Two of my hunters, Karl and his son Erik, were hunting with me in Zone 5 on a farm just under 160 acres. This farm is really simple to hunt, and after talking to them, we agreed to go hunt aggressively from the start. They got into the same creek bottom with one being on the north end and one being on the south end, both facing east toward the creek. Obviously, this is not a great setup for a westerly wind, but we were able to benefit from the southerly winds for an entire 8 days. Karl and Erik are both stand-up people who have put a lot of time and effort communicating with me about the hunt before it started, which is what I ask out of all of my hunters.
Back in the summer, after getting cameras up, I hadn't seen anything really special on the farm. I could sense their light concern about such as we discussed the cameras and the deer. I remember telling them something along the lines of, "don't worry" and "this is normal"... which is truly is. Farms like this don't hold many shooters in the summer months, but as we inch closer to the season, bucks will start spreading out into farms like this or at least visit it. That is what happened. You either get lucky by catching a glimpse of these visiting bucks or you don't. This year, we did. As we got into October, bucks started randomly showing up on camera out of nowhere. Again, this is all luck.
As we approached their early November hunt, we noticed the warm front coming in. They asked if they could push it back a few days to try and get into the colder weather. Of course, I agreed. Getting in a few days later than expected panned out just fine for these guys. We had trail camera (lucky) evidence of a few shooters around, actually I think 5 or 6 of them. One of which was the highest scoring deer we named "Hammer". Then, we had a new clean 10 that would be upper 160s for sure, and 3 or 4 solid 8pts that range from 145-160", so a healthy dosage of good deer.
DAY #1 - Friday November 6th
8:26am - Erik is texting me about a small 110" 8pt and a few does coming down the hill from the east. Nothing special. Also noticing combining corn to the NE from his north creek stand. (Dad/Karl is in my Radix Monarch 5' Tower Blind on the south end of the creek).
10:59am - Erik texts me "Hammer came off hill to east and is bedded at 80 in thick stuff"...
11:15am - Erik texts me "if he gives me an opportunity I'm taking it. GIANT. Still bedded"
12:29pm - Erik texts me "Still bedded. Looking at ears and tines. He's a booner man"
1:42pm - I text Erik, "Still bedded?"
1:46pm - Erik responds, "yes"...
This went on for a very, very long time... especially for Erik. Hammer was directly to the right of the stand at 80 yards in thick stuff. Easy for a lefty. Horrible for a righty. Erik ended up sitting on his knees in the blind seat for 5 hours & 13 mins before Hammer pushed the doe he had bedded with back east and out of sight. This is when Erik tells me that his dad had an encounter with one of the shooter 8pts at 60 yards but didn't get a shot. This buck named "Rags" was super wide and freaky. I am thinking that if he went south, he'd land up within 50 yards of his dad for an easy shot with his crossbow (shoulder injury allows such in Iowa with a doctors affidavit & DNR permit), but nope. Rags below in video.
4:41pm - Erik texts "They r back!" and I respond "KILL THE BUCK!" but Erik says they won't cross the creek and get closer. Erik gets a quick picture through the brush with his cell phone (below).
Now is a good time for me to show the last and only trail camera video we had of him in October...
6:18pm - Erik texts "Dude. He came back. Hung up at 70. Just wouldn't come across the creek" ... went "out of sight to the east. I waited until after dark (to get down and out)."
We talked a little bit on the phone that evening, but I could be wrong. I was tied up with other hunters. Yet, Erik knows to keep me in the loop. So, we fast forward to the next morning...
DAY #2 - Saturday November 7th
(MY FAVORITE DAY OF THE YEAR TO BE HUNTING!)
8:25am - Erik texts me "Well I've seen Hammer twice in the timber to my right with a doe. And a guy just drove up on a Polaris and is out walking around here now. Just over the line."
8:26am - I respond "Hmmm. You've seen him today? Like before a guy drove in? Not sure who would be driving"... I'm thinking he means on our farm... Landowner? Farmer? Trespasser? Finally, Erik tells me it is in the neighboring small pasture. He says, "Guy is out here talking on his cell phone gator parked at 80yds... in jeans and blue jacket. Talking very loud." Erik asked "Am I (SOL)?" I responded with a simple, "No. Not that creek."
8:32am - Erik continues with "He (Hammer) was headed to me w a doe when this guy pulled up. Also had a doe bedded under me at 20yds and she hauled butt out. Don't know where Hammer went. Couldn't tell."
8:33am - I respond with "They shouldn't be far"... "That doe obviously likes that area"... "Those deer are use to the local traffic as well." Such favors us by the deer being pushed."
8:42am - Erik texts, "Ok I'll sit tight then. He was on our side of the creek both times I saw him (Hammer). 130ish yards away".
8:42am - I tell Erik "He (Hammer) could be 100yds from your dad" and Erik responded that he already told his dad to be ready. We talked about also getting some batteries to our dead cell camera between them where these videos come from, and that I didn't want to walk in just to do that and potentially spook it up. We concluded an idea to just drop them off at the truck or their lodging place.
9:09am - Erik texts "do you think dad should hop in the pond padder mid day? He hasn't seen anything."
9:13am - Erik texts "Or is that stand only good if the corn is cut?"
9:13am - Erik texts "Never mind he just shot Hammer!"
This is when the texting stopped and the phone calls started. I got the details. I headed over from Zone 4 where I was at with another hunter. In the excitement of it all, the crossbow was shooting low, like 4-6" low. We didn't know that. Maybe it was jitters. Maybe it was an inaccurate range. Who knows. The excitement transitioned to the woes as I first saw the blood. Muscle-y blood and smell. White hair. We determined that the deer, whom went onto the neighbors, was going to live due to the non-fatal flesh shot. I felt horrible for Karl. Erik's heart sunk too. We spent the rest of the day almost trying to get access from the neighbors to track him but the neighbor was not home and their home phone wasn't working. So, we got on the phone with multiple dog trackers. This is obviously before we really called off the track. One of the trackers called the DNR who told him "no way" on tracking even if leased. In my personal opinion, it's utter B.S. Yet, it's the law and the officer's interpretation of it. So, we couldn't pursue the track after the blood stopped, and we couldn't get a dog. After talking to more trackers, explaining the sign, the deer's path taken, we determined it was not fatally wounded. Thank God!
The next day, Karl went back out with his son, Erik, and they kept hunting. They kept seeing some great deer, but no booners. Erik got to hunting Rags and another stud 8pt that was probably 155-160" typical. We couldn't get close enough despite the best efforts. Erik was even up for climbing an impromptu spot in between two stands. Couldn't get a shot. I think the closest he got was 40 yards. Such luck continued. Great and exciting encounters. No shots. That's hunting, and in Iowa, anything can happen in a split second.
DAY #8 - Friday November 13th
Fast-forward the story to yesterday, Friday November 13th, Karl is in the north creek stand, and Erik was in the center stand to the west. Erik tells me that his dad just shot a great 8pt twice. Twice? Yeah! First shot was low and second shot broke his front leg in two. The buck ran east and bedded in the hillside across the creek. He kept trying to get up but couldn't. As I walked in, I get a text that he got up after a shooter approached him trying to spar and disappeared to the east. Well, I found him hiding in some thick stuff. I knew that I could try and recover this deer for my hunter if he was dead. If he was alive, well, I have a knife? So, I thought that if he gets up, my presence would push this deer back into our creek. So, I edge of this ridge to where I had seen the buck. Here's a photo and video I took with my phone before approaching.
I had a hedge apple in my hand that I tossed at the buck. It bounced and hit him. I then took this picture.
I couldn't tell if he moved or not, so I just decided to approach, ready to jump on him. The problem was he was facing toward me as I approached. If he's alive, he could puncture me with his tines trying to fight me off. If he's dead, he won't move, obviously. I needed to get closer and toss something for a second test. I found a rotted piece of tree that I tossed onto his nose from a few yards away, it hit him. He jumped up, unable to barely stand, collapsed, rolled, got back up, fell, repeat that five times. Yet, as soon as he rose the first time, I charged. I was making some awful noises as I was trying to scare him back into our creek where either I could put him out of his misery with a knife or my hunter could finish him off. Oh, I forgot. Karl was hurrying toward me as soon as he saw the buck get up. The deer was about to fall into the dry creek bed when his rack got caught on some shrubs and a little sapling caught his chest/body. He was stuck. I had Karl put a finishing double-lung shot on him from 10 yards, and the beast was done. I thought that was the end of the story... it got better.
Karl, who hit a booner on Day #2 of his hunt was able to redeem himself and harvest this beautiful buck! I was so happy for him! He came up and gave me a huge hug. He was so happy! Erik is still on the stand to the west, but we didn't spook anything his way. So, we got the buck tagged and out of the creek bed with my ranger, by me driving down into the creek (sketchy) and then we got out, got some pictures done (below), and we then waited for last light to expire so we could go get Erik from his stand instead of him walking all the way out, about a mile walk.
In the dark of the southern Iowa deer woods, along a standing corn field and a thick brushy draw, with the deer in the back of the Polaris Ranger and Karl in the passenger side, the headlights caught the silhouette of Erik waiting for us. I could just feel Karl's excitement building to show Erik his buck. Unknown the Karl, Erik had told me before the hunt that he really wanted his dad to get a great buck over him if he could so choose. As a dad, it pulled on my heart strings. Karl jumped out of the Ranger as Erik made his way to the rear to look art the buck with his flashlight. Karl and him shared that magical moment. I was still seated in the driver seat and turned around to see Karl hugged Erik and both of them smiling ear to ear. I caught myself smiling so big it hurt my cheeks. My eyes got watery. A lifelong dream to hunt big whitetails in southern Iowa for Karl was fulfilled and his son was there to experience it all. Again, as a father, this truly resonated in me. They got into the Ranger and we headed back to the truck where we would part ways. We got the buck into their truck, said our good byes, and I headed up the road toward another farm of mine to reset a cell cam I had there. As I drove through the cut bean field, I wasn't even watching where I was going compared to the huge feeling of happiness that I had for Karl and seeing their faces and hug over that beautiful buck in my mind. I hope to someday be able to share a similar memory with my son. I know we will be on the hunt soon enough together with our bows in hand.
Karl, Erik, thank you for hunting hard, being good sports, for staying neutral and positive the whole time, and for trusting me with your hunts. I will never forget this buck nor the moments of the hunt. I look forward to seeing you both again very soon. Again, congratulations, Karl. You've succeeded as a man, a father, and a hunter. I know that you know this. You are truly a blessed man. Thank you for allowing me to be part of it all.