I first encountered this giant whitetail while harvesting soybeans in mid-October 2011.
When I slowed the combine to go around a patch of 3-foot-tall foxtail grass, the buck exploded out of the weeds, jumped a nearby fence and ran down a waterway. It stopped for a second to look back at me, and then it disappeared into the neighbor’s standing cornfield. I’ve seen a lot of big Iowa bucks from the seat of my combine, but that’s the only one that caused me to stop cold in order to gather my wits.
Not believing what I’d just seen, I dismounted the combine and began to examine the area. The buck’s bed was huge and likely used often. I then walked down to where the deer entered the corn and was amazed at the path of destruction. Those rows were planted 30 inches apart, and both flanking the path were flattened.
I also looked for his track, but the ground was too dry.
Eager to share the news, I returned to the combine so I could send a text message to my newest hunting partner, my 13-year-old son, Zach, who was in school at the time. I told him that I had just seen the biggest buck of my life.
The buck had 20 to 30 points with double drop tines. My best guess at a score was between 230 and 240 inches, maybe higher.
After considering several nicknames for this rascal, my son and I decided on Ol’ Two Rows.
Zach still had his youth tag, so my focus after that morning was to try to get him on this buck during the state’s second shotgun season in December.
When Zach turned 12 and passed his hunter safety course, he wanted his own muzzleloader. He used all the money he’d saved to buy a Thompson/Center Triumph. We agreed that if I bought the scope for it, I could use it whenever he couldn’t.
As bad luck would have it, Zach wasn’t with me when I saw Ol’ Two Rows again on the first day of the second shotgun season. He was playing in a basketball tournament.
Also, his was the only tag that was good for that season (or any season, for that matter). My buck tag was good only for the late muzzleloader season.
I settled in our hay bale blind around 3 p.m. About 15 minutes after that, I heard the whirring of four-wheelers on the neighboring property, followed by a single gunshot. A short time later, a little 4-pointer trotted past, followed by none other than Ol’ Two Rows and a big 8-pointer.
Since all I had was a doe tag, I could only watch them go by me at 15 yards.
It was another five-second encounter, but at least I knew the buck was still on or near our ground. And as soon as Zach was on break from school, we hunted hard.
We never saw Ol’ Two Rows again that year. Three days before my son had to return to school, we went to a different farm where he shot a beautiful 155-inch 10-pointer, bigger than anything I’d tagged in 30 years of hunting.
When springtime arrived, Zach and I walked the property to search for sheds, hoping to find Ol’ Two Rows’ antlers. We found several, but not his.
Nevertheless, with Ol’ Two Rows in our heads, we began discussing possible setups for the 2012 season.
Zach: Mighty Preparations
The farm where Dad saw Ol’ Two Rows has two ponds, one down low in a valley, the other a few hundred yards above it. The deer travel between them.
We had one hay bale blind near that pinch point, but we decided to make a second one on a hillside overlooking the whole valley. While considering the perfect spot for the blind, we realized a long shot might be required.
That’s why we incorporate shooting benches in our blinds, for a rock-solid rest. With enough practice, we knew that my T/C could handle the distance.
Dad and I also put out cameras around the farm in hopes of photographing some nice bucks. The first photos of Ol’ Two Rows were taken around 1 a.m. on June 11.
As we scrolled through the pictures, we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. He was huge. And the crazy thing was that he still had two and a half months to grow!
At that point, we made a pact that word about or pictures of Ol’ Two Rows would not go beyond the walls of our house. We also started planning.
Throughout the summer, Dad, Mom, my sister, Haley, and I went to one of our farms to shoot my muzzleloader. Actually, Haley carried her new bow. She informed us that she was going to shoot the buck if I didn't get him early.
We decided to zero the scope at 200 yards rather than the usual 100. This would create less confusion if we had to take a long and quick shot.
This sighting-in process was a long one because we had to adjust the scope to make sure the gun was dead-on. After the muzzleloader was shooting accurately at the distance we wanted it to, we began taking shots in windy and low-light conditions.
Dad discovered that in low light conditions, if he wore his reading glasses, he gained about another 10 or 15 minutes of shooting light.
Eventually, we became comfortable with distances up to 250 yards. Then we started taking quick snap shots where we would get only five seconds to shoot off the bench to simulate real life situations.
Some might question taking such long shots with a blackpowder gun, but today’s muzzleloaders are more like centerfire rifles, capable of accuracy out to 300 yards, providing the shooter knows his weapon.
We continued to get pictures of Ol’ Two Rows throughout the summer, showing us what a true freak he was becoming. I eagerly began hunting him during the September youth season, but I didn’t see him until the very last day.
It was midmorning, and Dad and I were working a field, terrace by terrace. It’s a slow process.
I was sitting in the tractor, waiting for Dad to follow in the combine, when he called and told me that the next time I drove the wagon back to the semi, I should look for a 3-foot-wide path he’d seen in the corn.
During the next trip to unload, I spotted the gap a few yards ahead and slowed to peer down the row. I spotted a flash of antler (the buck was running perpendicular to the smashed rows) and knew right away it was Ol’ Two Rows.
He had run by me at only 15 yards!
I reached over to call Dad, but he was already doing the same. As I answered the phone, the first thing I said was, “Did you see that?”
He said, “Yes, I just kicked him up 10 yards in front of me out of the rows!”
We had been working there earlier in the day and likely driven right past him multiple times. This buck wasn’t about to move unless he was literally going to be run over. He was one cool cookie.
The really good news — besides the fact that he was still with us — was that Ol’ Two Rows was apparently spending a lot of time very near the ponds and our new blind.
Tim: The Harvest
That first live encounter of 2012 came on Sept. 30, three days before I was done harvesting — a record for me because of the drought. That meant I could elect for the tag that would enable me to hunt the early instead of the late muzzleloader season; to sit in a blind instead of a combine.
Plus, if it didn’t work out, we still had Zach's youth tag available for late season.
The deer last year were forced into their winter habits prematurely because of the early harvest. Zach and I waited with great anticipation for opening day, but, unfortunately, the wind was blowing out of the north/northwest and it was rainy all weekend. We needed the perfect wind to sit in the new blind.
On Saturday, Oct. 20, everything came together.
As bad luck would have it, again, Zach was unable to hunt that evening because he was hosting a Halloween party. So I went by myself.
I arrived at the blind about 1:30 that pleasant afternoon. By 2:15, I was feeling the effects of the sun beating down on me. It was nap time (one reason I hunt from the ground).
I awoke about 3:30 and got into position. An hour later, I heard four-wheelers on a neighboring property to the south. This went on for a while until I started hearing gunshots by the dozens, which I figured had to be target shooting.
That was what I was actually hoping for because that’s what happened the previous year prior to my second encounter, when I saw Ol’ Two Rows from my other stand on the opposite side of the valley.
A short time later, a little 4-pointer worked his way up from behind the pond and bedded down in front of a cedar tree 230 yards distant. I wondered if the forkhorn might be Ol’ Two Rows’ traveling companion (since he’d run with one the previous season).
About an hour after that, a 10-pointer came from behind the dam on my side and worked a scrape line about 60 yards from the pond. The buck looked as if it wanted to cross the creek and head toward the 4-pointer, but it was being cautious.
It kept glancing at some thickets directly across from me at 200 yards. This went on for about 10 minutes before the 5x5 backtracked and eventually crossed in front of me at 10 yards without winding me and bolting.
I was excited, thinking these might be the same two bucks that were with the giant in 2011.
Shortly afterward, the 4-pointer stood and worked his way down to the pond and out of sight. On high alert now, with shooting light quickly fading, I was scanning left and right, looking for the the two bucks.
When I glanced back to the center, Ol’ Two Rows was standing where the forkhorn had bedded. He was looking right at me, and he must have caught my head movement.
That was the farthest away I had ever seen him, but I had no doubt it was him.
Ol’ Two Rows started trotting downhill, quartering slightly away from me, heading for a ravine behind the pond, where I wouldn’t have shot. My instincts took control.
I slammed on my reading glasses, which were laid out ready to go, and got him in my scope. In a split second, I estimated the distance to be 250 yards, held a tad high, was rock-solid, and let the 250-grain bullet fly.
As the smoke cleared, I could only glimpse the buck. I thought he stumbled before I lost sight of him.
It was 6:30 p.m., and this final encounter lasted about 20 seconds. Looking back now, it’s a good thing everything happened so fast because I don't know if I could have remained calm enough for a shot if I’d had to watch this buck get any closer.
Anyway, as my brain began to process what had taken place, I started to shake uncontrollably. I tried to text on my phone, but I kept dropping it. So I just sat there until dark, convincing myself to wait until the next day to look for him.
I didn’t want to push him off my property.
When Zach's Halloween party was over, I told the family and we made plans for Sunday. Rainstorms were forecasted for Sunday night.
Zach: Roads Low and High
When Dad and I got there the next day, I used my rangefinder to see how long the shot was. I ranged it three times to make sure the reading — 275 yards — was correct.
Dad had no idea the distance was that great. Our hopes took a nosedive after that.
We immediately began searching for blood and hair, or any sign that the deer had been hit. There wasn’t anything at the initial spot.
I followed the creek, while my dad stayed higher up on a main trail. We walked the length of the property without seeing any sign, and we were beginning to think he’d missed.
I took another trail on the way back. I wanted to check an area where I’d found some shed antlers the previous spring, but there was no sign.
When I rejoined Dad, he was on his hands and knees, examining a spot on a trail about 40 yards from where he shot at the buck. I assumed he had found something, so I carefully walked over to where he was crouched.
He told me he had found a few spots of blood, and that got me excited. I began to look myself, finding a little more blood on the same trail. We walked the remainder of the trail finding last blood at the edge of a cornfield leaving the property.
I had football practice, so I had to leave. But my dad returned.
Tim: Unbagging the Cat
When I realized the enormity of the task ahead, with the very real chance that I might have to gain permission to cross several boundaries, and under the threat of rain, I decided it was time to finally share the long secret with Conservation Officer Craig Lonneman.
I explained what happened and showed him some photos so he could identify the buck if it turned up dead. He advised me on what to do, then he told me what he thought it could score, which made me even more sick about the circumstances.
Then I began to obtain permission from some of the adjoining property owners to look for my buck. It didn't take long for word to spread. I got a call within the hour from whitetail enthusiast Matthew Van Pelt, who hunts the adjoining property.
We exchanged some information on the buck, and he said he would keep an eye and ear open for me. So I began walking for days, with Zach’s help when he was available, checking all water sources as far as a mile away, which were limited due to drought.
Following the crows, hawks and my nose, I found 12 dead deer, but none were the giant. The fact that I kept finding dead deer kept my hopes up that I would find him.
I stayed in touch with Craig, reporting all the dead deer I was finding, and he informed me of the disease that had taken a toll throughout the Midwest.
I finally had to return to work, to my field, but as the rut’s peak approached, I got back to more scouting and looking, hoping to get a glimpse of Ol’ Two Rows if he was still alive.
After no further sightings, I began to obtain permission from more property owners and started searching on foot again in places I had not covered.
I held out hope that something would happen during the upcoming shotgun seasons, specifically the second one because that’s when Matthew and the adjoining property owners do a big deer drive and would be jumping a lot of deer.
Saturday night, with only one day left in the shotgun season, Luke Bain and his dad, Rob, were undecided about what to do for Sunday.
“We were at my dad’s farm,” Luke recalls, “and with the number of deer down due to (EHD) and the late antlerless season, we decided to join Matthew and his group with whom we have hunted in the past, to help push deer and fill some tags. We had heard about a 270-class buck that had been hit during early muzzleloader season and hadn't been found yet in the area we were going to hunt.
“So from previous situations I have been in, I knew that deer that are sick or injured will seek water, so this stuck in the back of my mind as I was walking through several patches we were pushing,” he continued.
“I was walking along a bluff when I was drawn down to the lower part of the ravine that I had to cross,” Luke said. “There was a tree across the ravine, and, as I glanced over it, I noticed an antler sticking up in the air.
“When I walked closer, I discovered a dead deer underneath the log, in a hole filled with water. I grabbed the antler, pulled the head out of the mud, and was I shocked at how big it was.”
While Luke was in the ravine, I was on my side of the road, and, due to the lay of the land, could see the walkers coming through the timber. I had contacted Matthew a couple of times during the drive. He was on post with his daughter, Keslie, who is good friends with my daughter.
When he called me later, he said, “They found your buck.”
At that point, everything went surreal. I can’t describe the rush of emotions I experienced while waiting for the hunt to conclude, knowing I finally had closure to my journey with this deer.
As bad luck would again have it, Zach was unable to be there that day with me, so I had to make that call to him. When the hunt was over, I picked up Matthew and we went to the scene.
I couldn't believe how close the buck had died to the neighboring landowner’s house. It was really great awareness by Luke to check that close to the house in those ravines.
I’d never checked them, though I had walked within about 50 yards at one point.
I don’t know if the odds of my getting and recovering this buck are even calculable. But the key to the latter is a landowner who not only quickly ran to ground false rumors, but who also did the right thing.
I was fortunate to have dealt with a group of ethical and true deer hunters. I hope I can someday return the favor.
Hunter: Tim Forret
BTR Score: 309 2/8”
This article was published in the October 2013 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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