Pictures don't do this past deer hunting season justice for the Sharp brothers.
The four 60-something men from Bettendorf, each of whom are Vietnam War era military veterans, harvested big bucks — nine- and 10-pointers — with different weapons last autumn during breeding season, commonly known as rut. It happened during a span of four weeks.
• Barry, 62, used a muzzleloader to shoot his nine-pointer Oct. 16 in Muscatine County.
• Rick, 66, used a crossbow to shoot his nine-pointer Nov. 6 in Muscatine County.
• Jay, 68, used a rifle to shoot his 10-pointer Nov. 11 in southeast Missouri.
• Mark, 69, used a shotgun to shoot his 10-pointer Nov. 11 in Muscatine County.
None of them realized their feat until a few days after Veteran’s Day, when Mark and Jay each killed their deer.
“What are the chances?” Jay said at this month's In-Fisherman Swap Meet at the QCCA Expo Center in Rock Island, where the group gathered for the first time since hunting season. “That will never happen again, not in my lifetime.”
Muzzleloader behind blind
About two minutes of legal shooting time remained that October evening when Barry, hidden behind his blind, spotted the largest deer he had ever seen.
"I didn't have much time to get nervous," he recalled, knowing his aim needed to be precise to pin the nine-point buck with his single-shot muzzleloader, powered by black powder. "You either get it or you don't."
Barry was prepared to walk away empty-handed, but he zeroed in on his target and connected from about 60 yards out. "It was a big rush," he said.
People may recognize Barry from his tenure as director of the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The resident of Solon, Iowa, turned to hunting in 2006 after he moved from Denver back to his home state. Time slows down during his solo outings in the woods, which helped the former healthcare executive relieve stress, even when he failed to harvest a deer.
"Yeah, I love to get a deer and put meat in my freezer, but if I don't, it's not a disaster," said Barry, who endured one three-year stretch without any success. "As strange as this may sound, I think it's a form of meditation."
Barry, Rick and Mark take their deer to Tipton Locker in Tipton, Iowa, for processing.
The U.S. Navy veteran served from 1973-1975. In his retirement, Barry, a single man, pursued a secondary career in photography. He credits his older brothers for teaching him how to field dress a deer and other important lessons.
"They do it right," he said. "They don’t do stupid things that give hunters a bad name."
Crossbow from lawn chair
Chronic pain in his right hand allowed Rick to secure a special crossbow permit in 2016 from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. He since has shot his weapon twice and has harvested a nine-pointer each time.
"Crossbows are very accurate," said Rick, whose nagging injury, caused by tilling his Muscatine County property, makes it hard for him to grip a cup of coffee.
Before dawn one day last November in Muscatine County, he loaded his single-shot weapon with a bolt, a short arrow-like projectile, and positioned himself on a lawn chair behind vegetation. The buck, "snorting like a locomotive," arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, almost startling the veteran hunter.
“That’s a big animal when you’re on the same level as him, and I’m not that comfortable on the ground,” Rick said.
But he pulled the trigger and made his one shot count, piercing the animal's lungs from about 15 feet away. The deer traveled another 40 yards before collapsing.
Rick, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1970-1974, first tried deer hunting with his older brother Mark. He continues hunting to thin the herd. Both his wife and daughter have collided with deer while driving in the area.
Before retiring, the avid duck hunter worked as an environmental protection specialist at the Rock Island Arsenal and also volunteered as president of the Izaak Walton League in Davenport. He has three children and four grandchildren.
Rifle atop tree stand
The sound of rustling leaves and antlers plowing through heavy brush caught Jay's attention about five minutes into last firearm season on Veteran's Day in Missouri. The air was still, and moments later, the 10-pointer appeared about 75 yards away.
"I knew as soon as I saw him, 'Unless I fall out of this tree stand, I'm going to start shooting at that deer pretty quick here,'" said Jay, who balanced his .30-06 rifle on the rail of the platform. "If you can see it, you can hit it with that rifle."
Struggling to hold his breath, he lightly exhaled, producing a seemingly noticeable cloud of white steam. But the deer, which had turned toward Jay, didn't flinch. The animal then turned around and began climbing a ridge. It stepped into the crosshairs of Jay's rifle and "boom, he drops down" from a fatal gunshot wound to the lower neck, the hunter recalled. It was 6:40 a.m., 10 minutes into season.
Jay, who lives in Bettendorf, has hunted deer for almost 50 years — longer than any of his brothers — but he never has hunted in Iowa.
He reunites every season with a friend in southeast Missouri, where they use rifles and ammunition illegal in Iowa for deer hunting. (A bill approved during the Iowa Legislature's 2017 session authorized the use of straight wall cartridge rifles for deer hunting.) The duo met in 1969 while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. Jay was discharged in 1972.
"If we get a deer, fine, but we like sitting around the fire and talking and having a few beers," he said of their times together. "That's what we love to do."
Jay worked as a machine operator at the Alcoa Davenport Works plant, now Arconic Davenport Works. He has two children and three grandchildren, and he usually donates his deer meat to a family in southeast Missouri, although his wife, Cindy, really enjoys venison meatloaf.
Shotgun from golf cart
Although Mark previously visited the same Muscatine County field several times and never saw any deer, he listened to Rick's advice and returned to the same spot last Veteran's Day.
Already bored about 9 a.m., the Blue Grass resident reached for a sandwich in his golf cart festooned with camouflage. Health issues forced him to acquire a non-ambulatory deer hunting license through the Iowa DNR.
As he attempted to open the bag containing his snack, Mark looked up and saw the antlers of a 10-pointer behind tall weeds. He swapped his sandwich for his gun as the buck stepped into the open field about 45 yards away. Mark made a noise, stopping the deer in its tracks, and fired. The deer ran another 20 yards before falling down.
"It's all luck," he said of killing a deer. "You can do the best you can to make it happen, but if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen."
Mark, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1971-1973, spent 36 years at the Alcoa Davenport Works plant. He has undergone four hip replacements, and he is missing the femur bone in his left leg, making it significantly shorter than his right leg. The married man relies on a wheelchair, a scooter and a walker to get around.
John "Huck" Stoltenberg Jr., a World War II veteran who lived on the Sharps' childhood block in Bettendorf, introduced the boys to hunting and fishing long ago. Their other siblings, Karen and Tim, don't partake in the activities.
"I don't know if any of us would've done it if it weren't for him (Huck)," said Mark, who reflected on the fact he and his brothers survived the Vietnam War era. "We've been very blessed."
Their latest achievement is just icing on the cake. "I think I've done it all now," Mark said. "I'm ready to go anytime."