Trophy buck to serve as warning
By ANDREW MCGINN
In the fall of 2015, Denny Healy drew his bow on a buck with a monster of a rack.
“It was a heck of a deer,” Healy recalled.
“And,” he added, “it was a smart one.”
Tipped off that day by the doe in his company, the buck in Healy’s sights abruptly fled to safety.
Healy never got another chance.
When the trophy buck finally fell on Dec. 11, 2016, in a cornfield about two and a half miles southeast of Cooper, it died at the hands of a poacher.
Jefferson restaurant owner Brett Cranston pleaded guilty in March to charges of trespassing, using a motor vehicle to hunt deer and shooting within 200 yards of a residence.
Cranston was ordered to pay $8,665 in fines, and forfeited his shotgun and the deer to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
But the story doesn’t end there.
“The story needs to be told how this deer was poached,” said Jay Goughnour, an avid hunter whose family owns the land south of Jefferson on which the buck finally fell. “We’re not going to let people get away with this in our county.”
Local sportsmen, including Goughnour and his dad, Brent, are paying to have the trophy buck mounted for display at the Greene County courthouse in the office of Dan Towers, county conservation director.
It could be a couple of months yet before the mount returns from the taxidermist.
It will remain the property of the DNR, but it will be virtually on permanent loan to Greene County.
Once on display, the hope is that it serves as a warning to potential poachers: A mount like this would look so much better in your own home, so play by the rules or else.
Think of it as a sort of modern twist on how the English monarchy might have once upon a time stuck a rabble-rouser’s severed head on a pole.
“The neighbors had a history of that deer and were trying to harvest it the right way,” Towers said this week. “When somebody chases it down and shoots it, it’s frustrating for the people trying to do it right.”
According to the DNR, Cranston ended up chasing the buck over an area of about nine miles during Iowa’s first shotgun season, following it on county roads and pausing to fire shots.
“He had big buck fever,” Goughnour said. “He was going to kill that deer no matter what.”
The deer’s “green” score — a measurement of its antlers shortly after the kill — exceeded 200 inches, the DNR initially reported.
That would have put the buck among Greene County’s biggest — if not the single biggest on record.
According to the DNR’s registry of trophy deer, no Greene County deer has exceeded a score of 188 inches, when Nate Quam took a nontypical deer that size in 2005 with a bow.
Antlers are scored as either typical or nontypical.
“Nontypical has a lot more stuff going on up there,” Towers said, referring to points on a rack that jut out in all directions.
Naturally, nontypical racks, like the one found on the poached deer, are more challenging to score, according to Towers.
Officially — taking into account some shrinkage that occurs as the rack dries and other deductions — the deer ended up with a final, nontypical score of 177 inches, Towers said.
While not exceptional for a Midwestern buck, it’s nevertheless a prized trophy.
“There would be people in the Southeast giving their arm and leg to take a 177-inch buck,” Towers said.
Iowa’s nontypical record stands at 307 inches, Towers said, while the state record for a typical rack is 207 inches.
A new county record was indeed set this past hunting season, but to the north of Jefferson near Goose Lake.
An archer from Carroll took a deer locally with a nontypical score of 215 inches, Towers said.
Goughnour said Greene County bucks are getting bigger thanks to the efforts of local sportsmen.
“Everybody’s been managing the deer herd correctly. We’re not just blasting every deer we see in sight,” Goughnour said.
By giving immature bucks a chance to grow, “That’s going to give everybody an opportunity to shoot a trophy deer,” he said.
Towers put the age of the trophy buck shot illegally at 4½ to 5 years — old for a deer in this area.
In other words, local hunters knew of it, and were on its trail.
“He’s been on the hit list, on our radar, for some time,” Goughnour said.
Healy was able to collect its shed antlers, and while he didn’t see it at all in 2016, a friend captured a trail cam picture of it.
It had put on 30 inches from the year Healy drew on it.
“I just wonder what the deer would have been like the next year,” Healy said. “He might’ve been a record breaker.”