Southern Iowa’s Mike Mattly admits he’s blessed to live in the heart of what easily could be considered the best big-buck hunting region of North America.
However, the fact that Mattly moved to south-central Iowa and bought a small chunk of farmland in the 1990s didn’t guarantee he would experience the hunting success he’s seen in the years since. Despite being a notorious producer of record-class whitetails, southern Iowa is also home to intense gun-hunting pressure, especially in a region where deer drives and party hunting is ingrained in the culture.
In fact, it’s amazing a buck can live to maturity in some of these areas. It’s not uncommon, for example, for a large group of hunters to push a 40-acre woodlot and shoot a dozen deer at a time. There’s obviously nothing wrong with that when you’re out to make some venison, but it sure makes trophy management a daunting task for a lot of landowners.
Mattly is not one of them. He long ago realized that changing the hunting culture is out of his hands. That’s why he changed the way he manages and hunts the land he controls.
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Note: This is a special look back at one of the bigger bucks killed by a youth hunter in North America over the past the decade. Our editor-in-chief was there in camp when young Nick bagged his buck. Here’s the story behind that hunt and the incredible exploits of this father-and-son duo. This article first appeared in the June 2013 issue of Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine.
by Daniel E. Schmidt, Editor-in-Chief
The road to success hasn’t been easy, for Mike Mattly, but he’s accomplished his goal of producing and harvesting trophy-class whitetails. During the past three decades, he’s put 33 bucks on his wall ranging from 130 to 196 inches.
Although he’s still thinking about big deer 24/7, Mattly has turned a chapter in his life where he’s all about passing this passion on to his son, Nick. To say that Nick has been a quick study would be a gross understatement. This boy of just 13 has taken his dad’s love of deer and deer hunting to a new level.
The Big Buck of 2012
Yes, it would be easy to take one glance at the photo on the cover of the June 2013 issue of D&DH and, if you didn’t know the circumstances, think this was a massive case of beginner’s luck. It was anything but.
In fact, when 13-year-old Nick dropped the hammer (so to speak) on his Knight muzzleloader on Dec. 1, 2012, the giant buck he killed was just another in a growing list of monster whitetails for this now-veteran bone collector.
That’s right, he’s an old pro at killing big bucks, and he’s years away from being old enough to drive a car.
Nick, whose parents own about 250 acres of prime deer ground, was hunting with his dad when a 197-inch monster nontypical appeared on opening day of the state’s gun-hunting season. He wasted no time in seizing the moment.
I was blessed to have shared camp with the Mattlys and was hunting just a couple of miles away when Mike texted me late that morning.
“Nick shot the big one!” he wrote.
Talk about a happy moment. F+W Outdoors videographer Brad Sullivan and I were ecstatic for him. After hunting until lunchtime, we drove back to camp.
READ: MORE DAN SCHMIDT DEER BLOGS
I barely let the vehicle stop in the driveway before jumping out to hustle over to Mike’s skinning shed. After giving him and Nick hearty high-fives, we listened intently as Nick retold his story.
After having a close encounter with the monster buck during bow season, Mike didn’t want to leave anything to chance when the state’s first firearms season opened Dec. 1.
So, several weeks in advance, Mike and Nick sighted in their .50-caliber muzzleloader at 100 yards. They discovered the optimum load was 120 grains of Triple 7 powder and a 250-grain Barnes MZ Expander bullet. This load dropped just four inches at 150 yards and still had plenty of energy out to 200 yards.
The vibe in the Mattlys’ kitchen was one I won’t soon forget. Although I had already experienced a memorable fall, the positive tension between him and his son was like getting a shot of adrenaline. I didn’t need to be sipping coffee, because the sight of them busily packing their sandwiches, crackers, water, granola bars, speed loaders, range-finder, camera batteries and extra videotapes was equally invigorating. I could sense something good was going to happen.
An Early Morning
We got to our stands ridiculously early that morning. It’s a good tactic, especially during opening day of gun season. The thinking is to get in the stand and get settled before deer move through, heading toward their daytime bedding areas. If you bust a deer on the way to your stand, you probably won’t see it again that day. However, if you’re already in the stand and it approaches you during the morning darkness, there’s a always a chance it could hang around until legal shooting light.
While walking to the stand where he and his dad would be hunting that morning, Nick stopped about 40 yards before the stand and hung a Code Blue DropTime dispenser full of Scream’n Heat scent. The dispenser was set to spray doe urine every 20 minutes. Bucks were still in the seeking phase, and he hoped this would help keep them interested in the area.
Minutes ticked by as the two hunters waited for daylight. Before long, Nick fell asleep.
“While Nick was napping, I kept watch for any movement in the field,” Mike said. “Suddenly, four gobblers lit up in the tree above our blind. I nearly jumped out of my chair!
“It was a good sign. We had made it to the blind quietly enough to not spook the turkeys, so there was a good chance we hadn’t spooked any deer.”
With daylight approaching, Mike nudged Nick, and the hunt began. Each watched separate areas in hopes of spying the first deer of the day.
Nick won that honor when he spotted movement in a wooded draw. Within moments, two forkhorns appeared and worked their way through a CRP field about 80 yards away. It was still 20 minutes before shooting hours.
Minutes dragged by. A doe and two fawns fed in a sparse Imperial Whitetail Clover patch nearby.
Finally, legal shooting time arrived. Let the game begin.
Mike was confident they’d see the big buck opening morning, but he had no idea the hunt would unfold as quickly as it did.
“When shooting hours arrived, I turned on the video camera to film the gobblers as they strutted and gobbled their heads off,” he said. “That’s odd behavior for Dec. 1 in Iowa. Then I noticed my camera wasn’t working quite right, so I texted my buddy Nathan Brandon. He walked me through a check list and determined I had one of the settings on the wrong mode.
“Nick was still intently watching the woods, but that whole business kept me distracted for a little while.”
Mike no sooner settled back in to watching mode when he caught movement about 70 yards away from his side of the blind.
“There was something down in the creek bottom, so I told Nick to look in that direction with his binos as I moved the tripod into position to film him,” he said.
“I saw again saw movement and got my binos up — just as a big 8-pointer came into an opening. He was trailing three does.”
Nick was excited, but this young hunter knew better than to rush things.
After watching the 8-pointer through his binos, Nick observed it exhibit posturing behavior.
“He bristled up, cocked his head to the side and started walking in a circle,” Nick said. “I knew another buck had to be close.”
While he was watching the big 8-pointer, Nick saw more movement from farther down in the creek bottom.
“Dad, there’s another buck to the left of the 8, but I can’t see how big it is,” he said.
The Tension Mounts
“I brought my binos up and scanned the area left of the 8-pointer,” Mike said. “That’s when I found the big, brown body of a mature buck, but his head was behind a giant silver maple. After what seemed like eternity, he took two steps.
“It’s him! It’s him!” Mike whispered. “Get your gun out the window!” I whispered to Nick. “He’s right behind the big maple.”
“I only see his butt,” Nick said.
“Stay on him, but don’t shoot until he’s in the open.”
“I lost him. Where did he go?”
“Dang, now I don’t see him, either. Keep an eye on the field edge. He’s gotta pop out somewhere.”
Mike scanned the trees for any sign of the buck, but the deer had vanished. The buck was so close just moments earlier.
Where had he gone?
Moment of Truth
The two hunters frantically scanned the woods for any sign of the buck. Within moments, Nick saw more movement in the creek bottom.
“Dad, there’s a buck going north. Is that him?”
Mike swung his binos to the field edge north of the blind. The big buck was more than 100 yards away and walking straight away from the blind.
“Yes, that’s him. Get your gun on him, but wait until he turns broadside. Don’t shoot him in the butt.”
Nick settled behind his rifle like a seasoned pro as his dad ranged the buck.
“How far is he, Dad?”
“The trees are about 150 yards,” Mike whispered. “Just hold for a lung shot and you’ll be fine.”
Nick pressed the gun’s stock into his cheek and meticulously listened to his Dad’s calming words. A few more moments passed as the deer finally turned broadside.
Smoke belched from the muzzleloader and hung in the air in front of the blind for several minutes, making it impossible for the hunters to determine if the shot was true.
Nick was immediately skeptical.
“Dad, I think I screwed up,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry,” Mike told his son. “Just look in the trees and try to see him in your scope.”
“Uh, Dad?” Nick replied.
“He’s lying on the ground right where I shot at him!”
“What? Are you sure?”
When Nick finally put both hands on the giant rack, he summed it up perfectly, “Holy crap, he’s big!”
His proud dad could only smile and agree.
“Yep buddy, he is. He sure is.”
— Editor’s note: A rough score of the Nick Mattly Buck, which features a double main beam on the left antler and a total of 17 scorable points, came in at 197 4/8 inches.
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