Dan Cornelison combined quality hunting land with sound management and strong hunter ethics, and the result was as desired -- a true Iowa trophy!
Dan Cornelison's Madison County giant netted 215 6/8 inches as a non-typical -- enough to earn fourth-place honors at the 2009 Iowa Deer Classic.
Several years ago, 53-year-old Dan Cornelison, of Van Meter, Iowa, would never have thought of himself as a deer hunter, much less a guy who would shoot one of the top deer in the state. Ironically, that's exactly what happened when he arrowed a giant buck in Madison County, Iowa. Not only did the 22-pointer prove to be Cornelison's biggest, it would later anchor 4th place at the annual Iowa Deer Classic.
Cornelison had always been a bird hunter and never really developed an interest in deer. However, his 16-year-old son, Max, did through his uncle, Scott Ferris. Six years ago, Ferris approached Cornelison about buying 100 acres of river bottom ground. Cornelison didn't hunt deer at the time, but he figured it would be a great way to spend time with Max. They bought the ground. That same year, Cornelison took a 140-class buck with a muzzleloader. From that point on, he was hooked on deer hunting!
Three years ago, Cornelison and Max decided to take up bowhunting. An accomplished bowhunter who had taken several big bucks, Ferris taught the two rookies how and where to set up their stands.
There's a lot to be said about beginner's luck. On November 3 of that year, Cornelison arrowed a nice 140-class buck the first time he climbed into a tree stand. Sadly, Ferris died that same day as a result of a tree stand accident.
"It seems that many are under the false impression that tree stand accidents always happen to someone else," Cornelison said. "That's simply not true. I owe a lot to Scott. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have gotten interested in deer hunting. Personally, I lost an awesome brother-in-law and great friend. The whole incident really hit home. As a result, I made a decision that nobody would be allowed to hunt on our property without a proper safety vest."
"Basically, we know our ground well enough that we don't scout much anymore," Cornelison said. "The first couple of years, Max and I hunted for sheds in the spring but didn't have much luck. Some time ago, I read an article on shed hunting by Kurt Lemke. The article intrigued me, and I thought I might learn something from Kurt. I contacted Kurt and invited him to come shed hunting. Kurt ended up finding several sheds, including a matched set from a big deer none of us knew existed. According to Kurt, the antlers would score around 180 inches. We were pretty excited about that.
"We really haven't done much in terms of moving stands around. For the most part, they are in the same locations that Scott originally selected. I figured if the stands were working, there wasn't any need to move them."
"The first couple of years we owned the farm, we didn't practice Quality Deer Management. As a result, quite a few 130- and 140-class deer were shot. However, after Max and I took up bowhunting, we really started working hard on improving the quality of the deer herd. Our goal was to allow the deer to mature and improve the age-class structure. I figured if we allowed them to reach 4 1/2 years or older, we would stand a better chance of seeing 170-class deer and perhaps bigger. It was tough telling a 16-year-old that he had pass up some of these younger bucks. This past season, he had the chance to shoot a 150-class buck but passed on the opportunity. I'm really proud of Max for sticking with our agreement."
"We also started harvesting more does. This past season, Max alone took eight does during the archery season. The combination of passing up younger bucks and shooting does has really improved the quality of deer we're now seeing."
"I had planned on taking time off during the November rut, so I only hunted four or five days before that," Cornelison said. "Most of those were morning hunts. I like calling and have developed a series of calls that seems to work for me. For the most part, the series of calls begins with less intensity and builds to a crescendo. Of those days I hunted, I'm guessing at least 15 bucks came to my calls.
"One morning alone, 10 different bucks came in over the course of an hour. Most of those were young deer, but there was one that I would estimate at 140 inches or better. He came within five yards of the stand and stood there looking around for the two bucks he heard fighting, or possibly the doe being bred. At first he looked confused, and then frustrated when he didn't see anything. It was pretty obvious the buck was ticked off when he circled behind the stand and took out his frustrations on a cedar tree. He didn't just rake his antlers in the tree; he tore it up. This went on for a good three or four minutes. Then, like a giant cat covering its scat, he started tearing up a scrape. Having the chance to witness all that made my season. It was one of the most amazing sites I've ever seen."
"As the buck disappeared into the cedar patch, I felt my cell phone vibrate. Expecting an update from Max, I was excited when I read his text message: 'I just saw the biggest deer of my life. He was 200-plus for sure. I'm sick to my stomach. He was 50 yards broadside.'
"Not long after, my phone vibrated again. It was Max: 'Seriously, Pa, this deer was a monster. It had at least two big drop tines and some big kickers and huge mass. It was weird. I saw this mass of antlers on a deer's head coming down the middle of the river. It looked like it was floating with the current. When the buck got to shallower water, he walked up on the sandbar and stood broadside at 50 yards. He turned and started toward me, but stopped when some does came running by above him. He turned and trotted off after them!'
"'Awesome. It's incredible to see bucks out moving like this. Only during the rut,' I said!
"Later that morning, we hooked up with two friends who had been hunting on another section of the farm. It turns out that right before Max saw the monster, he had passed by one of the guys at 35 yards.
Dan Cornelison arrowed his 215-inch net non-typical at 35 yards after calling the buck into range from across a river.
"Although my plans were to hunt the entire second week of November, I had a little consulting work that took me a couple of days to finish up. Max had school, so he wouldn't be able to hunt. Jokingly, I told Max, 'I'm going to hunt that stand and kill the monster you seen!'
"The next two evenings, I practiced shooting from 40 and 50 yards. If the buck showed and did the same thing, I was pretty confident about making the shot.
"It was three days later and the last morning I'd be able to hunt the rut, so I took all the necessary precautions -- showering in unscented soap, spraying down with scent eliminator, and reactivating my ScentLok camouflage. It was probably a good half-hour before daylight when I headed to the stand, but the moon was bright and lit the way.
"As I approached the stand, I could hear sloshing in the river. I peaked over the bank and could see a buck chasing does back and forth. There wasn't enough light yet to make out any details of his antlers. I quietly moved back, and put out a scent wick containing a little 'doe-in-estrous' scent. I watched and listened to quite a show until just before first light. Then it got quiet.
"By 7 a.m., I hadn't heard or seen any deer, so I decided to try my calling sequence. I started with a snort wheeze, and then waited for 15 or 20 seconds before rattling aggressively for about a minute or so. Shortly after, I let out a few trailing and chasing grunts, then tending grunts. The finale call was the loudest and longest growl that I could muster.
With a 19 6/8-inch inside spread and 23 3/8-inch main beams, Dan Cornelison's whitetail trophy tallied a gross typical score of 181 1/8 inches.
"Just seconds after finishing, I happened to notice a tree being whipped back and forth on the opposite side of the river. Suddenly, I spotted a buck coming through the tall grass on a fast trot. As he got closer, I peaked around the tree and saw that he had drop tines and a lot of points. I realized then it was the same buck Max had seen. If he continued on the same trail, he would cross the river and end up in front of me. I had previously ranged a tree along the river at 35 yards. When the buck reached the spot, I bleated. He stopped just long enough for me to draw, settle the pin behind the shoulder and release. The buck shuddered, turned around and started to walk across the river. From what I could see, the arrow looked well placed but did not have a lot of penetration. I quickly nocked another arrow and attempted to put one through the vitals. The second arrow struck high and the buck dropped instantly. I knew then I'd hit the spine. Reaching for another arrow to make a finishing shot, I realized I was out of arrows."
"As I sat in the stand admiring the old monarch through the binoculars, I was shocked to see a 10- to 12-inch vertical gash on his left side. This was very puzzling because neither of my shots entered that side."
"Knowing the buck wasn't going anywhere, I decided to call Max and tell him that I had shot the monster that he had seen and ask him to bring me another arrow. As it turned out, Max was just getting ready to leave for school. Since I've been known to kid around with him in the past, he didn't believe me. In fact, he got mad because he thought I was messing with him again. He said, 'Look Pa, if you're kidding me, I'm never talking to you again, and I'm not your son.' I assured him that I wasn't kidding and needed his help.
"It was maybe a half-hour later when I spotted Max coming across the ridge above me. There were deer moving in front of him, including a big buck that cautiously came within 5 yards of the stand. The buck continued and crossed the river, then disappeared into the cornfield.
"When Max arrived, he gave me the arrow, and I made the final shot that put the deer to rest. I'll never forget the look and smile on Max's face when he looked over the riverbank and saw the buck. I remember shivering and the deep chill throughout my body that seemed to bog down my limbs. My breathing became erratic as I approached. Just seeing the giant up close was an unbelievable feeling. I happened to notice the strand of barbwire wrapped around the left main beam. We counted the points and agreed on 25. Suddenly, like something out of a horror movie, the buck reared up his head and looked directly at me, and then let out a big exhale.
"Max and I were joking around and giving each other the high-five. I remember telling Max several times how lucky I was to have taken a deer like this. Finally, Max said, 'Quit saying that. The deer is lying right there, and you did it.' I turned to Max and said, 'I wish Scott were here to see this. He would have absolutely loved it!'"
"We turned the deer over to inspect the slash on his side. The wound appeared to be within the last 24 hours. We figured it probably resulted from another bowhunter taking a straight -down shot, which apparently just grazed his side.
"The river had been higher than normal in recent days, so the sandbars were pretty muddy. I remember thinking earlier what a muddy mess it would be getting a deer out of the river bottom. Well, as it turned out, I was about to find out.
"I called a couple of friends, Wade and Scott, to help us. Max and I held the head up so his antlers weren't plowing through the mud, while Wade and Scott winched him out of the river and up the bank with the 4-wheeler.
"Wade estimated that he would gross score around 225. We took some pictures, loaded the deer in Max's truck and headed home."
Cornelison was excited to say the least when he arrowed the buck of a lifetime last year. This past March he took the Madison County giant to the Iowa Deer Classic in Des Moines to have it measured. The 22-point non-typical grossed 225 1/8 and netted 215 6/8 inches.