Last winter, a deer-management program that had begun five years earlier paid off in a huge way.
My friend Mark is an avid hunter and investor. After two years of seeing firsthand what Iowa whitetail hunting is all about, he was ready with his background as a financial advisor to invest in south-central Iowa dirt. We found that a property I was fairly familiar with was on the market, and Mark bought it. This was a great piece but in terms of miles not close to my own farm.
A couple months later, as we were working this new piece, a neighboring landowner inquired about buying it. Mark and I concluded the financial gain was too good to pass up, so the deal was made.
Looking back, this is where all of the magic began. At around the same time, one of my neighbors approached me about selling his land, which was adjacent to my personal farm. Mark and I immediately took his 1031 Exchange and plowed it into this property. Game on!
Fast-forward to 2010. By now we were a full season into managing Mark's new farm and several more into mine. Food plots had been established and other habitat improvements started. (And I do mean "started," as this process never ends.) We had a hit list of bucks, determined not to shoot until at least age 5 1/2 any that showed real potential at 3 1/2.
'Baby 8' Appears
At the time, we had a mature 4x4 we called "Big 8." But there also was a great 2 1/2-year-old 8-pointer that would score in the mid 130s, so we named him "Baby 8." Once in a while a superstar buck comes along, and even by that age he shows he deserves a free pass until he's 5 1/2. Baby 8 was one of those deer. We knew he was special.
2011: Adding Acreage
Now Teddy enters the story. He was another great friend who'd decided to buy some south-central Iowa dirt.
In real estate everyone's heard, "location, location, location," and it's true. But another concern is timing — and sometimes that's the harder part. With that said, Teddy's timing couldn't have been better. One of the first farms we looked at was one I'd just put on the market, and it bordered Mark's on two sides. Location and timing!
Teddy was interested in this tract and ready to be a part of what Mark and I had started with our management efforts a couple years prior. He closed on the farm in June 2011. And that fall, his girlfriend, Tammy, shot a 182-inch, 5 1/2-year-old buck — on the first afternoon they ever hunted the property! Does it get any better?
Meanwhile, Baby 8 was 3 1/2 and really starting to blow up. He now was a mainframe 10-pointer with stickers, a split brow and small drop tines starting to develop. Although I'd been born in Iowa and had hunted here since age 10, this buck had the best genetics I'd ever seen in one so young.
Once the buck inventory had been taken, using our cameras, Mark, Teddy and I built our hit list. We reinforced that Baby 8 was off limits, which was pretty easy — he was a 3 1/2-year-old that easily scored in the high 160s, maybe 170. Stick to the program!
Later that year we saw the buck several times and got a ton of photos. I even found his left shed for the second straight year. Baby 8 lived on.
2012: Biding Our Time
In the summer of 2012, we were dying to see what the buck would be at age 4 1/2. And we weren't disappointed. The first camera I checked had photos of him: a basic 9-pointer with each brow split, stickers all over, a left G-2 tine that looked like a saw blade with four stickers hanging off (all 2-4 inches long) and a couple drops bigger than the year before. He'd now push 200 inches.
Would Mark and Teddy be willing to let Baby 8 go another year? I sent them photos and made my plea. And the guys agreed with me. Their only reluctance was, "What if one of our other neighbors kills him?"
Knowing we have a couple "weak" spots in our neighborhood management (as almost every other managed area does), I understood where my friends were coming from. But I told them we had to stick to our program and control what we could. If we shot Baby 8 that year, we'd never know what he could have become.
Teddy didn't draw a tag at all in 2012, but Mark got one for late muzzleloader season. One of my priorities was that we not push Baby 8 out of his core area, so we decided not to hunt there (even though our farms were in their prime, with 4-6 years of management in the books). The buck had spent 95 percent of his life in that 120-acre area within our collective borders.
When Mark came in to hunt in late season, he was dying to see what Baby 8 looked like on the hoof. So he hunted the area one evening. Not only did he see the monster, he got video of him at 50 yards! But as tempting as the deer obviously was, Mark let him walk.
After the season I found the deer's left antler again. I still can't figure out where the right sheds fell, but I now had three consecutive left sides.
2013: Game On!
Baby 8 finally would be 5 1/2. Mark, Teddy and I were chewing our fingers off in anticipation of putting cameras out. I set up my Reconyx units right after July 4 and let them stew for two weeks before pulling the cards.
We do everything right, so I expected to find a gallery of Baby 8 photos. But instead, I had none.
Checking previous years' summer photos of the deer, I found I'd never taken any prior to August. In my haste to see what Baby 8 was putting on for antler, this year I'd checked the cameras after only a couple weeks instead of the usual month. So I waited a bit longer.
Sure enough, when August arrived I pulled the cards again, and bingo! There he was. And he was huge. All of his non-typical "trash" had grown. Every point on the rack was at least four inches long. After so much waiting, in just a couple months it would be "game on" with this buck!
Oct. 1 finally rolled around, and Mark had an archery tag in his pocket. I grabbed the video camera, and we headed out after Baby 8. We hunted three evenings but never even saw the deer. Mark headed home, intent on being back for the early stages of the rut.
Knowing the magnitude of this buck and how much of a homebody he was, I planned to wait until the first cold front came through before bowhunting him myself. I didn't want to take a chance on anything. So on Oct. 21, when my cameraman, Joe, and I saw the first front was about to come through, we made a plan to get after Baby 8 the next day. We felt we had every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed.
Evening 1, Oct 21: We headed out with four hours of daylight left and got settled in. The feeling was awesome sitting there in my Banks Stump Blind, watching a couple acres of greens and a 10-acre standing bean field, waiting and hoping.
The first couple hours, just a few does came out. Then I saw a body working into the beans. It was Baby 8! Unfortunately, he was 250 yards out and going away. We were able to shoot 20 minutes or so of footage under perfect light conditions. Once he worked his way over the crest of a hill we were lucky enough to not have any deer around us, so even though we still had 20-30 minutes of daylight left, we got out of there.
Evening 2, Oct 22: The weather changed dramatically. The day before had been a little warm, with beautiful sunlight and very little wind. Today was overcast with much cooler temperatures and a northwest wind blowing 15-plus mph. We couldn't wait to get back into that blind.
The deer started moving very early. As on the day before, Baby 8 showed himself again an hour before last camera light — but this time from another direction. He stepped out 150 yards from the blind and immediately headed straight at us, following some does that were headed to our lush Imperial Whitetail Forage Oats.
The does came in and started feeding about 40-50 yards from our blind. I had my Bear bow in hand and my release on the loop, thinking I was about to get a shot. Baby 8 walked the same line the does had — but once he got to with 75 yards of us, he turned and headed to that same spot in the bean field where he'd fed the night before.
Joe and I couldn't believe it. "Devastated" would be an understatement.
Evening 3, Oct. 23: Because we'd been able to exit our spot flawlessly the day before, we plowed right back in for our third consecutive hunt there. Only Baby 8 didn't show. Fortunately, at dark all of the other deer moved off the field, so we again escaped.
Evening 4, Oct. 24: We headed out with some doubt in our minds. Have we missed our small window of opportunity? Will he show up again? Same program, though: get in position early and wait.
I told Joe, "I feel like if he shows himself, he will come from the east tonight." That was because of the nicer weather. To the east of us were subtle ditches with open native grasses and scattered cedars: good cover for fair-weather days. But to the west of us was super-thick timber with really deep ditches: much better cover on nasty, windy days.
That evening deer movement was slim, and doubt really set in. But finally Baby 8 came out of that ditch to our east and went past that same elm again and out into that low spot in the bean field. He eventually worked over that crest, again letting us slip out without bumping any deer.
By now I knew we were making a move. And I mean the type that scares you to death. We had to hunt from that elm. That meant we not only would have to sneak within 100 yards of where the buck was bedded, we'd have to circle him. Oh, and in addition to my bow, we'd need to pack in two Lone Wolf stands, climbing sticks, a camera arm and base and multiple cameras — and then set up without the buck knowing it.
Evening 5, Oct. 25: That morning, Joe and I left nothing to chance. As we headed to the field at noon, I had every last part of our equipment taped or tied together so tightly there was no way it could make noise.
We got our HuntVe past the deer's bed and around that rise he always went over, and I started second-guessing myself. I began looking at another tree Joe and I had talked about maybe getting into. But once we reached it, we realized it likely would again have us watching Baby 8 instead of getting a shot at him. We had to get to that little elm.
We made three trips over that little rise to get all of our gear to the base of that tree. And it wasn't just little — it was tiny. This set was going to be at best 10 feet off the ground. Too late to turn back now, though. We climbed in and began our vigil.
The sit wore on. Finally, after hours of waiting, Joe whispered, "It's time."
Not five minutes later, I saw a wall of bone coming up through the cedars, exactly where we'd planned to see Baby 8 come from. The buck quickly made his way from 100 yards to 28 — but at that point, he stopped and worked over a bush for an agonizing 6-7 minutes. Once he'd finished, he looked around and did what we'd seen him do before, for no reason: He began to trot!
The buck went right through my first shooting lane and on his own stopped in one straight to my right. Still seated, I torqued myself around and let the arrow go.
Baby 8 ran off about 75 yards and stopped, looking back. I could see a steady stream of blood coming out of the exit hole, which was very low. He took off again, making his way across our bean field and into the timber on the west side of the farm.
Knowing it was a low hit, we sneaked out with the plan to come back in the morning. Upon returning, I went straight to where I'd last seen the deer before he got into the cover . . . and I picked up blood right away. We followed it for about 200 yards to where he'd bedded down a few times in a small area. But then we spent the next six hours on hands and knees, looking for anything to show where he'd gone next.
Once we'd covered everything there, I called more friends to come over to watch for the buck as we checked the ditch he called home. As soon as we went into the cover, Baby 8 popped out and ran a half-mile across the farm and back into the timber. He wasn't fatally wounded.
That same day I put up six more cameras. It took 30 days to the day, but I finally got photos of the deer. However, every one was taken at night. We elected to leave him alone, monitor him the best we could and wait for muzzleloader season.
That season opened on Dec. 23. Joe and I planned to hunt only that afternoon, then get back after him the day after Christmas. I have a wife and three kids, so hunting on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas was . . . well, let's just say not an option.
On Dec. 23 we headed out to the blind once again. The weather was cold and nasty, and we were praying that would push Baby 8 to the standing corn plot on the other side of my blind. But he never showed.
On Dec. 25, as my family and I celebrated Christmas, I got a call from Teddy. It was well after dark, so I had a feeling when I answered the phone when it rang.
"I got him!" my friend said.
Teddy told me the hit was good but that the buck had made it out of sight over the hill. My friend wanted me to help him with the recovery. With the kids ready for bed, I decided to go.
On the way, I started getting a little bummed that I hadn't shot the deer. But then I reminded myself the three of us had set out with the same goal, and as a group we'd achieved it. By the time I arrived at Teddy's farm, I was really happy for him. And it didn't take long for the celebration to begin. Just as Teddy had thought, it had been a great shot. Baby 8 hadn't gone another 50 yards.
This magnificent buck was all we had felt he was. With a whopping 40 inches of non-typical growth, he has a gross Boone & Crockett score of 215 3/8. The rack's 21 6/8-inch inside spread certainly helps to show off its unique character. He was just a special deer, and very much a result of patience in both management and hunting.
Any serious whitetail hunter knows that it's not often that we get a second chance on the buck of a lifetime, or even a first chance for that matter. But luck was on the side of Kyle Heuerman and his girlfriend Jennifer Weaver when they put an arrow through this 196-inch Illinois brute.
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We estimate he was 7 1/2 years old. That's based on photos from 2010, when he clearly wasn't over 3 1/2. When I got him he weighed over 300 pounds on the hoof, as suspected.
Official B&C measurer Glen Salow came up with a 'green ' gross score of 258 7/8 inches. After the 60-day drying period, he again taped the rack. This time he got a gross non-typical score of 261 3/8, with a net of 230 7/8. The gross score evidently makes this the highest-scoring wild whitetail ever harvested on professional video.
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Jon's no stranger to free-ranging whitetails across the central plains, having guided a number of clients to trophies and harvesting many big ones himself. In fact, going into 2013 he'd shot two net Boone & Crocketts: one a non-typical scoring over 200, the other a typical from public land.
With such success behind him, Jon felt all of his hunting dreams already had come true. At least, he did until a buck he'd never seen showed up on one of his trail cameras.
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Knowing I couldn't even come to my knees without breaking the little concealment we had, I decided to lie on my left side, using my left elbow for as solid a rest as could be achieved within the slight incline of the old fencerow. But when I shouldered the rifle, the sight of the crosshairs oriented at a 10-4 o'clock angle was definitely a different look from the normal 12-6 position we all practice from. Even so, I didn't figure that would matter if I aimed at the right spot and squeezed off a clean shot.
I settled the crosshairs where I needed to place the bullet and steadied the rifle. Whispering 'fire in the hole ' while floating the crosshairs on the spot, I gently squeezed the trigger until the recoil removed the buck from my view.
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With a whopping 40 inches of non-typical growth, he has a gross Boone & Crockett score of 215 3/8. The rack's 21 6/8-inch inside spread certainly helps to show off its unique character. He was just a special deer, and very much a result of patience in both management and hunting.
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Ryan Sullivan was only 19 when, during the 2013 season, he arrowed an Arkansas buck of gigantic proportions. Like many of his fellow Arkansans, Ryan is a deer and duck fanatic. For several years, however, he gave up most of his duck season to lock horns with the world-class buck.
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Junior's outstanding whitetail is the biggest ever recorded from Monroe County, and he ranks as one of the Bluegrass State's top bucks from the 2013-14 season. This great non-typical also is the latest member of Kentucky's all-time Top 30 list.
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At 16 yards, Mikell took aim at the giant and released his arrow. In an instant, the shaft had passed through him. The deer instantly whirled and ran out of sight . . . but then, within seconds the archer heard him crash to the ground.
'I remained in the stand for several minutes to gather my thoughts and calm down, ' Mikell says. 'I'm sure the entire encounter only took a few minutes, but it seemed an eternity. '
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Three double-digit tines of 10 2/8 to 13 5/8 inches, plus 7 1/8- and 9 3/8-inch brows and a 21 3/8-inch inside spread, add plenty to this regal crown. Put everything together and you have a gross 9-point frame score of 193 6/8. That's as big as it sounds.
Typical asymmetry and 11 6/8 inches of abnormal points total 25 1/8 inches of deductions, so as a typical, the deer nets 'only ' 168 5/8. But the 8Ã—5 rack's total gross score of 205 4/8 is much more reflective of its stunning size. Regardless of score, the Robinson buck is clearly a marvel of nature.
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The action was fast and furious right from the get-go. At daybreak a doe busted through the cedar thicket with an eight-point suitor following close behind. The doe, however, wanted nothing to do with her pursuer and jumped into a nearby pond in an attempt to flee the buck.
This, however, wasn't the last of the action. Nick continued to watch several bucks harass does throughout the morning, but chose not to take a shot at them.
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