This goes back to the splendid year of 2006, a very long time ago when I was just a dumb and naive 16-year-old, a sophomore in high school in Eldridge, IA. I lived about 15 minutes from school in a town called Long Grove, which is part of the North Scott Community School District. This was my first bow season that I was going out by myself since I could drive. I got lucky and had a study hall during last period, so I was able to leave school early. This meant that I could make it home and then to a farm I was so graciously allowed to bow hunt on before 3:30pm. It was about a 45 minute drive from home, but it was worth it.
This farm was something like a total of 700-800 acres in size with a lot of Angus cattle and a lot of pasture. I had grown up on this farm as a hunter going shotgun hunting as a kid with my Big Brother (from Big Brothers Big Sisters) since I was 12. I shot my first deer here as well as my first buck. I was after the biggest. I didn't know how to score deer at this time because everyone I was around was still labeling deer with the # of points on the rack. Ha! How times have changed...
Orange = Property Lines if I remember correctly
Green Dash = Entrance/Exit to Stand through neighbor's farm
Red X = Lock-On Stand
White Arrow = Direction Stand Faced
There was a specific spot on the property that was an absolute struggle to get into. Well, of course that is where I wanted to go. Through the last four years, we had seen a lot of big deer in this spot on a travel route from the western timber block to the eastern timber block, so that's where I wanted my one stand to be. I was near a property line, about 10yds south of it. I was on a corner of a timber chunk where I was overlooking a pasture, a fenceline running from one timber chunk to another on the edge of a standing corn field north across the line. It just had the "deery sense" about it. My stand was facing dew west. This stand was horrible for a NW or W wind. Remember I said that I was dumb back then? Mhmm... Looking back I would have had a much different stand location. Live and learn!
I believe it was October 25th, opening day of the Iowa pheasant season that year if I remember correctly. It was windy. I got up there for the afternoon/evening sit. I had to cross a neighbor's property to get into here safely and without a 2 mile walk. I was lucky that he allowed me to a few times. I got in, climbed up, got set, and sat patiently. We didn't have smartphones back then, and if I remember correctly, I had some glide-type phone or maybe even a flip phone. Regardless, I was on it a bit texting. I put it away, glassing the opposing wood line waiting for a buck to come this way. The wind was out of the WNW. It was cool.
I hear a few gun shots through the wind, but not sure how far... probably coming from the CRP farm just up the road across the pasture. I knew there were birds in there. I remember thinking that I was happy that someone was getting some action. About a minute or two later, from the same direction, I heard a noise from the edge of the corn to my right. It was that noisy of loud standing corn being moved.
JUMPING THE FENCE WAS THIS GIANT! HE'S BASICALLY IN MY LAP AT THIS POINT AS HE COMES FROM THE NORTH ACROSS THE FENCE TO LESS THAN 10YDS. OH MY GOODNESS!
He had no idea that I was there. He wasn't looking at me. Yet, he was on high alert. Wind swirling? He came from the direction of the pheasant hunters to the north. My bow was on the left side of the tree (south), and the buck was on the north at literally steps from the tree and standing there. Without looking elsewhere, I grabbed my bow and slowly brought it back to me centered. Arrow was knocked. I hooked the release on. He's still there. I thought, "it's now or never" as I couldn't resist the adrenaline rush any longer. I had to stand up rotate to my right, get drawn, and squeeze it off. Just as I got turned to draw, he caught movement. Yet, he wasn't looking up at me. He spooked and started heading on the north edge of the timber block behind me on a heavily used trail between the woods and the fence. I drew. He was at 25-35yds. I didn't own a rangefinder. He stopped! Right there! Looking back towards my direction but not at me. Anchoring yet shaking, I tried to find a window through the trees and limbs. It was too clustered. No shot. I tried bending over different directions and even going down onto one knee. No shot.
(Insert bad word here with an exclamation point here)
I couldn't believe what had just happened. I couldn't believe how quickly it all went down, how quickly it started and came to an end. He disappeared into the dark woods. Gone forever. My mind could't help think, "what if he came back?"... "Will he come back?" ... No, probably not. Definitely not. He gone.
It was this encounter that forever changed my life. That adrenaline rush was like nothing I had ever experienced. It was better than hitting a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the 7th inning, down by 3 runs at home under the lights. I ended up doing that exact thing that upcoming baseball season for our varsity baseball team. This was different. This was better than that. I became forever hooked to chase and hunt these elusive giants. I had no idea what such a desire would do to me and my life. Looking back, that started it all.
Fast forward to the next week. I came back. It was November 1st or 2nd. Same tree. Same setup. Less wind. A 155-160" stud came out down the same trail that booner came in on. I must not have learned from that last encounter because I still wasn't prepared on time. However, I did get a shot off. The deer didn't come to the corner I was at, but he came straight behind the tree heading SSW. I stopped him. I was at full draw. I found the smallest window to shoot through. He was definitely at 40yds. I had a triangle of three little branches to shoot through. I anchored and squeezed. Arrow sent downrange! It is still like slow-motion in my mind. The arrow's fletching nicked the left upright side of the triangle of branches, and the arrow was sent off-course. I smoked a tree at about 15' high. Definitely double-lunged the tree. The buck ran off just like the booner did... into the darkness of the woods.
Gosh was I sickened. I put in my time. I did my homework. I got the stand hung with a good buddy of mine. I was spoiled with great access. I had a learning experience, but not enough time passed for my young & dumb self to learn from it, and then when I had the chance to make it count, I failed. I pushed the shot. It was doable. About 1/2" to the left and I was golden... dead deer. These two experiences forever set my passion in stone.
Almost 14 years later, and I still remember those two encounters like it was yesterday. I can still feel the wind against my face, the smell of the countryside, the sounds of nature around me. That booner was a stud of a typical 10-point. The 155-160" buck was also a stud of a 10-point. I actually had a killing tree there. Looking back up the aerial, it doesn't necessarily make sense as to why that spot was good, but the sign on the ground is what lead me to that spot. It was proven. It was a good spot. It was a good learning experience. It was a place that will always be special to me. Unless someone took it down, that stand is still up there in that tree 14 years later. That arrow is still embedded in that tree about 4" deep. The NAP Thunderhead 100gr head is probably still intact. I hope that the next people to come across that stand could somehow see this story and relive the memory as they hunt the same woods. As hunters, we occasionally come across that old stand and wonder what it would say if it could talk... well, in the case of my stand, there's a full story here to enjoy.
I hope you all are doing well. Blessings from Iowa!