By Mark Kenyon
Wow. I ‘ve written a lot of these articles over the past few years, highlighting someone’s big buck kill, but I’ve got to say that it sure feels good to finally have my name in the headline!
On Day 3 of my Iowa hunt last week I was able to arrow a beautiful 10 point buck. In fact, it was my biggest buck I’ve shot to date and this moment was truly the culmination of a lot of years of hard work.
But before we get into the story of this specific hunt, I want to provide a little bit of history leading up to this point, because this big buck is more than just any old deer. It truly is a milestone for me.
I started adventuring into the hunting world at about the age of 3 years old. I followed my Grandpa and Dad around the north woods of Michigan for many years soaking up everything I could about the great outdoors, deer, and hunting. My family was like many others in Michigan, in that we headed out to the woods opening weekend of gun season, sat next to a tree and shot the first buck we saw. I learned to be quiet, to not move fast, and to aim carefully. That was the basis of my whitetail education. In Northern Michigan, the deer population was very low in the years I was growing up there and it was a good year if you even saw a handful of deer over the couse of the entire season. In my first 13 years hunting up there, I probably saw less than 3 bucks total!
From there though my love of deer hunting grew, and as a 16 year old I decided I wanted to learn to bowhunt. My dad and I bought bows, and began experimenting with this new interest. My hunting grounds were the 3.5 acres of woods behind my parents home in a suburban town in Western Michigan. I now began to see deer for once, but closing the distance to make a kill with a bow was the new challenge (especially given the fact that I couldn’t have a tree stand back there!). After a lot of self taught lessons, and several years of bowhunting I finally got the job done on my first deer kill ever – when I killed a nice little 6 pointer with my bow from a ground blind. I got the first deer monkey off my back, and then began a streak of years where I found I could finally consistently kill bucks.
Next though came a new transition in my life, where I realized that I didn’t want to just kill just any buck any more. I had moved to Southern Michigan, where I finally had the opportunity to see “big” bucks and I decided I wanted to kill a mature deer. (I didn’t see my first P&Y size buck until I moved down south at the age of 21!) This change in mindset coincided with the time I started Wired To Hunt. I began this website as a young guy, still in college, with a ton of passion and excitement for deer hunting – but not neccessarily the most big bucks under my belt. I decided that if I was going to be writing about deer hunting, I better be able to prove I could practice what I preached.
So from there it was four long years of incredibly hard hunting and a near obsession with learning every little thing I could about deer and deer hunting – specifically hunting mature deer. I’ve always been a deer hunting info nerd – the first words I read were from a Field & Stream magazine, but over the past 3-4 years I’ve taken it to a new level. I literally eat, sleep and breath whitetails – much to my fiance’s dismay. Over these last few years I have progressed leaps and bounds as a deer hunter, but despite plenty of close calls I had yet to close the deal on the kind of buck I was looking for. That finally changed on November 5th. So back to my hunt …
My trip to Iowa was one that I’ve looked forward to for a long time. I bought my first preference point in 2010 and finally this spring I pulled my Iowa tag. My friends Pete and Ross live and hunt in Iowa, and immediately invited me to join them on the properties they have permission to hunt. With that invite in hand, I head off to Eastern Iowa in March to do some scouting and shed hunting. Then again in the summer I returned to hang tree stands, set trail cameras and scout out the local bucks. Finally in November, it was time to return with a bow in hand and chase the dream.
My hunt began on Saturday, November 3rd and luck was not with me. I planned to hunt all day, every day of my hunt – but the first morning was interupted my another hunter who had permission on this farm driving his four wheeler all over the property, and then eventually walking around an old ladder stand that was set back behind my set about 50 yards. Upon his exit, I decided it was time to move on as well, and I headed to a new farm. That evening while hunting on bean field that had been getting a lot of action, the neighbor proceeded to drive their four wheeler up and down the fenceline at last light – effectively blowing the second half of my first day hunting in the Land of Giants. Things weren’t off to a good start.
Day Two I hiked up to a stand in the middle of several bedding areas, and I hunkered in for an all day sit. Over the course of the morning several does and little bucks filtered through, until another four wheeler started cruising this property! Eventually the driver stopped maybe 100 yards behind me and began shooting a .22. I have no idea what he was doing, but regardless – it wasn’t helping my chances of success. None the less, I stuck it out, and about 3 hours later I saw a doe flitting down the hill with her tail waving back and forther. I had a hunch about what might be following, and sure enough 3 bucks were right on her tail. This ended up being my first encounter with a big Iowa buck, as two shooters ( a 140″ and 130″) and another smaller buck trailed her to within about 60 yards of my stand. It was a great encounter and I was officially excited.
Day 3 we had an East wind, and only two of our stand locations were set up well for that direction. Both could only be accessed by crossing a wide open bean field – so I made the executive decision to not go in early that morning and blow all the deer off the field. Instead I waited til just after first light and made sure the bean field was clear before I entered the pinch point that connected two bedding areas. This stand seemed to be perfect for catching cruising bucks, but soon after getting set up – I realized that my stand was too far down the draw and my wind was swirling. After stewing on this for a few hours, around 1:30 I decided to pack up and move to another location.
This new stand was up above at the level of the bean field, and was actually on the inside corner of the field and an adjacent thick cedar bedding area. I was just downwind of the thicket, and I thought for sure I would have rutting bucks either cruising this edge or exploring the field for estrus does.
Lucky for me, I was right!
Quickly a full head and rack emerged from the greenery, and I immediately noticed the tall tines and thick beams.
He’s a shooter! Wait…no. Well… yes! My mind played tricks on me for a moment or two, until I finally decided that I should take the shot.
In a moments time the buck was at the edge of the fence, and I carefully grabbed my bow from the hanger. Unfortunately because of the angle of his entry, and the brief nature of the encounter, I was never able to maneuver my video camera to get film.
The buck hopped the fence, and I drew back my Bear Anarchy bow – silently repeating my mantra “Focus on form, focus on form” in my head. I remember noting my anchor point, loosening my grip on the riser, and checking the level on my sight. All was spot on, and as the buck stepped out from behind the tree limbs I let out a quiet “beh”, and the buck stopped in his tracks.
I squeezed my release and the arrow was off! I heard the tell tale “whump” and the buck kicked back and shot off like a rocket. I vividly remember seeing the immediate splash of crimson red blood behind the buck’s shoulder – maybe a couple inches farther back than I wanted, but I knew it was a good hit.
Immediately a wave of excitement and disbelief hit me. I just shot a good buck! I had passed on so many deer over the past 3 years and had not filled a buck tag over the course of all those seasons, as I waited and worked and worked for this moment. Finally it had all come together. I couldn’t quite believe it.
Needless to say though, it was quite real. And that night upon tracking and eventually finding my deer, I finally wrapped my hands around my first Pope & Young caliber buck.
This hunt truly was the culmination of a lifetime of work. And this whole season has really been incredible, between my Iowa buck and the best encounters I’ve ever had in Michigan. But in the end – I’m not sure this season’s success has been a result of any special strategy or tactic that I’ve practiced.
Rather, I think this year has instead been a blessing from God, and a gift from my grandfather who passed away this year on October 15th. GP, as he liked to be called, taught me so much about the great outdoors and the respect we must hold for these incredible animals. His passion for the hunt and for nature was infectious, and I’ve carried it with me from the time I was first able to join him the north woods of Michigan.
As I sat in that Iowa tree during the moments after I released my arrow, I felt myself drift away to a memory from long ago.
I was sitting in a roughly built ground blind on the edge of an overgrown field with my Grandpa excitedly whispering to me to look to the left, but be still. Almost out of thin air, 5 does materialized out of the ferns and walked across in front of us as I stared in awe with a mile wide grin on my face. At age 3, my first encounter in the woods with a deer unfolded in front of my Grandpa and I, and I’ve never been the same since.
22 years later as I sat in that Iowa tree, I knew my Grandpa was with me again as I experienced this new milestone in my hunting journey, and I couldn’t hold back that mile wide grin again.