October 28, 2010
A dream Hawkeye State hunt yields a satisfying whitetail double.
I'll never forget my first recollection of Bill Pellegrino. As an aspiring teenage bowhunter, it was hard not to notice him. The bulletin board at the local archery shop was covered with trophies that had fallen to Bill's arrows. Every bowhunting community has a Bill Pellegrino. You know the guy. He's the one who typically sickens all the average bowhunters by consistently bagging trophy animals and never seeming to make mistakes. In my hometown, Bill's been that guy for a long time.
Bill and I arrived at Craig's late one night during the last week of October. Craig had the basement of his house ready for us, and I barely slept a wink that night. I couldn't wait for daylight.
As the years passed, Bill and I became friends and I continued to admire his success, especially when it came to whitetails. Bill has several good contacts scattered throughout the Midwest, but his most productive honey hole is the property owned by his good friend Craig Cutts in Southern Iowa.
Craig is a wildlife officer for the Iowa Division of Natural Resources, and he and Bill have been hunting together for years. Bill always described Craig's property as, "whitetail paradise." It borders a large game preserve where bucks often grow old and fat before wandering beyond its protective borders in search of does during the rut. I'd listened to so many stories about Bill's adventures there that images of Craig's whitetail paradise haunted my imagination.
Every once in a while, I'd throw a little comment at Bill like, "So, when are we going to Iowa together?" And though those comments were designed to sound as if they were made in jest, I longed for an opportunity to bowhunt there. But Bill was understandably protective of his Hawkeye State honey hole, and he would usually sidestep the question.
BOWHUNTING Associate Publisher Danny Farris spent most of his Iowa hunt in a stand landowner Craig Cutts calls 'The Booner.' Three days after Farris headed home, Cutts took this magnificent buck from the stand.c
Then one day, Bill sprang it on me. "Hey Danny," he said. "You ready to make that trip to Iowa with me this year?"
"What?" I replied in shock. "Is this some kind of sick joke?"
"No, I'm not joking," Bill replied. "I've already talked it over with Craig, and he'd love to have you. I think we'll all have a great time together."
I almost fainted. For all the years I'd known Bill, he had never asked anyone to go to Iowa with him -- nor did I expect that he ever would. He wouldn't have to ask this bowhunter twice!
"You're going to owe me big time for this one," he told me. He was right, and I still do.
This was truly the whitetail hunt of my dreams.
Pellegrino poses with the first half of his whitetail double. Later that afternoon, Bill would take the kind of buck that draws bowhunters to Iowa.
The next morning, Craig escorted Bill and I through the dark to two of his favorite treestands. I watched from a perfect perch overlooking a small food plot as the sun gradually rose over the hills I'd waited so long to see. It was a much-anticipated moment, and it didn't take long for the action to start.
Before I knew it, does were moving through the corners of the food plot to my left.
Suddenly, they scattered as an unmistakable snort-wheeze broke the early-morning silence. The buck's build struck me before I ever saw the rack. He was a brute, with a neck and shoulders that looked like tree trunks. As he chased the does away from my position, I got a glimpse of heavy beams and a long sticker point extending backward off his rack. "That's why you come to Iowa," I thought to myself. Knowing there's a legitimate chance you could see a monster certainly makes your time on stand pass quickly.
After the morning hunt, Bill, Craig and I met at the house for lunch. We ate on Craig's back deck overlooking rolling hardwood hills dotted with beautifully groomed food plots.
When Iowa DNR Officer Craig Cutts isn't busy protecting wildlife in his county, he spends much of his time improving his hunting property by nurturing food plots, clearing new trails and trimming shooting lanes at stand locations. From Craig's back deck, you can look out over a little piece of whitetail heaven.
It was obvious Craig worked his tail off to improve his deer habitat. During lunch, Craig encouraged Bill and I to fill our doe tags at some point during the hunt and explained how he would like us to donate some of our meet to the HUSH Program (Help Us Stop Hunger).
Iowa's HUSH Program pays participating meat lockers to process deer donated by hunters. The venison is then given to the Food Bank of Iowa and distributed to the less fortunate. It is a fantastic program that benefits both hunters and those in need of assistance, while also helping the DNR meet herd management objectives.
Hold That Thought!
The next day, Craig told me he wanted me to try the "Booner" stand.
"The Booner stand?" I asked excitedly. "Why's it called the Booner stand?"
"Well, because there's been a couple Booners taken out of it, of course," he replied. That stand sounded just right to me.
After Craig led me to the Booner, I settled in anxiously. Later that morning, a nice 9-pointer appeared about 100 yards downhill of my position. Pulling my rattling antlers from their hanger, I got his attention and then lured him within bow range with a snort-wheeze from my Primos Buck Roar call. I decided to pass on the shot, however, as I simply didn't want to take a buck so early in the hunt.
As the week progressed, I spent the majority of my time in the Booner stand. Bill and I were both seeing plenty of deer and had both passed several young bucks. Rattling antlers were working phenomenally. I was able to rattle up bucks on almost every sit.
On the fifth day of our hunt, I went back to the stand where Craig had placed me the first morning. Shortly after sunrise, I heard footsteps back in the trees, across the food plot from my position. Peering through the hardwoods with my binoculars, I discovered a fine looking 8-pointer with a couple extra tree-killer kicker points at the base of his rack.
I slowly pulled my rattling antlers up and clanked them together in a short burst. That was all it took -- the buck made a beeline for my position as I reached for my bow. He entered the food plot and continued toward my stand before stopping at 20 yards, broadside, to look for the bucks that were making the racket. Loosing a Lumenok-tipped arrow, I watched as the light disappeared through the buck's lungs and then listened to his final crash after he bounded back into the hardwoods.
My adrenalin flowing, I couldn't wait to tell Bill. So, I quickly dug my cell phone from my pack and called him.
Bill Pellegrino is a dedicated bowhunter who's always had a knack for closing the deal on mature whitetails. On this trip, he took this 24'‰½-inch-wide Iowa giant after decoying him to within 20 yards of his stand.
"Bill," I said when he answered. "I just shot a buck and he's down!"
"Cool!" Bill responded. "How big is he?"
Just then, I caught more movement to my right. A fat doe was skirting the edge of the food plot at 35 yards. This would be a perfect opportunity to fill my doe tag, and besides, I had never doubled on whitetails before. I just couldn't let her get out of range!
Without saying another word, I hung up on poor Bill, put the phone in my pocket and grabbed my bow. I drew as quickly as possible, settled my sights on her vitals and watched another Lumenok disappear.
Pulling the cell phone back out, I dialed Bill again. "Yea, I'm here," he answered. "What happened?"
"I just shot a doe," I told him.
"What?" Bill shot back. "I thought you shot a buck!"
"I shot a buck, hung up on you, and then shot a doe," I said, trying to contain my excitement.
"Are you serious?" he asked with a chuckle.
"No joke," I replied, "and you were right. I owe you big time!"
A short time later, I was posing for pictures with my first whitetail double. What an incredibly exciting morning. Following the photos, Craig escorted me to the local meat locker where I donated my buck to the Iowa HUSH Program and had the tender doe processed for my family's dinner table.
Bill had two more days to fill his tags. That night, he said he would go ahead and fill his doe tag at the next opportunity but wait patiently for just the right buck. The next morning, Bill wasted no time in taking a doe. He made a perfect shot, and the plump matriarch made it mere feet before piling up.
That afternoon, Craig suggested Bill take Sally up to a large hilltop plot and place her in front of a stand named the Clubhouse. Bill heeded his advice and set his doe decoy 20 yards out into the food plot in a broadside position. Once settled in, Bill began producing doe bleats using a can-style call. A short time later, he was taken by surprise as a wide-racked behemoth of a buck quickly approached Sally from the rear. He instantly recognized this was a shooter and drew unnoticed as the buck's full attention was focused on the decoy.
Bill mouth grunted the buck to a stop just inches from Sally's rump and drove his broadhead perfectly through the buck's vitals. Bill's heavy buck measured an impressive 24'‰½ inches wide and completed our second Iowa double in as many days.
What a trip it had been! Craig's corner of whitetail paradise was everything I dreamed it would be, and I was honored to share Bill's favorite honey hole. Having had our whitetail itch thoroughly scratched, Bill and I drove home completely fulfilled.
Three days later, Craig contacted us to let us know he'd taken a fat doe and a dandy buck from the Booner stand, essentially completing our third double of the season! As he described his shots, I could see the scene clearly in my mind's eye. The images of Craig's whitetail paradise are no longer imaginary. They're indelibly etched into my memory, along with one of my most cherished times in the woods -- my first whitetail double.