Keith Costley: The tale of a mammoth buck that didn't get away

Cole Johnson harvested this Iowa bow hunting trophy during an early November (2020) hunt. The buck had a green score of 186 5/8". Johnson plans to enter a shoulder mount of the bruiser at the Iowa Deer Classic in March (2021).

A blow-by-blow account of Cole Johnson's record-class harvest wasn't told on a nippy evening around a crackling fire in deer camp.

It just couldn't wait.

Clint Johnson, his father, and I had the privilege of hearing the story in the field minutes after the monster buck was taken.

For eight days in early November, fog, drizzle, rain and strong, gusting winds dominated the Iowa landscape. On most sets, we were chilled to the bone.

"I got to my stand around 3 (p.m.), Cole said. "About 15 minutes later, a small basket-racked buck appeared. I let him walk."

Cole was holding out for a mammoth of a buck that had been captured on a game camera.

"Then it started to rain harder," Cole continued with wrinkled eyebrows. "I was thinking how uncomfortable it was sitting out there."

At that moment, Cole was reminded that some of the best hunting action occurs in inclement weather.

"After a while, the rain finally let up a bit," Cole said. "I stood up and noticed that the ratchet strap on my ladder stand was broken."

Cole questioned whether he should stay or move to another location. He chose the former because his stand appeared to be stable.

Five minutes later, Cole noticed movement.

"About 80 yards away in the ditch, I saw (antlers) moving through the brush," Cole said. "I thought he was going to jump the fence and not give me a shot."

To Cole's delight, the buck turned and meandered his way.

"I didn't realize he was as big as he was," Cole confessed.

"The closer he got, the bigger he got," Cole said. "I kept telling myself, 'It's just a deer, Cole. It's just a deer.'"

Cole knew the bruiser wasn't "just a deer" but fibbed to keep the ticker from pounding out of his chest.

This is common procedure when hunters are preparing mentally and physically to take a lethal shot at a trophy animal, especially on a shot they know they can make. Several slow, deep breaths also helped to calm Cole's nerves.

When the buck walked close enough for a high-percentage shot, he stood motionless behind two large trees. That gave Cole the confidence and concealment he needed to draw his compound bow for a broadside shot.

"When he walked out from behind the trees, I let the arrow fly and smoked him right there," Cole said. "It was a 20-yard double-lung pass-through shot. It doesn't get much better than that."

The buck did a mule kick, ran about 50 yards and crashed out of sight in a thicket.

A mule kick is indicative of a lethal shot.

"He stretched out so much after the shot that his belly nearly touched the ground," Cole said.

"As soon as I released the arrow, I knew that I made a good shot," Cole said. "That's when the shaking started. I just about fell out of the tree."

With the buck positioned upwind, he didn't have a clue about Cole's presence.

"Cover scent also helped seal the deal," he said.

Cole remained on stand 20 minutes before following the blood trail. The wait seemed like an eternity.

Cole decided not to wait until the following morning to track his buck. Heavy rain was in the forecast. The blood trail would've been erased, making recovery more difficult. Moreover, coyotes — the area is overpopulated — would've have destroyed the carcass, ruining a taxidermy shoulder mount or, worse yet, carrying off the head and antlers where recovery would've been impossible.

The monarch is Cole's second bow harvest buck, the first being an impressive 140-class 8-pointer.

Measured by a friend the evening of the harvest, the buck's antlers had a green score of 186 5/8 inches. The inside spread was 23 5/8 inches in width, and the G4s were 10 1/4 inches in height. The tallest tine on the massive symmetrical antlers was 13 1/2 inches.

The Iowa native plans to enter a shoulder mount of his trophy at the Iowa Deer Classic in March.

"That's where I'll have it officially scored," Cole said. "I'm excited to see how it will stack up against the competition. It should do well."

His father and I wholeheartedly agree. It's an amazing buck, but hopefully not the buck of Cole's lifetime.

At only 35 years of age, Cole has many years of hunting ahead of him.

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