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May 2023
Story by Kathy Stone
State: Iowa

Our game began on the morning of Saturday, October 26, 2019. It was a beautiful, chilly pre-rut morning sit in Iowa. Shortly after the sun came up, I spotted movement to my left and caught a glimpse of a decent set of antlers coming my way. I had seen this buck on our trail camera and had been hoping to see him up close. I got my wish! He came through my first shooting lane and then around into my second with a great quartering away opportunity at 15 yards. In the next eight minutes, I had the excruciating decision of “to shoot or not to shoot.” I knew he had great potential if I let him go, but I also knew that there were several hunting groups surrounding our property that wouldn’t hesitate given the opportunity. In those moments, I made the choice to let him go and prayed that he would make it through the rut and the upcoming gun seasons. He proceeded to make frequent appearances that season, so I was able to monitor his movement and knew that he did indeed make it.

Fast forward to the 2020 pre-season trail camera pictures, and wow, did he grow! He threw an unbelievable non-typical right side while generating a massive left typical side, and he brought his brother! We had two 170" class bucks cycling through, which was beneficial so that my husband and I didn’t have to fight over them. My husband yielded stand time to me to go whenever I could, which led to many hours high in the air. I only saw the buck once that season from the stand, but it was through a heavy tree line along our creek with no shot presented. I did get a shot at his brother, but unfortunately, after a few attempts to stop him, when he did stop, his vitals were behind two tree trunks. I ended up over-pulling on him as I tried to lean over and shot over his back.

Then came Thanksgiving morning when I woke my husband up to encourage him to go out. I couldn’t because I was making the family dinner, but he declined going out, lacking the motivation that I did. It turned out to be his loss because as we looked out the window toward the stand he would have sat, there stood the buck at about 25 yards in a shooting lane. I tried to hunt him during shotgun season, and my husband tried during muzzleloader season. However, he stayed hidden during December and January. We found his sheds that spring, so we knew he had made it. Unfortunately, we also found his brother, who had lost his life by being hit by a car, and his antlers shed close by.

Now for 2021. The buck reverted back to both sides being typical, and he was bigger still. I bowhunted him harder than ever. I started in early October and only saw him once during bow season. He was on a trail that had a fork that would have either brought him right to me or just out of range. Of course, he picked the other fork, so I had the pleasure of watching him strut around with a doe. He would not respond to any of my attempts at calling. He knew he was the top dog and had no need to fight anyone for what he had. I tried to hunt him during shotgun season as well but only got a few glimpses through trees and grasses. Again, I had to yield hunting time to my husband for the late season muzzleloader.

This particular January was brutally cold and nasty. We knew where the buck liked to bed after these years of watching him, so my husband tried to get the advantage. Unfortunately, the weather was below zero and freezing drizzle was coming down. As the buck stood from his bed and presented a shot, my husband couldn’t see him behind a tree and his scope was freezing over. Away walked the brute, out of sight.

T he next night, another chance presented itself. This time, a doe brought him out into the open. This was finally it! My husband had him at 80 yards. Click. Click. Click again. A hang fire! Because of the moisture the day before and being 14 below that day, it malfunctioned. As he slowly broke it open to get a new primer, boom! The gun went off, shooting low, and off ran the trophy yet again. We continued to watch him come and go after the season ended. He arrived on February 20, 2022 with only one antler still adorning his head. We watched him bedded all day, hoping that second antler would drop in his bed. As the sun went down and he strolled away into the darkness, he still wore that antler, which we never did find.

Finally, the 2022 hunting season arrived. The buck’s trail camera pictures showed that he looked just like 2021, but he had lost some tine length. He was still an amazing 180" class monster, though! I hunted hard through the archery season and saw him twice from different stands, but I still no shots. The last night of bow season, I was out there trying one last time to arrow him. I spotted him coming in with an hour of daylight left. I was in the right spot for the wind, so all I needed to do was wait for him. Then, the biggest windstorm of the season came through. I wanted to scream! He did not like that wind, so he promptly bedded down in the creek bed within our timber line and waited it out. As the darkness fell, I had to once again walk back to the house with my bow in hand and all of my arrows in the quiver. Onto shotgun season the next morning.

I did not see the buck that Saturday, but he maintained his patterns with his favorite bedding spot. Sunday morning, I was ready and overlooking that bed at 175 yards. Shortly after sunrise, I couldn’t believe it, he appeared in the timberline ready to rest for the day. He stood and looked around for a few minutes before fully emerging. He slowly made his way closer along his trail to that bed. His bed was in eight-foot-tall prairie grass, so I had to wait and watch as he circled, broadsided, and revealed himself. I gently squeezed the trigger, and he disappeared. Out ran a turkey and a lesser 8-point buck, but there was no sight of the other player in this four-year game of Kat and Mouse we were playing.

Now, it was Sunday morning and I was the only Sunday School teacher in my church, so I had the painful duty of leaving for church, not knowing for sure that I had hit him or where he was. Sunday School and church were the longest they had ever been! When we finally got home almost four hours later, I got suited up only to see the neighbor hunting group surrounding the section over from us. More waiting because the last thing I wanted to do was bump him over to them if he wasn’t hit or hit well. It took them an hour to push this section and move on, so I waited. Finally, it was time. I triangulated his position during the shot with some trees and landmarks and headed down through the heavy prairie grass. As I got closer, my heart was pounding. Finally, I saw it, that big, white left side. I had dropped him where he stood! I broke down crying because this magnificent beast went out quickly and without suffering.

Our game of hide and seek ended that day, but I will never forget each and every one of our encounters over those four years. Our journey ended together at the 2023 Iowa Big Buck Classic where we won first place in the Ladies Typical Firearm Division. I have to admit, while I was disappointed in his “net” score, his “gross” is what we expected. In the words of a good friend, “Nets are for fishing!”