By John E. Phillips
Multitasking helps Iowa bowhunter to his career-best whitetail.
When Steve Johnson reached into his fanny pack for his pruners, there were no pruners.
Worried some branches might block or affect his arrow’s flight, the bowhunter from Clarinda, Iowa, wanted to trim the new growth that had sprouted since the previous season.
Because he’d left his cutters at home, he had to improvise.
As Steve was bending and twisting limbs with one hand, he picked up his rattling bag with the other and started imitating a buck fight.
When the necessary branches were cleared, he put down his rattling bag and picked up his bow hanger to screw it into the tree.
“When I looked up, I spotted a buck coming, head down, through the burr and pin oaks,” he said.
He was hunting from the Cistern Stand, so named because of a little spring nearby that provides a clear, cool, running stream.
Steve, a retired pharmacist, has hunted Iowa since 1994. Over the years, he’s acquired permission for himself and four of his friends to hunt tracts ranging from 16 to 300 acres.
“We’ve got more than 40 stands on the properties we hunt in two different counties,” he said. “The land I selected to hunt in 2013 was 40 acres that contained 20 acres of woods.
“The genetics of the deer herd in this area consistently produce big bucks with big racks.
“The Cistern Stand is in an oak tree 50 or 60 yards from the old cistern and about 400 yards from the landowner’s house. Water comes out of the ground the year ’round, with never more than a thin sheet of ice there,” he continued.
Steve was in position by 1 p.m. that October day.
When he spotted the big buck coming, he reached down and picked up the bow at his feet. He knew the deer was a shooter, so he avoided looking at its antlers, which he thought would score between 140 and 180 inches.
Steve nocked an arrow when the buck – bristled up, head still down, ears laid back and ready for a fight – was 45 yards to his left (east).
As he waited for the buck’s head to pass behind a tree so he could draw and shoot, Steve realized the whitetail hadn’t slowed in the least.
“The deer stepped out from behind the tree and was still moving, so I bleated,” he said. “The buck didn’t stop, but it did slow down. As it stepped into the next opening, I bleated again, and the buck stopped and looked my way just as I released the arrow.”
Steve had already ranged the distance at 23 yards, so he used his 20-yard pin.
“That aluminum arrow flew as true as any arrow I’d ever shot,” he said. “Just before the hunt, I couldn’t find my favorite 125-grain broadheads, so I went to a local sporting goods store.”
Since his usual broadheads weren’t in stock, he wound up settling for another brand, which he blames for the poor penetration.
“When the arrow hit the buck’s shoulder, the deer whirled. Only about 6 inches of the shaft had penetrated; I didn’t get a clean pass-through.
“I waited about two hours before I went to look for the buck. However, in hindsight, I should have waited longer. I jumped the deer about 500 yards from my stand, and it ran onto another landowner’s property.
“I called the landowner and told him what happened. He said, ‘Take your bow with you when you go look for the buck because you might need to make a follow-up shot.’
“We searched and searched, but never found the buck. I was crushed,” he continued. “However, fate gave me a second chance to recover my trophy.”
In May of 2014, Steve was shed hunting and discovered the buck he’d shot on a fence line. All that was left was the skeleton and rack. When he found the little underperforming broadhead within, he knew it was his buck, the biggest he’d ever shot.
“I called the Department of Natural Resources to get a salvage tag so I could recover the head and the antlers,” he said. “The lady from the DNR came out, and I told her what happened. She allowed me to take the skull.
After obtaining another cape, Steve had his 18-pointer mounted.
This article was published in the December 2017 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.
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