaked out and drove home.
Nicholette and I woke on Nov. 23 to a hard frost at the house. In the hour drive to the farm the temperature jumped 10 degrees, and the air seemed a bit more humid. Upon managing to make it into the tree without spooking any deer, we climbed in and got set for an all-day sit.
At 7:00 a.m., my cell cam sent me three pictures. I couldn’t believe it. All season long I’d not received one picture of a buck that would score over 150, yet standing there at my scrape tree just after 6:00 a.m. was a giant! I turned the phone to Nicholette, who was sitting with me in the new stand set. “Oh my God, babe!” she exclaimed. We had a little celebration in the tree waiting on first light.
As shooting light crept in, I decided it was time to grab the Black Rack rattling antlers and Extinguisher grunt call to start the morning off right. After a short calling sequence, a small 2 1/2-year-old buck came flashing in, trying to figure out where the show was playing. We froze and waited for him to work his way north, still searching for the party.
After some quiet chitchat with Nicholette, I grabbed the Black Rack at 7:40 and gave them another short thrashing. I threw some directional grunts over my left shoulder to create the notion the battle was upwind, to the south of our tree.
After the final grunt, that same young buck came charging back at us on the same line he’d entered from earlier. Nicholette was videoing the small buck when I heard that unmistakable deep grunt only an old buck can make.
“I heard a buck grunt!” I said to Nicholette. “I can’t see him, but it’s a mature buck.”
The big buck was on his way and coming quickly. I reached for the recurve hanging beside me as he was breaking branches while walking toward us on a mission. The fight I’d portrayed to him was on his turf, and he wanted to know who was uninvited.
Nicholette swung the camera on the buck just as he neared our view from underneath the blown-over canopy to our right. I reached above me to turn on the second-angle camera, then readied for the possible shot of my lifetime.
Stopping after coming out from behind the hanging canopy, the bruiser began to survey the situation for what seemed to be an eternity. I remember thinking: Just commit to the ridge and keep walking, buddy! You have to find that fight. Keep walking, dude.
Those 15 seconds seemed like forever. But then he resumed his mission. As he walked behind the last tree before entering my shooting lane, I drew my recurve to anchor. Then, as he cleared the brush at just 10 yards, I let out a grunt to stop him.
Seconds later, and before the buck’s head turned to see what had interrupted his mission, my Victory-powered Zwickey broadhead entered the boiler room and hit the offside shoulder. Wheeling around, the buck bounded up the ridge, pumping blood the entire way. I knew he was mine!
At that moment, I knew my life as a hunter had come full circle. Everything I’d done thus far in my deer career had just come back around. From growing up traditional hunting with my dad to investing in this new property with my mom and stepdad, I felt no shortage of emotions flooding over me. And for Nicholette to be there with me, after shooting her first buck about a month earlier, just made it even more special.
After a short trailing job, I recovered and tagged the buck. Then Nicholette and I just sat beside him and enjoyed the moment. After that, the best part of the day was calling my dad and mom to tell them of the morning’s good fortune. They were just as excited as we were!
After we got home, we were finally able to relax and take it all in. Once word had traveled that I’d killed the big typical, a neighbor reached out to me to ask if he could view the buck. It turns out, he’d been hunting the deer pretty hard.
I didn’t know what kind of reaction to expect. But after viewing the buck, he congratulated me and said, “Welcome to the neighborhood, Jake!” This meeting brought about a great friendship between the two of us. He gave me all sorts of trail cam pics of my deer and showed me where he thought the buck had been living.
During the ’19 second shotgun season, a neighboring hunting group had even found the buck’s left-side shed antler from the previous year. This indicated the buck’s home range was even bigger than we’d thought. I was lucky enough to obtain the shed from the person who found it, which was a blessing. Yet another neighbor had pictures of the buck in velvet from ’17, when we estimate he was going on 4 1/2 years old.
This new farm is an exciting project that has only just begun. I have plans to incorporate Advanced Whitetail Systems setups within the property, such as hinge-cut bedding areas, food plots and warm-season grasses. In addition, I’ll be manipulating stand sets to suit my traditional bowhunting range. The goal will be to bring deer in close, as in 20 yards or under. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
I call my farm “the right 35 acres.” It earned the name not because of how good the hunting is, but because of my neighbors and the friendships that it has created. Along the way, I’ve realized I can’t do any of this by myself. I need family and friends. I can say with certainty that I have the best of both! The farm, like my new dedication to traditional archery, is an awesome journey that has only just begun.