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Growing Mr. Big

Growing Mr. Big

When Iowa bowhunter Ron Ludwig and several relatives decided to buy a piece of hunting land, their goal was to manage the acreage for bigger and better bucks. Last season, Ron surpassed that goal with an Iowa megabuck.

At the beginning of the 2007 season, 44-year-old Ron Ludwig of Lake City, Iowa, set his sights on getting another crack at a large buck that he'd had a close encounter with the season before. The buck in question sported a main-frame 6x6 rack that was bigger than any antlers Ron had ever seen before.

While glassing the huge 6x6 late one afternoon in the edge of a field planted in winter rye, Ron noticed that the buck walked by an old barn twice. Because of tough wind conditions, Ron later decided to hunt from the barn's loft. The idea paid off handsomely! (Inset) In November 2006, Ron's sister called to tell him about a big buck in her back yard. Ron rushed over and snapped one picture in the growing darkness before the buck disappeared.

A veteran bowhunter of 17 years, Ron had long dreamed about shooting a deer that would qualify for the B&C records. However, like most avid hunters around Calhoun County, Ron was painfully aware that bucks of this caliber were extremely rare.

Several years ago Ron sat down and evaluated his hunting situation, because a fair amount of the hunting ground around his hometown was being leased or bought up. As a result, it was getting harder to find and retain a place to hunt. Ron and several family members decided to get serious about trying to buy their own piece of "whitetail heaven." Ron had his eye on a 160-acre tract that he'd been hunting for a number of years. When it came up for sale, the family snatched it up.

From the very start, Ron and his family implemented an aggressive deer management program with a long-term goal of improving the habitat so that they could grow and retain bigger bucks on the property. It took several years, but all of the hard work paid off.

"The first time I ever laid eyes on the big 6x6 was back in October 2006," Ron said. "Deer of that size aren't that common in our area, so you can imagine how excited I was after spotting him in the field one night. I remember calling my brother-in-law, Perry Corey, who also hunts the property, to share the news. Needless to say, Perry got there in no time flat. Fortunately, the buck was still in sight, and we watched him from a distance until well after dark.

"I continued seeing the 6x6 buck off and on, but I never seemed to be in the right place at the right time. That is, until one morning in mid-November. My stand that morning overlooked the bottom of a deep draw. The first three hours after sunrise were slow. By midmorning only two small bucks and two does had passed through. However, around 10 a.m., I heard a deer walking down the draw behind me. When I turned to look, I was taken by surprise to see the big 12-pointer.


"I grabbed the grunt call and grunted twice, hoping to stop the buck and turn him around. It worked. Almost instantly he started up the draw toward me at a steady walk. When he got within 40 yards, though, he suddenly stopped. I'm not sure whether he smelled me or not, but apparently he sensed that something wasn't quite right. He never offered a shot, but instead turned and walked back the opposite way."

A few days later, Scott Benz, a neighbor, reported seeing the buck on his place. Scott had set up a tree stand for a friend who was hunting with him that week. The stand just happened to be in a travel corridor near the spot where Ron had sighted the big deer. As it turned out, Scott's buddy got cold and headed back to the house just minutes before the deer walked down the path.

Ron saw the deer several more times in 2006, but never within bow range. Shotgun season came and went, and Ron was greatly relieved when he didn't hear any reports about the big buck being shot. He was hoping that the big boy was still alive and kicking!

In March 2007, Ron and his brother-in-law Chad Morrow found the deer's left shed antler on the neighboring property. That prompted an intensive search for the matching side. Unfortunately, the right shed was never recovered. However, knowing the buck was alive caused Ron to become more determined than ever to pursue his dream in 2007.

Except while shed hunting, Ron prefers to take a low-profile approach to his scouting. In June, he set out trail cameras in known travel corridors with hopes of capturing an image of the buck. As it turned out, he got numerous photos of other deer, but not a single image of Mr. Big. Ron was convinced the deer was either nocturnal or holding up elsewhere.

As good luck would have it, Ron got his first visual of the deer one evening in late August while driving home from work. From the road, he spotted three bucks in a soybean field. A closer look through binoculars revealed that the biggest was none other than the elusive 12-pointer. Interestingly, the deer was nearly four miles from where Ron had seen him the previous fall.

Scorable Points:16 (9R, 7 L)TOTAL LENGTH OF ABNORMAL POINTS: 9 0/8
Tip-To-Tip Spread:18 7/8
Greatest Spread:23 5/8
Inside Spread:21 2/8
Main Beam25 4/825 4/8--
1st Point (G-1)6 4/86 7/83/8
2nd Point (G-2)10 2/89 2/81 0/8
3rd Point (G-3)10 6/810 6/8--
4th Point (G-4)8 4/88 3/81/8
5th Point (G-5)5 2/82 6/82 4/8
1st circ. (H-1)5 3/85 0/83/8
2nd circ. (H-2)4 7/84 4/83/8
3rd circ. (H-3)5 0/85 0/8--
4th circ. (H-4)5 2/84 5/85/8
TOTALS:87 2/882 5/85 3/8
Gross Typical Score:191 1/8
Subtract side-to-side differences:-5 3/8
Subtract abnormal points-9 0/8
TAKEN BY: Ron Ludwig, DATE: November 25, 2007, LOCATION: Calhoun County, Iowa

"I'd been out hunting maybe a dozen times by the first week of November and hadn't seen much of anything in terms of size," Ron related. "Then during the third week of November, a big 10-point with striking similarities to the 12 suddenly appeared from out of nowhere. The instant I saw the deer, I made up my mind to end the season if the opportunity presented itself. The buck came in at a steady walk, but then he stopped directly beneath the overhanging branches of a tree 10 yards away. He began rubbing the tree.

"Even though I couldn't get a clear shot, I drew back my Mathews bow and waited with my finger on the release trigger, just in case. Wouldn't you know it -- about the time he stopped rubbing the tree, a young buck suddenly appeared. For whatever reason, the 10-point took off, chasing the small buck away.

"In one way I was a little let down. And at the same time I was relieved. Don't get me wrong -- the 10-point was no slouch by any means, but after spending two years trying to close the gap on the big 12, I'm sure I would have regretted shooting the 10-point buck.

"From all indications, the rut was on the downward slide by the third week of November. We were planning to have a belated Thanksgiving dinner for the entire family at our house on Saturday, so it left me open to hunt Thanksgiving Day."

On the afternoon when Ron finally got close enough to Mr. Big for a shot, the buck appeared and disappeared twice before finally stepping into range on the third sighting. Ron knew what to do!

"That evening I hunted a stand in a narrow finger that extended into a cornfield. The deer often use the point as a staging area. Two small bucks and two does meandered by early, but I saw nothing after that. With only minutes of light remaining, I took the opportunity to slip out undetected.

"By the time I reached the truck there was still enough light for glassing. The one field I wanted to check out was planted in winter rye and bordered the edges of a deep draw. It's actually the same field where I had spotted the big buck a half dozen times before. I have a stand in both the upper and lower ends of the draw, but rarely hunt them because the wind seldom cooperates.

"There's an old, abandoned barn and corn crib at the top end of the draw. The rye field is only a few yards from the buildings. My other brother-in-law, Perry Morrow, farms the tillable ground and raises a few head of cattle on this tract, so the deer are somewhat used to hearing farm machinery and vehicles driving up the lane. That's probably why I was able to drive within 100 yards of the buildings.

"I hadn't been there long when I spotted two deer bedded near the edge of the timber. Much to my surprise, one of them was the big 12-point and the other was a small doe. Although I'm certain the buck saw me drive in, he apparently had no intention of leaving the doe's side. I assumed she was either in heat or darn close to it.

"That was the closest I'd been to this deer since my encounter the season before, and it gave me a good opportunity to really study his rack. He had a basic 6x6 frame with kickers on both the right G-2 and G-3. He also had a split brow (G-1) on the left side. (The rack also had a 1-inch burr point that Ron could not see.) I watched the buck until dark, and then left quietly.

"I wanted to hunt that spot the next day, but the wind didn't cooperate. The best-case scenario was for a northwest wind. With any other wind, I knew the deer would catch my scent long before they ever reached the field."

"The wind wasn't any better on Saturday morning, so I stayed home. Since my wife and I were having Thanksgiving dinner for the family, I stayed home that afternoon as well. Typically, when the family gets together during the holidays, we have a routine that we follow. After we've stuffed ourselves with turkey, we cruise around the property just before dark and glass for deer.

"Anxious to check out the field again, Chad and I jumped in the truck right after dinner and headed out. By the time we arrived, three small bucks and several does were already in the field. After we'd been glassing for several minutes, the big 12-point suddenl

y appeared along the fence line. He entered the field and began feeding, but he stayed close to the edge. Eventually he passed within a few yards of the barn. I didn't think much about it at the time, but just before dark he passed in front of the barn a second time. We watched the deer until dark, and then we headed back to the house.

"The next day, Sunday, Nov. 25, would be my last opportunity before the shotgun season opened, so I began making plans. My biggest problem was the wind. It was coming out of the west, not exactly ideal. That's when it suddenly occurred to me that I might beat the wind by hunting out of the barn!

"In the mornings, deer are usually in the field or bedding near the edges, so it's really tough to slip in without getting picked off. For that reason, I opted not to hunt on Sunday morning. Instead, I spent the day preparing for the afternoon. Scent control would be critical, so I washed all my camouflage in unscented soap. I prefer using natural scents rather than commercial cover scents, so I threw a few cedar clippings into a sealed container along with my clothes. Other than that, I planned to wear my Scent-Lok under-liner and rubber boots.

"I arrived earlier than normal that afternoon. And after getting dressed, I snuck around the field, staying clear of the timber. Unfortunately, though, as I topped the hill, three or four does blew off the field and ran back down the draw. I wasn't too happy, but nevertheless I continued on.

"There are two windows in the barn, one facing to the north and the other to the west. Figuring the majority of deer would travel from east to west, I set up looking out the north window. I had just gotten situated and nocked an arrow when a 3 1/2-year-old 10-point came out of the draw and walked steadily toward the field. He was a nice deer, but not exactly what I was hoping to see. Not long after that, several more deer filtered out of the draw. Over the course of the first two hours, I probably saw at least 20 deer.

"Around 4:30 p.m. all of the deer suddenly scattered and ran off the field. I noticed that the 10-pointer didn't go far. He was standing in the draw staring up the fence line. That's when I happened to see the 12-pointer walking down the fence. As he got closer, he jumped the fence and walked up to the younger buck. It was interesting to watch how they reacted to each other.

"They stood nose to nose, taking turns smelling and licking each other like they were best friends. Then, for no apparent reason, the 12-point suddenly lowered his head and rammed the 10-pointer. The younger buck ran down the draw. The 12-point walked down the draw as well and disappeared.

"A few minutes later the big buck reappeared. This time he walked up the draw. When he reached the top he turned and walked along the fence line toward the barn. However, when he got within 50 yards he turned and walked back into the timber. Shooting light was fading with each passing minute. Just as I was about to give up hope of getting a shot, the buck suddenly appeared a third time. This time he was within range, but by the time I got ready to shoot, he had already passed through my shooting lane and he disappeared again.

"I moved quickly to the west window of the barn and spotted him 80 yards away. He was walking in the opposite direction. I grabbed my grunt call and grunted once, hoping to stop him. Much to my surprise he turned around and started back toward the barn walking in an aggressive stiff-legged posture.

When he got within 32 yards, I drew my Mathews and grunted softly. The instant he stopped I hit the release trigger. The arrow made a crunch on impact, and the buck whirled around and charged back the opposite way. He ran about 80 yards and stopped. Although I hoped he would go down, he started walking away. I decided to stay in the barn until well after dark. Then I slipped out quietly.

"I was pretty excited and couldn't wait to tell Chad and Perry. We all met that night and discussed the circumstances. In the end we all agreed it would be best to leave the deer until morning. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep that night."

Ron and his two brothers-in-law met the next morning shortly after first light. It didn't take long for Chad to find the arrow. From all indications Ron had made a solid double-lung shot. The three trackers had gone only 50 yards farther when Ron spotted the buck's rack sticking above the grass in a shallow waterway. Ron's two-year quest for a homegrown Iowa giant had come to a happy ending!

As mentioned, after the left shed antler from Ron's buck was found in the spring of 2007, the right shed was never found, despite a long search. Later, in December 2007, that antler was found by a shotgun hunter on some neighboring land.

In March 2008 Ron Ludwig took his Calhoun County giant to the Iowa Deer Classic in Des Moines, where it was officially scored at 176 6/8 typical P&Y points. (Ron's 16-point buck grossed a whopping 191 1/8 typical points but had over 14 inches in deductions.) Unlike other Iowa counties, Calhoun County has never been known for producing giant bucks. This means that Ron and his family certainly enhanced their little piece of whitetail heaven in Iowa through their wise management efforts!

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