The weather in Iowa during our hunt was supposed to be cold, and they got it right. Single digits waking up, and highs in the 20s. Since Tom and I were driving, space and weight weren't an issue. I brought about all the good base layers of underwear I had. Better too much than too little. One of the hardest parts to get correct is the type and quantity of layers to wear, taking into consideration how much walking and sweating you have to do to get to your tree stand. Sweating under your clothes and sitting in wet underwear in the cold for hours makes for a hypothermic and miserable day in the tree.
The drive was fine, about 8 hours, and we ended up near the Southeast corner of South Dakota. It wasn't all that isolated. We even had phone service almost everywhere.
The accommodations were fine, in a leased old farm house, complete with farm smell, with a shower and toilets and bunk beds and mice and almost complete ceilings and everything, just like the Ritz! Old navy man Charlie did the cooking. Good job, Charlie.
with Iowa Trophy Whitetail Outfitters
was the outfitter
and one of the guides, along with his grandsons Cole and Ryan. Judd
spent lots of years as a game warden and guide and photographer and author
and hunter, and knows his way around guns and critters. When savvy grizzled curmudgeons like Judd speak, I advise you to listen. Experience is not easy to come by. On Judd's front webpage
is friend and compatriot Jon, who shot that superb whitetail with a smokepole on this hunt. It is supposed to be mounted for an appearance at the next S.H.O.T. show.
I brought my H&R Ultra Slug gun
topped with a Weaver base
and Leupold QRW rings
, holding a Nikon M-223 3-12 x42 scope
with the BDC reticle
. Using the Nikon Spot On website
and entering my information, I got the exact distances the different circles and hash marks would correlate to with my chosen Hornady 300 grain SST slugs
moving along at 2000 feet per second
. My entered ballistic information included a one hundred yard zero at sea level altitude and 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
This was a hard core group of hunters. Very serious and experienced. Except for Tom. This was Tom's first big game hunt. He was apprehensive, to be sure, but did well. I think he's still thawing out. The cold didn't treat him too nicely. It's tougher than you may imagine, if you've never sat in a frozen tree for a day with the wind blowing through you.
The first night we were able to check zero. My H&R
was good, and so was Tom's Winchester SX3
with his Nikon Slughunter 3-9×40
. Together we brought 9 guns. We only used one apiece, but we could've had the opportunity to use others, including black guns for dogs, but those chances didn't materialize.
Breakfast was hot and filling at zero dark thirty
the first morning, and I found out the night before where I would be sitting. I would be dropped off right in front of my stand, so I didn't have to worry about getting sweaty. Nice. I wore about a hundred layers of my best clothes, had lots of hand and foot warmers, and my Mad Bomber hat
and liner. I was ready. They also had a kind of body warmer suit that looked like a sleeping bag with legs. I figured, better too warm than cold, so I opted to wear that, too. This thing is worth its weight in gold. I have never been so comfortable in a tree stand. Zip it up to your neck, and if you need to get out of it, just spread your arms, and the suit unzips noiselessly, held to your torso by straps.
So I'm in my tree stand well before sunrise. In my body suit. Just me and God and the world. I'm always the closest to God at these times. Lots of space for reflection. I've never had good luck with whitetails, but this place looked extremely promising. A bit after sunrise I saw a big doe about 50 yards away and hammered her with an SST. I watched her fall about 40 yards away.
I had phone service, so I posted on Facebook
something like, "put a hole in a doe, gonna wait a while and go look for her." One of the girls came back and asked for pictures. There were a couple of does under my stand about 30 yards away so I took a picture with my phone. That's when I noticed the buck in the background. CRAP! Fooling around on freaking Facebook
when I should be hunting. I dropped my phone into my suit, threw off my mittens, and making about as much noise as an old roller-coaster, turned my scope towards his position, just to see him go into the woods. What a dumbass, fooling around at such a time. I followed the path I thought he would be taking, and saw him come into a small opening between two trees about 40 yards away. I hammered him with my second SST
. I watched him drop a short ways off, pretty close to the downed doe.
So there. A couple hours into my week long hunt, and I filled both tags. This is never me. I'm always the one going out on the last morning for a few more available hours to fill a tag. The next bunch of days consisted of ESPN, the new George W. Bush book; "Decision Points" (pretty good book), warm slippers and beef jerky, all alone. Even the dog went hunting. Wierd culture shock.
Tom connected with a doe, but got tired of the whole "hunting in the freezing freaking weather" thing and we left a couple days early. He was voted, "Conservationist of the Year" by a jury of his peers.
Lots of bobcats out there, and hundreds of turkeys.
I had a great hunt, and I quartered my two deer and Tom's deer while we were there. I spent the last couple of days in my garage butchering and packaging them with my vacuum sealer. Lots of work, but satisfying. Thank God for my electric grinder.
I saved many of the largest leg bones for jewelry. Polished bone is very sensuous, with a deep satisfying lustre. I plugged in my big DeWalt sawzall for this process. I also used it to remove the skull cap and antlers from my buck. I skinned the head and sawed right through it. Not pretty, but interesting and effective.
Venison nachos, tenderloin steaks, and a hearty stew so far. Thanks, Lord, for your delicious bounty. And that I got away without too much work for the meat this time. I really live for this. It is very satisfying.