Never-quit attitude helps Iowa bowhunter recover his biggest-ever buck.
October 11, 2017 started similar to most other fall workdays. After getting to the office that morning, I checked the weather throughout the day, trying to decide if and where I should hunt that evening.
The wind that evening allowed me to hunt from a stand I had never tried before. I had made a goal to hunt several new stands on that property in order to minimize pressure and learn as much as possible about different areas around the farm. As excited as I was to be hunting a new stand, I was skeptical about how successful the hunt might be.
I can occasionally slip out of the office early, I couldn’t leave that night 5 p.m, which gave me less than two hours before dark. On top of that, the rut was still weeks away, and deer activity had been pretty slow.
After rushing to the property and changing clothes, I began the 200-yard walk through timber to reach the secluded food plot near the stand. Just as I got into the timber, I saw antlers rise in the distance.
I stood motionless, waiting to see a white tail bound off, thinking I had been busted before even reaching the stand. What felt like several minutes passed before the antlers moved again. To my surprise, rather than bouncing out the far side of the food plot, they dropped out of view as though the buck had lowered its head to feed.
I inched forward, trying to find an opening in the timber and hoping for a better view. As I found the buck in my rangefinder, I recognized it to be a big one I had captured on my trail cameras – the biggest, in fact. He was angled directly toward the ATV path I had been using to access the stand.
I crouched behind some undergrowth and mentally urged the buck to continue up the path. Instead, he slowly fed my direction before doing a complete 180 toward the far side of the food plot.
I did the math and figured the odds of him turning around and coming back within bow range were worse than slim. I thought for a second and decided to stalk as close as I could and see what might happen.
Crouching as low as possible, sometimes on hands and knees, I slowly moved toward the edge of the food plot. When the trees ran out, I knew I wouldn’t be able to move any closer. Whispering a prayer, I pulled up my rangefinder: 45 yards.
My thoughts immediately went back to the previous week when I attempted a 40-yard shot on a doe. The shot was true, but because of the distance, she was able to completely duck the arrow.
I decided to use my 40-yard pin, anticipating the buck would drop as the doe had. I couldn’t see the arrow in flight, so I had no idea where it hit. The shot felt good, and I was steady throughout, but I was still worried. The impact sound was quite a bit louder than I had expected.
As the buck fled the food plot, I didn’t see any indication of a hit, so I started to wonder if the sound might have been made by the arrow hitting a tree.
I would have liked to wait before checking, but I had to know. When I found the arrow covered in blood, I gave a big sigh of relief.
An hour later, just before dark, the landowner, Ron, and I returned to where I had found the arrow. We quickly found a steady blood trail and decided the shot must have been fatal.
As we approached a creek a few hundred yards later, light and the blood trail began to fade. Unsure which direction the deer headed after reaching the creek, we decided to back out. I didn’t get much sleep that night
With some additional help, we headed out again at first light. After searching for two hours, we had no additional clues about where the buck had gone after reaching the creek. That day at work, I spent every free second staring at areal maps and trying to figure out where a wounded deer would go.
That evening, Ron and I returned to search the neighbor’s property. We thought the buck might have doubled back along the creek. After another 2-hour search, I started to think we would never find the buck. My next thought was I hoped it would heal from the wound.
As we started back to Ron’s house on the ATV, he suggested we drive along a nearby creek to see if the buck had gone farther into the property than we had originally thought.
Just as he finished saying how funny it would be if we found him that way, I spotted a white belly tucked in some thick cover not more than 10 yards away.
I am extremely happy with how my 2017 season turned out. Not only was I able shoot a great buck during archery season, but two months later I was able to harvest my biggest buck to date during the second shotgun season.
None of it would have been possible without the generosity of several other people. Special thanks go to Ron. Not only has he allowed my father and I to hunt his property the last few archery seasons, but he was also extremely helpful during the recovery. I would also like to thank the Lott family for allowing our group to hunt with them during shotgun season each year.
Without access to both of those properties, this once-in-a-lifetime season wouldn’t have been possible.
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