So many dead deer stories involve bucks taken right behind barns, inside subdivisions and in small tracts a person can cross in half a dozen strides that the age-old advice to hunt well beyond the beaten path seems almost worthless.
But not to a 51-year-old printing press operator from Walker, Iowa.
Kelly Doyl isn’t about to change his habit of walking a mile in order to hunt ground untrampled by others wearing orange, especially now that he’s seen what a little sweat equity and boot leather can put on the wall.
The buck he smoked during 2010’s early blackpowder season was the head of its class at the Iowa Deer Classic that year, and he’d have never seen it if he and his brother, Bryan, hadn’t decided to hike into parts unknown by hunters averse to walking into another zip code.
Kelly had taken the whole week off from work. When he left the house, he told his wife he wasn’t coming home until he’d shot a giant.
On Oct. 18, a Monday, he and Bryan hiked to a distant ridge overlooking a small river and hung stands about 300 yards apart. They saw the sunrise from those positions the next morning.
That year was the fourth for Kelly and Bryan to lug muzzleloaders afield during the early season. Before then, they hunted with shotguns, usually during man-drives that saw Kelly — he of restless feet — as the pusher, his brother as pushee.
Finding places to hunt has always been a matter of the Doyls choosing between private and public tracts. Finding a way to hunt without ignoring his anniversary, which falls during shotgun season, wasn’t so easy for Kelly until he went the smokepole route — an obvious remedy, he says, because earlier is better than later.
“Our deer seem to disappear after the shotgun season,” he said.
Oct. 19 was the coldest day they’d had up to that point, and a heavy frost blanketed the ground in Buchanan County. Shortly after daybreak, a forkhorn crossed the ridge near Kelly’s stand. After it disappeared, he rattled lightly with a 130ish set of antlers he’d sawed off roadkill.
“I love rattling on frosty still mornings,” he said.
Twenty minutes later, close to 8:00, he tried again, a bit more aggressively, and then immediately heard a rustling noise.
He couldn’t see the buck, at first, because of the leaves still on the trees. When he finally glimpsed it, head-on, he wasn’t too impressed. The rack was only about 16 inches wide.
But when the buck turned its head to the left and Kelly saw the right side, he changed his mind in a hurry.
The animal was quartering to him sharply at 60 yards, but Kelly took the shot. When the smoke cleared, he saw the buck on the ground.
The hunter was busy counting the proverbial chickens when his 27-point egg suddenly rolled over onto its belly. Kelly panicked and started reloading his muzzleloader, spilling things as he sought to restoke his rifle.
“I’m sure there’s still some of my stuff in the weeds out there,” he said. “I’d been gathering my gear when it sat up like that. I fumbled around, dropped stuff, and shot again as fast as I could.”
The buck never regained its feet.
Kelly wanted to call his brother, but he also didn’t want to ruin his hunt. Just when he decided to go ahead and field-dress his buck, Bryan called him.
“He said, ‘How big?’ I said ‘200.’ And he said, ‘Gotta go’ and hung up,” Kelly laughed. “He was there with me five minutes later.”
Kelly walked the mile out to the truck to retrieve the cart, and he got permission from the landowner to drive closer.
“That’s the kind of hike you don’t want to make every day to get to a stand,” he said. “I’ve had people tell me I’m nuts for hunting that far, walking that far. But it isn’t so bad when there’s a buck like this on the ground.”
Bryan called Kelly’s wife, who told their daughter, who told her boyfriend, and the story continued to spread like a wildfire in a drought. The Doyl garage was Grand Central Station for a couple of days afterward.
The antlers were later rough-scored at 230 inches, which Kelly didn’t believe.
“That HAD to be wrong,” he said, one reason he didn’t bother attending when the rack was officially scored on New Year’s Eve. He was out ice-fishing when his cell phone chirped.
“Are you sitting down?” the caller asked.
“Of course I’m sitting down. I’m fishing,” he replied.
He chose not to go fishing when the Iowa Deer Classic arrived.
A week earlier, a man named John Flannigan called Kelly to tell him he’d picked up the buck’s busted-up 2009 sheds, which might’ve tallied 200 inches. They were Kelly’s, if he wanted them.
The deer had packed on another 50 inches of antler between its third and fourth years!
Hunter: Kelly Doyl
Official Score: 232 2/8
Composite Score: 248 6/8
— Photos Courtesy of Kelly Doyl
This article was published in the July 2012 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.