Andy Sheldon of Sidney, Iowa, arrowed the buck of a lifetime in Fremont County. The 22-point giant has a 5x4 main frame with 13 abnormal points. The massive rack grossed 229 7/8 inches and netted 217 7/8 P&Y points.
When Andy Sheldon took off one afternoon to go hunting last November, he never expected to see, much less shoot, the buck of a lifetime. Not only did he end up shooting his biggest deer ever, but the 22-point non-typical also turned out to be the third-largest buck taken by bow in Iowa during the 2008 season.
"Fremont County, Iowa, has never been known for having huge deer," Andy said. "In fact, if anyone shoots anything bigger than 160 inches it's generally in the Loess Hills area 15 miles away from where we hunt.
"While shed hunting with my kids Mason and Quinn last spring, I found a large shed antler from a deer I hadn't ever seen before. The property has been in the family for three generations, and none of us could ever remember seeing a deer of that caliber. So you can only imagine how excited I was to find the shed. My nephew, Luke Sheldon, told me about a big buck he had seen in 2007, but I hadn't confirmed that a big deer existed on our property until I found that shed."
A FAMILY AFFAIR
"While growing up, deer hunting became a family tradition," Andy continues. "My dad got me started at the age of 11, and I shot my first deer that same year. We set up a trailer on our property some years ago, and we call it the 'Sheldon Deer Camp.' It's not much, but it's become a place where family and friends meet before and after every hunt.
"I've taken several big deer over the years, but my priorities changed when my 13-year-old son, Mason, and my 11-year-old daughter, Quinn, started hunting. Instead of concentrating on hunting for myself, my goal shifted to teaching them about the outdoors.
For the most part, I now take both kids hunting nearly every time I go. Mason is old enough to hunt from a stand by himself, but Quinn isn't strong enough yet to pull a bow, so we generally hunt together from a popup blind. She hunts for turkeys while I hunt for deer.
"For the most part, our property is as flat as a pancake because it parallels a river. I've been hunting the same ground for 34 years and I know it well. Rubs, scrapes and trails usually show up in the same places every year, so most of those spots have become key stand sites, some for 10 years or more. Other than spring shed hunting and hanging stands in September, I generally steer clear of those areas until the season opens."
"We started practicing quality deer management several years ago by shooting more does and fewer young bucks. In the last three years or so, I started seeing it pay off with a more balanced buck-to-doe ratio and bigger bucks!
"The deer in our neck of the woods have never been very responsive to calls. And in the past it was rare to see more than one buck chasing or attempting to breed a doe. Last season, however, I watched three or four bucks chasing the same doe on more than one occasion. It was also the first year I had a buck respond to rattling or grunt calls. So I guess you could say our management program is working.
"We farm about 2,000 acres. Since fall harvest comes at the same time as hunting season, my brothers and I can't all hunt at the same time, so we share the workload around the farm. If one of us wants to go hunting, someone else fills in by doing the chores.
"Last year, I went out with my kids about three or four times during the first month of the season. It had been pretty warm and the deer hadn't been moving much. During the month of October, I didn't see a single buck that I'd consider shooting. However, temperatures started cooling down by the first week of November and deer movement picked up.
"In fact, during the first weekend in November, Quinn and I were sitting in a blind and a nice 150-class buck came by within 15 yards. He was a mature buck, and I certainly intended to take him. Unfortunately, though, while drawing my bow, the top limb brushed against the roof of the blind and the buck heard the noise. He shot out of there like a dog hit in the rear end with a bootjack! Needless to say, I was disappointed, but that's hunting.
WORK BEFORE PLAY
"The following Friday, we had to string an electric fence around an 80-acre cornfield that we had just finished picking so that we could turn the stock cows loose in the field. Along with my dad and my two brothers, Pat and Dustin, we started building the fence early that morning. My hunting partner Luke showed up to help around 10:30. A cold front was expected to move in that afternoon, and Luke and I planned to hunt if we finished the fence in time. We worked like crazy and finished sometime after 12 noon.
"Considering the full-moon phase, I told Luke that I thought we needed to be in our stands by 2 p.m. because the deer would be moving early due to the cold front and the moon phase. The area I had in mind to hunt was a slough that paralleled the river. The deer don't seem to move through that area much during early season, but when the bucks start searching for does in November, it gets a lot more traffic.
"After a quick lunch, Luke and I struck out to hang a stand and clear some shooting lanes. I planned to hunt the stand that afternoon, but Luke talked me out of it by explaining that we'd left too much scent in the area. So I headed to the 'coon stand' a quarter of a mile away. The stand got its name from my son. Mason had used it the weekend before and had seen five raccoons around the base of his tree.
"After settling in, I looked at my watch. It was 1:56 p.m. I hadn't been sitting long when a 10-point appeared. It was a buck that I had passed up a week earlier. He was a nice 140-class deer, but too young to shoot."
MOMENT OF TRUTH
"About 10 minutes later a second buck came walking out of the thick brush 40 yards away. At first I couldn't tell exactly how big he was, but all at once the sun broke through the clouds and shined on the deer like a spotlight. The first thing I noticed was the drop tine hanging from the right side, and then I noticed his mass. He was absolutely huge!
"The buck started down the same trail that the other buck had used, so I was pretty sure I'd get a shot. At that point, I stopped looking at the antlers and conc
entrated on getting ready. The wind was out of the northwest, so I wasn't too worried about getting busted. He continued on a slow but steady walk. When his head passed behind a hackberry tree, I came to full draw with my Martin Bengal. And when he stepped into the clearing, I released. The arrow flew true, and I watched the Lumenok (lighted arrow nock) disappear in his ribcage. The buck took off southbound through the timber as hard as he could go. He eventually disappeared from sight.
"Any other time I would have sent a text message to Luke, but I was shaking like a leaf. So I called Luke instead to tell him what had happened. Luke is one of those guys who judge deer in inches, and the first thing he asked was, 'How big is he, 170 or 180?'" 'Heck, I don't know,' I answered. 'He's got a big drop tine and he's definitely the biggest deer I've ever shot!'
"Luke said, 'Okay, don't get down yet. I'll be right there.'
A MEMORABLE RECOVERY
"I couldn't just sit there. I figured I'd at least climb down and find my arrow. It wasn't hard to find. The Lumenok nock stuck out like a sore thumb. From the amount of sign, I knew the buck was hit hard.
"Less than 15 minutes later, Luke showed up with my brother Pat. We started tracking the deer where I had last seen him. Still in shock and somewhat dumbfounded, I followed behind Pat, who was in the lead. Like most people following a blood trail, Pat and Luke both had their eyes focused on the ground, looking for sign, but I was looking ahead.
"We hadn't gone far when I spotted antlers and I took off at a trot. When I first walked up on the buck, I didn't know what to say or do. I simply dropped to my knees and thanked God for having been given the opportunity to take such a magnificent animal. "Of course, I was speechless, and the looks on Pat's face and Luke's face were absolutely priceless.
"Pat said, 'You've got to be kidding me, that's a 200-inch deer, Andy!'
" 'Well, I told you he was big,' I answered. 'But I didn't know how big.'
"It wasn't long before Dad and my younger brother Dustin showed up. At that point it got pretty emotional, not just for me, but also for Dad. He's been so instrumental in getting all of us boys involved in hunting, and he's always been the 'matriarch' of the Sheldon Deer Camp. It was a special moment, having all of my closest family members there to share it with.
"Before we even had the deer field dressed, Luke had already sent pictures out from his cell phone. By 7 p.m. that evening, at least 20 people had stopped by to see the deer. Even the local game warden, a man I've worked with as a hunter safety instructor for the last 20 years, stopped by to congratulate me.
"During the past 34 years, I've killed half dozen deer that scored 150 or better, but walking up on this deer was a humbling experience. The memory of that moment will be with me for the rest of my life!"
While interviewing Andy for this story I asked him: What is the most important thing about your hunt that you'd like to share with the readers of North American Whitetail?
Andy replied, "I think too many hunters get hung up on shooting 'the trophy' and lose sight of the hunting experience itself. Hunting is about having fun and being able to share those times with family and friends. Obviously, I don't shoot a big deer every time I go out, but I always have fun, regardless."
Andy's buck was the third-largest whitetail taken in Iowa with a bow during the 2008 season. The amazing deer had a main-frame 5x4 rack and 13 additional abnormal points.
The great Iowa buck grossed 229 7/8 inches and netted 217 7/8 Pope and Young points!