Olivia Miller Buck: 183-Inch Iowa Hoss

miller_buck_fYou might find this story hard to believe. For my part, I find it hard to decide how to tell.


Spring 2011 found me stomping the woods in my family's Iowa hunting area, looking for bone. In an area in which I'd found numerous sheds over the last 15 years, I picked up a small one from a deer that looked to have tremendous potential. Although it appeared to be from the buck's second (or possibly even first) rack, the antler already had a nice split G-2 tine and six typical points. Even in a trophy state like Iowa, that's a buck with apparently great potential.


The following fall, I was scouting for a good deer for my young daughter, Olivia. In the process of doing so, I saw this deer one evening. And wow — what a jump he'd made! He'd gone from around 120 inches (assuming the previous year's sides had matched) to an estimated 160. He had really long tines and a super-white rack.

I tried to get trail cam photos of the buck, just to confirm his size, but to no avail. We never hunted him that year, but I knew I'd be shed hunting the area again come spring.


Now let's fast-forward to Jan. 5, 2013. That's when Mattie, my shed-hunting Labrador retriever, and I went for our first pilgrimage of the year. The second shed we found was one of the sheds off that buck from the year prior. It was a little broken up, but clearly the buck had made a huge jump from the previous year. I was determined to find the remaining side.

After numerous shed forays over the next two-plus months, in March Mattie found and brought me the other side, totally unassisted. It was shed No. 82 for the year and a dandy. And that's the reason this deer became the "80-80" buck: the matching antlers were found 80 days and 80 sheds apart.

miller_3I was now on a mission to help Olivia bag this fine deer. We already had permission to hunt the area the buck called home, but after finding out we also could plant a food plot, I liked our chances even more. Late July found us pushing some dead trees off the selected area and then tilling, fertilizing and planting.

Even though rain was scarce, the plot took off. The day I planted, I also hung a couple stands and brought in some dirt, mineral and cherry flavoring. I was hoping to get some trail camera photos of the deer if he was in fact using the area as his summer range.

I didn't want to put the mineral onto the ground, because it would be in the soil within the area we were going to hunt, and that constitutes illegal baiting here in Iowa; so, I cut off a blue barrel and mixed up the concoction in it.

Apparently it was too late in the year for much mineral use. Deer really never even touched the mixture until I dumped some apples next to the barrel. But finally, after about a month, I was shocked when I got the first pictures of the buck we were chasing. At that point, he was still in velvet. With only a couple weeks until youth season, I pulled the barrel and made sure there were no apple remnants in the plot.

As we got no hard-antlered photos of 80-80 on that plot after pulling the barrel, our hopes weren't too high. Still, we had to try the area.

The first day, Sept. 21, we didn't hunt. The wind was wrong for the location. The second day brought a perfect southerly breeze, but no bucks; we only saw about a half-dozen does and fawns. However, the third evening of the season was one to remember.

I picked up Olivia from school about 5:15 p.m. We were rushed for time but made it to the stand and got settled in at about 5:45. Shortly after that, my daughter enjoyed chicken and rice with some crackers and Gatorade. (I found out there's no way a growing 8-year-old can make it until 8 p.m. to eat dinner.)

At about 6:25, the only buck I had recent photos of — a forkhorn — came walking right down the trail to the food plot. As the velvet-racked youngster fed in the plot, he seemed really nervous and kept looking about. Sure enough, several minutes after that buck had appeared, I saw long, white tines coming. It was him!

I looked him over really well ( even though it honestly didn't matter) to see if anything was broken. All three of his sheds I'd found had been badly busted. But his rack was unscathed.

He proceeded down the same path and entered the plot at about 100 yards away. Quickly and quietly I helped Olivia raise the gun onto the shooting rest. (She was recovering from a broken arm and still had it in a cast.)

Camera rolling, my daughter found the buck in the scope. I raised the magnification to 9X and cocked the hammer. Olivia assured me over and over that she had the buck in the crosshairs and was "steady as a house."

At the shot, smoke filled the air — but for only a moment. I heard the bullet hit the deer and immediately we could see him favoring /dragging his offside foreleg. The buck ran 40 yards off the plot and bedded.

I was hoping it was over right there but after about 10 minutes, he stood, walked 10 yards or so and bedded again. Although he wasn't dead, I knew he must have been hit hard. We watched the spot for the remaining 45 minutes of light and backed out.

miller_2It was a long night for Olivia and me. She shed a few tears, not knowing if the deer had expired. I assured her it wasn't really right to pray for a big deer, but that it would be all right to pray that the deer wasn't suffering and that we'd either have a quick recovery or that he'd quickly heal and be no worse for wear. That was our last discussion before Olivia fell asleep for the night.

After good searching light in the morning, we quickly found both blood-stained beds — but no deer. Fortunately, there was a faint blood trail, and we had to follow it only about 40 yards before seeing the huge buck lying dead in his final bed.

And that's when the celebration began.

I normally don't try to score bucks from trail camera images, but in the case of this one I'd done so. Based on numerous velvet photos, I'd come up with a conservative gross score of 188 inches. Prior to the kill I'd shared the photos with a very few folks, and all felt my rough score was too low.

As it turned out, they were right. I hadn't expected the tine length to be so great. The tremendous G-2 tine on the right antler was 14 4/8 inches, and the fork off the left G-2 measured 9 4/8. Total gross bone was 200 1/8, with a net of 183 5/8 non-typical.

This score proved high enough to earn Olivia's buck second place in his category at the 2014 Iowa Deer Classic. And the deer won the coveted "People's Choice" award among all on display there. It was a fitting end to a deer story neither Olivia nor I ever will forget.

For Your Information

miller_1The hunt for this great Iowa whitetail is featured on Primetime Bucks 18, the latest annual big-buck DVD from Hunter's Specialties. With 26 kills and 3 1/2 hours of intense footage, the DVD is another winner in this long-running series.

A "Big Buck Profile" on Olivia's deer also will be shown on North American Whitetail TV later this fall. For details on each week's episode, visit The Sportsman Channel.

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