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Smoke & snow: the hunt for Nick Skinner's massive Harrison County non-typical was characterized by two common elements of Iowa's late muzzleloader season ...

Nick Skinner maneuvered through the crowd at the Iowa Deer Classic carrying the mount of a monster nontypical whitetail he shot during the 2010 season.

"I'm a big buck hunter," said Nick, who also works as a freelance cameraman for Heartland Bowhunter and Whitetail Properties TV. "My focus is mature white-tails."

The antlers he's holding prove as much. Nick's Iowa muzzleloader kill netted 212 2/8 inches as a non-typical and grossed more than 230 inches.

But the giant 19-pointer isn't Nick's only evidence. At just 22 years old, the Iowa hunter need only point out the last three bucks--which scored 178,182 and 230, respectively--he's shot to impress even the most discerning hunter.

"Those numbers don't matter that much to me," Nick said. "I have an unbelievable amount of respect for mature deer. I like to watch them grow up. I like to see how they change each year and express their full potential."

The deer mount Nick was carrying would end up taking second place in Iowa's nontypical muzzleloader category that weekend, but the story behind the deer is more important to him than the trophy that now adorns his home in western Iowa, where Nick and his family have lived since moving from Kansas City 15 years earlier.


"I couldn't be more thankful to my parents for moving us," Nick said. "The Loess Hills in western Iowa have ultimate habitat for big bucks. The rough terrain protects deer, so they live longer and hunting pressure is minimal here."

Nick is quick to point out that not only is he crazy about chasing mature bucks, but his brothers, Cody, Matt and Luke, are always right there with him.

"I love chasing big bucks, and it only adds that much more when my brothers are involved," Nick said. "The bond we have is special. It's a passion, a way of life for us. All year long, this is what we think about--big, mature whitetails."

That was the case when the four brothers set out last December on the first day of Iowa's second shotgun season armed with four Iowa any-sex tags and several doe tags. They'd spent the entire year preparing for this season, including hundreds of hours in treestands during archery season. On the opening morning of Iowa's second gun season, the Skinner brothers knew exactly where they were going.

Only a week before, they had found a set of big rubs indicating that a buck they had named "Captain Hook" was using the area. Despite unfavorable winter weather, the four brothers ar ranged to meet three of their friends--Lee, Travis and Mark--at the hunting location on opening morning.

At 3 a.m. on December 11, the alarm clock brought Nick and his brothers to their meeting spot in the living room. Peering outside, they saw it was snowing heavily, and a check of the weather report revealed that the 30-mile-per-hour winds had driven the temperature well below zero. The blinding snow and whiteout conditions caused the drive down Interstate 29 to take longer than usual, but they had left early to ensure arrival before sun-up.

When Nick and his brothers arrived at their hunting location in Harrison County, the weather had deteriorated into an all-out blizzard. Harrison and Monona counties had always been good to the boys, and they'd killed many Pope & Young animals with archery gear in the area. Stand assignments were set and Nick, Cody, Matt and Luke along with Lee, Travis and Mark all set out into Mother Nature's fury intent on coming back with a mature buck.

"It was literally so windy and so cold that it would take my breath away," Nick recalled. "But I knew that most hunters would stay home that day. Give me the worst conditions, and I'll still be there."

Matt and Luke both harvested mature bucks early in the morning. Nick, Cody and their friends hunted until 4 p.m., when white-out blizzard conditions forced them to call it a day.

Exhausted from a long day in the elements, the group welcomed the sight of the motel. They checked their equipment before getting something to eat and then turning in.

The following morning meant another shot at a mature Iowa buck, and the weatherman was calling for improved conditions. The severe winter weather the night before all but guaranteed that the deer in the area had not moved much, and improving weather conditions meant they would likely be on their feet and hungry.

Nick and Cody had either-sex tags to fill, while Matt and Luke still had doe tags they could fill. The temperature had warmed to 8 degrees, and clear skies were predicted.

As the sun came up on the second day of the hunt, Nick had tucked himself into a small piece of timber that had a picked cornfield on one side and tall switch grass on the other side. He was able to get into the location undetected by walking in the dark down a timbered fence line. The strategy for the day was to get between bedding and food and brave the elements until a mature whitetail made a mistake. Nick knew the longer he could stay put, the better his chances would become.

Around 1:30 p.m., Nick heard a noise and looked over his shoulder to see a doe bounding across the CRP. She was going to cross in front of him at about 80 yards. Happy to finally see a dfeer moving, Nick turned toward the doe to watch her. He knew that this time of year many of the yearling does get breed and his hope was that she might pull a good buck his way. Seconds later, his hopes were realized.

"I just saw this enormous rack pop out right behind her," Nick said. "I didn't even have to think I just shouldered my gun. I have been fortunate enough to see some big deer, but this deer was in a category of its own."

Nick thought back to the huge rub they had found and knew the buck had to be Captain Hook. The Skinners had yet to get a trail camera photo of the buck, but signs in the area and reports from neighboring hunters told them he was here. Now, Nick was watching the buck with his own eyes.

With his Thompson/Center muzzleloader at the ready, Nick tried to forget about the antlers and concentrate on making a good shot. He had the buck centered in his scope picture, and it would only take a few pounds of pressure to send a.50-caliber sabot at the deer. But 10 seconds into the encounter, Nick knew it wasn't going to happen. With several obstructions between him and the buck, there was no way for Nick to get a clear shot, and the doe was leading the massive buck in the wrong direction.


Even though the buck was within 50 yards, there simply wasn't an ethical shot.

"I took my gun off my shoulder," Nick recalled. "I was heartbroken and encouraged all at the same time. I got up to my knees, and there was no sign of them anymore. They had gone into the timber and right out of my life."

The woods went silent again just as they had been all day long. With a renewed awareness of the frigid temperatures, Nick had just begun to settle down again, when movement in the distance sent his heart into a frenzy all over again.

It was another yearling doe, perhaps the same yearling that he had seen moving from the switch grass to the timber.

"I knew it had to be her," Nick said. The fawn had simply circled around and returned to its original location near Nick's stand. He readied his gun, expecting for Captain Hook to emerge at any second, but there was no sign of the giant buck. The doe was now making her way right out in front of Nick's stand, and he would have a perfect shot on the buck if it followed the doe's path.

Suddenly the big buck burst into the switch grass obviously looking for the doe.

"All of those up and down emotions can really test your nerves," Nick recalled with a grin. With the doe dead-center in a clear shooting lane, the next 5-10 seconds were going to be the highlight of an already highly successful deer hunting career for Nick.

The buck spotted the fawn and stopped in his tracks while she turned around and stared at him. The two deer stood motionless.

"I didn't have a shot at the buck yet and what was probably one or two minutes seemed like 20 minutes," Nick said. Things had to happen perfectly for Nick to get a shot at this buck, and the doe could easily make the wrong move and again lead him right out of sight.

The doe started to move, again luring the buck away from Nick's position. The buck took off after her, both moving quickly out of Nick's shooting lane. Determined not to let the deer slip away again, Nick adapted. He stood and took two steps to his right when he was out of sight of the two deer.

Nick knew that the two deer could take off running again at any second. He now had the buck's vitals in his scope and could see nothing more than the front of the deer. At 85 yards, Nick's bullet landed deadcenter in the vitals. The deer buckled and nearly went down in its tracks. As the smoke cleared, Nick lost sight of the two deer as they ran off.

"I reloaded probably the fastest I have ever loaded a muzzleloader in my life," Nick said, "and that's not easy to do when your heart seems likes it's pounding out of your chest and your hands are shaking. The emotion in the moment was incredible."

Confident in his shot, Nick decided not to wait before trailing the buck. It didn't take him long to pick up the blood trail.

"I knew I hit him hard, and with every step I expected to see him," Nick said. From a distance, he spotted what was unmistakably antlers laying next to a cedar tree. "All I could see was antlers, a massive, thick, long-tined rack, and he was now mine!"

Nick dropped to his knees to admire the incredible whitetail he had just taken. Nick's silent admiration evolved into what he called "hoopin and hollerin," which attracted the attention of his Cody and Travis, who decided to see what all the commotion was about. As they joined Nick where the majestic deer lay dead, a celebration broke out.

"That was the happiest moment of my life," Nick said, "and I will never forget it."


for information on having your trophy whitetail offically scored and to locate an official measurer in your area.
NICK SKINNER BUCK Harrison County, Iowa

Total points        19 (10R, 9L)

Greatest spread          24  6/8

Inside spread            19  0/8

Main beams       27 3/8, 27  3/8

Longest tine             14  3/8

Antler bases       5 5/8, 5  6/8

Abnormal points          22  6/8

Gross typical           207  7/8

Deductions              -18  3/8

Net NT score            212  2/8
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Article Details
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Author:Smith, Jason
Publication:North American Whitetail
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1U4IA
Date:Dec 1, 2011
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