Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
For Iowa’s 70,000 archery deer hunters, November is the grandest month of the year. By now, the annual rut is slamming into overdrive. Restless, edgy, and itching for a scrap; high tined, broad beamed bucks are on the prowl. Everyone agrees that Iowa bucks achieve heart stopping proportions. Whether you judge them in terms of body weight or in the measurement of their antlers, there are few places where deer grow bigger or better than they do right here at home. Iowa has, in fact, produced more top bucks than is currently listed by any other state or Canadian province.
If you want to catch a glimpse of these home-grown bruisers, there is no better time than right now. Driven by a relentless search for does, bucks are on the move. But things don’t always go according to plan. Instead of finding friendly does, wandering bucks often encounter rival males instead. When that happens, the Iowa timbers echo with the resounding clash of dueling antlers. The larger the combatants, the deadlier the duel.
Although the Iowa rut may take more than five weeks to run its course, the season’s peak – the absolute best of the best – takes place during the first 15 days of November. There is never a time when a person is more likely to spot an Iowa monster.
The prospect of bagging that once-in-a-lifetime buck is more than some hunters can handle. Dreams of downing a genuine “Iowa Wall Hanger” drives some enthusiasts to the point of obsession. It’s a time when normally responsible guys risk pneumonia and spend time freezing to a tree when they should be scraping out rain gutters, changing oil in the car, or attending parent/teacher conferences.
So, are the potential rewards worth the effort? If you happen to be a deer hunter, the answer is yes, of course. But to enjoy those rewards you must first find yourself in the right place at the right time. Not easy to do, but when it happens, the event can seem too good to be true.
One of my most memorable examples occurred a few seasons back while sitting in tree at the edge of a cattail slough. It was early morning and I was banging away on a set of shed antlers in hopes of rattling up a buck. I suddenly got my wish — times two — when a pair of sleek, eight-pointers arrived simultaneously from opposite directions. With ears laid back and hair bristling, the swaggering bucks sized each other up during a few seconds of stiff-legged posturing. The battle erupted when each deer lowered its head and made a headlong charge at its opponent. The antlers connected with bone chilling authority and the timber reverberated with the sound. With antlers clashing, the bucks pushed, flexed, and twisted as the contest moved in a dramatic semicircle of destruction. Hooves churned; chunks of sod flew high. The bucks were evenly matched and as the battle raged, it was impossible to predict the outcome. When the pair finally separated, one of the bucks seized the moment and delivered a powerful, eight-pronged head butt to his opponent’s flank. Wincing with pain, the victim turned tail and vacated the premises. The second deer stayed put. After catching his breath, the victor seemed none the worse for wear.
“Now what?” I wondered. Should I remain still; or should I rattle those antlers again? Before I could decide, the deer suddenly turned and began moving up the trail leading directly to my stand. Stopping broadside at less than 10 paces, he was a dream come true. Drawing the bow, the magnificent buck was mine.
Although the above hunt reached a perfect finale, most of my deer hunts conclude with the sun going down and me heading home empty handed. Not complaining, mind you. I love sitting in the autumn woodlands watching white-tails and all the other creatures that make November such a special time. Whether I actually bag a deer or not, sitting in a tree beats scraping out rain gutters any day of the week.