WHEN MY GOOD FRIEND Aaron Volkmar, owner of Tails of the Hunt Outfitters near Mount Ayr, Iowa, invited me to hunt, I accepted pronto. Iowa is a place where deer hunters can dream big. Aaron and I volleyed back and forth on dates and finally settled on October 31 to November 4.
With a five-day hunt at the right time of year, I was chomping at the bit. Better yet, the camp promised to be a great time with Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo as well as another good friend, Craig Olson. As the hunt drew near, I monitored temperature and barometer readings. Alarmingly, on the eve of the hunt, the weather was warming up — to record-breaking temperatures.
A week before my departure, Aaron called to reassure me. “Things will be in full swing. Don’t worry.” Hanging up, I wiped sweat from my brow, something I’d do for days, including the day I arrived at the lodge in a T-shirt and shorts. Global warming had hit the Heartland.
Jake, my cameraman, and I unloaded our gear, said hellos, and then drove to the farm we’d hunt in the morning. The corn stood high, but at the back of the massive crop was a set of treestands on a creek bank near a small CRP field. Aaron figured the water, a natural crossing, would be a draw over the next few days.
AT DAWN, HALLOWEEN DAY, the temperature was a balmy 55 degrees. Big bucks would be hitting the shade early instead of lustfully sniffing out does. Jake and I loaded the rental vehicle and headed for our stands, but 100 yards from the lodge, we heard a discouraging blast. Flat tire! We limped back to the lodge, traded the useless rental for Aaron’s Jeep, and headed off again.
Early morning was encouraging. Despite the heat, the deer were moving. Most were out of range, however, so we took a break for lunch and regrouped with the gang. Hunting seemed slow for everyone. In the afternoon, we hunted a hilltop overlooking a pond next to standing corn and a tangle of brush.
“We’re moving in closer to where they’re bedding,” Aaron had told us.
Within moments of our settling in, a decent eight-point skirted the pond’s edge, and Jake and I beamed with the initial sighting. The new stand placement seemed to be paying off. We glassed eagerly. The sun was setting, and we were anxious to see more movement.
But the promising evening took an unexpected turn when a neighbor suddenly kicked off Halloween with pre-dusk fireworks. “Why in the world are they shooting off bottle rockets in the daytime?” I asked Jake. We were stunned. For the remainder of the evening we sat and watched pyrotechnic displays over the hill — and never saw another deer. Climbing down at dark, we laughed. A flat tire and fireworks on day one — could it get any more bizarre?
Returning to the lodge that night, we were happy to find the rental car with four inflated tires. The forecast for the next day was even warmer, possibly a state record. After dinner, we gathered in the living room to mull over where to hunt the next morning. With the temperature rising, we all agreed water would be our best bet.
In the morning, we carried the camera gear to the SUV and noticed it was leaning. Another flat tire, opposite side. I raced back inside and asked Aaron for the keys to his Jeep again. “Don’t worry. I’ll get it fixed this morning,” he said.
A FEW DUCKS LIFTED OFF the pond at daybreak, the sun emerged over the cornrows, and several does appeared at the pond. The does remained only a few minutes and then disappeared into the corn. We then clock-watched until noon and gave up for lunch.
After lunch, we repeated the vehicle switch and headed to a lush alfalfa field where Aaron had set a ground blind. While scouting that morning, he’d glassed a heavy-racked buck near the corner of the field, mere yards from the blind. As the neighbor picked his cornfields, we watched several deer dart across but none came within range.
On day three, I decided if given the opportunity I’d fill my doe tag. Iowa offers quality bucks by sustaining a healthy yet balanced herd. Predictably, all the deer we encountered that day were bucks, but all were too young. Aaron later told us the weather was going to break soon, and he insisted I delay my departure flight.
ON THE FOURTH DAY, Jake and I returned to the first stand we’d hunted. While the air was still too warm, the wind had picked up, meaning cold weather was on its way. Until then, I figured rattling would be ineffective because of the lull in deer activity. But now, to combat the gusts, I banged together some sheds Aaron had given me for good luck. Within minutes, a nice 2½-year-old buck came out into the CRP grass and moved our way. We watched him survey the field and then drop down the bank and cross the water. My decoy was in the SUV.
I waited 15 minutes and then began to work the antlers again. In the midst of my rattling, Jake said, “Big buck coming.” I set the antlers down and grabbed my bow and watched as a mature nine-point walked directly to us. Ears pinned back, looking for a fight, the buck walked straight to us. With all that had occurred, our nerves were cranking up.
As the buck came to within 11 yards, I mouth-bleated and released the arrow. The deer bounded only a few yards before trying to walk away, but he teetered and then fell into the grass right before us. The next few moments were pure celebration. I sat down and noticed my knees were a little wobbly. I recalled the exchange from Field of Dreams: “Is this Heaven?” “No, it’s Iowa.”
After texting Aaron of our success, I climbed down to go see my first Iowa deer, and as Jake took some snapshots, I admired the tall tines. Back at the lodge we hung my buck in a shed out of the record-breaking heat and waited for the others to return. After dinner, the entire group watched the footage. I was still keyed up.
I’d changed my flight unnecessarily, but that gave me some time to try to get a doe. We hunted the following day and a half but a doe never presented a shot. With the hunt winding down, I packed for home.
While the gang stayed out for an evening hunt, I decided to gas up for the trip back to the Omaha airport. Just as I was starting to turn into the gas station, a dump truck pulling an equipment trailer loaded with Bobcats plowed into my rental. The SUV was completely inoperable — and had another flat. Fortunately, no one was injured. The banged-up SUV was towed off. That night, Craig Ols
on nicknamed me “Dump Truck,” which sticks to this day.
On the plane ride home, I wrote some words in my journal: “Iowa, hot, windy, rut, flat tire, another flat tire, fireworks, nine-point, and dump truck.” Maybe it was Heaven after all.
The author is the senior marketing manager — outdoor for Under Armour.
Author’s Notes: Tails of the Hunt Outfitters operates in southwest Iowa near the Missouri border. The hunting is topnotch, offering opportunities in both Missouri and Iowa. Apply every year for Iowa preference points. The average wait for a nonresident bowhunter is about two years. If you’re looking for big bucks, a friendly and competent guide, and comfortable accommodations, contact: Aaron Volkmar, Tails of the Hunt Outfitters, (515) 537-4478 or (515) 432-8238, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.tailsofthehunt.net