December 20: Ernie DeSantis

For a couple of Michigan boys, getting an Iowa tag was huge deal.

Jose’ and I had both drawn late muzzleloader licenses for the Hawkeye state, and could barely contain our excitement. Not owning any land in Iowa we knew we had to lock down a solid piece pretty fast.

Good friend Cory Wagers was just the ticket we needed. He had a sweet 372 acre section in Van Buren County that looked to be top notch. Without hesitation, Jose’ and I knew we had found our location.

December 18th couldn’t come fast enough, and before we knew it, the truck was packed, and we were on the road heading west. We were both off for two straight weeks for Christmas break, and had 2 days before the Iowa Muzzleloader season opened. So, with a couple of Illinois tags still burnin’ a hole in our pockets we decided to bow hunt a few days at Tall Tine Outfitters in Illinois with Joe Gizdic. However, our attempt to maximize our hunt didn’t work, and after two hunts we re-packed and headed three hours away to Iowa.

We rolled in mid-day Sunday the 19th, met up with Cory, hung some camera sets, and anticipated our first morning hunt.

Jose’ was up first, but with no luck. I hunted the evening, but we only saw a small buck.

The weather the following morning was ideal: 19 degrees with a light and variable NE wind. Some light snow still lingered on the ground. It was shaping up nicely.

Then I received a call from my wife Stacey just moments before heading to the stand. Her grandma had passed away that morning.

I was stunned.

So many thoughts ran through my head.

Being 550 miles away from Stacey I felt helpless. I wanted to be home instantly to support my wife and her family, and at that moment the idea of hunting had lost its zeal. But after some discussion, Stacey convinced me there was nothing I could do, and that we should just hunt the morning then pack up and head home.
The walk out to the spot just wasn’t the same. My mind was elsewhere, and my body was simply going through the motions. Within minutes we were settled in the tree, but my focus was lost.

A small buck picked us off early in the hunt and we thought it just wasn’t meant to be. By 9 a.m. we hadn’t seen another deer. Our hopes were crushed, and 102 hunts into the season, we felt like it just couldn’t happen today.

At 9:05 we were ready to get down. Our usual “pre-descent conversation” was stopped short by Jose’ spotting our buck just 50 yards behind us in the timber.

Immediately, I eased the Dream Season Omega 180 degrees behind me, and settled the Nikon Prostaff cross-hairs on his vitals. Being in the timber, there was a lot of obstruction, but the moment I had my first good shot, and the green light from Jose’, I squeezed the trigger off ever so gently.

As the smoke cleared, my heart sank as I saw the buck effortlessly running up the hill and into the CRP where he stopped, head up, and looked around as if nothing happened. As I frantically, but safely, reloaded the TC, the buck short-stepped it into the native grass, and disappeared.

Did I miss? Did I hit a branch? What happened? We reviewed the footage to determine the nature of the hit, but the cloud of burnt powder had deviously screened the vitals.

Jose’ and I were speechless, and emotionally spent.

However, I was confident that I had taken a good shot, and with a lot of reassurance from Jose’, we checked for blood. We quickly found sign, but it was weak. Only 60 yards into the trail we adamantly decided to back out and give the animal 6 hours.

At 3 p.m. we returned, broken, but hopeful.

Three hours, 600 yards, and darkness upon us, we hadn’t recovered the buck.

I needed to be home for my wife the next morning and it was getting late for a 10 hour drive. I asked Cory if he would search for him the next morning, and in the event he found the buck we would drive back after the funeral, and after Christmas.

Jose’ and I arrived home on Wednesday the 22nd at 8 a.m. and by 11 a.m. I got the text from Cory I was hoping to see: BBD!

I lost it! I was so pumped! So many hours on the road, and so much time away from the family had finally paid off!

With the permission of the Iowa DNR Cory was able to secure the animal from would-be trespassers and hungry coyotes. Fortunately the weather was bitter cold and the buck would stay preserved.

So, the day after Christmas, Jose’ and I packed up for the 1,100 mile round trip to go recover our buck we had worked so hard for.

I couldn’t rest until I got my hands around his antlers, and when I finally did I knew it was another blessing from God that I would never forget.

Thanks to Jose’ for making the trip back with me, the Iowa DNR for being so professional and more than willing to help, Cory for staying on the trail, and to our families who support us chasing the dream. Most of all, thanks to God who always watches over us on our journeys.

As I was, you’re probably wondering what happened with the shot. When I placed the cross-hairs on his vitals I centered it for a double-lung hit. The Shockwave found it’s intended mark, however, best I can tell, he must have been quartering to slightly more than I thought. The bullet caught the back of the left lung, traveled steeply down into the deer (angle from tree at 47 yards) and struck the liver. Good thing we backed out, and played it safe. It paid off big-time!