Editor’s Note: Tommy Nails of Milton, Iowa, is originally from Corinth, Mississippi, and grew up hunting deer and turkeys in Mississippi. He’s been hunting deer for 30 years. He moved to Iowa about 7 years ago but still travels back-and-forth to Mississippi during hunting season. After deer hunting Iowa for the first time, his dream was to live there, so he could hunt those big northern deer.
Deer drives here in Iowa remind me of the old days when we held deer drives in Mississippi. The difference is that in Mississippi, we used dogs and drivers to try and move the deer out of heavy cover. But here in Iowa, a deer drive is only made up of hunters walking through thickets and making noise, attempting to spook the deer out of their bedding sites. There will be a ring of standers on the outer edge of the area that’s being pushed by the drivers. Driving is a very-effective way to take bucks for local hunters. However, most of the time, the standers are shooting off-hand at a running deer with either shotguns or blackpowder rifles, because Iowa doesn’t allow you to hunt with conventional deer rifles.
During the early part of gun season, most of the hunters up here are driving small blocks of timber. However, 2 or 3 days after deer season has arrived, most of the deer will have moved into larger blocks of timber. You may see 30 or 40 deer coming out of one 10-acre patch of hardwoods. If we keep shooting noise and hunter movement to a minimum on the properties we hunt, I really believe our chances of taking more older-age-class bucks seem to be greater than the hunters putting on the deer drives.
The hunters who come up to hunt with me are a pretty even mix between shotgun hunters and muzzleloading hunters. At that time of the year, I hunt with a Savage muzzleloader, because we can shoot smokeless powder in those guns. I believe that today’s muzzleloaders are much more accurate at longer ranges than muzzleloaders in the past. Using a scope on my Savage muzzleloader, I feel comfortable taking a shot out to 250 yards. I believe most of the shotguns that are being hunted with are only effective out to about 150 yards.
What surprises a lot of people is how effective the 20 gauge shotgun is. My 8-year-old daughter, Millie Kate, and I hunted together during the youth deer season that occurs September 19 through October 4. Millie Kate shoots a 20 gauge Savage slug gun with a riflescope on it. I had trail-camera pictures of a 5-year old buck that I’d taken during the summer months. This buck was staying with a 4-year-old buck, and these two deer were feeding almost every day on a Mossy Oak BioLogic clover food plot. I set-up a ground blind on the edge of that clover field for Millie Kate and I to use. Two or three other bucks in the 100 to 120 point Boone & Crockett range came out to feed in the clover field before we saw the big bucks. I asked Millie Kate, “Do you want to take one of them?” She looked up at me, frowned and said, “No, Daddy, I want to shoot one of those big deer that you have on the trail-camera pictures that are coming into this field.” An hour before dark, the 140-class buck that I wanted Millie Kate to shoot came out into the clover field. I ranged the buck at 127 yards, and Millie Kate took the shot. Her slug went through both shoulders, and the buck only went 10 yards before he tipped over.
In my opinion, the 20-gauge slug guns out-perform the 12-gauge slug guns. When the 20-gauge gun fires, it’s pushing a smaller slug than when a 3-inch Magnum fires with a much-heavier slug. So, if you're going to Iowa to hunt and are choosing a shotgun to hunt with, you may want to consider those 20-gauge slug guns. Our gun season is broken into two halves. The first season is nine days long, and the second season is five days long.
Tomorrow: End-of-the-Season Iowa Deer Hunting