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Forgetting Big Ten

Randall Smuck Iowa's No. 8 Irregular by Shotgun

By Randall Smuck
Photos Courtesy of Randall Smuck

I watched the sun rise from my deer stand on the last day of Iowa's initial 2007 shotgun season. Deer were blowing and snorting like crazy as I approached the setup in the dark, which didn't bode well for my morning hunt. Dawn broke overcast, but the clouds soon disappeared, leaving behind a bluebird day with temperatures in the low 20s.

We had ice and snow when the season opened, and it had stuck around for the entire time. As I sat in my stand that morning, I was at least comforted to know the second rut was in full throttle. My eyes rarely left the spotting scope as bucks were chasing does and sparring in the sanctuary 300 yards distant.

I was holding out for a deer we'd nicknamed "Big Ten." Very heavy in mass and wide, we thought the mostly nocturnal buck would go 175 inches and was at least 41/2 or 51/2 years old. We had numerous trail camera photographs of Big Ten, but none of us had seen him while afield.

At 2:15, does began filtering out of the woods, one at a time, into the 10-acre field of Imperial Whitetail Clover. About 4 p.m., the first buck joined them, a young 6-pointer. It was followed by a couple of spikes. And then about 4:15, a nice 8-pointer - a couple of years shy of being mature - waltzed up to the chow line.

The next arrival was none other than Big Ten. His head appeared over the west fence of the sanctuary at 180 yards. He was checking out the clover field.

When he jumped the fence, I pushed my spotting scope to the side, raised my 12-gauge shotgun and acquired him in my scope. What a magnificent animal, and he was walking at a steady clip toward me!

It seemed as if he was looking directly at me, and then he stopped at 100 yards. By then, I was suffering the classic symptoms of buck fever. To make matters worse, I couldn't tear my eyes off those sweeping main beams.

He looked north and southwest, and then started trotting slowly toward a group of deer. Afraid that he'd get too far to my right and smell me, I grunted. But he didn't stop.

I grunted again, louder. No luck.

When I yelled as loudly as I could, he put on the brakes at 75 yards, offering a perfect broadside target.

I shot, and he dropped. But then the buck flipped back up and began racing off to the east, low to the ground. By the time I found him in my scope again, all I had was a Texas heart shot, not to mention there were another 50 or 60 deer running everywhere.

Randall SmuckWith no shot, I watched him cross the fence back into the sanctuary and fixed the spot in my mind.

I got down out of my stand and, as darkness fell, I found a little blood after 250 yards. I backed out, went to town and obtained the tracking services and opinion of my hunting buddy and friend, Daniel (Boone) Kluesner. The two of us returned and picked up the trail.

After a while, we decided there wasn't enough blood to continue in the dark.

I had to work the next day, but Dan went out and found Big Ten - no worse for wear, chasing a doe with a scratch wound across his back.

After a new scope purchase and a trip to the shooting range on Friday to get sighted-in, I wanted Big Ten more than ever.

On Saturday, opening day of the second season, I was in my stand by daybreak. It was 11 degrees and cloudy, and the deer were moving early.

Both does and bucks filtered back and forth from the sanctuary to the clover field through late morning. They pawed through ice and snow to get at the clover. Watching them and hawks diving for field mice kept me alert and amused for a time.

Around noon, 350 yards away on a sunny fence line to the north, a lone coyote surprised four does and a couple of fawns. An hour later, it began snowing. By 4 p.m., the clover field had somewhere between 40 and 50 deer.

All of a sudden, I spotted Big Ten looking over the same fence 180 yards away where he'd entered the field a couple of days earlier. I pushed my spotting scope to the side and was about to raise my shotgun when, out of the corner of my right eye, a streak of deer were coming across the clover field from right to left.

Three does were ahead of a 300-plus-pound buck with heavy antlers.

Subscribe Today!Without a moment's hesitation, I raised my gun and found it in my scope. About that time, someone in a neighboring field, a quarter- to half a mile away, shot at a deer. The bang caused my buck to freeze.

I squeezed the trigger, and the deer never took another step.

I got down out of my stand and walked the 75 yards to the deer. I got to within 10 or 12 steps when it lifted its head up out of the snow-covered grass. I quickly sealed the deal.

I couldn't believe how magnificent this buck was. I called my hunting buddies, Dan and Mark, to come out and see it. It took them half an hour to get out to where I was. When they did, it was snowing big flakes in the darkness.

"What did you think when you saw it?" they asked.

"No time to think," I replied. "I just shot!"

In 14 years of hunting this property and poring over thousands of trail cam photos, I'd never seen an animal like this. To think I saw it for only a few seconds before I shot is amazing to me.

The celebration lasted for two days with family and friends, acquaintances and complete strangers from as far away as 50 miles.

Hunter: Randall Smuck
Official Score: 190 6/8
Composite: 213 2/8

-- Reprinted from the Winter 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.