Updated: Mar 21, 2020
When I first started trying to advertise my newly formed website, of which I made by hand thanks to YouTube and Wix, I had no idea if I would get a contact/booking form submission, a call, an email, a letter in the mail. I got a booking form from Mississippi, a father-son combo whom I have never spoken too. I was sort of shocked actually. This group must have liked what they read on my website. It was 100% genuine, sincere, and truthful. I had no idea at the time what those two would mean to me, but following their hunt, I felt that I had made a great friendship with them, and I will always value their trust that got me and MDL off the ground and running.
Danny J. (father) and Josh J. (son) came on their hunt in 2016 for the First Regular Gun Season with two Zone 6 tags. I knew that Josh wanted his dad to get the best spot and for him to be the focus. They are both stand-up guys. With my dad suffering a heart attack about a month prior, I was sentimental with the focus on his dad. Let's do it.
I put Danny in a hay bale blind that I had made that was overlooking about 2 acres of standing beans that I had bought back from a farmer whom I leased the farm from. This was a cool spot tucked in the crotch of two huge wooded fingers with cedars and hardwoods. It was picturesque. It had "deery" all over it. We had a little bit a snow on the ground and it was cold, so I figured with no gun shots ringing off yet, the best bet would be this isolated bean plot close to bedding. About 8am, I got word from Danny that he had shot a giant. He was hyperventilating and excitement spewed from the phone. I hurried from the farm house we rented to house hunters, about 15-20 minutes, and as I pulled in, I heard a single shot from across the road about 300-400 yds away in a little clump of woods across a huge corn field. I thought nothing of it at the time, but I looked for a deer to run out... nothing. So, I got into the blind/plot area, about 400-500yds off of the road. Danny was so excited. My heart was so happy for him. He barely let me even start talking and took off to where he thought the buck was standing. While walking, I asked him to explain the distance, the angle, the shot, and of course, the buck. "Matt, it's the biggest deer I've ever seen on the hoof. 175" or bigger," is what I remember hearing... Oh boy. Let's find him, but first let's find blood.
We found blood, and Danny took off on the trail. He was dead certain that this buck would be dead within 100yds of the shot. I tried to get him to slow down and wait for me, but man, he was too excited to try and recover this buck. I couldn't blame him one bit. I finally talked him into letting me go ahead when he didn't see him in the immediate area. Blood was okay, but it tapered off quick, like 100 yards or so. The buck went down this ditch creek and back up it, and I expected much more bleeding than what we saw. At the top of the side of the ditch we crossed, I noticed the blood wasn't good and had a yellow or golden hue to it and it was watery. I showed Danny. This was not a good sign, and we both knew it. I felt so bad for him, but I was determined to track this deer as far as I could. Snow was spotty in the timber. Melted in spots. Yet, I stayed on the blood and the track all the way to my fence and property line. I told Danny that I will continue the track because we had blood on the other side of the fence. At this point we are about 200 yards from the shot give or take. I explained Iowa's laws on recovering a deer on neighboring ground, requires obvious sign and no weapons can accompany us. I continued and he continued in a different direction. I was on the track. Blood finally dwindled down to specks. My heart sunk even further... Nothing yet. I lost blood at 661 yards on the path, and the tracks disappeared where the snow melted. The buck was walking straight west on a mowed path on the neighbors CRP. Thankfully they weren't hunting there at the time. I then look down the mowed path trying to see where this buck could have went, mind you, the CRP is only 2' tall and thin.
I saw the woods across the road where I had heard that single shot ring out when I pulled in. As I pulled in, it was about 30 minutes after the shot. That's where the buck went, a straight line across the road to that neighbor where he was finished off. I never ran into that hunter because I had no idea where he parked. It wasn't on that road. My attention went back to Danny, who I knew would be just sick over losing a deer, especially a deer like that. Bless his heart, he's a big ol' teddy bear of a man who just lost the biggest buck of his life. I wish that there was something else I could do at that point, but that was it. Danny had his shot, and nerves got the best of him. He accidentally pushed the shot left and hit the buck in the kidney/bladder area. It was urine in that blood. I smelled it more on my way out of the woods back to the blind. That wasn't how I expected that to go. My first ever hunters to book with me just had a crushing blow on opening day. 12-14" further right on the shot and it's a done deal. Golly, I felt horrible for Danny. This is the nicest man you'll ever meet. A true gentlemen, a great husband, father, and grandfather, a christian, a conservative, and the textbook definition of a hardworking American.
As the rest of the hunt continued, after discussions about what to do, we tried some other spots, but the orange army had already been out that weekend blasting anything and everything around southern Iowa. The bucks had shut down their daylight activity. It was still. So, a few days later, I got Josh back into that blind, which still seemed to be our best spot despite the pressure we put on the farm opening day.
We pulled up at the entrance, parked, and Josh started heading to the blind. Danny was with me in my vehicle. We were actually out of the vehicle talking about where else that buck he shot could have gone when a truck pulled up. It was the local Iowa DNR officer, whom I have never met. He greeted us, and checked our licenses. We told him about the buck we shot, and talked about a few topics about trailing with dogs, trespassers, big bucks, etc. He was super nice to us. He never checked Josh walking in, but he was also 300-400 yards away when he pulled up. We finished talking, said our good bye's and split.
Some odd time later that evening, Danny tells me that Josh texted him asking if there were bobcats in Iowa. Danny asked me, and I replied with the affirmative. The texting goes on, but Danny says that Josh claimed these two cats he sees in the bean plot have long tails and probably weigh 75-90 lbs. I thought, "no way...," it can't be. Josh was terrified and freaking out. These were big cats... mountain lions. Two younger cats, but big enough to hurt. Josh said he was scared to leave the blind at dark and that the cats spooked the deer off followed by the entire woods lighting up with many deer "blowing"... Then, Josh said the cats killed something and it made a god-awful noise (a deer dying makes a rough noise to hear)... The cats were also growling loudly, and finally the deer all ran off as the blows continued to get further and further away.
Well, it got dark. I am licensed to carry in Iowa, and having my .45 with me, I took it with me heading to the blind with my flashlight. I was a little intimidated, too. I hate cats. All cats. Even Tony the Tiger gives me the creeps. I got to the blind, and Josh is freaked out. He felt better that I was there, and wanted to head out ASAP. I said, "hold on,"... "let me look for tracks in the beans..." I went into the beans and Josh told me about where the cats were... and BOOM, fresh scat. Now, I am not a wildlife biologist, so I don't know what mountain lion scat looks like, but this was huge compared to coyote or bobcat crap. I took a picture. If I find it, it'll be added to this blog post below. I'll also put a picture of the beans and the plot and blind. Oh, and I called that exact Iowa DNR officer who checked us a few days prior to ask him about these felines and if he has any other reports of them. He simply said, "yeah, they're around more than you think." (mic drop....).
Anyways, we never got back onto any shooters for them, but we sure did try. Danny is coming back to hunt with me this year for a shot at redemption. I pray that he has another opportunity at a giant and ends up smoking him. I have a friend for life in him and his boy. I count my blessings every day, and they are surely part of the mix.