Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
November is the month deer hunters live for. And for those who thrill to the sight of wide beamed heavy antlered bucks, November is the gateway to all things good. For Iowa’s 60,000 archery hunting enthusiasts, the time to be in the woods is now. The annual rut is swinging into overdrive and heavy tined stags are making their appearance. After spending most of their year in quiet seclusion, those normally secretive bucks are changing their ways. Bristling with attitude and itching for a fight, the Big Boys are currently on the prowl 24/7 and are as likely to be seen at high noon as at the crack of dawn. But as mature, neck swollen bucks engage in a perpetual search for does, they often encounter others of their own kind instead. When rival monarchs happen to cross trails, the Iowa woodlands reverberate with the bone jarring clash of dueling antlers.
For white-tail devotees; visions of giant “Wall Hangers” permeate the consciousness and steal our sleep. There is a good reason for all this fuss. Whether you judge the animals in terms of total body weight or in the size of their antlers, there is no disputing that Iowa bucks achieve heart stopping proportions. There are, in fact, few places in all of North America where deer grow bigger or better than they do right here at home. To date, Iowa has produced 19 of the all time top bucks ever recorded. To put it in perspective, that’s more top deer than is currently listed by any other state or Canadian province.
Even in November, the bucks don’t come easy. Putting your tag on one requires ample amounts of scouting, woodsmanship, stealth and above all — patience. But when the Buck of their Dreams finally strides into view, more than a few hunters have come unglued at the sight. There are no guarantees in this game. After the drilling the Bull’s Eye on backyard targets all summer, even the deadliest of hunters may cleanly miss the entire animal as the moment of truth arrives. It’s called Buck Fever, and is the best explanation for why so many of my arrows have ended up imbedded in the forest floor rather than in a deer.
But not all deer hunters crack under the strain. When coming face to face with a truly monstrous white-tail, there are those cool hands that manage to hold it all together. One of the most recent examples occurred last weekend when my longtime friend, Dan Schutte bagged a literal “Buck of a Lifetime” while hunting near St. Cloud, Minnesota. The ginormously proportioned, heavy beamed buck sported a massive set of chandelier-shaped antlers containing an incredible total of 24 scorable points. You read it right – the buck was a 24-pointer. The deer was so hugely magnificent, in fact, that most of those Rock Star television hunting video celebrities will never ever come even close to taking an animal as large. Equally amazing is the fact that Dan bagged the monster white-tail during his very first hunt of the season. Incredible! So much for what I said about patience.
A native North Iowan and former Clear Lake resident, Schutte now resides in Minnesota where he currently serves as District Manager for the Lake County Soil & Water Conservation District. A lifelong outdoor enthusiast, Schutte has been an environmental educator, Peace Corps volunteer, conservation activist, and adventurer. During his travels, he has hunted, trapped, and eaten just about everything from deer and turkeys to armadillos and monkeys. He is also the only guy I know to have the dubious distinction of actually being kidnapped while hunting. But in spite of all his previous outdoor adventures and achievements, the results of last weekend’s deer hunt will top them all.
Although Schutte’s buck has yet to be officially scored; the deer is certain to be one for the Record Book. Another certainty is that the prospect of obtaining an accurate measurement of the deer’s bizarre antlers will present a unique challenge for official score keepers. I’m just glad that I’m not the one who has to come up with the final number.