September 22, 2010
By Bill Winke
Chris Wood had participated in numerous deer drives as a pusher on that fateful Saturday last December. Now, at last, it was his turn to be a stander. Little did he know that he was about to make history!
By Bill Winke
When Chris Wood saw this unbelievable buck sneaking through the brush, he had little time to analyze the antlers. Instead, he concentrated on the shot. Later on, he was stunned when he recovered this 33-point mega-giant. The 263 1/8-inch Iowa bruiser is definitely one of the largest bucks ever to be taken on an organized deer drive.
Chris Wood of Des Moines, Iowa, will be the first to admit that the story behind the great buck he shot last year is not one of those nail-biting tales in which he pursued a certain buck for several years and finally succeeded at the last minute. In fact, the first time Chris realized that this buck was a true monster was when he walked up to it after making the shot. But any time a hunter shoots a 260-plus-inch buck that is destined to become Iowa's No. 4 non-typical of all time, the story is sure to be memorable!
"I wasn't even sure I wanted to go deer hunting that day," Chris admitted. "I'm primarily a duck hunter, and the duck season was still going on during the first week of December.
Some of my duck hunting buddies were going deer hunting, and they invited me to join them. A few of the guys in the group had been hunting several local farms over the past five years, and they'd taken some nice bucks in the 140 to 150 class."
The Iowa shotgun opener fell on Dec. 6 last year. If you've never hunted Iowa, you may be surprised to learn that the vast majority of hunters engage in deer drives during firearms season. I'd say at least 90 percent of Iowa's shotgun hunters use this strategy.
For many hard-working Iowans, it's a rich tradition shared by landowners, farmers, family members and friends alike. It's very effective and it produces plenty of action and venison. It's also a great way to shoot some does for the freezer. Party hunting is another Iowa tradition. As long as there is one open tag in the group, the entire party can keep hunting in an effort to fill that tag. Both of these Iowa traditions helped shape Chris' amazing weekend.
On opening morning, Chris found himself amidst a group of orange-clad hunters preparing to walk through one of the many woodlots in southwestern Iowa where the men had permission to hunt. Chris had a camouflaged Winchester slug gun in his hands and a bird whistle around his neck (for communication while driving), but he harbored no expectations for anything out of the ordinary.
THE FIRST DRIVE
"We went to the first spot, and I had no idea where I was going," Chris said. "I was a pusher and I just followed directions. Midway through the drive, about 60 deer came back through, heading the wrong way. Some of the pushers were able to shoot a few of those deer (mostly does). We ended the drive, but we knew we had not done justice to that spot.
"As we were coming out of the woods after that first hunt, the landowner on the neighboring property stopped us and asked us not to access the land we'd been hunting through his field. In the past, the group had been crossing this fellow's field (apparently with his permission) to make it easier to organize the drive. We agreed not to cross his field again and we were soon headed to the next area that we planned to hunt.
"The day wore on and I was a driver on every push. I was starting to understand why my friends had wanted me to go deer hunting with them so badly. They needed more drivers!
Being an avid waterfowl hunter, Chris Wood was invited to go deer hunting with several of his duck hunting friends in early December last year. The result of that impromptu hunt was Iowa's No. 4 non-typical of all time!
After we hunted a few more farms, we still had several tags left open, so we decided to go back to the first spot we had hunted that morning. Because of all the deer we had seen earlier, we thought we could still be successful in this spot by driving it again from a different direction.
"This time the standers would have to do most of the walking to get into position, and wouldn't you know it, I was finally a stander! But I wasn't complaining, and I soon found myself heading out to my designated position. When I got to my spot, I noticed a wide gap between me and the hunter nearest to me, so I moved over slightly to better cover that gap. As things turned out, I certainly am glad that I did that!"
A DATE WITH DESTINY
"As the drive got started, some does came through immediately. I couldn't get a shot and I was upset because I knew we still had tags to fill. About 15 minutes later, I heard something. I looked up to see antlers coming through the woods. I couldn't tell how big the buck was because it was so thick. He was walking steadily, and I started searching for a hole that I could shoot through. I never looked at the antlers again because I was too busy trying to ready myself for the shot.
"When the buck finally stepped into an open lane about 50 yards away, I whistled to make him stop. He paused and I shot -- all in one fluid motion. He immediately lunged forward and went out of sight. I wasn't even sure if I had hit him or not.
"As mentioned, we use bird whistles to help us keep track of each other. As the drivers draw near to the standers during a drive, they start 'tweating' to make sure everyone knows where everyone else is. We do that for safety reasons. I wanted to go look for the buck, but I decided I'd better stay in place until I heard the 'tweat tweating' as the drivers approached. I tried to relax, but after 20 minutes it was eating me up. I really wanted to know if I had hit the buck.
"Finally one of the drivers showed up and asked if I'd seen the huge buck that was headed my way. He had not been able to get a shot. I told him that I had, in fact, shot at a buck but I wasn't sure how big the deer was. We walked over to where the buck had been standing and began looking for blood. There was a small bit of snow on the ground and I spotted a tiny speck of blood in the snow. I had hit him!
A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES
"Then we looked up and saw him! He was lying 40 yards away out on the edge of a field.
I still couldn't see him that well, but the other fellow said, 'Yep, that's definitely th
e monster I saw.' We quickly walked over to the buck for a closer look. That's when it first hit me. I was simply overwhelmed by the sight. I couldn't believe what I had shot. I had no idea the buck was that big. No one in our group had mentioned anything about the existence of this buck. No one had any idea he was around.
"I started counting the points and reached 33. I was extremely excited, but out of respect for the other guys in the group, I didn't want to rub it in. I tagged him and then we left the buck to make sure the drive was over and to meet with the remainder of the group. We all gathered back at the trucks. There was one distraction. One of the guys walked out through the neighbor's ground, the same neighbor who had asked us to stay out earlier in the day. The landowner was understandably angry and he had a few words with the fellow from our group. I didn't even go over there. It was none of my business. The entire incident was cleared up quickly, but it came back to be a thorn in my side later on.
"Back at the truck, I told the guys that I had shot a 33-pointer. They knew me as a practical joker, so no one took me seriously. 'Yea, right,' is about all I could get out of them. I almost had to plead with them to take me seriously. Eventually, they realized I wasn't kidding. Matt Boeman volunteered to go back with me to drag the buck to a place where we could get to it with the Ranger.
"I was terrified about field dressing my buck for fear that I would damage the cape. I was so nervous that it's a wonder I didn't cut myself! Unfortunately, there was no easy way to get to the spot where the buck went down, so we had to drag him a long way across a ravine. I really want to thank Matt. It was a lot of work!
"When we finally got the buck back to the truck, everyone was in awe and they were very happy for me. I was so thankful to the whole group for giving me the opportunity. Aside from Matt and me, there were 11 other hunters in the group. I'd like to name and thank each one of them individually: Nick Ballard, Bob Ballard, Bill Day, Cory Ballard, Austin Ballard, Scott Cooley, Steve Clarck, Chad Ballard, Jeremy Voca, Ryan Fodral and Andrew Putz. Thank you all!
"We had actually filled all of our open tags on that last drive, so we headed into town to get some gas for the trip back to the Des Moines area where we all lived. I was out looking for diesel while the truck holding my buck stopped at a local Casey's. A big crowd formed around that truck and everyone was excited and amazed. Two guys even drove all the way to the station where I was getting diesel just to congratulate me. That made me realize what a special buck I'd taken.
"The next morning, Mark DeHaan, a good friend, allowed me to hang the buck in his garage so that people could come and see it. I called all my friends and about 60 to 70 people came over to look at the deer. That was the neatest part of the whole experience.
Everyone was happy for me and they all enjoyed seeing this giant buck. We all agreed that we probably would never see another buck like that for as long as we lived.
"I didn't know what to do next. A friend suggested that I call wildlife artist Larry Zach, who lives in my area. Larry suggested that I contact Bill Winke to get some photos of the buck before I took it to the taxidermist. I also called the local game wardens to tell them that I had shot this big buck. They didn't seem particularly concerned and simply said,
'Thanks for calling us.'
"I contacted Bill and drove down to his house, where he later photographed and videotaped my buck. Game Warden Randy McPherren happened to be at Bill's when I got there and we talked a long time about the deer. Randy is also an official scorer and he green-scored the rack at more than 250 inches. We knew a score that high that would put the buck in rare company.
"From there, I rushed 2 1/2 hours up to Joe Meder's taxidermy studio in Solon, Iowa, to get the head professionally caped. It was probably 8 p.m. before I got to Joe's studio. By then, it was starting to spit rain and that rain was freezing to the roads. The minute I stepped into Joe's studio, I knew I had the right guy. His work is awesome. Joe stood out there under his garage light and caped my buck in his driveway. He kept the antlers. I then rushed home in an attempt to beat the winter storm. Finally, after a full weekend of intense excitement, I was able to sit down and take a deep breath. All three of the above-mentioned guys -- Bill Winke, Randy McPherran and Joe Meder -- were very helpful to me and I want to thank them.
"It's funny how fast the Internet can transmit a story and photo. On Tuesday morning, I got a call from a guy in the telecom business in New York who had seen a picture of my buck in his e-mail! I couldn't believe it.
"The rumor mill also started up about then. I got phone calls from people who said that I was being dragged through the mud on various Web forums. I didn't get on any of those Web sites to read about it. I didn't want to get mad and have the experience turn sour, so I just stayed away. The most bizarre phone call was from a friend who asked, 'Are you in jail?' Since he had called me on my cell phone, I asked him, 'How could I be talking to you on my cell phone if I'm in jail?'
"He said he had read that I was a convicted felon and that I wasn't allowed to possess a firearm, and that's why I supposedly was in jail. I laughed. Stuff like that bothered my mother much more than it bothered me.
"Many of the Internet rumors claimed that I'd been trespassing when I shot my buck. I think some of that stemmed from the friction caused when the fellow from our group walked across the neighbor's land on his way back to the vehicles. Nothing ever came of that beyond the discussion with the angry landowner, and no trespassing ever took place during the actual hunt itself. We had permission to be hunting where we were hunting when I killed my buck, and my buck was taken by 100 percent legal means.
"But nothing could stop the Internet rumor mill from reporting that the deer had been confiscated -- 'Without question -- we know it for a fact.' Of course, it was not true.
Resulting calls from southwest Iowa hunters to the DNR prompted an investigation that failed to turn up any grounds for a trespassing charge.
"I stayed away from the forums and the rumors, but a few Web sites even went so far as to call me to get my side of the story. Those rumors definitely cast a negative shadow over an otherwise fantastic experience. If you ever shoot a big deer, I recommend that you steer clear of the Internet!
IN SOME ELITE COMPANY
"Over the next few weeks, I stayed busy making a laminated hardwood pedestal for
the mounted head. Paul Little helped me make it, and I now have a great appreciation for the craft of woodworking. I really appreciated Paul's help. We stayed up late several evenings working on the pedestal.
"Joe Meder had the mount finished in time for the Iowa Deer Classic in early March 2009. My buck was the biggest gun kill entered in the show. It ranked second behind the incredible buck arrowed by bowhunter Kyle Simmons."
Well-known official B&C measurer Dale Ream of Missouri scored the rack at 263 1/8 net non-typical points. That ranks Chris' great buck Iowa's No. 4 whitetail of all time.
The No. 2 spot is held by Larry Raveling. Shot in 1973 (also with a shotgun), the Raveling buck scores 282. The Tony Lovstuen buck, taken with a muzzleloader in 2003, holds the No. 1 spot in the state, with a score of 307 5/8 inches. The Lovstuen buck is also the largest buck ever killed by a hunter!
The Wood buck boasts 33 scorable points and is most notable for its balance. The typical 6x7 frame is extremely symmetrical with only 5 6/8 inches in side-to-side deductions.
When you add in the nearly 64 inches of non-typical growth to the gross typical frame of 205 2/8, it's easy to see why this net-263 1/8-inch mega-rack stands in a class by itself.
"There are a few more people I'd like to thank," Chris said. "I want to thank Steve Snell, Gary Roberts, Rick Reid, Dave Hyler, Jason Rex, Brad Beighler and my mom and dad for the help they gave me during the entire process. I'm the luckiest man alive to have been in the right place at the right time in order to shoot such a great buck. God has truly blessed me!"