Record Quest: Iowa's Massive Bucks

After two days of high winds and scattered snow, the mercury plummets even more, but the winds subside. It was day three of our hunt and I return to the same area I saw several large bucks roaming the first day of my hunt and where a 200-incher has been spotted by more than a couple of hunters. As much as I would love to kill a buck of such size--and with the nickname of Horsehead--I'll be happy with a respectable Iowa trophy. On this day, I abandon the blind I now consider the "Mother Ship" and sit a couple of stands on a ridge where I have spotted most of the deer moving. I see plenty of does and a couple of smaller bucks, but the day is slow and the cold numbing. If it weren't for the Heater Body Suits, it would be hard to last more than a couple of hours. I even use some Code Blue doe urine and Grave Digger, prescented soil, and while it draws the attention of a few passing does, no bucks show for me to test how it works on them. The second rut appears to be kicking in as several bucks have been seen harassing does.
After another day that saw temperatures remain well below freezing, we return to the farm house outfitter Aaron Volkmar of Tails of the Hunt uses as an occasional camp when running hunters in this part of southwest Iowa.
Drained from a long day of sitting alert in hopes of the "big one," hunters relax in easy chairs in front of the television. Volkmar has the house stocked with food and plenty of movies.
After dinner, Volkmar shares some photos of some of the bucks he captured on trail camera earlier in the year. This solid 12-point still in velvet would make a great trophy.
Check out the double main beams on this young buck, which looks like it is only 2 ½ years old.
This wide-racked 10-pointer looks a lot like the first buck I spotted on opening morning before it was legal shooting time, but I thought that one only had eight points.
Volkmar, right, poses with lucky bowhunter Greg May and a mule of a buck May took while hunting with Tails of the Hunt on an earlier trip.
Bill Jackson is all smiles with a very wide 10-point Iowa whitetail that he took while bowhunting with Volkmar in 2009. The thoughts of these bucks keep us excited about the potential that awaits any person when hunting this antler-rich area and provides just the spark we need to hit the cold dawn the following morning.
Day 4 dawns bright and cold (so what's new) and on this day, I head to a different blind across the street from where I've been hunting to try my luck.
On this day I will be hunting not far from a stand where Devin Sweeney, a hunt clothing designer, who currently works as a buyer for Sportsman's Warehouse, will be hunting. Like me, it's Devin's first opportunity to hunt Iowa.
On his way to his stand, Sweeney and guide James Dunlap, happen upon an old, scrawny racked buck that appears to have succumbed from the effects of the storm just a few days earlier. It appears some smaller critters and birds have started to work on the carcass, but coyotes--probably because of the bitter cold--have yet to discover it.
Deer are on the move early and throughout the morning does and a band of small forkhorn bucks move through the woods and brush not 100 yards from my blind. The morning approaches noon and while I remain optimistic, in the back of my mind I am starting to hear the clock tick as I realize I have only this afternoon and tomorrow left.
Now into Day Four of a five-day hunt with Tails of the Hunt Outfitters and it's hard to ignore the fact that time is winding down for my shot at a big Iowa trophy buck. After a good start of my season back home in Virginia, where I took two bucks on opening day, events have tightened up with few sightings of the big bucks I spotted that first stormy day. Yet, dreams of bucks like the one Jamie Herek took near this very area keep me fueled and aware that the next minute can be the one that turns everything around.
All morning, I've watched deer moving along the opposite ridge to the right in this photo. With snow on the ground, the deer stand out in the relatively open woods just 200 yards away. It has me wishing I could have brought along my Summit Switchblade climbing stand that I started using back home this year. Such a stand would be perfect for a quick-hit setup--that is providing I could find a suitably trunked tree in the limb-tangled Iowa forest.
As midday approaches, deer continue to move from the ridge into a scrubby slope. Many of them appear to follow a trail that runs straight from the wooded ridge into the open and then to a thick bedding area crossing near my blind just over 100 yards away.
As deer continue to file from the woods, I keep watch for a buck like the Toad Fox, a buck killed by one of Aaron Volkmar's clients, but the only antlers I spot are the smallish forks of a trio of 1 ½-year-old bucks. Disappointed, I sit back in my chair and start to relax just as another whitetail steps from the woods. Through the plastic windows of the Turtle Blind, I first notice the large body and then the flash of white atop the deer's head. I scramble to through my binos on the buck to get a look as he steps into the brush. The view I have--of him walking away--he looks pretty good. I'm about to write him off, when he comes back around to a spot that will give me a quick shot.
I chose to use a Thompson/Center Triumph muzzleloader, the same gun I used to kill an Oklahoma 12-point last year with Rut N Strut Guide Service, because it gave me more range than a standard 12-gauge slug gun. When the buck steps out at 140 yards away, I must have rushed my shot and missed! Amazingly, the buck doesn't know from where the shot came and turns my direction. I quickly reload, but the buck spots me as I take aim. He goes on instant alert, but it's too late--for him--I fire again, this time hitting my mark dead center. The buck runs a mere 30 yards before collapsing behind a pile of brush. Now the real work begins…
After guide James Dunlap and I retrieved the deer, it was time to tag it and perform the field dressing chores.
I can only assume that the initial missed shot was due to my haste in trying to get the shot off, because the Triumph was dead on, with the second shot hitting exactly where I aimed.
It's a bit grisly I know, but the T/C Shockwave sabot bullet went through the center of the heart. In examining additional internal damage, both lungs of the deer were cut as well as some of the other organs. The bullet penetrated two-thirds of the way through the deer's body cavity. I was impressed by the performance.
In addition to the T/C, my Nikon Monarch binoculars were critical in spotting and sizing up deer throughout the hunt. When not hunting from the blind and out in the ladder stands, I used Code Blue Scent Eliminator spray and scents (not pictured) to help hide my presence.
I would love to say my buck was as big as this pair of sheds held up to its head makes it appear (I couldn't resist!), but it wasn't quite there. While definitely not the biggest deer any of Volkmar's clients will take this year, I was happy to have finally gotten a shot at a nice buck after the deer movement stalled on us a little because of the weather.
Devin Sweeney would get big buck honors on this hunt, taking this buck the same afternoon I shot mine. While only a little over 12 inches wide, the mass on this 3 ½-year-old was amazing and the main beam length respectable. All told when measured, Sweeney's buck green scored right at 160 inches. After closer inspection, Volkmar discovered that Sweeney's buck was also the double main beam buck he had spotted earlier in the season. It has apparently lost the second main beam (and an eye) fighting just weeks earlier. Volkmar estimates the lost main beam and tines would have given this buck another 25 inches of antler, which would have made it an easy Boone and Crockett buck.
After the hunts are done, it's time to discharge the muzzleloaders the best way there is--by firing them at targets.
Aaron Volkmar (right) and I pose with my buck before I head back home to spend the holidays with the family and hopefully a little more time hunting my own farm. I donated the meat from my deer to Iowa's HUSH program (Help Us Stop Hunger), which provides protein-rich meat to the needy. It's a great program, particularly for nonresident hunters limited by airlines on how much they can haul when they travel. Because of Iowa's tag drawing procedures for nonresidents, it will likely be two to three years before I can draw another tag to hunt this great state. But you can bet I'm already checking the calendar and hoping to make this as regular a stop as often as I can.

Mother Nature once again proves that she is in control and even in the Hawkeye State, where giant bucks seem to lurk in every field, you still have to earn your trophy.

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