April 19, 2023
After recent EHD outbreaks in western Iowa, the 2022 archery season had been one of the slowest I can remember. So, when Iowa’s gun season opened up, I had expected it to be tough. I’ve always treated archery and muzzleloader seasons as my “wait it out for a trophy” time, and gun season was more of a tradition for getting together with family and friends and filling the freezer. Our group would occasionally get a nice buck, but I never expected it.
Opening morning I found myself in a valley of thick timber with a nice view, watching the sun come over the ridge. It was cold, probably not much above 0 degrees. I decided to wait and see if anything came into the valley until I had to warm up and start still-hunting after a couple hours.
It wasn’t long after sunrise before I saw movement up on the ridge. I knew there were at least three deer, and I thought one was a nice buck. They worked their way down the ridge, and I lost sight of them for a moment. I knew my dad was over that ridge, and I hoped he’d get a shot.
That’s when a doe came from over the ridge and stopped; she seemed nervous, so I had the crosshairs rested on the front of her chest. If I hadn’t caught a glimpse of antlers earlier, I would have filled my tag with her. But I was pretty sure that nice buck had to be behind her.
Just then another doe came over the ridge with the buck behind her. Both does took off to my right with the buck on their tails. At about 50 yards the buck stopped and looked in my direction. He was directly downwind, so I felt I had to hurry with my shot before he got behind thick cover. I took the shot and he ran to my right, but then I lost sight of him as I heard crashing through the leaves and cedars.
I wasn’t sure what to think. Either he took off in a hurry, or he was down behind all the cover. I played it safe and gave him close to an hour before even looking for blood. During that time doubt set in, and I was preparing for the worst. I had convinced myself that I missed a 160-inch 10-pointer, and that’s what I’d tell our group when we met back up for lunch. It all happened so fast I had no idea how big he truly was.
At the shot site, I found no blood or hair, only hoof prints in the kicked-up dirt and snow. I did my best and followed the tracks. This was only my second year using a .350 Legend, the gun I convinced my wife we needed so our two young daughters could hunt in a few years. It doesn’t hit as hard as the usual 12 gauge, but deer don’t make it far with a well-placed shot. Ultimately, the buck only made it 40 yards!
I have experienced ground shrinkage before. However, “ground growth” is what took place that morning.
After a few celebratory calls and messages, I learned that this was a buck well-known to a friend. My friend told me “Chocolate Thunder” was his name, followed by a “Congrats on your first Booner!” From his trail cameras and my pictures, he figured the buck would go 180. When we met back up at lunch, we realized he could push close to 200 gross as an 11-point, far bigger than the 160-incher I thought he was. To make things even better, his shed from the previous year was found in a nearby field a few weeks later. What are the chances of that?
At the 2023 Iowa Deer Classic, my buck placed second in the firearm typical division. With a gross score of 195 6/8 and a net at 185 7/8, it will be very hard for me to beat. Hopefully our daughters beat that with what now seems like my lucky .350 Legend! I was happy to get my buck of a lifetime, but hunting with great friends and family makes the outdoors even better.