Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
For Iowa deer hunting enthusiasts, November is the grandest month of the year. Nothing else can stand in its shadow. The annual rut is slamming into overdrive and mature, heavy antlered bucks are on the prowl. Restless, edgy, and itching for a fight; nocturnal stags have suddenly changed their ways. Brazen and bristling with attitude, broad beamed giants currently swagger across midday fields. Locked into a perpetual search for does, anxious bucks trot through forest, down fencelines and across stubble. But instead of does, wandering bucks often find rival males instead. When that happens, the Iowa timbers echo with the resounding clash of dueling antlers. The bigger the combatants, the deadlier the duel.
The peak of the Iowa rut – the absolute best of the best – takes place during the first 15 days of November. If I had to pick just one of those days to be out hunting, November 8th would be the day. I don’t have any scientific data to back that statement up, of course. It’s just my opinion based on 42 years of Iowa bow hunting.
One of my most memorable hunts occurred when two mature, eight-point bucks happened to meet at the edge of a marsh below my stand. The battle began when, following a few brief seconds of posturing, each deer made a headlong charge for the other. The antlers connected with bone chilling authority and the timber reverberated with the sound. With antlers locked, each deer pushed, flexed, and twisted as the duel moved in a rapid semicircle of destruction. Vegetation and mud flew high as all eight legs churned with the white-tail version of four-wheel-drive. The bucks were evenly matched and as the battle continued, it was impossible to predict the outcome. When the clashing antlers finally parted, one of the bucks seized the moment and delivered what had to be a pointedly painful head butt to his opponent’s left side. Wincing from the impact, the lesser buck turned tail and rapidly vacated the premises. The second deer stayed put. After catching his breath, the victor seemed none the worse for wear.
Before the two deer arrived, I had been loudly rattling a set of shed antlers in hopes of attracting a curious buck. I now hoped the buck at the edge of the marsh would remember hearing the sound. Whether he actually remembered or not, I’ll never know. What I do know, is that the deer suddenly made a square turn and began up the trail leading directly to my stand. Stopping broadside at less than 10 paces, the magnificent buck was mine.
Several years ago, a very frustrated young bow hunter came to me for advice. Although this new hunter wanted in the worst way to bag a buck, everything he had tried had gone sour. Following several hunts, the only deer he had even seen were so far away that it required the use of binoculars to determine their gender. Time was slipping. The first of November had arrived, the annual rut was headed for its peak, and the hunter felt hopelessly doomed to failure. As he quizzed me for clues regarding the “Rut Timetable”, I related my theory of how I thought November 8th was the best day of the season. I’ll never forget his reaction. You would have thought that I’d just handed the kid a silver bullet.
“No kidding? Wow, I for sure won’t miss that day,” he beamed. Although it was great to see his spirits lifted with renewed confidence, I could see he was assigning way too much credibility to a single calendar date. I kind of wished I’d kept my mouth shut.
November 8th arrived and, sure enough, the young full-of-confidence hunter was back sitting in the same stand where, as near as he could tell, no buck had ever come within a quarter mile. And then it happened. Just as the sunrise was topping the horizon, a beautifully symmetrical, eight-point buck came sauntering down the trail. When the buck halted, the kid drew his bow and made a perfect shot. A dream come true, his first ever deer was in the bag.
I didn’t see the guy until a couple days after the hunt and he was still so excited that he could barely tell the story. But the funniest part was his reaction to me. To him, I had suddenly become a legendary Mr. White-tail — the undisputed authority on Iowa deer and deer hunting. From then on, my every word was taken to heart as the irrefutable truth. If I’d have told him that the best way to hunt deer was standing on your head while blindfolded, I think he’d have immediately started looking for a blindfold.
Unfortunately, I’ve lost touch with that young hunter over the years. The kid is now middle-aged. I don’t know if he married or has a family. But if he’s still hunting deer, I think I do know exactly what he’ll be doing when the sun comes up on November 8th. I’m planning on doing the same thing myself. Whether or not I see any deer that morning, I’ll still be smiling as I remember a young hunter’s first buck. Sometimes I do know what I’m talking about; even when it’s by accident.