By Gered De Hoogh
It has been a lifelong dream of mine to harvest a truly giant whitetail. On a cold December morning in Iowa, that dream came true.
My dream began when I was 9 years-old, with my first buck. That was when my dad decided I was old enough to go on my first shotgun hunt with him in Iowa. I remember a few details, like my dad waking me early and making breakfast that morning. He also made a rough sketch of a deer standing broadside and told me where I should aim if I had a shot.
Later that day, I remember the crunching noise a small fork horn buck made crossing the icy river and approaching the bank where I was seated. As it trotted past at about 30 yards, I aimed and fired. I thought I had missed, but my dad found a blood trail, and we soon spotted my first buck lying in the snow.
I told Dad, "This is the best day of my life!" Little did I know someday there we be an even better day.
Since that day we have built a lot of great hunting memories together. All of my hunts with Dad and later experiences, including my time as an elk guide in Montana, would prepare me for taking my dream buck.
Fast forward to the Iowa deer season in 2007. Dad and I drove to our property and spent the hours planning on where we would be sitting come daylight. We'd hunted there for years and had scouted in previous weeks, so there were many options.
Dad chose a deep wooded ravine right along the Des Moines River, with two old logging roads running through it and near a brushy bedding area. Now all we had to do was find a spot for me.
I had three great options, but chose an open area that ran all the way from a road, down to a deep, nasty draw. Nearby were small ditches running toward the big draw, with lots of thorny trees and shrubbery.
In the middle of all of this was an ancient tree with giant branches stemming out and a permanent wooden tree stand. My dad and I loved this view, and I had a couple of good openings, but I would have to pick my shot. There was also a fresh blanket of snow from the night before, so I had to brush off the seat and the stand.
I hoped when guns started going off in the morning it would push a big buck to the thick cover at the bottom of the draw. Now I was really excited and ready to start hunting.
The next morning, I dropped my dad off and drove down the dark road to where my stand was located. I finished putting on my outer layers of clothing, threw on my pack, grabbed my muzzleloader and started walking to my tree. It was going to be a beautiful morning, and I hastily got into the old stand. As I hoisted my gun, put in a 209 primer and waited for daylight, it just felt like I was going to encounter something.
Around 7 a.m. I could barely see and had only been sitting for about 15 minutes when I saw movement coming from the thick draw below. A doe emerged, along with a forked buck. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but it was fun to watch them.
They made their way toward the trail I had walked in on and disappeared into the low, brushy trees.
About 30 minutes later, I saw movement coming from where they had disappeared and another group of deer moved through the thick brush. This time, with my naked eye, I thought I glimpsed headgear on the last deer in the group.
I shouldered my rifle and looked through the scope. What a massive set of antlers! I was shocked by rows of long tines.
I had never seen a deer of this size in the wild before. As soon as I realized it was a true dream buck, I shut out thoughts of how gigantic the antlers were and focused on what I had to do: close this deal.
The buck was pushing four does at about 80 yards away, and I had to wait 5 or 10 seconds for a shot. That's when it would reach a small opening, which was only a few feet wide. There was no room for error, and I had to stop the buck in the opening or it would forever haunt me.
A microsecond before the monster entered the opening, I let out a loud grunt and it slammed on the brakes-perfect!
I had to make a quick, offhand shot, so I lowered the cross hairs until it intersected the mid-shoulder and pulled the trigger.
When the smoke cleared, it was lying exactly where it had just stood. I gasped as I saw its giant rack rising above the snow. That's when the shaking began.
I couldn't believe I had just taken the biggest buck of my life!
I lowered my muzzleloader and climbed down out of the tree. The shortest distance to my buck was down a steep, wooly draw, but that's the path I chose. I literally plowed my way through the thorns and briars.
As I approached, I could not believe my eyes. This was a true giant.
This was a moment that I didn't want my dad to miss. Before I even touched the buck, I called him on the cell phone and told him I'd just shot the buck of a lifetime. He told me he was coming out immediately, and I said I'd pick him up in the truck.
Then, as I knelt down and lifted the giant, 15-point rack, I realized this was the buck I'd always dreamed of. I didn't really ever expect the dream to come true.
A buck of this caliber is more than I could have asked for. I looked up and thanked God for His undeserved blessing and then went to meet Dad.
I could see Dad smile from ear to ear as I pulled up. I knew he was excited and proud of me. He was as excited over this deer as I was.
As we approached the buck, he couldn't believe the size the animal. We shook hands and just spent time staring at this world-class animal. We then shared a time of celebration, took photos, and relived the experience and the story.
This was truly my buck of a lifetime, as well as my hunt of a lifetime. Its official B&C gross score is 200 3/8", which is similar to the BTR's composite score.
Not only did I take the largest whitetail I will probably ever harvest on that day, but I also got to share it with my dad. He was there when I took my first, and he was there when I took my best. I hope and pray I will get to do these same things with my son.
Thank you, Dad, for preparing me for this day.