Up until Nov. 5, 2007, Chip had never ever laid eyes on the monster whitetail he'd been pursuing for two years. Nor had anyone else that he knew about, for that matter. Obviously, the mature buck probably had been living a life of nocturnal seclusion.
Avid bowhunter Chip Thurnau poses proudly with his well-earned "Big Mac," taken on a small tract in northeast Iowa. The massive whitetail was a main-frame 6x6 with almost 27 inches in non-typical growth. Chip had found both sheds from the previous year (2006) and one from 2005.
Chip had learned the ins and outs of hunting wily whitetails in northeast Iowa at a young age from his father, Rick Thurnau, a veteran bowhunter of 35 years. Like many young hunters today, Chip always fantasized about shooting a buck that would qualify for the Boone and Crockett record book. Little could he know back in his early days that the big deer he'd be chasing in 2007 would not only fulfill that longtime dream, but also become Iowa's top bow buck for '07 and the largest buck ever taken in Mitchell County!
A BUDDING TROPHY HUNTER
The first year he bowhunted alone as a teenager, Chip basically took the first deer with antlers that came along. It wasn't huge, but nevertheless it was his first buck with a bow and he was very proud. The following year, however, he became more selective. Chip figured that if he could locate a mature buck and hunt only that deer, his odds for success might be better. It took several seasons to achieve that goal. In 2003 his persistence paid off with a 160-class 13-pointer. The following year, he kept his streak going with a 150-class 10-pointer.
"The place I had permission to hunt was only about 15 acres, but it butted up to 60 acres of prime deer habitat," Chip remembers. "Problem was, the landowners would rather watch the deer than have anybody shoot them. So when a scouting trip failed to turn up any big-buck sign back in 2005, I more or less shrugged the place off.
"In 2006 I tried to gain access to the 60 acres, but I was turned down again. The landowners did, however, give me permission to shed hunt and set up some trail cameras.
"That spring, I found the left antler of a nice buck, one that certainly caught my attention. Later that summer, I set out several trail cameras and left them up throughout the fall. But after five months of continuous monitoring, I never got a single picture of the deer whose shed I had found."
SHEDS TELL THE STORY
"The following spring (2007) I searched both properties again," Chip relates. "This time I found both shed antlers to the same buck on the neighboring ground. My friend Ian Cowell and I measured the sheds and came up with a gross score of 201. Needless to say, I was pretty excited after that. Based on the location and size, my mother suggested nicknaming this awesome buck 'Big Mac.' I liked that name, so that's what we called him after that.
"That summer, I set out trail cameras again, and in late September a nice buck showed up on one of them. At first I thought it was Big Mac, but I soon realized it was a different deer. I'll admit, that deer had me distracted at times, but I was convinced that Big Mac would eventually show up."
While scouting, Chip found an excellent spot for a stand near an open spot along the creek that offered a good view of a high-traffic zone on the neighboring property. But there were no good trees close by on which to hang a stand. Chip had arrowed deer from the ground before, so he had no reason to believe it couldn't be done again. Using tree branches and logs, he built a makeshift ground blind along the creek bank near the property line.
2007 — A SEASON TO REMEMBER
In early October, Chip reluctantly made a couple of trips to southern Iowa with his brother Jer to hunt with friends. No doubt there were big deer in the area the brothers were hunting, but Chip had made up his mind to settle for nothing less than Big Mac. As a result, Chip found himself voluntarily picking the worst places to hunt.
One afternoon in late October, Chip pulled the memory card from one of his cameras and took it home. That evening, he got the surprise of his life when a picture of Big Mac appeared on the screen! That was the first real evidence he had that the buck was actually spending time in the area he was hunting and not just passing through. Armed with this information, Chip made plans to hunt the following morning.
The alarm went off and Chip scrabbled around gathering up gear, but he couldn't find the garbage bag that contained his Scent Blocker camo. Unbelievably, he later learned that his roommate had mistaken the bag for garbage and set it out for the garbage man. Needless to say, Chip didn't hunt that morning. Instead he went out and bought another set of camo!
The week of Halloween brought with it a sharp increase in pre-rut activity. Big rubs and scrapes were popping up everywhere, and bucks were beginning to troll for estrous does. During that week alone, Chip passed up two P&Y bucks from his blind. Considering the high density of does in the area, Chip was convinced that sooner or later Big Mac would show up to claim one.
|THE CHIP THURNAU BUCK|
|Scorable Points:||19 (7R, 12L)||TOTAL LENGTH OF ABNORMAL POINTS: 26 7/8|
|Tip-To-Tip Spread:||2 2/8|
|Greatest Spread:||18 6/8|
|Inside Spread:||16 4/8|
|Main Beam||24 2/8||25 5/8||1 3/8|
|1st Point (G-1)||9 5/8||9 7/8||2/8|
|2nd Point (G-2)||13 0/8||12 6/8||2/8|
|3rd Point (G-3)||10 7/8||12 2/8||1 3/8|
|4th Point (G-4)||5 7/8||6 4/8||5/8|
|5th Point (G-5)||3 0/8||3 1/8||1/8|
|1st circ. (H-1)||5 4/8||5 3/8||1/8|
|2nd circ. (H-2)||5 0/8||5 0/8||--|
|3rd circ. (H-3)||5 4/8||5 2/8||2/8|
|4th circ. (H-4)||5 3/8||5 2/8||1/8|
|TOTALS:||88 0/8||91 0/8||4 4/8|
|Gross Typical Score:||195 4/8|
|Subtract side-to-side differences:||-4 4/8|
|Add abnormal points||+26 7/8|
|FINAL NET NON-TYPICAL SCORE:||217 7/8|
|TAKEN BY: Cip Thurnau, DATE: November 7, 2007, LOCATION: Mitchell County, Iowa |
FIRST VISUAL SIGHTING
"On Monday, Nov. 5, I made plans to slip out in the woods after work," Chip says. "Shortly after arriving, a couple of does meandered by on the opposite side of the creek. A few minutes later, I spotted two bucks some distance away following the tree line. When I brought the binoculars into focus, I was surprised at what I saw. The lead buck was nice, but there was no mistaking that the deer trailing behind him was Big Mac himself!
"As he got closer, I contemplated calling, but decided to hold off. Close by was a crossing that the deer had been using all season long as they traveled back and forth from my property to the 60 acres. I sat watching patiently, hoping that Big Mac would make the mistake of crossing to my side where he was legal to shoot. Unfortunately, he meandered right past the crossing and continued down the tree line. I couldn't believe it. I had the biggest buck of my life within range but couldn't shoot!
MOMENT OF TRUTH
"I couldn't get Big Mac off my mind that night, or the next day for that matter," Chip says. "At the time, I was working at a body shop, and even though my boss didn't hunt, he understood my obsession with the deer. I'm guessing that's why he let me take Wednesday afternoon off.
"After lunch, I hustled home, took a shower in unscented soap, and gathered up my gear. It was somewhere around 3 p.m. when I arrived in the woods. After spraying down with Scent Killer, I slipped in quietly to the blind. Almost immediately after settling in, deer began moving through on the other side of the creek. A short while later, a small buck passed behind me tailing a doe.
"At about 3:30 some movement drew my attention toward a big 8-pointer heading my way. The buck crossed the creek and stopped within 20 yards. Although it was tempting, I let him pass without a second thought.
"Half an hour later, a doe came over the hill on the other side of the creek. She was acting a little suspicious, and it didn't take long to figure out why. Big Mac was not far behind! The doe crossed the creek, but the buck stopped short and stood staring my way. He was only 25 yards away, but on the wrong side of the creek. As good luck would have it, he started across the creek. I came to full draw and settled the pin. When he reached the bank and stopped, I punched the release.
"On impact, the buck hardly flinched. In fact, he acted like he hadn't been hit at all and made a few more steps toward me. By the time I had nocked another arrow, he was already acting woozy. And just seconds later he went down!
"Words can't explain how I felt when I grabbed Big Mac's antlers. Until that point, I had been fairly calm, but that was before reality sank in. In one way I was happy, but on the other hand I was a little disappointed because my season had ended.
"The first person I called was my good friend Ian to tell him the news. Needless to say, it didn't take long for him to arrive and give me a hand. To this day I'm still amazed that nobody else had ever reported seeing Big Mac. For sure, the 2007 season is one that I'll remember for a lifetime."
There's a lot of truth to the old saying "Big bucks don't grow old by being stupid!" I guess that's why only a small number of hunters ever get the opportunity to shoot the caliber of deer that Chip Thurnau shot. And even fewer can say they took such a magnificent trophy at eye level with a bow while hunting on the ground!