As dedicated readers of this magazine might recall, Iowa resident Gabe Adair is no stranger to arrowing big bucks. Last fall, the 39-year-old bowhunter was up to his old tricks again, as he set out to kill another world-class whitetail that would surpass the magical 200-inch mark.
Baseball legend Yogi Berra is credited with 13 World Series championships. Aside from his incredible athleticism, he's also famous for the comical "Yogi-isms" he spouted out throughout his career. One of Yogi's most well-known gems came after he watched Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris hit back-to-back home runs. That event made the likable Yogi quip to a sportswriter: "This is like dÃ©jÃ vu all over again."
Yogi's description would also be a fitting phrase for Gabe. In 2011, the bowhunter downed a 201-inch non-typical he'd nicknamed "Main Event." That success put the longtime Whitetail Properties staffer on the cover of North American Whitetail and Realtree founder Bill Jordan's Monster Bucks DVD series.
But why stop there? When Gabe captured trail camera photos of a great buck just after Thanksgiving 2016, he knew he'd have another giant quest on his hands — provided the deer survived until the following season.
"My first photo of this buck was on Nov. 28, 2016," says Gabe. "I had him pegged as a mid-160s kind of 4 1/2-year-old deer, maybe even closer to 170. I knew he had potential, and I couldn't wait to see what he'd look like as a 5-year-old."
Gabe spent the remainder of the season hunting a 195-inch non-typical that was roaming one of his hunting grounds. But after a neighboring client tagged that Boone & Crockett buck, Gabe switched gears. He took a couple of great 8-pointers, each scoring north of 150 inches.
By the following July, Gabe was in full preparation mode for the '17 season. He'd strategically placed over 30 Reconyx game cameras throughout his property and had planted several acres of corn plots around his stand sites.
"I had three new stand sites that all looked promising," he explains. "Two were ground blinds, and one was a new tower blind for later on in the year. I had them all set up early, and they were ready to rock and roll. I brushed the ground blinds into standing corn and cut a path to the back of the blind. For me, that works really well. I like to work the edges, play it safe and not put a lot of pressure on the deer as I'm getting in and out of those blinds."
Gabe started hunting the early season with his cameraman Adam Raak. With their stands set up as perfectly as they knew to make them, all they needed was for the big buck to show himself.
"I bounced around a lot in the early season trying to locate different bucks," says Gabe. "I was mostly trying to keep my eyes on this farm, waiting for the time to get right before I really got serious. When I'm hunting a giant, I'll invite my cameraman to basically live with me for the next 40 to 45 days. Before I start that grind, I make sure I've got something to grind after."
Gabe found that reason when Adam took a photo in late October of a giant buck silhouetted on a hilltop. Shot with a 300mm lens, the digital photo showed a massive non-typical with a tall rack and a drop tine. Gabe had never noticed a drop tine in the trail camera photos of his target buck (which he'd nicknamed "Hammer"), so he assumed this was a different deer.
"I thought I had two giant deer living on the farm," say Gabe. "I knew Hammer was a split-tined 10-pointer with some junk, but I really didn't think he had a drop tine."
Gabe spent each morning glassing for any sign of Hammer, thinking he almost certainly lived within a mile of the farm. The hunter hoped the buck would show up sometime in November, just as he'd done the previous year. Finally, trail camera photos proved that hunch to be accurate.
"The photos I got on Nov. 3 and 4 told me that Hammer was back on the farm earlier than he'd been in 2016," Gabe notes. "I again saw no drop tine in those photos, so I still had no info on the mystery buck we'd seen on the hillside. Regardless, Hammer had blown up in size, and he was definitely my target buck."
The chess match with this Iowa brute started on Nov. 5, with a northeast wind. Gabe and Adam slipped into a perfect stand for those conditions, positioned on the backside of a bedding area in a place that was low and unobtrusive.
One key to Gabe's success when hunting such tight quarters is being a stickler about scent control. In addition to relying heavily on his Ozonics system, Gabe also uses a pump sprayer to coat his LaCrosse rubber boots with carbon powder.
"I became a believer in doing that when I squirted some diesel fuel on my hands, then dumped pure carbon powder on them and rubbed my hands together, and the diesel smell was gone," says Gabe. "Now I pump that sucker up and turn my rubber boots black with carbon."
Of course, Gabe is also very focused on playing the wind direction correctly. His strict scent-control regimen enables him to push the limits and hunt marginal wind directions he was never able to successfully hunt before.
"On the morning of Nov. 5, we were set up and ready to go well before the crack of daylight," says Gabe. "Not long after shooting light, we had a buck straight downwind that was coming up the creek. At first, I couldn't identify the deer, but then I got a good look at him, turned to my cameraman and said, 'It's him.'"
Hammer was soon just 20 yards away, walking parallel to the double set of lock-on stands hung 18 feet high in the tree.
"The wind certainly was not perfect for the direction he was walking," explains Gabe. "But he did what 99 percent of deer have done since I started using Ozonics. He hit that wind, stopped, looked right in our direction for a few seconds, then flicked his tail, put his head down and walked right through our wind."
The archer brought his bow to full draw and waited for the buck to ease through a shooting lane. But the desired shot angle never came. Eventually Hammer just walked away.
"I was up, down and leaning out on my tether, trying to find a hole to shoot through," Gabe laughs. "I was basically getting away with murder while he wasn't looking at us. While I could have let an arrow fly, I finally convinced myself to not take a bad shot at the deer. He was headed right toward the heart of the farm, right where I wanted him. I felt like I was eventually going to kill him — if not today, then another time."
As Hammer walked off, Rocky reviewed the camera footage and told Gabe excitedly, "Man, that's the drop-tine buck!"
Gabe recalls, "That's when it all came together. We looked at the footage and could clearly see Hammer had a drop tine coming off his right side at the base. There weren't in fact two deer. Of course, I was even more excited to kill him at that point."
With the rut soon to peak, Gabe was elated when he got trail camera photos of Hammer in a corn plot near one of his Double Bull ground blinds. Immediately thereafter, Gabe was slipping through one of the tunnels he cut through the standing stalks and preparing for an evening hunt.
"I like to hunt the food in the evening and scout in the mornings," explains Gabe. "I knew Hammer had certainly already found a doe, and I just had to hope she would bring him into the corn. I kept telling myself that I had a food plot full of mature does during the rut, that would be very tempting to him. I had to keep playing it safe. I knew he would eventually end up in front of me."
Gabe finally had another encounter with Hammer on the evening of Nov. 11, while hunting from same ground blind. Just as he'd expected, the field had first filled with does feeding in the corn. Next, two 150-inch bucks emerged. The last deer to enter was Hammer. But Gabe was presented no shot opportunity. Hoping to sneak out without spooking the deer, the bowhunter and cameraman exited through the "back door" route within the standing corn.
The wind was forecast to change the next day and begin blowing directly into the field. Gabe had to get a new plan together, and fast. The wind just wouldn't allow for hunting the blind. Even with two Ozonics units running, Gabe didn't want to risk the giant buck winding him.
The next day at 11:00 a.m., Gabe returned to the field and brushed in another ground blind with corn stalks. He set the blind near a group of trees where Hammer had exited the field the previous evening. The bowhunter then returned home to shower, so he could be set up in the blind by early that afternoon.
Deer soon started to come and go, but there was no sign of Hammer. But then, with under an hour of shooting light left, the massive buck popped into the food plot and began to feed. Unfortunately, he stayed just out of Gabe's range.
"I told Adam that I wasn't going to shoot past 40 yards," the archer explains. "For me, it was just not worth the risk. Of course, that evening Hammer hung out at 45 to 50 yards for what seemed like forever."
A few minutes later, Hammer scurried down the fence line and disappeared into the woods, chasing a doe. Gabe wondered if he'd just missed out again. But then, Hammer busted back out of the woodlot — now heading directly toward the ground blind.
"At that point, it was game on again," says Gabe. "I got ready and ranged him at 41 yards. I came to full draw and told Adam that when he turned, I was going to take him."
But instead of turning broadside, Hammer edged closer to the blind. That forced Gabe to let down and confirm the new distance. This time, Hammer was at just 31 yards.
"He was quartering slightly toward us," Gabe says. "I told Adam again that when he turned, I was going to take him. I knew the shot window was tight and that I had to hug that shoulder."
Gabe eased back the string on his 74-pound compound, locked in on his target and let the arrow fly. He watched as the Nocturnal nock streaked into the buck's vitals. The Rage Hypodermic expandable broadhead did its work, and it was game over for the Iowa giant.
"He ran over to the edge of the food plot about 70 yards away, stopped, started getting woozy and went down in sight!" Gabe recalls with excitement.
Although he had a building history with the giant buck he'd just shot, including not just trail camera photos but direct sightings, the lucky bowhunter still didn't know just how big Hammer truly was.
"We could see him lying over there, and with camera light starting to fade, we only waited five minutes or so before going over to him," says Gabe. "It was truly awesome when I finally got my hands on him. I was thinking that he was somewhere in that 200 to 205 range. His frame was roughly 17 inches wide on the inside, and his main beams were not overly long, just over 24 inches. I knew he was a 200-inch deer, and I was tickled pink. But at that point, I still didn't know what I had."
As word of the kill began to spread, it didn't take long for someone to break out the tape measure.
"One of my buddies kept telling me he was much bigger than I thought, claiming he would easily score in the 220 to 230 range,'" says Gabe. "As people started coming over to look at the buck, we went into the garage with a tape measure and started adding numbers up."
When those rough numbers were tallied, Adair was surprised.
"He ended up grossing 222 6/8 inches and netting 215 4/8 inches," the bowhunter notes. "He definitely grew. I never guessed he was a 220-class animal. I'm fortunate to live in an area where I'm surrounded by big bucks year in and year out, but I'd never hunted one this big before. I couldn't have been happier that night."
In retrospect, Gabe largely credits his scouting and land-management efforts for leading to his success on this Iowa giant. He also notes that persistence helped him kill the deer. He had to avoid getting overly aggressive, which is a common mistake hunters make.
"It's one thing to see a giant on the edges or outskirts of your farm," Gabe notes. "But you want the buck to live in the heart of your property. Keeping your hunting pressure low will help make that possible. I knew where this buck was going to be and what his tendencies were, and I came up with a plan to hunt him. I dug in and waited for him to show up. And that's exactly what he did."