Aside from a single, mysterious trail camera photo dated Aug. 29, 2009, Travis Hamilton had never laid eyes on the gnarly 33-point non-typical -- until October 2!
Travis Hamilton's Iowa monster carried an impressive 116 1/8 inches worth of abnormal antler, which boosted the buck's non-typical score to 244 6/8 inches. Photo courtesy of Garry Brandenburg.
The recipe for taking a big buck in Iowa is anything but simple. It can be easy, very hard or downright nearly impossible. However, every year across the Hawkeye State, some lucky hunter is in the right place at the right time to have fate and fortune smile on him or her. Such was the case on October 2, 2009, for Travis Hamilton. His skills, location and timing were right on. The big deer had no idea what was about to transpire. Neither did Hamilton.
Iowa has some mighty fine whitetail deer. This adaptable animal has proven its ability to cope with intensive agriculture and urban centers. While the landscapes of Iowa are quite varied in topography and land use, southern Iowa tends to have ideal habitat in the form of moderately hilly terrain with a mix of forest lands and smaller farm fields of corn, soybeans, hay ground and pasture.
This is where Travis Hamilton of Columbia, Iowa, lives and works. He knows the land, and he loves to bowhunt for deer. In his 14 years of deer hunting, he has made his share of mistakes, but he has also learned from those experiences, refined his skills and purchased good bowhunting equipment. His love of the land and the outdoors is a driving force in his life.
Hamilton sets about his pre-season scouting by securing permission from area landowners, walking the land, setting out a few trail cameras and setting a few ladder stands in place at natural funnels or "pinch points" where the likelihood of deer travel increases. Monitoring trail cameras is fun. The clandestine images paint a picture of how many deer might be using the area.
A nice 10-point buck was making a pass by one of Hamilton's trail cameras and ladder stand every two to three days. Its long tines and good mass and width told the story of a nice mature buck in the area. This would be a good buck to wait for once the season opened. That was Hamilton's plan.
At another location 1 1/2 miles away, another trail camera was set up to monitor a field border. This wasn't a prime stand location at all, but rather an attempt to see what might be passing by. On August 22, 2009, at 6:40 p.m., that trail camera took a single photo. When the image was viewed later and printed, it showed a very unusual non-typical deer feeding along a soybean field edge. Backlighting from a setting sun did not particularly enhance the image. However, there was enough detail to prove this was a big antlered deer.
Hamilton never saw this deer in person. Scouting trips and pre-hunt stand inspections did not reveal the animal to him. There was no attempt to set out more cameras or intensely monitor farm fields at last light to watch for the buck. It was the ghost of the forest. For all that Hamilton knew, the big non-typical was just out there somewhere. Hamilton's plan was to sit in one of his stands that on any particular day would offer the best hope for the nice 10-pointer.
On the rainy morning of October 2, 2009, Hamilton arrived at his ladder stand an hour before legal start time. He got comfortable and began the long, quiet wait to which archers are so accustomed. The first light of day slowly brought definition to the land, its trees and hilly topography. Near this stand, a creek bubbles over small rocks as water flows along the base of the surrounding hills. An intersecting gully from the opposite sloping timberland is the junction where Travis had set his stand. Deer paths crossing the gully were proof of travel corridors for any deer in the vicinity.
As morning light increased, all remained quiet. Up to this point in time, the nice 10-pointer was a no-show. Or so Travis thought. At about 7:15, Hamilton heard the faint footfalls of a deer in the gully bottom. As the deer moved closer, all that Travis could see were the tips of the antlers. The body and head of the big deer were completely hidden from view by the soil of the ravine edge.
Hamilton knew from previous years' hunts that any deer moving along the ravine bottom would climb the slope and top out on relatively flat land within range of his stand. When deer make that move, they always stop to look over the land before proceeding. Hamilton drew his bow in anticipation of the approaching deer.
The big boy followed the script. At the ravine's top edge he stopped, presenting a 20-yard broadside view. It was only then that Hamilton saw the entire antler configuration on this animal. It was not the nice 10-point buck. It was indeed the huge non-typical deer from his far away trail camera. This was the deer he was not expecting, but it was now standing before him by pure good luck and good fortune. Forcing himself not to look at the antlers, Hamilton's bow sight pin quickly settled onto the buck's chest. In an instant, the arrow and three-blade Muzzy broadhead were on their way.
The hit appeared to be good, right behind the left front shoulder. Hamilton watched as the buck quickly disappeared into the brush. After a long 45-minute wait, he began to follow the deer. There was little blood and the rain was making a trailing job difficult. Time to back off and wait.
Hamilton called in a friend to help him trail the buck. With two people looking, the odds should be improved. It was now mid-afternoon -- hopefully sufficient time had passed for the deer to lay down and die. As the men moved slowly through the tangle of underbrush, they bumped the deer from its bed. It was still alive, but very weak. It did not flag its tail or blow a rush of air from its nose. It slowly walked another 60 yards and lay down. This time, with a silent approach due to wet leaves from the rain, Hamilton was able to get close enough for a finishing arrow from his Hoyt Vectrix bow. The deer was down, and it was his. And it was the big non-typical buck he had not anticipated or ever expected to see again that lay before him on the southern Iowa forest floor.
As Hamilton placed the DNR tag on its antlers, the men were amazed at the unusual growth configuration of this whitetail. It was very asymmetrical with a lot of mass on the left antler base. Several independent beams came out of the base, not off the bottom of the main beam. Numerous brow tines protruded up from each base. Fate had smiled on Travis Hamilton. He had taken an Iowa buck for the record book.
December 16, 2009, was set as the date for official measuring. I'm a Pope & Young Club member and an official scorer. I coordinated the task with a Boone & Crockett Club member. Together we conferred and agreed on the proper locations for base lines and determination of typical versus non-typical points. When the taping was done and the numbers were on paper, the typical portion of the rack scored 128 5/8 inches. However, the impressive part was the non-typical score. With 116 1/8 inches of non-typical additions, Hamilton's buck tallied a grand total of 244 6/8 inches.
Hamilton entered his deer in the 2010 Iowa Deer Classic held in Des Moines on March 5-7, 2010. It ranked second in the mens' non-typical archery category. In addition, the deer was voted by the Iowa Taxidermists Association as the "Most Unusual" and received another trophy in recognition of its unique configuration.
According to Iowa DNR Big Buck Records, updated in April 2010, the Travis Hamilton buck now sits in fourth place of the top 10 bow-killed non-typical deer in Iowa.