Last season, when Iowa bowhunter Steve Binkley encountered the biggest buck of his career, he couldn't help but pay tribute to his dad for teaching him to become a hunter.
"My hunting career changed forever on the afternoon of Oct. 27, 2008," Steve said. On that remarkable autumn afternoon, Steve watched a 160-class buck bed down in front of him, but he could never get a shot. Later on, this mega-giant showed up. At 242 non-typical inches, Steve's buck is Iowa's fifth-largest bow buck of all time!
During the first part of the workday on Oct. 27, 2008, all I could think about was getting in my tree stand. I was scheduled to get off at 1:30, and that left me plenty of time for an evening hunt. I was excited because I knew a cold front was moving in. Cold fronts usually mean exceptional deer movement, and I could hardly wait to get in the woods.
This knowledge came from many years of hunting with my father in the rolling hills of Ohio as a young man. My dad taught me about the importance of changes in the weather, along with many other tidbits of information that helped mold me into the hunter I am today.
I learned such things as getting up bright and early, moving quietly, and covering your scent. Dad also taught me to sit still or use a ground blind or a tree stand to help conceal my movement. Dad taught me the importance of making a good, clean, ethical shot. In many cases, we never even took certain shots because of the area in which we hunted.
We lived in the suburbs of Akron and we had to travel to southern Ohio to hunt on public land. Unfortunately, so did many other suburbanites.
I got to see many deer, but they were usually running full bore from all of the lead flying at them from the many other hunters populating the same land we were on. There were a few times I got lucky and a doe would come running my way. So I was able to bring home some meat from hunting camp. I just never could connect with a buck.
NEW HUNTING HORIZONS
It wasn't until later in life when my family moved to the Midwest that I was able to really hone my hunting skills, instead of depending on dumb luck. My brother settled in Iowa and I lived with my parents in Missouri.
Back in Ohio I always tried to do my best and use my skills, but hunting public land with so many other hunters was difficult at best. In the Midwest, I found that the hunting pressure was less intense and the land more plentiful. With this new opportunity, and the basic hunting skills I had already learned, I was able to finally harvest my first buck in 1999. He was a nice 8-pointer and I was completely hooked on whitetail hunting after that.
In Missouri, I hunted mainly with a gun. I bowhunted once in a while, but it wasn't until I moved to Iowa later on that I really started to become the diehard bowhunter I am today.
My brother, Mike, who was already living and hunting in the area, got permission for me to join him on a farm he had been hunting for years. We did a lot of scouting and hung a few stands. There was one stand in particular that I was very fond of. It hung over a creek bed between a feeding and bedding area. The deer traveled this corridor often, and I hunted this stand every time the wind was right.
FIRST TROPHY WHITETAIL
One chilly, rainy late October morning in 2007, I was in that stand before daylight. My stand was facing south, and a doe and a 4-point buck moved by at first light. They worked their way to within 30 yards, and then they headed south toward a bean field that was about 60 yards away. As soon as those two deer reached the bean field, I heard a twig snap to my right. When I turned to look, a buck was standing straight downwind about 20 yards away with his nose in the air. I instantly knew he was a shooter, so I slowly turned to my left and grabbed my Hoyt Intruder bow.
I turned back very cautiously to find him now standing broadside a few yards farther away. I quickly drew back and settled my pin. I squeezed my release and the arrow hit him directly behind the shoulder. He only went about 30 yards before expiring in the creek bed.
I climbed down with my heart still racing and went over to recover my deer. As I walked up on him, I realized that this was not only my first bow kill, it was my largest buck ever!
The rack grossed over 170 inches and netted 156 4/8 P&Y points. I knew that it was going to be difficult to top a deer of this quality. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that very thing would happen the following season!
FINDING MR. BIG
My hunting career changed forever on the afternoon of Oct. 27, 2008. As mentioned at the beginning of this story, I got off work at 1:30 p.m. I drove home, took a shower in scent-eliminating body wash, grabbed my gear, and headed for the field.
The wind was out of the north, so on my way to the farm, I began thinking about where to set up. I had only recently obtained permission to hunt this farm, and unfortunately I didn't have much time to do any pre-season scouting. But the farmer had given me a topo map, so I had a pretty good idea about the lay of the land.
I had only gotten to hunt a handful of times on this farm in 2008. I'd hunted mostly the same stand location, a spot where my brother and I had set up a ladder stand on the west side of a large patch of timber. The stand is in a good area, but I hadn't seen a single deer from it. Now, with a north wind, I knew I had to move, and with a cold front moving in, I was very confident about seeing deer.
When I got to the farm, I decided to hunt the same patch of timber, but I planned to move to the south side. I drove most of the way to my destination and parked my truck on the far side of a hill. There I put on my camo, which I always keep in a plastic tote bag. I grabbed my climber stand and headed for the timber.
OF TURKEYS AND BIG BUCKS
When I rounded the southwest corner of the timber, I saw a flock of turkeys on the far side of the pasture. I really didn't want to spook them, but they were right where I wanted to go. As I headed in their direction, they quickly turned and ran into the timber, right where I planned to hunt.
As I slowly made my way into the southeast end of the timber, I realized that apparently I hadn't spooked the turkeys very badly, because they stayed about 30 yards
in front of me.
I decided to stop and wait for them to move on. They moved west, and as I watched them crest a hill, I caught movement through the trees to the north. I quietly knelt down to get a better look. To my great surprise, I locked in on a beautiful 160-class 10-pointer. I took cover behind a nearby cedar tree so that the buck wouldn't see me.
I couldn't believe it! I had only been there a short while and already I was in the middle of some great action. I hadn't even gotten to the spot where I planned to hunt, and standing not even 40 yards away was a shooter buck!
I tried to be as quiet as possible as I watched him. Suddenly, to my great surprise, he bedded down. I looked at my watch and it was only 3 o'clock, so I decided to wait him out.
A LIVELY AFTERNOON
I had been sitting behind that cedar for about 10 minutes when I heard a rustling in the leaves. I looked in the direction of the sound and saw a small opossum creeping along in my direction. He came and went, and I looked back at the bedded buck, admiring his magnificent rack. Suddenly I heard another rustling. This time it was a raccoon, and it did the same thing the opossum had done.
This is insane, I thought. This cold front has turned this timber into a zoo!
This time when I turned back to look at the bedded buck, I found that he had stood up and was looking in my direction. I figured the 'coon must have gotten his attention.
I was positive he hadn't seen me and couldn't smell me, so I decided to grunt at him to bring him in for a better look. It worked. He started my way but stayed in the cover of a thicket. He came within 20 yards, but he must have seen me then, because we had a "stare down" for what seemed like an eternity.
Apparently he knew that something was not quite right, and he eventually turned and slowly walked away. I was a little bummed out, but I didn't let it spoil my evening. I had plenty of daylight, and obviously the impending cold front had the animals moving. I waited a few more minutes and carried on as planned.
I ventured on a little farther and found a good tree to climb in a small clearing at the top of a deep ravine. It seemed to be a good funnel area with a steep hill to my west and a ravine to the east. An alfalfa field was located just behind the ravine.
THE BUCK OF A LIFETIME
I heard some movement heading my way, and two does stepped into the clearing. Some venison on the table sounded good to me, so I slowly reached for my bow. By the time I got ready, they had moved in right on top of me. As I started to draw my bow, one of the does looked up at me and spooked. When she turned and ran, the other followed suit.
Once again I missed my chance. What bad luck. I wasn't discouraged, though. I looked at my watch and it still was only 5 o'clock.
I've got plenty of daylight, I thought, and I'm going to shoot a monster.
I sat down and let the woods settle down around me. The next hour was uneventful. At 6 o'clock I decided to do a grunt sequence. After about five or six short grunts, I heard noise in the leaves under a canopy of smaller trees. I looked in the direction the noise had come from, and right then a buck stepped into sight. I knew he was an awesome deer, and he was only about 40 yards away!
I instantly reached for my bow and started looking for shooting lanes in the direction he was heading. If he kept heading in the direction he was going, I'd have a wide-open 15- to 20-yard shot!
He got within 10 yards of the lane and stopped. Come on, I thought. A couple of more steps and you're mine!
SOME HEART-THUMPING MOMENTS
Instead, he turned toward me and started to wrestle a low-hanging branch with his antlers.
He then started making a scrape not more than 15 yards from the tree I was in. I simply didn't have a clear shot due to the thick oak tree he was making a scrape under. After what seemed like an eternity, he did something I wasn't expecting. He turned and walked almost directly under my stand. I drew quickly, settled my pin and released.
He was so close I didn't even see my arrow. All I remember seeing was the hair on his back flare up. I immediately thought that I had only nicked him and that he wasn't seriously injured. To my surprise, he ran about 25 yards and stopped. He then turned broadside to look back.
He then stood there and watched me nock another arrow, draw and aim at him again. At that point, I realized I was shaking like a leaf. I did my best to aim for his breadbasket, but when I released my second arrow, it hit him a little far back. My heart instantly sank. But once again, to my amazement, he went only about 10 yards and clumsily stumbled into some tall grass and appeared to go down.
At that point I couldn't see him, and I started freaking out. I didn't know if he was down or not. I called my wife to tell her what had just happened. She tried to calm me down, and told me to relax and wait awhile. I just kept babbling that he was the biggest deer I'd ever seen.
She then asked, "Is he bigger than last year's buck?"
"Yeah," I replied. "Much bigger."
We had a deal that I wouldn't mount another deer unless it was bigger than the three I already had on the wall. I told her this one was definitely going on the wall. I added that I thought he was would score around 200 inches.
She got me calmed down and I waited awhile. But with darkness setting in, I decided to go check things out. I hadn't heard or seen a thing. As I quietly sneaked toward the area of grass he was in, my heart started beating quickly again. I felt that he would either bound away or be lying there dead. As I peered through the grass, I could see that he was down. I carefully poked him in the hindquarters and he didn't move.
I almost fell over! I couldn't believe it. I put down my bow, grabbed a leg, and pulled him out of the grass so I could get a better look at him. When his antlers came into view I almost fell over again. I stood there, quietly looking at this awesome buck for a long time, thinking, Thank you, Dad, for teaching me the ways of the woods; for teaching me to keep my nose to the wind; for teaching me to understand all of the various elements of hunting; but most of all for being patient.
I had been confident that deer would be moving that afternoon, but I never dreamed I would shoot the buck of a lifetime that would score 242 P&Y inches. My buck is currently No. 5 in Iowa with a bow, 16th in the country, and he won the first-place plaque at the 2009 Pope and Young Club's Biennial Awards in Denver last spring. Thanks again, Dad, for all of the hunting knowledge you've given me over the years. This one's for you!
Note: The author recently has started an outfitting business with his dad in north-central Missouri catering to trophy bowhunters. For information visit www.bboutfitting.com.