April 03, 2023
By Cameron Coble
The Van Fleet family from eastern Iowa is a serious group of deer hunters. Brothers Justin and Cody have followed in their dad, Steve’s, footsteps, all having taken their share of nice deer over the years. However, in the fall of 2016, the Van Fleet group had not been very successful hunting their usual spot near the city of South English, Iowa.
Unsure what to do, the men decided to go try a different parcel of family land that Steve’s mom had elsewhere in Keokuk County. They’d never hunted deer on this particular farm before, as Steve’s mom had always told them there were no deer on it. As it turned out, that change of scenery proved to be an excellent choice! Older brother Cody shot a 209-inch buck off the new hunting spot the very first season the men hunted it. Obviously, the Van Fleet’s knew then that the property had deer — and some big ones.
Now, let’s fast forward to the summer of 2020, when the Van Fleet trio were out running trail cameras on the property. Upon getting back to the truck with a handful of SD cards to sift through, Cody sat in the backseat and accepted the job of checking them on the drive back home to Cedar Rapids.
It was only a few minutes later when Cody blurts out: “Giant buck, giant buck! It’s a 200-incher.” Whatever, man! Yeah right. Justin thought to himself, riding shotgun. Then Cody turned the SD card viewer around so Justin could see the screen.
And sure enough, with his own eyes Justin saw the massive whitetail. His brother wasn’t lying, and Justin was in awe. The deer was instantly dubbed “Double Trouble” by Justin because of the drop tines on the near end of each main beam. Going into the fall, that deer was the Van Fleets’ main target buck.
The three men each bowhunted the farm in pursuit of the giant. Justin had several encounters with the giant buck, including one close call. “I was hunting one morning in early November with a decoy,” Justin remembers. “I had placed the decoy out in front of me overlooking a grass field. Around daybreak, I caught sight of movement. It was a doe heading my way, and she was looking back behind her. In tow was Double Trouble. He caught sight of my decoy, but he wouldn’t come any closer than 70 yards.
“The buck just hung up out there surveying the area and watching the doe for over a half hour,” Justin continues. “I noticed something about him that morning, too. He had a gimp to his walk. It looked like it was his front hoof or leg, and he carried it heavily when he’d move.”
Justin had been holding onto his bow, anticipating a shot, but eventually he hung it back up. Finally, the doe decided she was done milling around in the grass field and headed right for the bowhunter. And Double Trouble was right behind her. “The buck hung up again at 50 yards,” Justin recounts. “I wasn’t too confident on taking a wide-open shot at him standing in the tall grass field. He was still fixated on the doe, but I didn’t want to risk it. Eventually, she did come by my stand within shooting distance, and so did Double Trouble!
But he was moving too fast, trotting by me at just 25 yards away. No shot presented itself.”
Being a gun hunter too, Justin kept his hopes alive once bow season ended. He felt he could get another good look at the deer later in the year. Opening day of Iowa’s first gun season is always the first Saturday in December, and that day all three Van Fleets hunted the farm Double Trouble was living on. Justin went to an old, trusted stand, deep in the timber where he’d shot several nice bucks in previous years. There was not much cover in the tree, but it had worked in the past. Steve hunted a box blind some distance away, and Cody sat in his chosen spot.
Around 11:00 a.m., with not much action and a grumbling belly, Cody decided to get down from his stand and grab a bite to eat back at camp. The plan was to meet up with his dad and head back to take lunch. However, unbeknownst to Cody, while exiting the stand he bumped Double Trouble — and the deer headed right towards his dad!
Steve was just climbing out of his box blind when the action unfolded. He remembers: “I had just gotten to the bottom of my box blind, and I looked up to see Double Trouble standing not 20 yards from me. I had no gun in hand, so all I could do was watch in disbelief. Talk about bad timing!” Justin was still in his stand hunting while the debacle unfolded. And he had no idea the buck was now headed his way in a hurry.
“I looked up and caught sight of Double Trouble at around 80 yards,” Justin says. “I instantly knew it was him by his front leg’s gimpy walk. I looked ahead and saw where my shot would be. I had a roughly 6-inch opening in the trees to shoot.
I pulled up and anticipated the shot. As soon as he hit the opening, I fired! The shot was rushed, and I saw the buck take off out of sight. “I scrambled down from my tree to go investigate but found no blood,” Justin continues. “I was sick. I went and got Cody for help tracking. We looked and looked for blood and just didn’t find much. We were probably two hours into the track job, and things were looking grim.”
Around that time, Steve called Justin’s cell phone to check how the search was going. But then Cody called out to Justin from the opposite side of the valley. Cody yelled out: “I found your buck! He’s over here.” Justin cautiously approached from a distance, investigating the scene. It was evident the deer was dead and had been for several hours. That’s when the celebrating began.
“I picked up his head and couldn’t believe how big the antlers were,” says Justin. “I also noticed the buck had broken off both of his drop tines. I checked out his hoof injury, and it was evident his front hoof was half torn-off down to the nerve — thus causing his limp.
“Right when I got back up to our camp with the buck, I was alone with the deer when a truck quickly pulled up,” Justin continues. “It was the local game warden, who was just out doing regular checks. He asked for my license and congratulated me on a fine buck.”
Justin loaded up and headed back to Cedar Rapids to take the buck to the locker. It wasn’t 10 minutes after he left that he got a call from Dad. “I was on the road when my dad called me back telling me to turn around and bring my buck back to show some locals,” Justin laughs. “It seems the game warden told a few people about me killing the buck. I pulled into our camp awaiting a small crowd of onlookers wanting to see my deer. They all congratulated me, which was neat.”
I was fortunate to meet up with Justin and officially score his buck for entry into the Boone & Crockett record book. The buck has an impressive non-typical gross score of 224 2/8 inches, and a net of 214 6/8 inches. Had the two drop tines not broken at the end of the beams, the buck would have easily grossed in the mid 230s.
Double Trouble still scored high enough to take first place at the 2021 Iowa Deer Classic in the shotgun category. Cody’s buck, the 209-inch gross, 206-inch net non-typical, taken in 2016, also won first place at the 2017 Iowa Deer Classic.
You wouldn’t ever recommend someone to start their search for a 200-inch buck on a farm that is rumored to “not have any deer on it.” But hey, for these two brothers from Iowa, it’s a strategy that paid off big time!