Jeff Dolash Buck: 188-Inch Iowa Bruiser
March 17, 2015
Jeff Dolash of Victor, Iowa, looks forward to every December gun season and getting together with a group of friends to hunt in Poweshiek County. For these sportsmen drives are the method of choice, as they try to push deer past waiting standers.
Jeff doesn't claim to be a trophy hunter. But even he was impressed with a buck that last December decided to escape one of their drives via the back door. And well the hunter should have been — for this deer was big enough to anchor first place in the typical firearms category at the 2014 Iowa Deer Classic.
A Different Goal
Jeff loves deer racks. But his trophy goals are . . . well, just a bit different.
"I've been collecting European mounts for a few years," he says. "My goal is to have one mount of every antler configuration, ranging from a spike to a 12-pointer. Prior to last year, I was missing a spike and a 6-pointer for my collection. And I was really hoping to shoot a spike."
"My friend Sammy Kuntz introduced me to a group of hunters several years ago," Jeff continues. "The group was organized by Chris and Curt Willett, so I guess you could call them the trail bosses. There are six regulars, and occasionally one or two more that take part in the drives. There's also Chris' wife, Kandi. Of course, there's Sammy, as well as Eric Hodina and myself. They're all good people, and I really look forward to getting together with them each year."
The Big Day
When gun season began, there was no hint a world-class buck was going to end up with a tag on him. Jeff got an 8-pointer on the opener, but only does were shot over the next three days.
"Wednesday (fifth day of the season) was my birthday, so my dad and I drove up to Red Wing, Minnesota, to go fishing for the day," Jeff says. "It was a great trip, and we brought back our limit of walleye and sauger.
"Thursday was cold and windy, and we didn't shoot any deer. I worked Friday but convinced my supervisor to let me off work two hours early. I met up with the group around 1:00. They'd been hunting all day and had shot a couple of deer.
"We only had six people but decided to run a drive through a gnarly 80-acre piece of timber surrounded by crop fields on the north, south and west sides," Jeff says. "I had been having back problems prior to that day but was feeling pretty spunky and volunteered to be one of the drivers. The timber is thick and overgrown with multiflora rose briars. It's easy to get tangled up in that stuff, so I put on my Carhartt coveralls.
"We pushed the pasture ground first and then continued through the timber toward the standers posted on the edge. I was feeling pretty good for the first 500 or 600 yards, but then my back started getting tight. After another 200 yards my legs were tingling and started going numb. The drive is probably a mile long, and I had already stopped several times. It was getting so painful I was beginning to wonder whether I could finish the drive.
"About that time, my legs went numb and I fell to the ground in the middle of the field," the hunter recalls. "At that point I couldn't walk and felt like my world was coming to an end. I rolled over onto my back, pulled out my cell phone and called Chris. I told him my legs were numb and I didn't think I could make it any farther. I asked if he could come and get me. He said, 'Try to make it to the road, and we'll pick you up there.'
Eventually Jeff was able to get up and make it to the road. Lying on the roadside shoulder, he waited for the rest of the group to pick him up.
"By the time they arrived, my back and legs were hurting so bad I just wanted to go home," Jeff says. "Chris wanted to make one more drive before dark but knew I couldn't walk any more. I really considered sitting out the last drive.
"I figured I could take a stand, so Eric dropped me off near an old fence line and told me to stand close to a little brushpile. Eric went to the tree line where a creek meandered through and posted there. The rest of the group went to the other side of the property and started the drive," Jeff notes.
"While I was standing there, my back started hurting again," he says, "and I couldn't think of anything but getting the day over with and going home. It was probably a half-hour later when I heard rustling noises on the hilltop. There was no doubt deer were coming my way."
"I had no more than gotten ready when a spike came running out of the timber and stopped maybe 60 or 70 yards away. That got me pretty excited, knowing I could possibly add the spike I needed for my collection of European mounts. The adrenaline was pumping, and I completely forgot about my legs or back hurting. I could hear more deer coming, but I was focused on shooting that spike.
"I pulled up the Remington 1100 and found him in the iron sights," Jeff says. "I was slowly squeezing the trigger when I caught movement out of the corner of my right eye.
"That's when I saw a giant set of horns running directly toward me. Just the sight of the huge buck had startled me, and when I glanced over, the gun went off. I missed the spike completely, and he took off running. At that instant, I knew I'd never live it down if this buck (the big one) got by me. It was probably the first time in my life I didn't stare at the horns.
"As the giant ran toward me I shot twice, then two more times as he ran by at 15 yards," Jeff says. "At that distance I never thought about leading him and knew the last two shots were far from perfect. I was out of shells, so instinctively I shoved two more into the magazine."
But then Jeff had to hold up.
"The buck was running directly in the line of fire with the spot where the drivers would be coming out of the timber, so I had to wait. It seemed like eternity. But when he got to about 80 yards, I figured it was safe to shoot. I found him in the sights again and took two more quartering-away shots. I heard a thud on the last shot, and knew it was a solid hit.
"The buck staggered but continued across the field and disappeared at the edge of the creek bank," Jeff relates. "The strip of timber is probably only 40 or 50 yards wide, so I could see both sides. I watched for the buck to run out the other side, but it never happened. I figured he'd gone down.
"Knowing I'd probably killed the biggest deer of my life had the adrenaline pumping, and I'd completely forgotten about my back," Jeff says. "My only thoughts were of going after the big buck. But the drive wasn't over yet. A rustling noise drew my attention toward a doe that had just popped out of the corn field maybe 50 yards away. I pulled up and shot twice, but missed both times.
The hunter followed blood across the field to the tree line where he'd seen the buck disappear. There he met up with Eric along the creek. "Eric asked where the deer had gone," Jeff recalls. "I told him this was the spot where I'd last seen him and that I hadn't seen him come out the other side. Eric said he hadn't, either.
"I'd lost blood, so we started walking the creek," Jeff continues. "We hadn't gone far when I spotted his white tail sticking out from beneath a blowdown. I moved a little off to one side and saw the horns. They were absolutely huge, and I'm guessing people heard me screaming for miles away. Eric said, 'Where is he?' I said, 'Right here in front of you, dude!'
"I heard a noise and looked up and saw several deer running across the hillside, including two nice bucks. Eric started to take off and I said, 'Where you going?' He said, 'There are more deer coming out, and I'm heading over there.' As he walked away I said, 'Hey, dude, come back. My deer is right here. My deer is right here!'
"Eric kept going, but I couldn't resist and had to go after my deer," Jeff says. "As I approached, the antlers seemed to get bigger with every step. When I finally put my hands on them, reality sank in. I counted the points and came up with 12.
"I sent my dad a text: I just killed the biggest deer of my life. Next I sent a text to my buddy: Grand Pooba is dead! That's something we say when we've seen a big buck."
Jeff's dad had taught him to keep shooting until a deer is down, and he'd done just that. All six Remington slugs had hit the buck!
"When the drive was over, we met up with the drivers," the hunter says. "I got the buck field-dressed and we loaded him in the truck and headed to Chris and Kandi's house. That's when the jokes and ribbing started. One of the guys said, 'Why did you shoot that thing? It's pretty small.' Another said, 'I walked that entire timber. You shot six times and only got one deer?'
"Everyone stood around, trying to guess how big the deer was," Jeff says. "My neighbor, Chad Coburn, happens to be an official measurer for Pope & Young, so I asked him to come over. Of course, I knew it wouldn't be an official score, but Chad came up with a gross score of 198 inches.
"Within minutes, people started showing up to see the deer. Text messages and phone calls were coming in non-stop, mostly people congratulating me. I ended up turning off my phone around midnight. The next day was basically a repeat until that evening, when the calls finally stopped coming in," Jeff concludes.
Fate obviously played a huge role in this hunt's successful outcome. But when offered the chance at a monster, Jeff didn't let him get away.
"Although I considered sitting out the last drive of the day, I'm really glad that I didn't now," he says in a classic understatement. "There was a lot of luck on my part shooting this buck. I just happened to be the person standing in the right place at the right time. I'd like to thank all the hunters in the group that day. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't have taken the deer of a lifetime."
And it wasn't the end of his luck.
"I'd like to mention that on the last day of the season, I shot a spike buck," he adds. "So I guess you could say I shot two trophies last season."