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Lady from the Loess Hills.

Minnesota freelance writer Don Oster avidly bowhunts big whitetail bucks.

The lady was excited, and understandably so. After all, she'd just taken her first whitetail buck -- in her very first season of bowhunting. So it's little wonder that when the lady met her husband at the edge of the timber, she was still shaking. Overwhelmed by the experience, she blurted out how she'd shot a buck, followed the blood trail, found the deer, and field dressed it.

"It's big," she told her husband. "Real big. And I need help getting him out of the woods."

Well, sometimes in such moments of high exultation things get a bit blown out of proportion, and when the hunters reached the downed animal, the lady hunter realized she'd grossly overestimated the size of the deer. Her husband took one look at her "big buck" and chuckled. If only he had known where the excitement of that lady, hunter's first buck would lead her -- to a Custer family lifestyle based on bowhunting trophy whitetails -- he might not have been so quick to laugh. And today, Ruby Custer is still mighty proud of the little buck that launched her bowhunting career in the Loess Hills area of Iowa.

It was not exactly coincidence that Ruby's first year of bowhunting was also her first year of marriage to Billy Custer. Prenuptial agreements may be common fare these days, but they were exceptional in western. Iowa some two decades ago. Maybe even today this one would be considered a little different. Billy Custer's main condition of marriage was that Ruby take up hunting. She agreed to the deal, and soon the knot was tied.

Today, it's not clear exactly how much instruction Ruby received from Billy or how many of her hunting skills have been learned on the job, so to speak. Regardless, this lady, who has spent most of her life in the Loess Hills, certainly knows her whitetails. In fact, her dedicated search for whitetail knowledge has amounted to a year-round, 20-year obsession. Today she can stand toe to toe with the best in the game when it comes to scouting, patterning, and successfully hunting big whitetail bucks.

Ruby didn't set out to be a pioneer in the now well-documented movement of lady hunters, but if not a pioneer she certainly, was a forerunner. In response to Billy's prenuptial demand, she took up bowhunting at a time when it was not fashionable among females. Until recently, lady bowhunters were a relatively small group. There was no Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program back then. Nor were there specialized women's bows and camo attire. All through her early years of hunting, Ruby wore men's hunting clothing and boots, which either fit or were altered as necessary. Maybe that's why today she's more at ease in camo and boots than in a dress and heels. One thing is for sure, Ruby Custer is an accomplished outdoors woman.

When you meet this tall, slender, willowy woman with short curly hair, a firm handshake, and clear blue eyes, you can't help but wonder if Ruby was born 150 years too late. Ruby resembles the strong stock of frontier women seen in old photos who helped to tame the West. Replace the camo with buckskins and change her Oneida Eagle bow into a Colt .45, and she certainly would have the look Not taking herself too seriously, she scoffs at the comparison. A sharp wit and lots of laughs accompany this tall package. Ruby can swap a good joke or share a hearty laugh with most any bowhunter. She also will find a way to take a bloodless little nick out of everyone around camp, all in good fun.

Today Ruby Custer is part owner-operator of her own Iowa hunting operation, Strut 'n' Rut Guided Hunts (40012 270th St., Dept. BH, Soldier, IA, 51572; 712/884-2282). She personally scouts, sets stands, guides clients, tracks, and field-dresses, skins, capes, quarters, and cleans, carcasses. Ruby's dedication to her clients has limited her own hunting time, relegating her to mostly a spectator's role while her clients have collected numerous record book whitetails scoring from 130 to more than 170 inches, including five whopper book bucks that were taken from her own private property. That's five fewer bucks for Ruby to try for when her turn comes. By season's end, she may be a bit burned Out from being a full-time guide, worker, and supporter, but when the last client heads for home, Ruby climbs back into a treestand until the last minute of the season.

To say there is some competition in the Custer enclave would be an understatement. Not only does this couple endure typical husband/wife differences, but Billy also runs his own whitetail hunting operation, which introduces a professional rivalry that can get downright intense. Pictures and big, mounted whitetail heads dominate the decor in the Custer house, and shed antlers lie everywhere. This awesome display reinforces the fact that Billy and Ruby have both been very dedicated and successful in their passionate pursuit of trophy bucks. To date, Billy has personally shot the most record-book qualifiers, but Ruby's four record-book-class whitetails have been taken in the last 10 years -- during which time Ruby has won the Women's Iowa Big Buck Contest three times. It appears that Billy's lead is in serious jeopardy. While these two share an obvious mutual respect for each other, Billy made one serious mistake that will haunt him forever. He never should have laughed at Ruby's first buck.
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Author:Oster, Don
Date:Nov 1, 1999
Previous Article:YOUR TIME HAS COME.

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