It looked like all was lost for this Iowa bowhunter. Having rattled in a giant non-typical to within 45 yards, the hunter watched helplessly as the buck turned and walked away. But then a little unexpected help saved the day.
It was a snowy December day, and I could feel the below-zero wind chill as I topped the hill to check for deer. Just below me I could see five does bedded down in a brushpile, seeking shelter from the wind. A second later they caught my movement and headed across the open hillside. Taking careful aim with the old Remington Model 11 shotgun that my grandfather had passed down to me, I harvested my first deer, a doe.
Just at the critical moment when this brute was about to step within bow range, Scott McIntire "dinged" his stand with his rattling antlers, and the monster quickly retreated. When Scott made a last-ditch effort to rattle again, a smaller buck came charging in, and Mr. Big came back.
I was 16 then, and since I shared that hunt with my dad and grandfather, it will be etched in my mind forever. Today, hunting whitetails has become my obsession. Now at 50, whether I'm hunting alone or hunting with family and friends, the thrill of the hunt and nature's splendor have never failed to impress me.
NOTHING LIKE BOWHUNTING
I started bowhunting several years ago. To me it's a sport that offers both an opportunity to enjoy the quiet solitude of the outdoors and the ultimate hunting challenge. To get close enough to one of nature's most magnificent animals in hopes of making the harvest while your heart is trying its best to pound its way out of your chest is an experience like none other! Each time you take the field, you carry with you the thought that maybe today you will see the buck of a lifetime. That amazing day finally came for me on Nov. 18, 2006.
During the 2005 archery season, my good friend Gordy Edwards and I drove to a new area that we'd been planning to check out. As it was early afternoon, we hiked back into a funnel south of a large creek bottom bedding area. As we approached the bottom, we noticed several large scrapes and rub lines running along both sides of the creek.
Since we both had climbing stands with us, we split up. I got on one side of the creek and Gordy took the other. After we'd gotten settled in for the afternoon hunt, a light rain began to fall. It soon turned into a torrential downpour, and lightning forced us to call it a day.
Within a few days, Gordy and I were fortunate enough to harvest nice bucks. That ended the 2005 bow season for us, and we never had another opportunity to return to that promising creek bottom that year. However, we made up our minds that in 2006 we'd return early in the season and try to put up at least one permanent stand along the large scrape line.
LOOKING FOR MR. BIG
The 2006 bow season finally arrived. In early October, Gordy and I were out one day putting up stands in another area when we decided to take a stand back to that old creek bottom "honeyhole." Once back along the creek bottleneck, we found a large oak tree that gave us excellent cover as well as several shooting lanes.
We were just starting to see a few early rubs on small trees, and the tree was located within shooting distance of at least three trails. We decided to install the stand about 25 feet up that oak tree with hopes that we could intercept the old monarch that had made his mark so apparent in 2005.
We returned the area together only a handful of times and only hunted the stand a few times individually because we did not want to over-hunt it. We saw numerous bucks each time, but none that we wanted to harvest. By late October, we were starting to see a lot of big scrapes and rubs just like the year before. In fact, two new scrapes had been made right below our stand under one of the low-hanging limbs of the very oak tree we were sitting in!
I decided to take a week's vacation starting on Saturday, Nov. 18, to do some hard hunting during the tail end of the rut. I felt that this would be the time when the big bucks would be searching out the last does in estrus. I decided to return to the oak stand on the first afternoon of my vacation because a brisk northern breeze would be working to my advantage.
MAKING IT HAPPEN, ALMOST
I am a strong believer in rattling and I prefer to use real antlers. I've used my "horns" many times to coax in curious bucks as late as Thanksgiving. As soon as I was settled in my stand, I began to rattle at 20-minute intervals. As I searched the area for responding bucks, I saw what I believed to be the backside of a deer some distance away.
After watching the object for several minutes, I had just about decided that it was some sort of brushy configuration instead of a deer when I picked up the movement of antlers. I touched the horns together again and coaxed lightly with my grunt tube.
The buck began to move along the edge of the creek bottom toward my stand. He came to within 50 yards before pausing behind a large fallen tree. He stood motionless for several minutes, just out of bow range. He was close enough now for me to see that he had a very unusual non-typical rack.
Knowing that I had to try to draw him to within 40 yards or less for a good shot, I decided to try a call. Holding my bow in my left hand, I turned ever so slowly as I reached into my pocket. With a Primos can call in hand, I turned the call, and the buck immediately looked in the direction of the sound.
After another motionless standoff, I reached with my free hand and found my rattling horns. I clicked them together softly in hopes of bringing him a few steps closer. Seconds later, he still hadn't moved and my bow arm was becoming weary. As I attempted to lay the horns down, I barely bumped the frame of my stand. The big buck's head came up.
He wasn't really alarmed, but being extremely cautious he turned and started back the way he had come. Within moments he was a full 150 yards away.
A LITTLE UNEXPECTED HELP
The critical time comes in every hunt when you have to make a decision. Either you take a chance right then and there or you wait for another day. I knew I had to try to make something happen right then or the opportunity might be lost forever. So I grabbed the horns one more time. Adding the grunt tube to my aggressive calling, I made a final attempt to turn the buck around, but he didn't look like he was buying into it. Then, suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw another smaller buck charging toward me.
The smaller buck was on a beeline for my tree when the larger buck spotted him. All at once the quiet timber turned into
noisy chaos as the big buck changed his mind and decided to claim his territory.
The smaller buck passed within 15 yards of my stand with the big buck hot on his trail.
Now the task was to slow down the big boy. I grunted, hoping he would stop, but he was on a mission. I grunted again. He was in front of me now and I could see that both his body and his antlers were huge. He wasn't going to stop and I knew I couldn't wait any longer.
Coming to full draw with my BowTech Patriot, my finger squeezed the release, and the arrow sailed toward the moving deer. Tipped with a Grim Reaper, the arrow did its job, entering just behind the shoulder blade and hitting him hard as it passed through.
Seconds later he collapsed near a fallen tree at the very spot where he had stood only moments before. After a short wait, anticipation got the best of me. I quickly climbed down to make sure that there would be no heartbreaking rally. It was only after reaching the deer's side that I realized what a true monarch I had harvested. A quick count produced over 30 points. I reached for my cell phone. My first call was to my wife, Jan. I knew she would fill in the rest of the family. The next call was to Gordy, and then to my brother-in-law Kevin Staggs.
Before long, help had arrived, along with the realization that this was indeed a very special whitetail! My son, Cody, made the official tally and came up with 40 points -- 15 on the right side and 25 on the left. It was the best of hunts, made even better by sharing the moment with family and friends.
A LOT TO BE THANKFUL FOR
Later on, the 2006 season would be remembered as the finest year I've ever experienced in the southern Iowa countryside that I've always called home. Jan took her first tom turkey; my daughter, Haley, took her first deer; and my son, Cody, arrowed another nice buck. All of this took place within three miles of where I shot that first doe 34 years ago.
After the 60-day drying period, Dale and Joe Ream of Unionville, Missouri, who both serve as B&C and P&Y scorers, measured the rack. With 40 measurable points, the huge rack tallied up a gross non-typical score of 264€‚3/8. It netted 249€‚1/8. This makes my buck the second-largest non-typical archery buck ever harvested in Iowa, as well as the highest-grossing non-typical ever!
In March 2006, I entered the buck in the Big Buck Contest at the 2007 Iowa Deer Classic in Des Moines. Out of more than 300 deer entered for the 2005-2006 hunting season, my buck was the highest-net-scoring deer at the show. It won first place in the non-typical archery division and also won the "People's Choice Award."
If it hadn't been for that other, smaller buck charging in, I don't think I ever would have taken him!