October 28, 2010
By Jim Dougherty
By Jim Dougherty
My son Kelly and I went to Iowa last fall -- the first of November -- which is an awesome time to hunt big deer anywhere, as most of you know; but especially Iowa. We were truly pumped!
Years ago, I hunted Iowa several times. That was back when tags were much easier to come by and the competition was less keen. Now, of course, it seems everyone wants to go there, which makes sense. Iowa is loaded with big deer.
The boob tube offerings are choc-jam full of "celebrity" bowhunters whacking big bucks with ease every place they erect a treestand or pop up a ground blind in Iowa, which, as most of you know, is so much hogwash. Nevertheless, it draws a crowd! I'm sure the Iowa DNR takes that, along with other important criteria, into account as they annually put their heads together and work out the formula for the total number of tags, resident and non-resident, buck and doe densities, previous season data and weather-related issues that impact herd numbers, among hundreds of other ingredients, before establishing seasons and bag limits. And seemingly, as opposed to other states, they carefully manage their does as opposed to just blasting them to increase buck/doe ratios as some other states do!
Other than a distant farmer cranking up a tractor or old pickup, what I really like about Iowa is the tranquility of the countryside. During my hunting times there, sitting in a stand as the sun comes up, I have listened to the raucous cackle of pheasants at daylight, the strident call of geese crossing overhead and the crazy chirps, yelps and whistles of wild turkeys heading for a cornfield after fly down time. I truly enjoy these wild sounds; coyotes checking on each other's location at sunrise always turns me on, and yes, these things can be found in many places, though most do not have quite the adrenaline charge in the waiting that goes with it.
We hunted on my longtime pal Mike Sturm's farm, a place surrounded by a much larger piece of some 2,500 acres properly farmed and maintained for deer. The farm had everything deer might want. So too did Mike's, though it is considerably smaller.
Because my legs are about shot and my balance suspect, I chose to hunt a ground blind that had been properly in place for quite a while. Kelly picked a treestand where he could observe the largest portion of Mike's farm. Game on!
The ground blind was set against the brush along a tight draw facing a soybean field that was backed by a bright green mix of rye grass and turnips. In the beginning, deer swarmed to the soybeans, and by placing a decoy in close proximity to the blind, I had some interesting experiences. The first occurred the second morning when a pretty 6-pointer approached my doe decoy, circled it twice and then, in an ungallant show of male testosterone, jammed her in the side, knocking her ass over teakettle. Synthetic decoys made of hard plastic sound like a train wreck when crashed, and the bean field cleared instantly.
Small bucks and does were thick at the beginning, but their appearance diminished as the week wore on, proving once again that you can easily overhunt a stand or blind and reconfirming the adage that the best time to hunt one is the very first time. Still, I had little choice. Kelly, however, was slowly moving in on trails bucks were using in their constant search for girl deer. He carefully moved his stand three times, getting ever closer to a prime spot. Two things were frustrating as our time passed. First was the sightings of very large deer chasing does through the cornfields on the neighboring property. Second was pressure from local bowhunters hunting Mike's property line to the south, one of whom shot a very fine buck from a stand set right on the fence line. Mike found the blood trail and gut pile on his property!
Iowa law allows a hunter to enter private property in search of a wounded animal, though you must do so completely unarmed and best if you secure permission, though my understanding is permission is not mandatory.
I had two shooting opportunities from my ground blind; both 40 yards or so as nice bucks ran does about. Both shots were low, which proved to me I better stick to closer ranges, though in years gone by I've shot a ton of deer at ranges exceeding 40 yards. I blame these miscues on getting older; faded, eagle-eye vision and inoperable cancer, which collectively truly stink!
In the evening's gloom of the sixth day, I approached Kelly waiting for me at the base of the long hill leading up to the truck. His grin lit up the gloom as I inquired, "What's up, son?" Twenty yards away, in the tall grass, lay a beautiful 10-pointer. "All right," I said, extending my hand, "you got another booker!"
We said goodbye to Mike a couple days later as nasty weather began to rear its ugly head and combines kicked up their efforts to harvest corn from the fields. "Come back anytime," Mike invited.
"Love to, Lord willing," I replied. "Gotta keep up with Kelly."