Deer in Iowa were hunted almost to extinction in the 1800s, and Iowa lawmakers in 1898 banned the hunting of the animals.
By 1910, a herd of about 176 deer were reported damaging crops in western Iowa in Pottawattamie and Shelby counties.
Deer were reestablished elsewhere in the state through the escape of animals in captivity and by the import of two deer from Minnesota in 1928.
In 1936, Dr. C.W. Sauer released a buck he had captured in Ledges State Park in central Iowa on his farm north of Vinton. It was believed to be the largest buck in Iowa. He planned to add a doe from the same herd. Five more pairs were released shortly after that.
In 1946, The Gazette’s outdoor writer Russ Graham wrote about a deer-car collision in Springville. He noted wild deer were probably in every county in Iowa and hoped that one day Iowa could have a bow hunting deer season like Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Six years later, he got his wish, with Iowa lawmakers establishing a deer hunting season in 45 counties. About 4,000 deer were “harvested” in that first five-day season.
Today, between 90,000 and 120,000 deer are harvested each year during the deer hunting seasons.
A large urban deer herd established itself in the heavily wooded areas north of Glass Road NE in Cedar Rapids. One of those deer became a legend.
The story was originally told Nov. 10, 1995, by Gazette outdoor writer Orlan Love.
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“One year ago today, life could hardly have been sweeter for the huge stag that became famous among area whitetail fans as the Watertruck Buck.
“He dined on acorns in Shaver and Mohawk parks, feasted on spilled grain along the railroad tracks on the east side of the Cedar River and ravaged the landscape plantings of many a frustrated homeowner,” Love wrote. “For dessert, this remarkable urban dweller would wrap an antler around a slender tree and shake the seeds from a backyard bird feeder.”
The buck ranged over a 20-square-mile area from the Cedar River to Shaver Park to Seminole Valley, probably crossing busy Glass and Edgewood roads and 42nd Street NE. People watched for the wary animal, amazed by its size and grace.
By 1994, the stag had a 10-point rack and was 6 years old. The rut season was at its peak on Nov. 13, 1994, when it stepped onto Shaver Road into the path of an oncoming vehicle. The huge buck, fatally wounded, dragged itself 300 yards before dying.
Mark Mumaw of Marion, a deer hunter who worked for a company on Shaver Road, found the carcass and called the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to gain salvage rights.
A huge wound in the buck’s side, a broken leg and a crushed hip satisfied conservation officers that the deer was not a poaching victim.
No one reported hitting the big whitetail. But since the accident happened so close to the Cedar Rapids Water Deparment on Shaver Road, rumors flew that the magnificent animal had been it by a Water Department truck.
The stag became known as the Watertruck Buck, even after an investigation showed “no employee or vehicle of the Cedar Rapids Water Department was involved.” the department’s director said.
The buck’s shoulders and head were mounted by Cedar Rapids taxidermist Gary Bowen. The mounting led to a painting by Mark Bordignon, artist in residence at Apple Creek Gallery.
Bordignon chose the paint the stag on a promontory above the Cedar River, consulting often with Bowen over the year he spent working on it.
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He unveiled “Moonlight Encounter” at the annual artist show at Apple Creek Gallery in November 1996, where prints were sold.
The painting caught the eye of Iowa Gov. Terry and Chris Branstad, who chose the painting for their 1996 Christmas cards sent to the 15,000 people on their mailing list.
THE LAST PHOTO
After Christmas, a photo surfaced of the urban buck taken the summer before it died. It was published in The Gazette.
Larry DeLong took the picture. His backyard abutted Shaver Park, and he often saw the big buck from his screened porch. As long as DeLong and his family stayed inside, the buck was content to graze on the family’s hostas. But as soon as someone would step outside, he would bolt.
One day, DeLong took a chance.
“I had the camera with me in the porch and stepped quietly outside the door,” he said. “The second I snapped the shutter, he snorted and took off. I was very lucky to get the one shot.”
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