A forward shift in season dates makes choosing easier for this Iowa hunter.
For the first time since he began hunting in Iowa, Joe Daubner bought a deer permit for the early blackpowder season last year.
“I wasn’t keen on getting an early muzzleloader tag, at first,” he said. “I really had to think about it.”
For starters, the early season is shorter. It spans only nine days, whereas the later hunt (Dec. 21 - Jan. 10) lasts 20. Plus, whitetails are far less predictable when the land is brimming with food.
The only advantage to buying one of the state’s 7,500 early-season tags is to get first crack at deer.
“The late season is more than twice as long, but you have to settle for what’s left,” Joe said. “The deer have often been shot out at that point.”
Joe chose dibs over days, mainly because the state shifted the season forward a week – from Oct. 11-19 (2014’s dates) to Oct. 17-25. The 28-year-old loves hunting in late October. His three best bucks have hit the ground between Oct. 20 and 25.
The licenses went on sale at midnight Aug. 15, and Joe had his by 1 a.m.
“It’s a first-come, first-serve basis; limited entry,” he said. “They always sell out early. So I wasn’t taking any chances.”
The only downside, he added, is that purchasers of the early tag cannot shoot a buck if they hunt during the late season, regardless of what they do or don’t shoot during those nine days in October. Hunters can go afield during both seasons, but only does are fair game for those who buy early tags.
Either way, Joe put his cart before the horse.
Three weeks before he bought the tag, he tore one of his ACLs (the ligament under the kneecap). Reconstructive surgery was slated for Sept. 1, and his doctor had advised him not to hunt, saying he would need six months to recuperate.
Joe had no intention of missing deer season, however.
The week prior to his surgery, he hung several treestands and made sure his 18 trail cameras had fresh cards and batteries.
The buck at the top of his list was a deer he’d nicknamed Small, which he thought might score about 180 inches.
“I named him that because of how little his rack grew from age 5 to age 6,” he said. “There wasn’t very much growth except for a couple of sticker points.”
Small was the best deer his cameras had photographed in 2015.
When the blackpowder season opened Oct. 17, Joe didn’t let a straight-leg, crotch-to-ankle knee brace keep him indoors. He hunted four days, Saturday through Tuesday, before going in to work at the city road department Wednesday morning. He spent that afternoon scouting for deer.
His reconnaissance led to the discovery of another shooter 10-pointer that would also break 180.
Joe hunted the new buck on Thursday, sitting on the ground next to a cut cornfield, the northeast wind in his face. To his west was a cedar thicket, where deer like to bed. He saw a 5-pointer and a couple of does.
On Friday, he went back to Small’s turf.
On Saturday evening, Oct. 24, he took advantage of a westerly breeze and revisited the cornfield. The wind was blowing out of the cedars.
Joe was not in a stand or blind. In order to see into the field, he had to walk over a hump to the field itself. He sat behind a wall of weeds he’d broken off and poked in the dirt.
A doe and two yearlings were the first to leave the thicket, followed by the 5-pointer he’d seen on Thursday. The little buck pestered the doe until she ran into a draw, and he went in after her. When the buck came back out a short time later, Joe noted its body language.
“I got the impression an older buck might’ve run it out of there,” he said.
Seven does eventually joined the little buck in the stubble. One of them saw Joe and grew antsy. The 5-pointer picked up on her anxiety, followed her gaze and began heading southeast to get downwind of the blob behind the weeds.
Meanwhile, Joe heard another deer grunting within the draw and turned to see a familiar split-beamed buck he’d filmed the previous year.
“It had been 351 days since I’d last seen it, but I knew that deer immediately,” he said.
Joe’s .50-caliber muzzleloader was propped on shooting sticks. If the deer had jumped the fence and come onto the cornfield, he’d have been okay. But the deer was in no hurry to eat. It even made a scrape while Joe considered his options.
“When the buck looked right at me, I knew I couldn’t wait for it to jump the fence,” Joe said. “As soon as it lifted its head to hit the licking branch above the scrape, I swung my T/C Endeavor off the sticks and toward the deer.”
Miraculously, the move somehow went unnoticed by the eight sets of eyes in the field, and Joe took the 70-yard shot before the buck stepped out of the scrape that became its final bed.
“That’s really testament to the bullet, a 250-grain Barnes Spit Fire TMZ,” he said.
Joe called his father immediately to share the news.
“I was shaking like crazy. I told him I’d just shot another 200-incher,” he said.
He was referring to the one at his feet, as well as the 2014 buck on the cover of that month’s Buckmasters magazine. The ink was barely dry!
There were maybe five minutes of daylight remaining when he disconnected the call and hobbled over to the fallen buck. His next call was to a friend who helped load the deer.
This article was published in the October 2016 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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