Four years after his first trip to Iowa, this bowhunter returns to take care of some unfinished business.
Back in 1984, Arnold Schwarzenegger's classic movie, The Terminator, produced a line that lives on today: "I'll be back!" And that's how I felt after first hunting deer with Dennis and Jerry Hoover's Iowa Droptine Outfitters. My first hunt with them remains one of my favorite unsuccessful hunts. Although I vividly remember my disappointment as I left Guthrie Center, Iowa, with an unused deer tag, I remember the big bucks I saw and my desire to return and "get even with them."
Back pain or no, I can still smile over a beautiful buck as Jerry (center) and Dennis (right) Hoover of Iowa Droptine Outfitters share the moment with me.
The anticipation from waiting four long years finally ended when I found my nonresident Iowa archery license in the mail. Iowa issues its nonresident deer tags by random draw, and, depending on the zone, you might wait up to four years before you draw. Iowa Droptine Outfitters operates in Zone 4.
With possession of this coveted tag, I immediately contacted Dennis and Jerry. My opening statement was, "I ain't a looker, I'm a booker. When can you squeeze me into your schedule?"
Located one hour west of Des Moines, the Hoover's bowhunting-only operation consists of 6,000 acres of either family-owned or leased lands. Typical of the Midwest, their prime hunting properties comprise small woodlots surrounded by gently rolling fields of corn, soybeans, and alfalfa. From the last week in October through the third week of November, they take six hunters per week. This equates to about 1,000 acres per hunter with a minimum of four stands to use during the week. Moving stands is absolutely no problem. In fact, Jerry is half monkey!
The opportunity rate at Iowa Droptine Outfitters averages around 80 percent, with a success rate of 45 percent, which compares favorably with the state's 26-percent success rate for bowhunters. Obviously, the Hoovers know a thing or two about deer and, more importantly, about setting up stands for bowhunters with safety as their number one concern. All of their treestands are equipped with Integrated Safety's FallGuy 20+ Retractor that hooks onto your safety harness so you are connected to the tree from the moment your feet leave the ground.
Before each hunt period, all hunters draw for one of six areas to hunt during the week. If anyone gets a buck, the hunter with the next lower-numbered area has the option to grab that area. If he declines, the next hunter down the line has the option to move, and so on.
This system eliminates favoritism, although it's not really needed because Iowa Droptine Outfitters has no bad areas. They ask all hunters to hold out for bucks with antlers measuring greater than 125 inches. Anyone who shoots a smaller buck pays a $500 penalty.
Fast-forward to last November when cameraman David Drew and I met in Iowa to tape my hunt for Bowhunter TV. The hunt started off with a bang as a giant, half-racked eight-point walked within 20 yards of our stands. Although I passed on this busted-up buck, his body features indicated he was at least 4½ years old. If the other side of his rack had been present, he would have scored in the high 140s.
Over the next two days, freezing rain put a damper on the action, and to compound the challenge, I'd hurt my back prior to the hunt while cutting firewood. Whether it was the high winds and freezing rain hitting my face, or the severe back pain, I tried to convince myself that pain is good and extreme pain is extremely good. However, rut or no rut, the pain medication I was taking wasn't working, and my only conclusion was that no matter how comfortable our Summit treestands were, all-day sits were not an option.
On the next to last morning, the weather report once again called for high winds with freezing rain and snow. Although my testosterone was telling me to suck it up, my back was telling me to rest, and I made the decision to sleep in until 9 a.m. I think David was pleased with my call, because his camera was already wet. None of the other hunters even considered staying inside and headed right for their stands. With the camp empty, David and I questioned each other on when to go out. Four more painkiller pills and one hour later, the skies started to clear, and we were on our way to a new stand.
As my body begged for the painkillers to kick in, we arrived at our stand site in a swampy area next to an oxbow in a riverbottom. Although no words were spoken, David and I felt confident a buck would emerge from this area, and within an hour on stand, I tapped David's leg and pointed to a deer coming directly at us. Even though the deer was 100 yards out, we could tell he was a good one.
Raising my binoculars to get a better look, I determined he was a 3½-year-old in the 140 class. As the buck walked toward the stand, I stopped him directly in line with a tree branch, preventing me from shooting the buck dead-center in his chest. Further complicating the situation, the buck stood directly behind the main tree trunk, preventing David from taping the shot.
To miss the branch, I aimed a bit lower than normal and squeezed off the 20-yard shot. The buck kicked up his back legs, ran a short way, and stopped. David and I watched intently, anticipating that the buck would drop right where he stood. Instead, he leisurely walked about 75 yards, out of our sight. David and I then looked over the footage and decided to stay in our stands.
An hour later, I climbed down and made a big circle around where we had last seen the buck while David stayed in his stand to keep watch. Unbelievably, I jumped the buck out of his bed. "Here he comes!" I yelled to David. Because I took so long to make the circle, David was worried I'd hurt my back and was coming down the tree to check on me when I jumped the buck. We backed off and went back to camp, where we showed the video to everyone in camp. The conclusion was unanimous -- the buck had to be dead.
The next morning, Dennis, Jerry, and two hunters who had tagged out earlier in the week, joined us in the search. Within 10 minutes, 75 yards from where I'd jumped him the night before, I stumbled onto the buck. After field-dressing the buck I observed that the broadhead had actually hit the top of the heart. Unreal!
Based on tooth wear, I learned that the buck was only 2½ years old, just as Dennis and Jerry had predicted. And I misjudged the rack, too, as we measured the antlers at 129 inches. At least I didn't have to pay the $500 pentalty!
The following day I tried to fulfill my management obligation by harvesting a doe. We decided to go back to our first stand where we'd seen the huge, half-rack buck. David and I assumed that sho
oting a doe out of this stand would be a slam dunk.
With one hour left in the hunt, we heard a very strange, long grunt. In fact, the grunt sounded so artificial we thought another hunter was messing with us. Then the grunting got closer, and a huge 10-point buck showed up at the edge of the stream. With no more than 28 yards between us, the 160-class buck stopped and looked in my direction.
This was a dead deer walking -- except that I had no tag. As he passed our treestand, another smaller buck showed up. Grabbing my Knight & Hale rattle bag, I rattled. Like magic, the big buck came right back and stopped within easy bow range. In the end, I saw only bucks on the last day and was unable to fill my doe tag.
But with the image of that monster buck burned deep in my mind, do you think I'll return to visit the Hoovers at Iowa Droptine Outfitters? The Terminator said it for me: "I'll be back!"
Author's Notes: I used a Hoyt Katera XL set at 80 lbs. draw weight with Fuse sight and quiver, Carbon Express Aramid KV 350 arrows, Rocky Mountain Ti-100 broadheads, T.R.U. Ball Pro Diamond Extreme thumb release, Sitka camouflage clothing, Sportsman's Guide boots, Nikon Premier binoculars and Archer's Choice laser rangefinder, and Summit treestands.
To book a great whitetail hunt, contact: Dennis or Jerry Hoover, Iowa Droptine Outfitters, 2553 280th Street, Guthrie Center, IA 50115; (641) 524-5211; (641) 524-4399; Jacque@netins.net; www.droptineoutfitters.com.