Because he rarely asks for time off from his job, inclement weather usually dictates when Kyle Simmons can go hunting. The demand for firewood near Spragueville, Iowa, keeps him busy for 60 or more hours a week.
But last October, the 24-year-old saw the stars aligning and asked his boss for an uncharacteristically long weekend.
Rain had ushered in cold front, pushed by a north wind. That he’d be bowhunting the backside of a full moon with a favorable breeze and a thermometer registering 20 to 30 degrees cooler were enough to merit the request. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have bothered.
So on Thursday morning, Oct. 16, Kyle beat the sun and headed for the woolliest section of the family’s half-timbered 600 acres in Jackson County. He decided to hunt a fixed-position stand near one of the trail cameras the family had set out with hopes of photographing the 200-inch buck whose massive sheds Kyle’s little brother, Lance, had found the previous spring.
He’d even slipped his laptop inside his backpack so he could download the photos directly onto his computer. None of the cameras had caught the sheds’ wearer to that point, but everyone was hopeful.
Although it was well before daybreak, the moon was incredibly bright as Kyle followed a fencerow toward the woods where the stand had been erected. Along the way, he spotted a doe and fawn. And the doe spotted him.
Not wanting to spook the deer, Kyle hunkered down behind the fence to wait for her to wander off, but she was curious. Determined to see what he was, or rather smell what he was, the deer walked to within a mere 5 yards of the shadowy form she’d seen bobbing along the fence. When she winded him, she bounded toward the woods, stopped at the edge and started blowing.
Kyle was so bummed, he turned around and went back home without even checking the camera.
After waking from a nap, Kyle was ready to try again. By 1:45, he was spraying himself with scent-killer beside his truck. This time, he lugged his climbing stand into the woods by way of the same fencerow. When he’d entered the timber, he veered onto a saddle where a north-south ridge met an east-west one – the perfect site, but a less-than-perfect tree. Once aloft, he had to maneuver the stand into a better position.
He chose the saddle because it’s midway between bedding and feeding areas, sort of a staging zone about 70 yards above a cornfield. The corn was the chief food source that year because springtime floods had prevented the Simmons from planting their normal food plots.
About an hour after climbing the tree, Kyle did some light rattling. He followed that up with a couple of grunts – a long one and a short one. He heard turkeys cutting up in the distance a few minutes later, no doubt the same flock he’d spooked while entering the woods. And then he heard something else moving along the ridge behind him.
He first saw the deer’s backside. Without knowing if it was a buck or a doe (he’d have shot a doe if one came within range), he grabbed his bow. When he turned back around, he saw the rack and, almost immediately, averted his eyes.
"Don’t look at the rack … Don’t look at the rack," he repeated, while watching the deer close the distance. Kyle drew when its head passed behind a tree.
That was only the second time Kyle had even drawn his bow while looking at a real deer.
The first time, his arrow served only to shave a few white hairs off a doe’s chest. The 2008 season was only his fourth to bowhunt.
Little brother Lance, 17, has always been more into bowhunting, perhaps because he’s had more time for it. Kyle was always involved in high school sports, and then he went off to college. In fact, the first time Kyle even took a bow to the woods, it belonged to Lance.
Now, the family practices together as often as possible. But practicing doesn’t teach an archer how to compensate for sparking nerves.
"There’s a lot more adrenaline involved when you’re looking at a deer," Kyle said. "There’s no time to think about things. You have all the time in the world while aiming at a target.
But with a deer … with THIS deer … There it is, and you have to shoot it.
"I’d never seen anything that HUGE," he added. "I’ve seen my share of 120- to 140-inch bucks, and all you think is ‘Nice one.’ This was incredible."
Apparently, however, the don’t-look-at-the-rack mantra worked for Kyle. Because when the buck stepped into range and in the clear, he shot it.
The buck ran 50 yards, stopped for about 15 or 20 seconds, and then tipped. Kyle’s elation lasted less than 15 minutes, however, when the buck rolled over and stood. It took a few steps and lay down. Got up a bit later, took a couple more steps and laid down again.
"I didn’t know it at the time, but the last time the buck went down, it had reached a ditch, and, with only one lung, it just wasn’t strong enough to jump it," Kyle said.
The first time the deer fell, Kyle text-messaged Lance and called his dad, Todd.
At 6:30, after watching the downed, but still-alive buck for almost three hours, he called his dad again to say he was going to get down and put another arrow in it. But Todd advised against it and convinced his son to come home.
The three of them went back out at 11 p.m. and started searching. Kyle lost his bearings, at first, but soon zeroed in on where he’d last seen the deer, which hadn’t moved during the four and a half hours the Simmons were biting their nails back at the house.
As soon as the flashlights’ thin beams illuminated the buck, Kyle and Lance began shouting. Todd, who had been following the ditch, yelled out, "Did you find him?"
"Well, um, yeah," the brothers laughed.
The deer was so tremendous that father and sons finally resorted to cutting off the hind quarters to make the dragging easier. Even with Todd carrying the back end and the brothers dragging the front, it took three hours to get it to the truck.