Whitetail hunting is a way of life in southeastern Iowa, and for brothers John and Floyd Peck, Floyd's daughter, Hattie, and several other family members and friends, the 2008 season will forever be etched in their memories.
Wherever big bucks roam, stories about outrageous whitetails with rocking chair racks often turn some of these animals into local legends. In 2007, rumors about a massive typical buck that carried a world-class set of antlers started circulating in Jefferson County, Iowa. After several sightings, local residents in and around the small farming community of Fairfield started referring to the deer as the "Lock Ridge Monster." Throughout the late summer and early fall of 2007, more than one local whitetail hunter dreamed about catching up with this ultra-wide megabuck during the upcoming '07 season.
The Magnificent Seven: While executing a series of deer drives on the afternoon of Dec. 17, 2008, these seven hunters worked together in an effort to outmaneuver a world-class buck that would come to be known as "Hattie's Buck." Standing, left to right: Dan Delaney, Zach Smith, John Peck and Roger "Pudge" McDowell. Kneeling, left to right: Floyd Peck, Hattie Peck and Vincent Jaeger (with son).
Whitetail hunting is a way of life in southeastern Iowa, and everyone who participates has his or her method to the madness. For John Peck, who farms a sizable chunk of land in Jefferson County, the Iowa shotgun season has long been a special time of year when friends and family get together and share some unforgettable days in the woods chasing gnarly whitetails.
SOME SERIOUS HUNTERS
"For us, it really is a much-anticipated family tradition," John said. "Our group is made up of close-knit family and friends, and we hunt hard to put venison in the freezer and maybe a good buck or two on the wall. Our family started hunting back in the mid-'70s, and we've taken dozens of good bucks over the years.
"In more recent years, we've made a real effort to shoot does and do our part for good management. We never kill a lot of bucks, and I always ask everyone to shoot only those bucks with racks that go past their ears. For instance, last year we shot a total of 49 does and five bucks. Of course, one of those five bucks was something pretty special!
"We sometimes hunt a little during the first shotgun season, but the second shotgun season is what we really concentrate most of our efforts on. We hunt every day of that nine-day season. We also hunt during doe season in January. The deer on my farm have plenty to eat. We always plant crops like beans, alfalfa and corn, and our deer get a lot of good protein. We have wonderful neighbors who let us hunt on their land, and in all we probably hunt around 3,000 acres."
A visit to John's "office" will confirm the fact that he's not exaggerating when he says that he and his group have taken dozens of good bucks over the years. John's office happens to be a large barn out behind his house, and the barn walls are filled with dozens of racks from bucks taken in bygone seasons. John can identify practically every rack and tell you the story behind it. Many of those racks are nice 10-pointers scoring in the mid-130s and higher. Once in a great while a bigger buck will be seen or talked about, and that was the case in 2007.
THE LOCK RIDGE MONSTER
"I've been using Moultrie trail cameras for the past few years, and in late July 2007 we started getting pictures of a huge buck in velvet with an extremely wide spread," John said. "We figured he was 4 1/2 years old at the time. On the very first picture I got of this buck, we noticed that about half the velvet on his left antler was black-looking, as if the antler had been injured. I saw the buck around the first of August and there was definitely something wrong with that antler.
"About that same time, my brother Floyd put out a camera in an area where he likes to hunt, and he got some more photos of the deer. The pictures showed that part of the left antler was missing. We showed some of the photos to a few of our neighbors, and they all looked at them and said, 'Oh, that's the Lock Ridge Monster!'"
(Top) The quest for Hattie's buck began in 2007 when John and Floyd Peck got a series of trail cam photos of a giant buck. As a result of an injury to the buck's left antler in which much of that antler eventually broke off, they declared the buck off limits until 2008. (Bottom) In 2008, trail cam photos showed that the left antler was perfectly normal, and the quest began!
From early August until after velvet shedding in September, John and Floyd got more photos of the buck. Unbelievably, half of the main beam just beyond the left G-2 was gone and about half of the G-2 was gone. "I don't know if the main beam rotted off or just broke off, but pretty soon there was nothing left but about 14 inches of the heavy beam, the brow tine and part of the G-2," John said.
A CALCULATED GAMBLE
"We saw him often in late summer and during harvest," John added. "But with his left antler over half gone, we decided to make him off limits during hunting season. We knew there was a good chance someone else in the neighborhood might harvest him, but we were willing to take that gamble because we thought we'd have a good shot at getting him in 2008.
"And wouldn't you know it -- the minute we called him off limits, we saw him three different times during the season. During shotgun season, he walked up to Floyd and stood broadside at 20 yards. Don't you know Floyd almost went crazy trying to keep from pulling the trigger!
After the season, we found both sheds. The right shed was a typical 5-point side. The left shed was just a 14-inch club. The right side had been chewed on by squirrels, and the tip of the G-3 was missing, but after we later compared it to the 2008 rack, we estimated that it would have scored 98 4/8 inches by itself."
A LONG, HOT SUMMER"In 2008, we started putting out trail cameras in July as usual. We put out three cameras, and we started getting numerous photos of him immediately. It was amazing. His rack grew bigger and bigger, and the left side was perfectly normal. By early August, he was carrying the biggest set of horns any of us had ever seen. We knew he was a one-of-a-kind deer. As hunting season drew near, we didn't know what to do. Floyd, Vincent and I thought about applying for early muzzleloader tags or maybe even taking up bowhunting.
That's how important he was! We were afraid he wouldn't survive until shotgun season.
"Because of our workload (we often work seven days a week during fall harvest), and because we didn't think it would be fair for us to get to hunt him early in the season, the three of us decided to wait and do it the way we always do it so that everyone in our group would have a fair chance at harvesting him. We knew we were taking a big risk.
By early November, several people had actually seen him and a lot of people knew he was in the area.
"Vincent and I went out once during the first shotgun season just to see what was out there, but we never saw the big buck," John continued. "When the second shotgun season started, everyone in our group knew that he or she had an equal chance at the big boy. I felt pretty confident that someone in our group was going to get him."
SECOND SHOTGUN SEASON
"We hunt exclusively by doing deer drives," John said. "That's the way we've always done it. We hunt all day long, and we probably do four or five drives a day. The individuals in our group might vary from day to day, but most of us hunt every day of the nine-day season. Our drives are always well planned and well organized. We have a big aerial map of the property in the barn, and every morning we meet there and go over the details of the various drives we have planned for that day. I set up all the hunts and tell everyone where to take a stand. Then I usually take the drivers with me and we start the day's hunt. All of that takes place after Dan and I have gotten up at 3:30 to feed the cattle and get some of the other daily chores done!
Hattie Peck, 24, had been hunting with her dad, Floyd, and other family members since she was 20, and she had a number of deer to her credit. When this buck showed up last year during a well-planned drive, the buck turned to run just as Hattie fired her 20-gauge shotgun, and the slug broke the deer's back leg. Floyd tracked down the colossal whitetail and ended the drama.
"I had a good idea of where the big buck's core area was, and since I didn't want to push him out of that area right off the bat, we hunted an area south of there on Saturday, Dec. 13 (opening day). On Sunday we hunted a neighbor's farm. One of our hunters, Vincent Jaeger, saw the big boy and took a long shot at him as he was going across a field, but Vincent missed. We didn't pursue him after that because again we didn't want him to leave his core area.
"On Monday, we hunted another farm. By Tuesday, I felt that the big one should be back in his core area, so we set up several drives close to that area. On the first drive, Roger 'Pudge' McDowell pushed him out of a woodlot where we thought he might be hiding. Vincent saw him run out across an open field with several does, but it was too far for a shot. We knew where he was, so we quickly regrouped and did another drive. Sure enough, the does ran out first and he was right behind them. Vincent took another long shot at him but missed again. We didn't try to push him any more that day."
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
"On Wednesday, Dec. 17, we hunted another area on our morning drives," John said.
"There were seven of us hunting that day: me; my brother Floyd; Floyd's daughter, Hattie; my son-in-law Dan Delaney; Vincent Jaeger (whose dad, a good friend, was a regular in our group until, sadly, he died about eight years ago); Vincent's cousin, Zach Smith; and Pudge McDowell (a good family friend who used to live close by but had since moved to Ohio, although Pudge always returns to hunt with our group during shotgun season). It was snowing that day with about 6 or 7 inches of fresh snow covering the ground. (Note: Most of the people in our group hunt every day of the second shotgun season, and our daily hunt groups always consist of about seven or eight people.
However, two of our group who had been hunting with us most of the week -- Adam Stockwell and Jim Hewitt -- could not hunt with us on Wednesday.)
"About 3 o'clock, we decided to go for broke. We decided to do a drive through an 80-acre patch of woods that we had been purposely saving. This patch of woods was where Floyd and I figured the buck might be hiding out. Vincent, Floyd and I were the drivers. Dan, Hattie, Pudge and Zach were the standers. As we came through that wooded 80 acres, we heard shooting ahead. We didn't know it at the time, but the big buck had been in that patch of woods with some does, and we pushed them all ahead toward the waiting standers."
Dan, Hattie and Zach were strategically placed at the tips of several wooded fingers overlooking a large cut bean field. Hattie was the first to see action. A group of does came out of the woods directly across the bean field from where she was stationed. They circled around the snow-covered field and came right by her. She shot one of them with her H&R 20-gauge single shot. While she was reloading, she looked up and saw a huge set of antlers atop a big buck that was just cresting a small rise 30 yards away. The buck saw Hattie at the same time and whirled around to run off. Hattie instinctively aimed and fired just as the buck was turning around. Her slug hit the buck low in the back leg. The buck ran off and disappeared.
Hattie started yelling immediately. Dan had seen three does emerge from the woodlot followed by three lesser bucks. "One of them was really nice," Dan said. "Seconds later, I heard Hattie shoot. Then I heard a second shot. I hoped she hadn't shot one of the lesser bucks. I waited until Floyd came out of the woods and we walked up to find Hattie together."
As the two hunters approached, Hattie yelled, "Dad, Dad! He was huge and he was beautiful!"
At this point, no one knew that Hattie had indeed shot the Lock Ridge Monster. However, from then on, the buck would be known as "Hattie's Buck." Floyd looked around and found a lone set of tracks in the snow. "I walked over and found a small piece of leg bone about 1 inch long in the snow," Floyd said. "There was no blood at all. From the spacing of the tracks in the snow, I could tell that he was really moving out. I followed the tracks for a short distance and came to a spot where he had jumped a 4-foot fence near a ditch.
The ground was much lower on the other side of the fence, and I could see where the buck had crashed to the ground in the snow.
tly the slug had not broken the deer's back leg all the way through. But when the big buck hit the ground after jumping the fence, the weakened bone shattered, causing him to go down. At that point, he also started leaving a good blood trail. I could see in the snow where he got back up and took off. I stopped following him at that point and waited for John to come out of the woods so that we could make a new plan."
A BIG SIGH OF RELIEF
"We regrouped around 4.p.m. and quickly made plans to go after Hattie's buck," John said. "Dan, Vincent, Hattie and Pudge ran about a half-mile back to their truck and drove around to take positions in front of the buck. I sent Zach around to another spot on foot. I stayed where I was in case the buck tried to double back, and Floyd started following the buck's trail."
Knowing the big buck was somewhere ahead, Floyd was extremely cautious. "I found six or seven beds in the snow where he had gone down," Floyd said. "He went into a very thick and grown-up bottom that we call the 'bayou.' It has steep ridges on two sides, so I stayed on the high ground. After going a short distance, I saw him through the trees about 100 yards ahead. Knowing he was badly wounded, I started shooting through the heavy cover, trying to put him down, but I kept missing. I was pretty excited. I was shooting a borrowed shotgun belonging to Adam Stockwell, and I kept reloading and shooting, but it was tough shooting through the trees. In all, it took seven shots before he finally went down for good.
The sheds from Hattie's buck as compared to the original rack show the injured left antler. Because half of that antler was missing, the buck was declared off limits in 2007. The 2008 rack grew back perfectly normal.
"I ran to him as quickly as I could. When I got there I couldn't believe what was lying in front of me. It was him, the big one, and I was yelling as loud as I could. Zach heard me and reached me about the same time John did. Zach slid to his knees in the snow and said, 'I've never seen anything like this in my life!'
"Hattie and Roger arrived moments later. Everyone was in total disbelief and everyone was talking at once. The snow was totally packed down around the buck. All in all, it had been one helluva afternoon!"
John felt a tremendous sense of relief. "Thank goodness we got him,"John said. "We decided right then and there the hunt for Hattie's buck had been a group effort all the way and that ownership in the buck belonged to all seven of us equally. We stayed up that night celebrating and drinking champagne. I called the game warden and he said he'd come by the next morning. If it hadn't been for the total cooperation of some of our adjoining neighbors, we probably never would have gotten that buck. We've had a great working relationship with many of our neighbors for a long time, and we really appreciate what they do for us."
Hattie's world-class buck was 5 1/2 years old. The rack of the 20-point mega-giant had a typical 5x6 frame with an eye-popping 26-inch inside spread. With main beams measuring 30 1/8 inches and 31 1/8 inches, and two tines over 13 inches in length, the gross typical score tallied 222 2/8 inches. The third and fourth circumference measurements were all over 5 inches in length. After deductions, the net typical score was 210 2/8. When you add in the additional 22 1/8 inches of non-typical growth, the final net score comes to 232 3/8 non-typical B&C points.
Had the left antler not been injured in 2007, and had it been a normal 5-point antler like its mate, the gross typical score would probably have been about the same as the 2008 score, around 222 inches. From trail cam photos, the '07 rack appears to be very similar to the '08 rack. But the net non-typical score is very deceiving. Without a doubt, Hattie's buck ranks way up there with only a handful of very elite whitetails that have ever had a gross typical score of over 220 inches. For sure, this great Iowa buck will always be in a class by itself!