My 2014 Iowa deer season got off to a later start than normal. In fact, the first week in November I still was trying to finish up my last few concrete jobs of the season so I could take some time off to get in a tree.
What I didn't know then was that the location of the year's last job would be a key piece of my harvesting one of the largest whitetails in the state.
I didn't think my year could possibly be better than 2013, when I'd been fortunate enough to take two bucks that each grossed over 180 inches. But as last fall unfolded, word of a "giant" buck was all over the neighborhood. Seems every day I was there working, either the homeowner or a neighbor or a nearby farmer would stop by to report they'd seen him in their headlights or that he'd actually crossed in front of them in daylight.
One of my good friends has a fair-sized piece of land across the gravel road from where I was pouring cement for a new garage. My hunting buddy and longtime friend Jarrod had permission to hunt that particular piece of ground. I helped him hang a tree stand, and we put up some trail cameras.
The next several days I swung in to check the cameras, as it was convenient with me working so close by. Our cameras were getting a few photos of the monster deer, but always at night and not in the same place each time. We continued moving cameras around, trying to capture a photo in the daylight to figure out his pattern. This buck really had us puzzled.
Finally we thought maybe he was living on the other side of the road and just passing through after dark. There's a small timber right beside the road, only a few acres. We found some big ground scrapes in there, so the landowner helped us hang another camera.
Jarrod stopped by to pull the card the next day, and sure enough, the massive buck was in several photos. I called the landowners and got permission to hang another stand in their tiny timber.
That day I went into the timber but couldn't find a good tree for a stand. Not only that, even if I could have found one, it just didn't seem logical to sit a mere 60 yards off a gravel road. So I left without hanging a stand or even having a real plan about what to do next.
The trail cam photos all suggested the buck was heading south out of the timber. So after a lot of thought, that evening I called the landowner of the piece just south of where we'd been focusing our efforts. As it turned out, no one else was bowhunting there. The landowner gave Jarrod and me the go-ahead and wished us luck.
That Saturday, Jarrod, my cousin and I we went in to scout this land. It was a long, thin piece mostly planted in corn, with a narrow, timbered ridge running along it. That ridge intersected with another one, appearing to form an ideal funnel.
We kept strolling through the corn and timber. Finally, as we'd almost reached the back of the property, Jarrod said, "There he is."
The buck had been bedded, and we'd just bumped him. He trotted into the corn, but not before we could see he was enormous.
Figuring the damage had already been done, we continued ahead to find the perfect stand location. Within only another 20 yards or so, I was in complete disbelief. Everywhere we looked were rubbed trees as big around as my waist and ground scrapes the size of small vehicles. It was obvious we'd just found the giant's home.
As we rounded the back corner of the corn, the three of us were standing there, discussing potential stand locations. Suddenly, we heard something coming through the corn. We all froze.
Up Close and Personal
What happened next was unbelievable. This absolute monster of a deer we were so obsessed with — the one that had just jumped out of his bed and fled the scene — walked back out of the corn. But that wasn't all. He proceeded to walk to within 15 yards of us and just stood there! And all we could do was just stare at him. Our bows were back in the truck!
I took out my phone and snapped a photo of this world-class whitetail standing right in front of us. He eventually caught some movement and bounded out of sight again.
Stunned at what had just happened, we quickly went to work hanging two stands. Then we placed a trail camera near each and slipped out of the area. Jarrod and I figured hunting the spot that evening would be a waste of time, considering we'd already twice spooked the huge animal. But we were really looking forward to the following day's hunt, and beyond. We both had a week off, and we planned on all-day sits until one of us got the deer or we ran out of time.
But the weather looked to be an issue. That night, the forecast called for east winds for the next two days. That was terrible news. We now had to wait until Tuesday to hunt those stands. With drastically colder temperatures also coming, we made a trip to Cabela's for warmer clothes and boots.
Monday night I was talking to my friend who, with along his son, rents the crop ground we'd be hunting the next morning. He informed me they might be combining the corn back there late that night. It would depend on how much progress they made with other fields. That was potentially more bad news. To my way of thinking, our "great" spot wouldn't be so great without all of that standing corn helping funnel deer through the back corner. But in the meantime, Jarrod and I were going on in after the monster.
Tuesday Nov. 11, we awoke to ground-covering snow, 20-30 mph winds and bitter cold. The high temperature was predicted to reach only the teens. I met Jarrod before 5 a.m. to ensure we beat the big deer to that spot. We wished each other luck and went our separate ways around the corn, though our stands were only 150-200 yards apart.
As I walked in, I noticed no deer tracks in the fresh snow, so I knew I shouldn't have any bedded on the ridge yet. I soon settled into my stand to wait the new day.
Several small bucks passed by my stand before good light. Then, as dawn broke, I heard cornstalks cracking. My mind began to spin. Out walked a nice 9-pointer, which traveled through and soon disappeared again.
It had been light for about a half-hour when I spotted a doe down the ridge, browsing in the area from which I expected the large buck to come. I figured that after she moved off, I might try a rattling sequence. But as it turned out, I never needed to. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw the giant buck — heading my way! In fact, he was coming along the corn, walking right in my boot tracks from before daylight. He was 70 yards out and closing on a steady walk.
When the buck was about 35 yards from me, I drew my Mathews Chill and got ready for the shot. But he never offered one as he continued to close the gap. Soon he was almost right under me.
When a Plan Comes Together
I was scared that if I let the giant pass and then tried to turn in the tree, he'd bust me. So I made the decision to stop him at seven yards, almost at the base of my tree. He looked straight at me as I released an Easton arrow tipped with a 100-grain G5 T3 expandable broadhead.
The buck bolted into the corn and disappeared, headed straight toward Jarrod's stand location. As I stood there, I couldn't believe what had just unfolded. I race stock cars on dirt tracks, and the feeling I had right then was a thousand times better than winning a race.
I tried to stay calm as I and kept looking at my phone, but time was dragging; three minutes felt like an hour, and the frigid wind was brutal. I forced myself to wait 15 minutes, then called Jarrod.
"Please tell me you got him," my frozen friend answered, "so I can get down."
Jarrod hadn't seen the buck, so I knew my hit must have been fatal. Knowing how big the deer was, I'd already come up with a plan for what to do if I shot him. I called the local Department of Natural Resources officer and a couple of other lawn enforcement officers who live nearby. I wanted them to come to the site to verify the legality of my harvest. I also called my friend Tyler Rinken with Tyler Rinken Photography to come out and get some awesome shots in the field.
I asked Jarrod to go to the road, so he could meet the crew and escort them back to my stand. But I didn't get out of my tree, because I wanted the entire scene documented by witnesses before further disturbing the snow. As you can imagine, it was the longest hour of my life. I kept busy calling people as I waited.
Finally Jarrod arrived with the sheriff. When they got to my tree, I asked if there was any blood in the corn where the deer had bolted into the field. They reassured me it was everywhere. I climbed down, and we took up the trail. The deer had made it only 60 yards before expiring. His massive rack had ripped corn out of the ground as he'd run; his rack was full of corn stalks streaming down the length of his body. You could hardly see him under the pile.
As we were staring in amazement, the other sheriff, a DNR officer and more friends showed up, along with the land renter and adjoining landowner. Everyone helped drag out the deer, and Tyler went to work taking some great photos. I was lucky enough to have my girlfriend, Keegan, and 3-year-old son, Kyzer, there to share in the memories as well.
We stopped by my dad's house to show him the buck, then took the trophy to our deer camp. It was nonstop people all day and night coming to check out the magnificent animal. We also looked at our trail camera cards that night. As it turned out, the day we'd hung our stands and twice bumped the deer, he'd come by Jarrod's stand before dark that same evening!
We rough-scored the 22-point rack at 244 gross inches. More than three months later, he was officially measured at the Iowa Deer Classic at a gross of 240 0/8 and a net of 232 7/8. That made him the biggest whitetail registered from Iowa last season, in terms of net inches of antler. He's also the top-scoring deer ever shot in Winneshiek County.