By Russell Thornberry
Sam Collora has taken some fine bucks in his 25 years of whitetail hunting. But for the past eight years, it’s been his dream to take a real world-class buck with his bow.
If you look at bowhunting records, you quickly realize that Sam lives where such a notion isn’t a pipe dream. In his quest, he has passed up some bucks that would be lifetime trophies for most archers.
Sam’s first hunt of the 1996 season would not only allow him to fulfill his dream, but also to make bowhunting history.
On Oct. 11, 1996, 11 days into the Iowa bow season, Sam finally escaped the pressures of two full-time jobs (as an engineer and the proprietor of Mrs. Doe Pee’s Buck Lure) and headed for the woods near his cabin in Henry County. Before entering the woods, he took detailed precautions to eliminate his human scent, took his hunting clothes out of a sealed container and got dressed. He tied a drag rag around one ankle and added a few drops of his own professional blend of estrous doe urine and headed for his stand.
Sam gradually adds more doe urine to his drag rag as he nears his stand so the deer discovering the scent will go from lesser to greater scent intensity. He calls it "heating up the rag."
Sam made sure he pulled the drag rag over several deer crossings and made his final approach to his stand with the wind to his back so that any deer following his scent trail wouldn’t wind him. Once at his stand, he threw the drag rag over a limb, right where he wanted an interested buck to stop.
Once in his stand, Sam made the disturbing discovery that the rubber tubing that aligns his peep sight was so worn it was about to break.
"Knowing that it wouldn’t withstand another draw, I went ahead and broke it completely," said Sam. "I couldn’t get the tube back on the post, so, against all rules, I slid my glove off and slipped my little finger under my Scent-Lok mask and moistened it with saliva. I used the saliva to lubricate the peep site barb so the tube would slide back on the post. As careful as I am about scent, I was concerned about having this much contamination. Everything else was in working order, so I sat back to enjoy the beautiful day. I hoped that a deer would cross one of those paths on its way from bedding to feeding areas, and follow the drag rag trail in."
Forty-five minutes later, while Sam was indeed enjoying that beautiful day, he spotted movement to his left.
"I was looking at one of the biggest deer I had seen in my life. This buck had not crossed the drag rag trail, but was downwind of me, walking with his nose in the air directly toward the estrous-scented drag rag. He thought he had the first doe in heat!"
When the buck got to about 30 yards from Sam’s drag rag, he stopped and looked to his left. Sam’s mind was on the saliva he’d used on his peep sight. Was that going to be his undoing? If the buck turned away, he wouldn’t present Sam a shot; so, while the buck’s head was low, Sam attempted to draw. But his elbow struck an interfering limb, making full draw impossible.
Sam let his draw down and admits that while he is usually cool and calm until he releases his arrow, his left knee began to shake.
"My heart was pounding so loud … I was losing it! I told myself to get it together and settle down. ‘Don’t blow this! This buck is huge!’" remembers Sam.
The buck turned toward the drag rag with his nose in the air again and dropped his ears to a relaxed horizontal position. Finally, Sam knew the buck was unaware of his presence.
The buck turned to his right, giving Sam a right-to-left shot. As the buck approached the shooting lane, Sam drew and led him slightly, fixed his sight pin in front of, but so that it would center the buck’s shoulder, and then he released.
"It sounded like a boat paddle slapping the mud," Sam said. "The lead was too far! I had hit the scapula blade!
"A third of the arrow was still sticking out of him," he continued. "My first thought was that I blew it. How could I have been so stupid?
"While these thoughts raced through my mind, the buck turned and ran in the direction from which he’d come at record speed. Eighty yards out, he piled up," Sam said. "I knew he was sick. I must have gotten better penetration than I thought. Suddenly, however, he was back on his feet.
"When he came to a fence at 150 yards, he piled up again. I could no longer see him at that point, but I could see the white fletching on the arrow. The fletching slowly stopped moving. I watched another 10 minutes to make sure he wasn’t going to get up, and then I got down out of the stand, nocked an arrow and headed for the deer. When I was about 40 yards from the buck, I drew my bow and walked up on him.
"When satisfied that he was dead, I just stood there grinning, looking at those antlers. His head was propped against the fence as if he were looking at me. He was awesome. The broadhead had penetrated the scapula into the lung!
"I estimated his weight at 325 to 350 pounds. I said a little thank-you prayer and headed for the house. I knew I was going to need some help getting him out," he added.
Sam made bowhunting history that day, but it would be played out in some complex and confusing ways in trying to establish exactly how his buck would fare among the ranks of other great typical bucks taken with bow and arrow.
After the required 60-day drying time required by both the Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett clubs, measurements were taken by official scorers from both organizations. In both cases, the scorers arrived at the gross score of 223 inches of antler … but only 202 5/8 after deductions.
However, since Sam’s buck was a contender as a top ranking buck for the Pope and Young Club, he was invited to send his rack to the Pope and Young Convention held in Edmonton, Alberta, in May of 1997. There, a panel of experts would score the rack again to determine its final resting place among the ranks of great typical whitetails taken with bow and arrow.
That panel of experts chose to interpret Collora’s rack in a much different manner than the original two P&Y scorers (and the two B&C scorers). Their interpretation did not favor the great buck and ended up reducing the score from 202 5/8 to 193 3/8. To arrive at that final score, the panel of judges had to deduct nearly 30 inches of antler from Sam’s great rack.
"It was a judgment call," said Pope and Young Records Chairman Larry Streiff.
The day before Sam’s buck was shipped to Edmonton, I flew to Iowa and spent the evening with Sam and his family. I scored the buck for the Buckmasters Whitetail Trophy Records. The BTR score, which includes every inch of antler in the rack, was 204 6/8. (The BTR doesn’t include the inside spread between the main beams because it is a measurement of air, rather than antler.)
Even with air excluded, Sam’s incredible buck took its place as the BTR’s No. 1 Typical in the compound bow category. In addition, it was awarded the BTR’s Golden Laurel Citation, given annually for the single most outstanding entry into the BTR from among all antler classifications and weapons categories.
Regardless of which scoring system one prefers, one thing is very clear: If you hang Sam Collora’s trophy on the wall beside the 10 best typical whitetails ever taken with bow and arrow, and ask the most inexperienced person in the room to point to the biggest one, he will certainly point to the Collora buck. Because deductions aside, it has more typical antler than any whitetail buck ever taken with a bow and arrow ... (until bested in 2001).