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Iowa's Big Game
blind might have lulled me into a slumber if it wasn’t for the deer 50 yards in front of me. I was guarding the edge of a cornfield in southern Iowa, a Knight KP1 muzzleloader laid across my knees and visions of giant whitetail bucks pranced through my mind. The thermometer was plummeting, the rain was turning to ice, and the blind I was in looked more like an igloo than a camouflage dome. This was no place to sleep.
Iowa has earned a spot among fanatical deer hunters as one of the very best places to cross paths with a giant buck. It’s become a must-do destination for anyone who likes to chase big deer, with reports of monster bucks coming in almost daily throughout November and December. What is it about Iowa that produces so many eye-popping whitetails each season? Simple: A variety of factors have created a perfect storm of deer management. Hunting pressure is tightly regulated and drawing a license for some regions of this state is like scratching off a winning lottery ticket. The entire state is an endless grocery store of deer food. Acre upon acre of corn stretches from one end of Iowa to another, and the natural forage only adds to the endless buffet. Also, hunters are restricted to either shotguns or muzzleloaders, which helps reduce the harvest, and they can only take one buck a year. “That really makes people think twice about pulling the trigger on a smaller buck,” said Josh Cobb, an outfitter from southern Iowa. “When you know a huge buck could step out into the field at any minute, it’s pretty easy to hold off and wait for a big one instead of shooting the first buck you see.”
Cobb’s basement walls serve as a museum of sorts, a testament to the incredible deer hunting right out his front door. Shoulder mounts of heavy-antlered whitetails line the paneling, and shed antlers he picks up in the spring are arranged in decorative piles throughout the downstairs sleeping quarters. Some are as thick as a man’s wrist with a half-dozen tines branching off the sweeping main beam. The deer I’m watching on the first morning of the hunt, however, doesn’t have antlers worthy of Cobb’s walls. It’s a small one, but it turns out to be one of many young bucks and dozens of does I see over four days of watching field edges and wood lots.
As the week progresses, the weather changes from below freezing to near-zero temperatures. A steady north wind finds every spot of bare skin on my body, and I shiver as I sit even with a bundle of clothes and a pile of disposable warmers placed on my neck, hands, feet and kidneys. I don’t mind; I know what could be in store if I just stay put for a little longer. The big bucks seem to be laying low, maybe waiting for a break in the weather before getting up and moving around during the day. To keep things interesting, Cobb decides to make a few pushes through thick cover in an effort to move some deer past my stand.
It works. During one drive, a dozen does saunter over a grass hill, followed by a tremendous buck carrying a tall, wide, 10-point crown on his head. However, I can only watch the deer trot into the wooded creek bottom. The muzzleloading rifle I carry is accurate out to 200 yards or so, but the buck doesn’t come any closer than 400 yards. Other hunters in my group come back to camp with stories of encounters with huge bucks like those in Cobb’s basement. Some fill their tags with the best deer of their lives; others only catch fleeting glimpses of giants gliding through thick brush or far across a vast cornfield. Hunting, even in Iowa’s legendary buck factory with a reputable outfitter like Cobb, is never a slam-dunk. That’s why it’s so appealing and so fun.
As daylight fades to darkness on the final day, I can only look forward to the next season. The small bucks I see each day will be there next year, and thanks to Iowa’s deer management efforts they’ll be bigger, much bigger.