Veteran hunter credits Lady Luck with putting him within slug range of "Jaws."
By Lisa Price
Photos by Walter Johnson
Hunters had been salivating over a huge buck for a couple of years. It was seen often enough to tantalize beholders and haunt their dreams, but it was never spotted during hunting season.
With the clock winding down - on the last day of Iowa's 2006 season - devoted hunter Walter Johnson got the opportunity for which many others had prayed.
It's much like a favorite scene from the old summer movie hit, "Jaws." The police chief, played by the late Roy Scheider, is chumming bait from the back of a boat in hopes of luring in the massive problem shark that has chomped and terrified the beach city's valued tourists.
Suddenly, a shark of inconceivable size rears out of the sea, foam spewing from its toothy maw. Just as quickly as it appears, it's gone. The chief, shaken by the sight, struggles to find his voice and says to the other men, "We need a bigger boat."
Over the course of a few years, an Iowa buck would become known by the nickname "Jaws." Like the famed shark of the movie, it was bigger than life. And also like the movie shark, it was often seen, but difficult to land. And given its size, whoever got the monster was going to "need a bigger boat" or, in a hunter's case, big friends.
"The buck was in the general area (Henry County), and was seen a lot over the years," said Walter Johnson of Fort Madison, Iowa, who's been hunting for about 35 years. "People in the area called it Jaws.
"I'd seen pictures of it, but I never thought I'd actually get the chance at it," he added.
On Dec. 17, Walter was hunting with his son, Dave, and a couple of friends. Although Dave had taken his share of nice bucks over the years, including a really good 10-pointer, Walter's best buck to that date had been an 8-pointer with a rack tallying in the 130s.
"Before that day, I'd been hunting the whole week but had seen only does and small bucks ... nothing to shoot," Walter said. "It was the last day of deer season."
The day dawned cold and cloudy with a stiff wind. The group of hunters had been out in light snow during the morning hours. They'd regrouped late in the day to try another spot. The hunters directed Walter and another member of their party to take up positions, as the rest of the gang prepared to walk through the huge wooded area toward them.
"We had picked out a certain piece of timber, fairly thick, with a creek running through it," Walter recalled. "I had just gotten to where I wanted to be, hadn't really settled in, when the buck just seemed to materialize out of nowhere."
Jaws had been bedded along the creek, on the opposite side from Walter. Alerted by the approach of the other hunters, still a good distance away, the buck left his bed to get on the other (Walter's) side of the creek to keep thick cover between him and the hunters it knew were coming.
The buck had no idea, at first, that Walter was there. But as he came up out of the creek, he locked eyes with his undoing.
"It was like he knew, for just a second, that he'd made a mistake," Walter said. "He came up from the creek and just stopped. He was standing still, about 70 to 80 yards away, when I shot."
Walter was carrying his new scoped shotgun. He'd purchased it three months earlier.
"He'd looked away for a second in their direction, and that gave me time to lift my gun. After the boom, the buck jumped back into the creek.
"When they get that big, they're pretty smart," Walter said. "But he made a mistake, and I just happened to be in the right spot."
Dave was approaching his father when he saw the big buck, still alive, trying to hide under a brush pile. Necessary or nor, he administered the coup de grace.
Within minutes, father and son were gawking at the 250-pound deer at their feet, marveling over the 19 points on his seventh rack. It took a few moments for them to register it all.
"We were pretty happy," Walter said. "It took three of us to get him up out of that creek."
Walter wanted a special mount. He chose a platform pedestal style that positions the buck's head about 4 feet off the floor.
"Even though I'd heard about the buck the locals called Jaws, I never thought I'd get him," Walter said. "People hunt all their lives and never get anything like that deer. We still talk about that day all the time. I never thought I'd be the lucky one."
• Hunter: Walter Johnson
• Official Score: 217
• Composite: 236
-- Reprinted from the August 2010 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.