By Gered De Hoogh
It has been a lifelong dream of mine to harvest a giant whitetail. And on a cold December morning, my dream was about to come true.
It all started when I was 9. My dad always loved to deer hunt and I remember him going on deer hunts in Michigan and in our home state of Iowa. I always wanted to tag along, but I was too young. One day my dad decided I was old enough to go on my first shotgun hunt with him.
Since that day, we have had a lot of great hunts together. We created many memories that will last a lifetime. All that he taught me, and all that I had learned on my own was training for what I was about to encounter on December 8, 2007.
When I was 20 years old and right out of technical college, I decided to go through a guide-training program in northwest Montana, put on by Jerry Malson outfitting in Trout Creek, Mont. After the six-week course ended, they decided to hire me as an elk guide. During my time there, I was fortunate to meet and get to know some really great people.
One of them, Steve Wright, is from southeast Iowa. He offered to let me hunt his property when I returned home. I did just that, bowhunting there that fall. I was not successful in tagging an animal, but I got to know Steve pretty well and saw some beautiful country.
Since that time, I have been hunting on his property with archery tackle and blackpowder equipment. Over the past seven years, I have taken three bucks in southeast Iowa, one with my bow and two with blackpowder.
The second shotgun season in Iowa was fast approaching. The whole week before I had been packing my bags, sighting-in my T/C Encore, and talking to my dad about big bucks.
It was Friday, the day before the season opener. Dad and I decided to leave that morning at 5 a.m. We wanted to get there early and scout.
We arrived and unpacked our gear. We then put on a heavy coat and some boots and headed toward our hunting grounds.
There were a couple of places we wanted to check out. One is a deep wooded ravine along the Des Moines River, with two old logging roads running through it. There are also a lot of big brush piles where deer like to bed. We decided that Dad would set up there again in the morning.
Now we had to find a spot for me. One area I had in mind is a big draw with small ditches running down to it, surrounded by a lot of low trees and shrubbery. In the middle of all of this is a big old tree with a permanent wooden tree stand. This was the spot for me.
The next morning I dropped Dad off and drove close to my stand. It was a beautiful morning, and I didn’t even need a flashlight to navigate. I spotted my tree and found the hoist rope, tied my gun off, and climbed into the massive tree. I then hoisted my gun, put in a 209 primer and waited for daylight, not knowing what I was about to encounter.
At about 7 a.m. it was light enough to see well. I had only sat for about 15 more minutes when I saw some movement coming from the thick draw below. A doe emerged along with a forked buck. About a half hour later, I saw some more movement, this time coming from where the doe and small buck had disappeared a little while earlier.
Even though they were still in the thick cover, I thought I could see some headgear on the last deer in the group. I then put up my gun up and saw a massive set of antlers through the scope. The buck was following four does, all moving broadside to me.
I had never seen a deer of this size in the wild before. As soon as I realized it was a giant buck, I shut his rack out of my mind and focused on what I had to do to close the deal.
I had to wait about 5 to 10 seconds until the buck approached an opening about 80 yards distant. Right before he entered the opening, I let out a loud grunt. He stopped and looked right at me, standing broadside.
I had to shoot offhand and quickly. When the smoke cleared, he was lying where he had stood. I could see his giant rack, and then I began to shake.
I couldn’t believe I had just killed the biggest buck of my life. I reloaded my muzzleloader and raised my gun again just to make sure he was down for good. I then lowered my gun and climbed down out of the tree.
The shortest distance to my buck was down a steep, nasty draw and back up the other side. Of course, that is the path I chose so I literally had to plow my way through thorns and briars. As I approached I could not believe my eyes. He was a true giant.
Before I even grabbed the rack, I called my dad on the cell phone and told him I had just shot the buck of a lifetime. He couldn’t believe his ears and told me he was coming out of his stand immediately. I said I would be right over to pick him up. This was a moment I didn’t want him to miss.
When I knelt down and grasped the 15-point rack, the feeling was amazing. I had always dreamed of it, but I didn’t really ever expect it to happen to me. A buck of this caliber is more than I could have asked for. I looked up and thanked God for this undeserved blessing, and then went to get my dad.
When I was driving up to him, I could see him smile from ear to ear. I knew he was excited and proud. Dad couldn’t believe the size of this buck. We shook hands and just stared at this world-class animal. We then shared a time of celebration and 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. He had a 15-point rack with lots of character. He has 13-inch G2s, 12-inch G3s and 8.5-inch brows. The official gross score is 200 3/8.
Not only did I take the largest whitetail I will probably ever harvest, but I also got to share it with my dad. He was with me when I shot my first deer, and he was there when I shot my biggest deer. Thank you, Dad, for all you have taught me in life and about deer hunting, and for being there on the two best days of my deer hunting career.