August 22, 2022
I grew up in Virginia where the wild turkey is king, and I was fortunate to grow up in a turkey hunting family. However, none of them were ever interested in deer.
My Iowa story begins in May of 2020. After graduating from Virginia Tech, I was accepted into the Midwest Whitetail Internship Program. With all the Covid restrictions, my parents were on board for the additional financial support required to fulfill my dream of encountering world-class whitetails on a daily basis and working alongside a childhood hero in Bill Winke.
I accepted the internship and moved to Iowa. It didn’t take me long to figure out the hunting skills I learned in Virginia would provide me with a greater understanding of these giant animals. Deer in Iowa aren’t like any deer I had ever encountered in Virginia, it seemed like every timber block was home to 150-class deer.
The internship proved to be a grind and producing daily hunting blogs did not leave me much time to hunt, but I learned about hunting giants in the Midwest. With just a few days left in the season, I took a gross 170 deer with a muzzleloader on public land.
After the internship ended in January 2021, I decided to stay in Iowa and work construction with a couple of great guys I had become friends with. I also joined forces with another former intern, and we began producing deer and turkey videos to air on YouTube.
By early June my sole focus was to cover lots of ground and locate the biggest deer I could find to hunt in archery season. By a stroke of luck, a couple of the new interns were keying in on some of the public land I hunted the year before, so I began gaining permission on small draws and CRP woodlots. I knew if I wanted a chance at the big stuff, the really big stuff, cover and zero human intrusion were key.
I spent countless hours combing through the county entries for the largest deer taken in the state, talking to several local taxidermists and scouring the overlooked public lands. At this time, I also began working for Turkeys for Tomorrow, a brand-new conservation organization. The job will eventually require a move to the southeast as the organization grows, so I knew I had to make my time in Iowa count.
I caught a huge break when two close friends, Max Mongello and Grant Noble, told me there was a giant buck living in the area just south of my house. After coming up with a gameplan to
find the buck’s daylight hideout and using the onX Hunt app for hours, I began a massive door knocking campaign to close in on the giant.
During the summer, I gained permission on several parcels of private land, but one really stood out: a very small tract right in the center of the neighborhood my friends had suggested I seek permission on. This parcel was clearly the best ground we had ever stepped foot on, having two massive pinch points funneled by a creek and 7-foot-tall CRP grasses. After initially walking it, my partner and I hung only one trail camera. The camera focused on an old scrape. We pulled the card only one time before the season, it didn’t let us down as we had a massive 180-class typical in daylight several times.
The season started slow, but I did several all-day sits knowing with each passing day the hunting would only get better.
The day of the successful hunt was 73 degrees with an east wind. I was not able to hunt all day as I spent the morning editing a video. I got settled in the tree around 3:30 p.m. As I climbed into the tree, I realized the wind was going to shift to become more marginal than I had planned for my location.
The hunting was slow, and by 5:00 p.m., I had seen only some does make their way through the bedding area as they moved north to food. As I continued to glass the CRP, I caught the sheen of antlers moving directly toward me. Suddenly, the highway noise stopped, and the silence was interrupted by the raking of cedar limbs. I was in disbelief as my binoculars met the largest deer I’d ever seen. I immediately focused on the sword-like dagger point coming off the base of his antler, and I began frantically going through my mental checklist: cameras on, bow in hand, sight dialed to 20, record buttons pushed.
The buck continued to travel toward my last shooting lane, and I anxiously wondered what I could do to avoid letting the biggest deer I had ever seen get away. Calmly, I decided to stand on the tree stand seat since I was securely tied-off and wearing a safety harness. So, I stepped onto the seat and then balanced myself with the other leg on the camera arm.
The giant buck had only 15 yards to go before he would disappear. As he approached the second to last lane, I drew; but he shuffled on through the lane forcing me to let down. I adjusted the camera and then drew again as he entered the last lane.
As if it were scripted, when he got into the lane, he lifted his head to look; and I released my arrow. The mule kick confirmed I likely hit the buck’s heart!
I couldn’t wait to make some phone calls to my hunting partner and father.
I only knew the deer I just shot was certainly my biggest by far. I went home to give the deer extra time and get help. I returned a couple hours later with a pair of buddies to track the buck. The track job was short, and in less than 100 yards, I put my hands on my buck of a lifetime!
By the time we got back to town, a few neighbors had gathered in our driveway to see the buck and congratulate me. People kept coming, and the following hours were a blur. It seemed everyone in the community knew about the deer and congratulated me. I even got a congratulatory email from my hero, Bill Winke!
The giant non-typical buck exceeded all expectations with a gross score of 205. It really felt like this deer was the culmination of hours of scouting and making a 17-hour move from home. As a bonus, I was able to self-film the entire hunt and post it on YouTube. Iowa really is a field of opportunity with not only world-class deer, but also world-class people.