A U.S. Air Force instructor put the spotlight on Fort Leonard Wood as a destination for hunters after he and the 12-point buck he harvested on the installation Nov. 19 were featured in an article on Field and Stream magazine's digital site.
Tech. Sgt. Dallas Heath, a pavement and equipment instructor with 368th Training Squadron, is a lifelong hunter who has made regular use of the installation's hunting areas since arriving here 3 1/2 years ago. After claiming his buck during Missouri's firearms deer season, Heath posted a photo on Instagram, where it caught the attention of outdoor writer Scott Bestul, who included it in his article "The Best Bucks of November 2019," which appeared Dec. 3. Bestul ranked Heath's buck No. 6 on a list of 20 under the subtitle "Missouri Public-Land Monster."
"I have hunted ... my entire life on mostly private ground, and ended up shooting my biggest buck to date here on Fort Leonard Wood," Heath said.
Originally from Iowa, Heath began hunting with a shotgun at age 11. After saving up enough money to purchase his first bow, he began archery hunting at 14 and has enjoyed both firearms hunting and bowhunting ever since.
"I always hunt on post," Heath explained. "With the amount of land and high population of deer, there is no need for me to hunt (outside the installation). This is my fourth season hunting on the fort, and I have been fortunate enough to harvest a number of deer. The hunting opportunities here are more than abundant."
Heath used a 12 gauge shotgun and slug to harvest his famous buck. He said he was fortunate that only a few hunters were signed into the area through the iSportsman system that day.
"It was a fairly quiet morning," he said. "I had done my research on the night prior, finding a perfect spot for a morning sit. When I got to the spot I had located on the maps, it looked exactly like I thought it would: a pinch point on top of a ridge with a cedar thicket on one side and a fairly steep drop off on the other. I knew that if a buck was going to go out cruising for does that morning, he would likely have to walk by me to get downwind of the bedding area. My plan worked exactly as I thought it would, and at about 7:45 I saw this buck making his way towards me. I only had a small shooting window through the brush so I steadied my gun and waited for him to walk into my lane. Once he did, I took a deep breath, settled the crosshairs, and dropped the hammer. He fell in his tracks and I couldn't believe what had just happened."
Heath has served in the Air Force for 11 years. When asked, he said being a military service member has "absolutely" helped him be a better hunter, and vice versa.
"The military, as we all know, teaches discipline and above all, patience," he said. "On the flip side of that, I think that hunting has made me a better service member, because I am always trying to introduce people to the outdoors. Having opportunities to meet new people who wanted to get into hunting but didn't know where to start has pushed me to be as proactive as I can in that venture. Just here on the fort, I have taken three other service members from my unit out to harvest their first deer, and in my opinion that is what it's all about."
Heath is also a fan of the installation's iSportsman website, which all hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts must use to check in and out of hunting and fishing areas. He said the ease of the system even helped him arrange a hunting trip for his niece.
"I was able to get her registered through the iSportsman site and bring her down here to harvest her first whitetail with a crossbow," he said. "It was such an awesome experience, (because) she is used to only being able to hunt (with a firearm) in Iowa because she is not strong enough to draw a compound bow."
Overall, Heath said he is grateful for his time hunting on Fort Leonard Wood, something he will miss next year. He noted that he is scheduled to PCS to his next duty station in May.
"With this being my last hunting season here, I could not imagine a better way to end my hunting tenure here," Heath said.