When it comes to serious deer hunters, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone more dedicated or successful than Michigan bowhunter Ron DeJonge. His die-hard tactics and persistence have paid off with more than a dozen trophies, but none compares to the awesome buck he arrowed in Iowa in 2010. The giant 23-pointer is not only Ron's biggest, but it also ranked amongst the top three taken in the state last year.
QUALITY DEER MANAGEMENT
DeJonge's whitetail roots lie in Michigan, but as his family became more involved in hunting big bucks, they purchased hunting ground in Illinois, Missouri and, finally, Iowa.
"Personally, I believe the keys to having and holding mature bucks are food, safe havens and a healthy doe population," DeJonge said. "When I bought the ground in Iowa, I focused on that and got heavily involved with forestry management -- creating wetlands, planting food plots and creating sanctuaries for the deer.
"My best hunting seemed to be on properties where the buck-to-doe ratio ran around 1:4, so that became the goal, and I accomplished it.
"On opening day, I didn't see any shooter bucks," DeJonge recalled. "The second day was a repeat, but when returning that evening, my wife, Jann, told me about a whopper she had seen. It turned out to be one of two big non-typicals I had seen several times and passed during the 2009 season. Jann ended up killing one of them during the shotgun season. Needless to say, I was pretty excited the other had survived.
"The following evening, I hunted that general area. And just minutes before sunset, I spotted antlers coming toward me. My jaw dropped when I realized it was the big non-typical. Rather than study the rack, I concentrated on getting ready. The buck came within 30 yards, but never offered a clear shot.
"Four days later, I returned, but I arrived late in the afternoon. Rather than risk bumping the deer, I spent the evening glassing from a high vantage point overlooking a dry creek bed and the wetlands where deer typically bed. My objective was to confirm where the buck bedded and his transition route to food.
"Several bucks and does came out of the wetlands and crossed through the bottom, then traveled across the hillside toward the soybean field. During the last few minutes of light, the big non-typical suddenly appeared along the edge. He lingered there for a couple minutes before continuing on toward the field.
"The next day I saw the buck again, this time going back to the bedding area. By then I was confident he was bedding in the wetlands, and the hillside was his primary transition route.
"That knowledge became the basis for formulating a plan. Hunting around the food source would likely result in bumping the buck in the morning. In the afternoon he was coming out in different places and the wind was never the same. That ruled out the food source, and I would concentrate on hunting his transition line between food and bedding.
"That morning I hauled four ladder stands to the wooded hillside. Rather than disturb the area too much, I didn't do anything more than set each stand in a strategic location that would allow me to play the wind.
"October 14 found me back in Iowa, but I arrived too late and spent the evening glassing instead. Once again, I caught a glimpse of the buck following the same transition route.
"The creekbed is a natural travel corridor, so rubs and scrapes usually show up every year, albeit scattered around with no rhyme or reason. In the past, I've had good success in Illinois and Missouri hunting over mock rubs and scrapes.
"With that in mind, the next morning I slipped in and made a string of "dominant rubs" and mock scrapes along the hillside. After dark I went back and repositioned a stand closer to the rubs and scrapes. I finished up around midnight, then headed home.
"The following weekend, I hunted that stand the first afternoon. Before dark, four different bucks came down the rub line, and every one of them stopped at the rubs and scrapes to leave their scent.
"The next morning, it was maybe an hour after sunrise when I heard something behind me. Turning to look, I was surprised to see the non-typical. It couldn't have been a worse situation. Anticipating my shot would come in front of the stand, I hadn't cleared any lanes behind me. My only shot was nearly straight down, which was far too risky. My second close encounter without a shot!
"I returned on October 30, and from all indications, the rut was just getting underway. Shortly after sunrise the following morning, I spotted the non-typical from a distance. There were a ton of does in the area, and he was running from one to another. The buck responded to grunts and rattling several times, but I couldn't get him to commit all the way.
"Owning my own construction business, I have the flexibility to schedule work around the hunting season. Unfortunately, I had a job come up that couldn't wait, so I headed home to take care of business.
"When returning on November 6, I wasted no time climbing into the stand. It was absolutely crazy; bucks were chasing does nearly non-stop. The chaos continued until dark, but I didn't see the non-typical.
"That night, the wind changed direction, so I had to come up with a plan. Knowing the buck wouldn't return until morning, I moved a stand to the upwind side of the transition trail. It was pushing midnight when I finished up."
MOMENT OF TRUTH
"The next morning, the sun was hardly up when a hot doe came running through with the big non-typical glued to her tail," DeJonge said. "The buck chased the doe frantically, first back and forth on the hillside, then across the bottom. All of a sudden, the doe came running straight toward me and stopped in a small clearing. The buck moved in closer, but stopped short of offering a clear shot. That's when I saw a doe fawn beneath me. The old doe let out a loud grunt, and almost instantly the fawn flopped to the ground. That's when all heck broke loose again.
"With the fawn beneath me, it was just a matter of time before Mama came back, and hopefully the buck would follow. They stayed within eyesight and taunted me for two agonizing hours. All of the sudden the doe came screaming back and stopped in the same opening. Anticipating the buck would follow, I repositioned for a shot. I'm not sure what happened, but the doe turned and stared directly at me. Eventually she turned away. I attempted to draw as the buck moved closer, but he stopped and stared in my direction. I froze with the bow half drawn for what seemed like eternity. Eventually he forgot about me and shuffled toward the doe. I tried coming to full draw, but couldn't physically get the string back. All my energy had been spent.
"The buck lunged toward the doe and the chase was on again. Thirty minutes later, the doe came running back, and the buck wasn't far behind. She stopped in an opening almost directly downwind, and started acting nervous. Apparently she sensed something wasn't quite right. As the buck moved into the clearing and attempted to mount the doe, I drew, settled the pin behind the shoulder, and hit the release trigger. Almost instantly the buck charged off and out of sight. Seconds later I heard a crash, and knew the buck was down. I had been fairly calm before that, but my legs had turned to rubber and I had to sit down.
"A few minutes later, I climbed down, and I hadn't gone 20 yards when I spotted antlers ahead. At that point I was truly excited, but at the same time breathed a sigh of relief. I've never hunted this hard, or put so much time and planning into shooting any deer. To finally close the deal was extremely rewarding!"