This Manchester hunter waited 26 years for a shot at a true trophy. When his opportunity came, he made the most of it!
With a net score of 187 6/8, Virgil High's buck was one of the largest taken in Iowa last year. Photo by Randy Templeton
By Randy Templeton
Most truly successful trophy whitetail hunters would agree that some beginning hunters often set unrealistic goals and have high expectations of shooting a trophy buck in their first couple of seasons. On the flip side, others are perfectly satisfied with filling their first tag with any deer, even a doe if the opportunity presents itself. Interestingly, the majority of hunters will spend years before they ever shoot a trophy-class whitetail.
This was the case for 26-year veteran bowhunter Virgil High of Manchester. In fact, High's first trophy-class opportunity wasn't presented until this past season when a giant 14-pointer stepped into harm's way one crisp November afternoon. The buck not only netted an impressive 187 6/8, but was also likely the largest non-typical killed in the state by any traditional bowhunter in the 2002 season.
A BOWHUNTER IS BORN Growing up, Virgil didn't get the opportunity to do much hunting. Most of his hunting was limited to small game and pheasants when he went out with his cousins. It wasn't until two years after marrying his wife, Carol, in 1974 that Virgil actually took up bowhunting. That's when Carol bought him a 40-pound recurve bow. It didn't take Virgil long to realize that the bow didn't have quite enough zip for hunting deer, so he replaced it with a 50-pound model. He spent the next few years hunting with that bow, but just wasn't able to connect on a deer.
In 1981, a job opportunity with Alliant Energy found Virgil and Carol moving to Manchester, where they settled in to raise their family. As most of know, it's a tough balancing act to take an active role in raising a family and squeezing out enough time for hunting, too.
But Virgil's desire to spend time in the woods never waned. Still, it wasn't until 1995 that he found the time to get out there. An odd event triggered the occasion.
A close friend of Virgil's died that year after a long battle with cancer. The Highs purchased an older Corvette in the estate sale, and, in the process of cleaning out the car, Virgil came across an old compound bow. It went home with him that day.
Practicing throughout the summer with the compound, Virgil was so impressed with its speed that he decided to spend a bit of time hunting with it that fall. Although he admits that a big set of antlers looks good coming through the woods and can really get a hunter's blood pumping, trophy hunting was not his style.
Virgil spent the first few days of the 1995 season enjoying the peace and solitude of being in the woods when things come alive in the morning. During the second week of the season, a 7-point buck walked within 15 steps of his homemade tree stand. It was a quick, humane kill, and Virgil's first-ever buck with a bow!
After another year of hunting with the old compound, it was soon replaced with a new bow, lightweight and much faster . And even though Virgil became quite proficient with the new bow, something just didn't feel right to him.
Tragedy came to the Highs again in the summer of 2002 when Carol's uncle, Everett, passed away. Everett's children all received either a gun or bow, but there were two recurve bows left, which nobody claimed. The bows went home with the Highs, and Virgil decided to hang up his compound bows and go back to the simplicity of the recurve. He's never regretted it.
SCOUTING "Working for the power company has a few benefits, especially when it comes time to check the rural power lines," said Virgil. "Patrolling the power lines in and around timbered areas during the late winter and early spring months gives me a chance to scout for deer sign as well. I keep an eye open for tracks and trails crossing the roadways, but also anything else that might lead to a stand site the following fall.
"In addition to post-season scouting, I normally buy an extra doe tag and hunt in late December and January to fill that. In the process, it not only gives me an excuse to spend time in the woods when there are fewer hunters, but also a chance to locate newly opened trails, rub lines and bedding areas."
STRATEGY "Normally, I put my stands up in early September, but this year it wasn't until two weeks before I planned on hunting. My stands are not always in the right place in the beginning of the season, so some serve as observation points. After a period of time watching where the deer are traveling and feeding, it can sometimes lead to a good stand site where the odds of shooting a deer are much better. This was the case this past season!
"Over the course of the first two weeks, I hunted four different areas and saw deer each time out. One area, however, stood out from the others. It was a piece of ground roughly 600 acres in size, 200 of which is in timber. What made this ground special was the fact that a number of forks and timbered draws fed into the surrounding properties that probably totaled 700 additional acres. It was there that I spotted a very large bodied deer with what appeared to be a big set of antlers just before good shooting light. Although I consider myself just a deer hunter who is perfectly satisfied putting a doe in the freezer, I began to think it sure would be nice to shoot a big buck, if the opportunity was presented.
"I planned four days off from work just for hunting during the rut - something I hadn't done for quite a few years. Just before dark the first day, I was taken by surprise when a large-racked buck came in from an unsuspected direction. Unfortunately, when the moment of truth arrived, I simply misjudged the distance and shot right under the buck. It was the biggest deer I'd ever had within bow range - and I blew it!
"That evening I pulled the sight off uncle Everett's bow and put it on one of my old recurves. I set up a target in the basement and sighted in the 10-yard pin. The following morning I set up a 20-yard pin outside, and, with rebuilt shooting confidence, I headed for the woods that afternoon.
"When approaching my hunting area that afternoon, I spotted a big buck running across a field behind what was apparently a doe in heat. The doe jumped the fence in front of the truck and crossed the road, but the buck got his antlers tangled in the fence. He thrashed around for a few seconds before freeing himself and once again took up pursuit of the doe. That was the third time I'd seen what was believed to be the same buck. If it wasn't the same one,
then it was another big buck with antlers of equal proportions!
"Day four and the last day of my vacation, I packed a lunch and planned to spend the entire day in the woods. I saw several deer that morning and afternoon, but nothing close enough to shoot.
"Earlier in the season I'd found an old apple orchard. Even though the trees hadn't been maintained for years, a few were still bearing fruit. While scouting the area I found several trails that converged toward to a centralized point near the apple trees. There was a bedding area on one end of the timber and the other three sides were surrounded by either corn or soybeans. In addition, there had been a good acorn crop, and the deer were spending quite a bit of time browsing in the timber.
"With the recent activity I'd seen on that hillside near the orchard, it seemed only logical to set up a stand there. It was a natural travel corridor of the does from bed to feed. With the rut underway, I figured it was the most likely location to catch a buck looking for does during the first and last two hours of the day. Scouting the hillside, I found a large oak tree near the orchard and set up a stand.
"Although the stand was probably no more than 12 feet off the ground, the large branches of the tree would conceal me from any deer approaching and offered a good shot angle to the main trail. With any luck, I'd get a chance to hunt the stand over the weekend, even though my vacation had ended. Since I was hunting pretty close to town, I decided to carry my pager and slip out for a couple of hours the next morning.
"Unfortunately, the wind didn't cooperate that morning, so I decided to hunt a different stand in the creek bottom. Arriving before first light, only a few minutes had passed when I spotted two deer on the opposite hillside, maybe 150 yards away. The lead deer was a doe and the second appeared to be a big buck, quite possibly the same one that crossed the road the day before. They began working their way down the slope toward the creek and came within 40 or 50 yards. I made several attempts to grunt the buck in closer, but he paid little attention and wandered from sight.
"I went home around 9:00 and planned on returning that afternoon. Around 3:00, I decided to head back out. Considering the wind, I decided to approach from a different direction. It was a longer walk, but figured it offered the best route to get there undetected. As I walked up the valley opposite the orchard stand, a sudden noise caught my attention just in time to see a glimpse of a wide-racked buck running away. I remember thinking I'd probably blown any chance of seeing another deer, much less shooting one that afternoon. Nevertheless, I continued on.
"Climbing into the stand I began looking around and trying to imagine what direction the deer might approach. Considering the wind direction, it seemed the most likely approach would be across the ridge from the 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock position. It was unlikely any deer would approach from behind and come up from the creek bottom below. There were good shooting lanes in front of the stand, but if anything passed on the trails behind me, it would be tough getting a shot.
"Although I began to feel the stand was positioned a bit foolish, something told me to stay put. Soon after, I began thinking about a religious verse on a coffee mug purchased months before on a return trip from a wrestling meet that I had chaperoned. Isaiah 30 says, 'This is the way. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, "This is the way; walk in it."' I said a short prayer: 'Father, your will be done. Please bless my efforts!'
"Not more than a couple of minutes had passed when a noise from behind caught my attention. Turning to the left and looking down the hill, I caught a glimpse of antlers. It was the big buck, and he was on a steady walk up the hill and heading my way. The closer he came the more excited I got. I remember telling myself to settle down and don't look at the antlers. I prayed the buck would stay on the same path and began looking for a shooting lane ahead."
FOLLOW THE RIGHT PATH As good luck would have it, the huge buck continued up the trail, and the excited hunter mentally prepared for the moment of truth. There was a 6-inch tree about 11 yards away and when buck's head passed behind it, Virgil brought the bow to full draw and focused on the vital area. When the buck's shoulder cleared the tree, High let the string slip free sending an arrow tipped with a razor sharp broadhead into the buck's spine, dropping him immediately.
"At that point in time I was pretty excited, and my heart was pounding. The buck struggled to get up and began sliding down the ridge. After a short time, I was calm enough to climb down from the stand and put a finishing shot through both lungs. Upon approaching the expired buck, I became more excited. Lifting his head, I began counting points, and remember saying out loud, 'Holy smokes - 14 points!'
"Just about anything you can imagine is my backpack, including a cell phone. I called Carol to relay the news. Knowing I would never be able to drag the buck up the hill alone, I asked for a friend's phone number, Todd Nylund. Not more than an hour had passed before Carol, Todd and my daughter Dani arrived. It was all the four of us could handle, dragging the 250-pound deer up the hill. After loading the deer in the truck, we drove back to town and snapped a few photos in our shop.
"Considering I've never shot a big buck, up until that point I still had no idea just how big the deer really was. I decided to call Kris Lenz, who many consider our resident whitetail expert, for his advice on whether the buck was worth mounting. Kris and his son, Kalen, came out right away to look the deer over. Kris confirmed the buck was definitely worth mounting and suggested taking it to Dean Dempster, a taxidermist in Delhi.
"Dean estimated that the buck was very likely 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 years old. Considering the buck's age, I couldn't help but wonder how many other hunters he had eluded over the years."
CONCLUSION "This whole experience has been somewhat humbling and actually a little embarrassing," observed Virgil. "I really don't consider myself anything unusual or special, but rather a representative of all hunters who are out there trying to harvest a deer and hopefully a nice one. Like many of you, I practice faithfully throughout the year and put my stands up where the best chances of shooting a deer exist. Some people are fanatics about using various scents to attract deer, clothing that masks their scent, and grunt or bleat calls to lure in a deer. Others invest hundreds of dollars in bows and expensive tree stands.
"For me it feels right hanging a homemade stand I've scavenged parts for and cost approximately six dollars. I shoot a 26-year-old recurve bow and wear camouflage coveralls. I was just the fortunate guy that was in the right place at the right time and received a gift from God that day. I think it's important to point out to all reading this, if it can happen for me, it could happen for you, too!"
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