In Search of Rocky and Bullwinkle – An Alaskan Moose Hunt

Despite the single digit temperature, the small outboard motor came to life on the second pull.  I let the 50 horse power Yamaha water jet engine warm up for ten minutes before shoving our 20-foot aluminum skiff off into the fog-engulfed river.  I navigated slowly, making my way through the shallow water by memory and bumping along the exposed rocks as the first crimson rays of sunlight crested the nearby hills.  It was opening day of the archery moose season in Alaska, and I was back guiding magnificent hunts.  The previous three years, my buddy, Tim, had gone home empty-handed, but not this year.  I was determined to make it happen.  I also knew that there was a good chance that I could connect on a moose, as well.  We were heading towards a glassing knob four miles upstream from which we could scout for moose in the area.

As I slowly navigated the skiff upriver, Tim was sitting on the bow glancing from side to side, trying to detect movement along the willow-choked riverbanks. Tim Higgs and I have hunted together several times before.  Tim’s last hunt with me was a Dall sheep and caribou hunt, during which he took a beautiful 36” ram and an excellent caribou that narrowly missed the Boone and Crockett record book.  I recalled the day, two years earlier, when Tim had moose hunts on his mind and booked this trip for us.  He was so excited then.  I bet he thought this day would never come.  I know I did. 

I gently idled to a tree that we had used the day before to tie up the boat while scouting. The ride took twenty minutes longer than normal due to the fog, but we still had plenty of time to make the 400 yard climb before we had good glassing light.  Tim hopped onto the riverbank with the bow rope in hand, as if he had done it a hundred times before, and tied off the boat.  We donned our packs, grabbed our bows, and headed up the hill.

About halfway up the hillside, we heard a bull grunt, followed by the unmistakable sound of antlers on brush. The bull was no more than 600 yards in front of us, but with the low blanket of fog, we could only guess how big he was.  Tim looked at me with a smile. “Should be a good morning,” I whispered.

We continued to the top, took off our packs, and waited for the fog to clear.  We listened through the calm, cold, autumn air as our mystery bull continued to destroy everything in his path.  Our eyes were intently focused where our ears thought the bull was, hoping to catch any movement.  The sun was still a few minutes from its unveiling, when the north wind chilled my face.  The bull’s only means of protection was about to disappear.  I gave a bull grunt and raked some brush with an old paddle from where I was sitting.  The bull immediately grunted back with every step he took in our direction.  “Maybe I called a little too soon,” I told Tim.  “Will he climb the hill to us?” he asked.

They will occasionally, but they usually wait for a visual before they do that.  The bull came about 100 yards closer, stopped, and commenced destroying a tree, when another bull grunted.  Tim nocked an arrow and was ready if a shot presented itself.  Though it seemed longer, not more than two minutes passed before we could see the two bulls.  They were 20 feet apart, and 50 yards below us, on the edge of a slough.  By now, the butterflies had taken flight in my stomach, but Tim was unshaken.  He was ready with his bow in hand, waiting for me to size them up.

“The one on the right is the biggest,” I said. “Well, the one on the left is huge! How big is the other one?” Tim asked, seemingly in disbelief.

I held my response as the bulls met head-on and began sparring. I made sure Tim was comfortable with his position, and gave a cow call.  The bulls seemed to forget one another and looked directly at us.

“The one on the right is nice. He’s a solid 63 inches, with four brow tines on each side. He might go 65. The left one is about 60. What do you think?” Tim asked.

With any other hunter, I would suggest taking him, but there are bigger bulls here and this is only the first hour of a 10-day hunt.

“I never tell a hunter not to shoot a legal animal, so I am leaving it up to you,” I said.  While we sat for a minute and debated taking one of them, the two bulls milled around the slough in front of us, in no hurry to go anywhere.  Then, I spotted another moose a mile away.  I quickly put my spotting scope on him.

“Your question is answered Tim. This is the bull you want.  Take a look.”

“Holy cow! How big is he?”

“He’s definitely 70 inches, but he’s a mile from the river and moving away from us,” I said.  I made my loudest call, and raked some brush.  The old warrior heard me, stopped for a few seconds, but continued on his way. I had already forgotten about the bulls in front of us when Tim said, “I would have never guessed that those two bulls could look small.”

We hunted the next five days for that bull, and never laid eyes on him again.  In fact, we saw only two other bulls despite the cold and seemingly perfect weather.  One was in the high 50 inch range, and the other about 60.  So, after the morning hunt on the sixth day, we packed our light camp to re-locate to a different drainage.

We navigated slowly downstream through the rocks and ice chunks, which had been getting larger and more numerous.  A mile below our old campsite, our progress was severely hampered by a 300 yard ice jam.  We realized then that if we didn’t get to some faster water today, we would be hiking out.

Luckily, the water was just under hip height.  I was able to walk in front of the boat and chop out the ice with an ax.  It took us 30 minutes to chip through those 300 yards.  I was ready for a rest when I fired up the motor and resumed our trek.  We came to four more ice-jams; luckily, we were able to break through with the boat by leaving it in idle, driving our paddles through the ice, and paddling our way through.  This was why we chose to get a boat with a jet motor.  The water was too deep to wade in.

We were relieved when we came to faster waters.  We continued down the main river for two miles, and then came to the mouth of a shallower, but faster drainage.  The cold, dry weather didn’t help our cause, as we had to get out of our boat and pull it over to more than a dozen shallow spots before we reached our pre-determined campsite.  By 7:00 pm, we were tired and irritable (me, more so than Tim) and ready for sleep.

We quickly set up our tent on a small gravel edge and paddled across the river to get a view from the adjacent hill.  Before 8:00 pm, I spotted a small bull.  A few minutes later, Tim spotted a bull in the timber.  We finally saw enough antler for me to identify him.  It was the same bull I saw on the previous hunt.  I knew, or so I thought, how to get him.

We immediately ran down the hill to the boat and paddled across the river.  With only one hour of daylight left, we quickly stalked to within 100 yards of the bull, when we came to a frozen beaver pond.  I knew we would break the ice if we tried to cross it, so I pulled out the boat paddle and went to work.  I followed with two bull grunts.  The bull grunted in response, followed by multiple cows!

“He’s got cows.  He’s going to be tough,” I told Tim.

The experienced moose hunter knew exactly what I was talking about.  Suddenly, a branch broke.  Through the willows, we could see a moose coming, and Tim was ready.  What we thought was a cow turned out to be the small bull we had spotted earlier.

With day light fading, we heard a bull grunt 300 yards behind us in the timber.  We cautiously approached through the loud spongy tundra, calling and raking brush with every step to mask the noise of our movement.  We stopped when we came to the edge of the timber he was in and waited quietly.  At dark, we quickly slipped back to our tent, which was only a quarter of a mile away.

The next morning found us atop the same hill across the river from our tent; the same frost glistening from the foliage, and the same stiff north wind hitting us in the face.  Again, we heard two bulls in the timber, but we could never catch a glimpse of them.  We decided to wait them out until evening.  Finally, at 3:00 pm, Tim and I simultaneously spotted a moose.  It was a cow.

Then, I spotted an antler, and two more cows came into the small opening.  The sight that followed in the next few seconds was all we needed to confirm that he was our bull.  Tim immediately suggested that he walk across the river to a gravel bar where moose had been crossing, not four yards from the moose, and wait as evening approached.  I agreed.  Tim found a suitable spot, and I stayed on the hill to watch.  By 7:00 pm, having neither seen nor heard a moose, I decided it was time to make something happen.  I walked down to talk to Tim. “The moose are in the same five acre willow thicket we last saw them enter.  We can either go in there, try to call him out, or I can try to drive them to you.  It is so thick in there that if we do get close to them, we will probably only see hair and maybe a flash of antlers.  This wind is perfect, but we have to do it now before it dies down”.

“Then let’s try the drive,” Tim said without hesitation.

I immediately took off, crossed the river, and started looping around the moose.  I cursed myself for forgetting to leave my boat paddle with Tim.  In less than five minutes, I was in perfect position.  The moose were somewhere between Tim and I, with a ten mile per hour wind blowing directly from me to them.

I paced back and forth, spreading my scent through the willows.  I had just begun to enter the willow thicket, when the herd exploded through the willows!  It sounded like they went about 75 yards towards Tim and stopped.  I eased closer.  I busted the moose again.  This time they split up; some of moose went west, but I could tell by the antlers hitting the brush that the bull went east.

I ran, trying to get upwind of the bulls, pushing them towards Tim, but the bull broke out of the willows and into the tundra flat.  Seeing this, I instantly gave my loudest bull grunt.  The bull stopped and looked back.  He started to leave again when I grunted once more, and waved my cursed boat paddle in the air.  The bull turned and faced me.  I hunched over, grunting with every step, waving the paddle as I stumbled through the tundra.  I knew I wasn’t going to win an Oscar, but I was able to get around and upwind the bull once again.  He smelled me and whirled around to the south.

“Here he comes, Tim!” I yelled at the top of my aching lungs.

I was running in Tim’s direction when I heard the twang of his bow strings, and the whack of his broadhead hitting the bull.  I kept running for another 20 seconds before I heard “YEHAHHHH!” I plowed through the willows and came to the river directly across from Tim.

“Where is he?” I asked. “He’s 20 yards to your right.  I think he’s big!”  Tim exclaimed. 

I walked to the bull.  “Tim, he’s not big, he’s huge!  Get over here and check him out.”  Tim was about half an inch from filling his hip boots, but he made it to his bull.

“He’s awesome!  I wasn’t sure we were doing the right thing by pushing him, but I knew we had to do something different, and it paid off big time,” Tim said.

We told our stories to one another, of what happened, and how we both wondered if it would actually work.  We took pictures, and then skinned and butchered the bull. It took us a little while to get to the quarters, and then head back to camp, and we need to take our time given the terrain and the fact it was dark.  We were back in camp after midnight, and we weren’t in bed till much before two.   

The next morning, after a breakfast of steak and eggs, we loaded Tim’s quartered bull on to the boat, along with all of our other stuff from camp and headed downstream.  The 14 miles to base camp was an adventure, to say the least.  The rock infested river would normally be an adventure, but with the ice in the water it made the danger all the more dangerous.  Additionally, we still had time to stop and set up another spike if we saw signs of another good bull.  Without all the obstacles, we could have gotten down the river in under an hour; however, with the moose, the ice, and the rocks it took over seven hours to make it back to camp.  We stopped along the way to check out different spots that we thought might hold some nice bulls, but none answered our calls so we continued downstream.  On numerous occasions we were out of the boat breaking ice and dragging the boat behind us.  I would not have attempted the journey with such a heavy load with any other hunting friend, but I had confidence in Tim.

Later that evening, after we shared a meal with the other hunters in camp, and washed it down with a couple of cold beers, we shared the story of our hunt before heading to bed, knowing that we had made memories to last a lifetime. 

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy A Montana Elk Hunt

Because of the long summer drought, it was predicted to be one of the worst years ever for hunting Elk in Montana.  I didn’t see much in the way of size that year, until after a week of hunting and right before dark, the mammoth of all bulls appeared 40 yards in front of us.

The beginning of archery elk season in Montana was only a few days away, and the blood in my veins was starting to flow with excitement and a nervous anxiety.  Avid elk hunters everywhere were awakening to the call of the bulge.  The small coffee shops around town were full of old timers retelling stories of their youth of how good the hunting used to be, and how they used to hunt better than we do today.  And, of course, how good they shoot their long and recurve bows back in the day.

In my mind, I could already see the hunt unfolding in front of me.  I could feel the early September heat and sweat rolling down my face, listening to the early morning bugles in the distance, and the chasing and stalking to where we thought we had heard the bugle come from.  There is no better time to be in the woods than during the elk rut.  I knew hunting was going to be tough and slow as we were chasing a 1000 pound monster through the dry and brittle forest.  The drought had dramatically slowed antler growth and there were only few mammoth bulls out there with nice racks.    

I had spent most of the summer with my family in Montana so that I could scout the woods all summer.  It is a challenge to leave my two daughters for 8 weeks.  One advantage of being a teacher is that I have the summer off.  I rented a small cottage outside of Paradise Valley for the months of June, July, August, and the first few weeks in September.  The girls were happy to get away from our suburban home outside of Washington, D.C., and enjoy the mountain air.  While I knew my daughters would miss their friends, I knew that they would enjoy the quality sister time ahead.  While I scouted along the ridges and bluffs during the day where I had seen elk in years before, the girls enjoyed playing outside, fishing, boating, and swimming in the lake. 

The majority of the big bulls I had seen had weak fifth and sixth points, and there were some smaller five by five bulls around that I would see through my spotting scope from time to time.  The morning before opening day, I found a very large bull with another great bull tagging along with it.  I was excited about this duo of bulls.  The bigger bull was very unique and his rack was off the charts.  The terrain he was in was extremely steep and rocky. In addition, it had some rolling hills and wooded areas.  This is definitely not the favorite type of terrain for a chubby hunter like me.  There was almost no way to approach the bull from where I had glassed him.  From any direction, he would be able to hear me, smell me, and probably even see me.  The valley was deep, rocky and extremely long.  Above him, about three miles, there were a lot of cows with mountainous terrain and tall timber.  A few miles below him, there were also some cows and some ponds low on water.  There was still enough water in the ponds for the cows to wallow in.  Cow elk like nothing more than blowing a hunter’s cover as they approach a big bull; they are the watch dogs of the herd.  I cannot lie, I enjoy shooting cows just as much as bulls.  Hey they all taste great.  This year, however, I drew a bull tag, so that is what I was after. 

Longtime client and friend, Jimmy Decico, and I were heading out into the hills the first week of September.  Jimmy had scheduled to hunt with me the first through the sixth.  Jimmy had more money than God, and always made it a point to book with me the same week every year for a public land hunt.  I only guide five clients per year, and Jimmy was one of them.  These five elk hunts would make up a large part of my salary.  I charged a flat rate of $2000.00 per day.  There is five day minimum, though most clients will book ten days.  If they tag out early, most will stay for a few days, unless there is some pressing need at work.  My clients were not average people; they were titans of industries, who book with me yearly to escape the stress of their daily life.  Some would bring a spouse, or occasionally a client.  On more than one occasion, I had to remind my clients to leave the phone at office, if they cannot go hunting without answering every dam call they get.  They are used to having people bow down to them; this is the one time of year where they are taking orders instead of giving them.  The price included lodging, food, and, of course, a world class guide.  I took care of their transportation needs, as needed.  Although, majority of them drove trucks that most only dream of.

Jimmy, like all of my clients, set tough personal standards of never shooting any animal smaller than one they had previously taken.  Over the last five years, we had been successful in besting his previous year’s harvest.  This year, we had to find something bigger than the 800 pound bull he shot the year before to best his mark.  We hoped during the six days of Jimmy’s hunt, the big bull I had seen the other day, or another one as big, would move in our direction; or at least toward the cows to signify the beginning of the rut.  Our plan was to catch the bull on the way toward the cows, or catch him moving around them heading to the ponds.

The first three days, we hunted in the open, rolling, country hillsides.  The temperatures climbed into the high eighties each day and at night would luckily drop into the fifties.  The sun would beat down on us each morning as we glassed the open expanses for the bull I had seen before Jimmy arrived.  We would cover a lot of ground in the early morning before the full heat of the day would set in.  The afternoons were spent sitting near a variety of water holes hiding from the sun hoping a giant bull would appear.  Late in the morning we would hike from where we were glassing, and head towards where we thought the bulls would come out of the timbre and into the ponds to wallow at night.  Every day seemed to produce the same results.  Sporadic calling, long stalks and lots of smaller elk.  We would see a few small herds of cows and some smaller four by four and three by four bulls that would have worked for most people, just not Jimmy.  But there was no sign of the giant bull or his traveling partner that had been with him.  We had yet to see any signs of the beginning of the rut or even to hear consistent bugles.  I wondered if the bull had gone to another area from where I had first glassed him.  With that thought bouncing around in my head, we decided on day four we would head to another area where we might be able to hear some bugles and close some distance on him or another bull.

The fourth morning we arrived at a new location about a mile away from where I had seen the bull.  We made a big loop calling, stalking, and still hunting.  Three different bulls answered my calls, but each of the bulls only answered to say hello.  The good part was they were starting to talk, the bad news was they were not crashing through the forest looking for a hot date.  The afternoon was spent sitting by another waterhole in the area.  Partly because we thought that the bulls would come through the forest to drink at the waterhole, and partly because after four days of hunting we had log nearly forty miles, and Jimmy’s legs were starting to tire.  We saw nothing on the forth evening, but there were lots of positive elk signs around the waterhole.  We discussed, at length, and decided the remainder of our hunt would be spent hunting here by the water hole.  Jimmy and I each had a gut feeling this was the place to be.

The next morning, we arrived back at the area at 4:00 AM, after a big breakfast, in order to catch any predawn bugles that we could hear in order to get an early jump on a stalk.  We drove into the area in an electric Bad Boy Buggy, so not to create any excess noise.  I parked the Buggy, and covered it so not to get busted by any elks that might come up from behind us.  We sat there in the dark and listened to the world around us come to life as the sun began to rise over the horizon.  A cool breeze blew lazily from the north.  For the first time in days, I was actually cold.  I knew that it was only a matter of time until the sun was once again baking us like a couple of biscuits.  As we began to glass the surrounding area in the early morning haze, there was now enough light to make out objects off in the distance.  Suddenly, we could not believe our ears.  It was like someone had turned on the light switch and the rut was finally on.  Bulls were bugling in all directions, and they were bugling loudly and aggressively.  With the adrenaline pumping through our veins, we gave each other a high five and scrambled around to the back of the Buggy for our bows and our backpacks with all of our gear.

We were on a flat stretch of land, on a steep hillside, that had been logged and cleared out a few years earlier.  Tall, native grasses and small evergreen trees now littered the area and provided us cover as we moved cautiously toward the sounds of the bugling elk.  A large group of cows started to move up the hillside and the bulls followed behind in a single file line; filtering into two drainage areas with long thin fingers of pine trees and spruce trees in between.  Running up the middle of the pine trees was a thin old dirt logging road.  It was perfect.  The elk were on both sides of us, and the logging road would allow us to be quiet, and easily move up on the bulls without being discovered by the cows.

The elk that were wallowing to our right were starting to move over to the next drainage and across the finger we had moved into.  We managed to sneak up on two bulls that were bugling, but did not shoot them, they were smaller at only around 500 pounds.  They needed another year to grow before they were big enough for Jimmy.  I called in another three hundred inch bull that we also passed on, as he had a smaller body frame than you would expect on a 300 inch bull.  Let me tell you how hard it is to pass on three hundred inch bulls with a bow standing broadside at 35 yards!  But, it was not my hunt, so we moved on. 

No matter how fast we moved, we just couldn’t catch up to the lead bull to see how big his rack was.  We knew that he was a solid bull, but how big was he?  The whole time, we hoped it was the big monster that I had seen just the week before during my summer scouting trips.  We just needed a look, and we knew we would have to be aggressive if we wanted to see him.  The bull moved into a thick patch of spruce trees and bedded down in the shade for the day; he wasn’t moving anymore.  He would answer our cow calls, but just wouldn’t come out.  By mid-morning, I thought we might be able to slip down to where he was holding in the spruce trees and glass into the thick timber to get a look at him.  We snuck all the way up to within 50 yards of where we thought he was and started glassing into the shade laded timber.  I could not see any sign of the bull.  I knew that if we got any closer, we could spook him, so we backed out to regroup and devise a new plan for the afternoon. 

As the mid-afternoon arrived, it had started to rain lightly.  I had hoped that this might be the lucky break we needed.  The moisture from the light rain would soon soften the ground and wake up the bull from his afternoon nap.  The game plan was to go back to where we had left the bull and set up an ambush point.  He was bedded on the side of the hill of a very long ridge with drainage below him, and with another cut off drainage to the southwest.  I felt the best place to wait for him was 200 yards below where he had bedded down and let him come to us.  At that location, the wind would be right in our faces and it would be on the way to where the bull would be feeding and staging for the night.  We arrived at our ambush point around 2:30 pm, and the rain was now coming down harder.  Jimmy set up 80 yards in front of me, and I began to cow call periodically.  We hoped the bull would walk towards the cow call so Jimmy would have an easy shot.

30 minutes passed, and not a sound.  Making eye contact with each other, we both had the puzzled look of “what happened to all the elk?  Did they all just leave without us seeing them?”  We sat patiently through the rain awhile longer, the raindrops bounced off my hat and landed on my jacket.  After about an hour of hard rain it began to slow, and then stopped.  As the rain came to a halt, we heard a bugle, then another, and another, and then the bull we were waiting for bugled.  He was still there and was moving into the bottom of the drainage coming in our direction, just as we had hoped.  He was right there in front of us, but we still could not see him.  Cows started popping out at 50 to 75 yards away, but still there was no sign of the bull.  The bull we wanted was bugling, but circling the cows on the side hill of the opposite ridge we were setup on.  The cows started to move up the drainage to our left.  I moved quickly down to Jimmy and said, “See that hump where the drainage leads?  If we can make it up there before they do, we have a chance.”

We hustled up the opposite side as quickly, and as quietly, as we could go to get setup on the bull.  On the way up, I caught some movement through the pines and spruce and could tell it was a 350 inch class bull.  With only one day left, I had hoped Jimmy would decide to take him rather than go home empty-handed.  We turned our attention to stalking to get a better look.  The bull was pushing a few cows through the thick timber, towards the same hump and bugling all the way.  On the opposite side of the drainage, the bull we were originally after was bugling.  Sneaking to within bow range of the 350 inch class bull, I told Jimmy to range him and shoot.  He paused and said, “That’s not what I’m here for; let’s just stick to the game plan.  Let’s try to catch the other bull.  We still have time.”  It made me sick to think we might go home empty handed, but I was the guide and he was client, so it was his decision.  I knew that Jimmy was going to say that, so I was not in total shock.  It just speaks volumes about the types of clients I have. 

So we moved aggressively 200 yards toward the hump, and then all of a sudden it sounded like the bull had dropped into the bottom of the hillside right below us.  With weak, tired legs, and sweat pouring down my face, we moved ahead of him trying to cut him off.  We still had not seen the bull that we had been pursuing all day.  The bottom of the drainage was open and had been logged a few years before.  The side of the hill the bull was on was full of thick spruce trees.  From the thick side of the ridge, a cow popped out, then another.  A total of five cows came out feeding on the new grasses right towards us.  Then here he came, but he was another 300 inch bull.  When I saw him, I got a feeling in the pit of my stomach like the one you get when you have a flat tire on the freeway.

Where’s the big bull? The five cows and bull fed only 20 to 40 yards in front of us.  The bull was now 25 yards away.  Jimmy had an arrow nocked and was ready to rock and roll, but this was not the monster we were looking for.  I cow called just to see his reaction.  He picked his head up and bugled and started to feed off in the distance.

With only 15 minutes of shooting light left, I knew we were just about done for the day. Then Jimmy said, “Look to your right, where the other elk came out. “  I turned and saw the top of a rack; I quickly threw my binoculars up. A very large bull was walking right at us on the same path the other just came through.  He was much bigger and had eight on one side, and his sixth points were at least 15-inches long.  His eye guards were unreal; well over 20 inches.  This was him.  This was the bull we were waiting for. 

Jimmy was ranging everything. “I’m ready,” he said.  “Make sure you make a good shot,” I replied.

The bull walked up to 40 yards and stopped behind a big pine tree, with only his head sticking out.  He stood there just looking in our direction.  I was watching through my binoculars, shaking so badly I was seeing double.  He started to step out and Jimmy started to draw.  The bull stopped and stepped right back behind the tree in the same position.  It was as if he knew he was safe standing there.  He stood still for another minute and then decided he didn’t like this and turned to leave.  When he whirled, Jimmy drew.  He cleared the tree, and I cow called.  The bull turned, quartered away and stopped.

Just as soon as he stopped, the shot was in the air.  WHACK!!!  The arrow hit mid-body, but quartered away.  It should be good, I thought to myself.  I turned to Jimmy and asked, “Did you hit him?” He said, “I think so.”  Then, he asked if he was a good one, and I said, “Oh, yea!”  We sat quietly for an hour in the dark.  After that long hour we walked down to where the bull was standing, and I found a volleyball-sized spot of blood with a piece of stomach in it. We looked past where the bull was standing and found the arrow with the same results. With darkness overhead, lack of moonlight and given the indication of the strong blood trail, we decided it would be best to recover the bull in the morning.

Now, you can only imagine what the ride back to camp was like after describing the bull to Jimmy and what I thought he would score.  We were both beat and soaked to the bone with sweat and rain.  Both of us probably could have slept all the next day; but due to my companion, I can say we literally didn’t sleep at all that night.  We spent the whole night talking about the bull. 

The next morning, we arrived an hour before daylight to the spot we had just left hours before.  This time though, I had attached my long trailer to the back of the Bad Boy Buggy.  As the sun peaked over the mountain tops, we begin our search.  Carefully, we followed the blood, noting each speck on the ground.  Finally, we saw him; he had gone only 150 yards and was lying there dead.  Plenty of hugs and high fives were shared between us as we celebrated the kill of this magnificent bull.  This type of bull usually eludes hunters, except in the myths and stories that are told by the old timers in the coffee shop.  This is what keeps us returning every fall.  When he was officially scored, he came in at 405.  Jimmy has already booked for next year and said he hopes to go even bigger.

We carefully quartered the bull and saved the hide and the rack and loaded it in the trailer so we could get it hung to age before Jimmy headed home. 

Once everything was cleaned up and put away I dropped Jimmy off at the airport and headed back home.  Tomorrow another client was coming, and it would be time to do it all over again. 

Getting Nocked Up – Choosing the Right Arrow

For a successful deer hunt, choosing the right arrow for your set up is essential.  This is an area overlooked by many people new to bow hunting.  They will run out and buy the most expensive bow they can afford to buy, and then buy the cheapest arrows they can find.  In choosing the right arrow for your set up, there are a few things you need to focus on: the weight of the arrow and speed you are trying to achieve.   

Hunters should purchase the best arrows you can afford.  When choosing arrows, be sure you are choosing ones that have a consistent spine, have tight straightness tolerances, and are equal in weight.  If money is tight, aluminum arrows are the way to go.  For around $50.00, you can buy a dozen quality arrows.  For a top end hunting arrow you should expect to pay 200.00 per dozen.   

Arrows are available in aluminum and carbon. Arguments can be made for choosing one over the other, but like most things in archery, it basically comes down to personal preference.  However, most shooters these days use carbon.

Carbon arrows have made a big impact in the deer woods.  The strength and durability of carbon arrows has given hunters the confidence to pay extra for them, knowing they are not easily bent or broken. In general, carbon construction has allowed arrows to be made lighter without sacrificing strength and durability, which in turn allows for faster arrow speed and flatter trajectory.

Many hunters like to use a heavy arrow, which tends to absorb vibration and aid in smoother and quieter shots.  Not to mention, it carries more of a punch.  Heavier arrows are also a bit more bow and accessory friendly since the shock of each shot is reduced. Continuous vibration leads to loose accessories and bow wear.  Hunters who prefer a lighter arrow like the flat trajectory they achieve from faster arrow velocity.  The obvious benefit of faster arrows is the forgiveness you get in judging distance in field. With this in mind, there are some definite guidelines to follow in choosing the right arrow for you.

Heavier arrows weighing between 8-10 grains per pound of draw weight will maximize penetration and produce smoother recoil.  Hunters who rely on close encounters and do not anticipate the need for shots over 20 yards will like the results they achieve with these hard-hitting arrows.  Shooting a heavy arrow requires a bit more skill in judging distance due to the lack of velocity, but the extra effort can prove deadly when the shot connects, especially on larger game such as elk or moose.

The best choice for new archers is a medium weight arrow.  Medium-weight arrows between 6-8 grains per pound of draw weight are the most practical solution for most hunters.  They provide plenty of speed and penetration out to around 40 yards.  Also, hunters are able to maintain a quiet bow, generate good arrow speed, and produce enough energy to make effective shots on deer.

Light-weight arrows include those under 6 grains per pound of draw weight.  Hunters who are looking to get the flattest trajectory possible may choose to push the limits of a 5-grain minimum.  Some situations may call for longer shots, such as open country or hunts over food plots.  A great deal of practice will give some hunters the confidence to make these longer shots.  Fast arrows will aid these hunters in making the shot.

Once the desired weight has been determined, it is time to consider the best arrow shaft stiffness for your given set up.  If you choose to use a mechanical release, you have more flexibility in choosing the proper stiffness.  As the arrow leaves the bow using a mechanical release, most of the flex that will occur will be up and down, so there is little, if any, problems with arrow clearance.  Finger shooters need to pay closer attention to the flex of the arrow because there will be some side-to-side motion of the arrow as it leaves the string.  This is caused by the string having to move around the fingertips as the string is released.  Most arrow manufacturers have an easy-to-use chart that will aid you in finding the correct arrow stiffness.  To use these charts, you will need to know your length of arrow, the desired weight of point, and your desired draw weight.  It is important to stay consistent from field point to broad heads to maintain a balanced arrow and a well-tuned bow.

After you have decided on the right arrow and point weight for your set up, the last thing you need to decide is what type and size fletchings you prefer on the back end of your arrow to help stabilize flight.  The two more popular options are plastic veins and feathers. You will find both in sizes ranging from 2 to 5 inches.  As a general rule, the larger the fletching, the quicker the arrow will stabilize after leaving the bow.  The only drawback to larger fletchings is that you will lose a few feet per second (f.p.s.) of arrow speed.  Smaller fletchings have less wind resistance, offering less speed loss, but also less ability to stabilize the arrow.  As far as choosing between plastic veins and feathers, there are a few things to consider.  Plastic veins are durable and a bit less expensive.  They tend to allow for faster arrow flight when compared to the same size as a feather.  However, feathers usually will provide quicker arrow stabilization and they have an attractive, traditional look to them. 

Nothing beats trial and error when selecting new arrows.  What works well for one person may not be the choice of another. Choosing arrows is no different.  Think about what you are trying to achieve in the woods and make you decision accordingly.  In the meantime, ask lots of questions and pay attention to each manufacturer’s recommendations.  Straight shooting and less available space in your freezer will be the end results.

Tales from a Treestand

I’ve been looking forward to this weekend for two weeks. I missed muzzleloader season last weekend because the husband was out of town. The weather isn’t perfect, it’s cool, windy and misting rains. But I can’t kill deer from the house, couch or the comfort of my bed.

Last night’s Halloween party kept me up later than I needed to be. I set my alarm for 4 pm rather than am. Woke up in a mad rush to gather my things, my thoughts and my coffee. I knew I’d get to the farm at daybreak so I planned to stalk in quietly. To my surprise, I was greeted by two random dogs who reeked of skunk. I thought for sure they would escort me to my stand.

Excuse me, there are deer here.

Two does exit stage left…

As I was saying, I had to run dogs off. The hike in was super quiet. Rain saturated ground creates a double edged sword. It makes moving quiet but climbing mountains slick! We all know I fall a lot so that was fun.

Within eyesight of my stand, the dreaded doe blow breaks the silence. I freeze, glass and see white tails everywhere. 🤬 wait them out a few, another step, another blow. Daggon it. So I just sit down. Spray some Nose Jammer on and check the wind…they definitely saw me cause the wind is great! As the blows end, I gather my things and trudge on in the final 100 yards to my stand.

For a moment, I just stare at this Summit climber I’ve become so familiar with, then up to my mark on the tree at 25 ft. Ugh. This is gonna suck. Tie all my gear together with mule tape and begin my ascent. Once settled, I was sure I would see nothing so I started this blog. Then came the does.

Obviously, by their posture and timid approach, these were the two I bumped coming in. They overcame their fears pretty quick when they got nose deep in Rackology. I watched them. I contemplated shots, but I waited, They walked away, and that’s okay. I need those girls when rut kicks in…😂😂😂

Winds picked up. No movement here in the 100 acre woods. My belly says, “lunch”. My feeder says, “corn”. And my morning coffee says, “Please go pee!!” So, down I go for food, corn and a bathroom break.

Returning with 50 lbs of corn, my bow and all my gear, I begin the .80 mile hike straight uphill. At the first plateau, I’m certain I will die before I get to my stand. When I make it to the top of the first ridge, I nearly collapse with fatigue. My hamstrings are on fire and my already injured shoulder is screaming angrily. I take a minute, lay down on the cold, wet, leaf covered ground and listen to my heart pound. Looking up, I see the canopy of foliage that is the epitome of KY beauty, take a big deep breath and tell myself (outloud), “ Get up, you’re almost there.”

Pushing forward, arriving at my set, pour out the corn, tie gear on to rope, stand and stare at the climbing stand, dreading the torture that is about to ensue. My legs still burning, my shoulders and back quivering in distress, my mind tells me, “There’s no way you’ll make it.”, but my heart says, “Girl, you better get up that tree!”

The evening hunt was uneventful. No deer. Swampcat squirrels, constant rain, hurricane equivalent winds, and neighbors sighting in rifles or having WW3? As the light disappeared, again I shimmied down this ole oak and began my trek out. I left the stand with tags left to fill. My body was beyond exhausted. My clothes were wet and my boots were muddy. But my heart, my heart was happy.

You see, I’m no “professional” hunter. I don’t have land managers, or thousands of acres planted with soybeans. Hunting doesn’t pay my bills and probably never will. The reward for me comes from thinking I will surely die packing corn into the mountains, and pouring it out on the ground a few minutes later. It’s standing at the base of a tree thinking my body can’t make it and clipping into my safety line and doing it anyway. It’s pushing my self to the limit…and then pushing a little further once I get there. And someday, if that big ole Booner buck cruises by, I’ll be ready.

Choosing the Right Bow

I have been lucky enough in my life go through the fitting process of selecting a new bow on several occasions. The first time I purchased a bow, I went to a large hunting and fishing retailer and told them what I wanted. Nobody ever questioned my decision or made any other recommendations. The reality was that I had no idea what I needed, and the choice I made was based on the money I had in my pocket. Next, they fitted me to the bow, and 30 minutes later I walked out of the store with a new bow. What I got was what I asked for, but what I got in the field was “just okay” results. I did not know any better; I just thought that this was the way it was done. 

However, the next time I went bow shopping, I wised up. I visited my local archery pro shop. I told the staff what I was looking for in a bow, and they followed it up by asking me numerous questions about what I planned to use the bow for and how much I was looking to spend. Next, I shot five or six different types of bows that fit my budget from nationally-recognized companies before I finally chose a bow.   

I chose the bow based on the way it felt in my hands.  The bow spoke to me: it had a smooth draw and lots of speed. Then a certified G5 staff member fitted the bow and its accessories to me. This process took about three and half hours. While it took a long time, this type of service produced phenomenal results, and I left the pro shop a satisfied customer. The results in the field have also been impressive. I now return to my local pro shop for all of my hunting needs. I might have to pay a dollar or two more over the large chain stores for some things, but I have a great relationship with the pro shop staff, and they go out of their way to look out for my best interests.

There are many different types of bows on the market today, but choosing one is not an easy undertaking. The bow-manufacturing industry has been flooded with new innovations and developments in the last decade. Compound bows have gone through many alterations in appearance and design, with a number of drastic changes occurring in the past few years. Justifying the purchase of one bow over another these days requires more than just a large wallet filled with greenbacks and plastic: it requires time, patience, research, and knowledgeable staff. Fortunately, there are a few guidelines and procedures to follow that will help you simplify the process. As I stated before, they all start at your local pro shop. 

Choosing the latest advancements in archery hunting begins with a decision to shoot a certain type and brand of bow. Draw length, draw weight, accuracy, wheel and cam design, brace height, let-off, speed, and price are all things to take into account when selecting a particular bow. Other factors to consider are its use. Will it be a hunting bow or a target bow? If it is going to be a hunting bow, what type of animals will you be targeting? Do you primarily hunt from the ground or from a tree stand? Will the majority of your shooting be indoors or out? Will it require a camouflage finish or not? 

Once you have come to these conclusions, the next step is to visit a local pro shop or surf your favorite web sites to obtain more information. A bow must “fit” its shooter. Having a qualified individual measure your draw length is the most important aspect of deciding to purchase a particular bow. Most bows offer multiple draw length options and adjustments. Your local bow shop professionals have a vested interest in your hunting success. The happier you are, the more likely you are to return for future purchases.  

Draw weight is another matter of importance. Draw weights are adjustable and allow for various settings in 3- to 5-pound increasing and decreasing increments. Peak draw weights normally range between 45 and 90 pounds. What draw weight you choose largely depends on what types of animals you plan to hunt. Taking the time to shoot several bows will provide answers, and can help determine the significance of each of the aforementioned considerations. You should be able to sit in a chair with your feet off the floor and draw the bow smoothly. If you can’t, you need to reduce your draw weight.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of shooting several different bows. You cannot determine the feel of a bow unless you shoot it. You need to shoot several bows before picking one to take home. Find one that fits you. You will know when you have found the right one.    

The current trend in manufacturing designs is to create bows with short axle-to-axle dimensions, reduced mass weight, low brace heights, and high let-offs. This is a result of the number of hunters that are now hunting from tree stands.  Many companies have shied away from producing bows that feature round wheels, moderate let-offs, or measure over 40 inches from axle-to-axle. This is an indirect result of the present demand for more compact bows that possess the ability to boost arrow velocities, increase kinetic energy levels, and extend downrange efficiency.  In laymen’s terms, people want bows that can drop big game out to 50 yards away from them.  Let me tell you, today’s bows do it with ease.   

Of all the different makes and models of bows in existence, compounds certainly offer the widest variety of choices for today’s archer. Single-cam string and cable harness configurations, split limbs, and ultra-modern risers forged from high strength multi-composite alloys are just a few of the available upgrades available to the hunter today.   

There are many advantages to owning one of the new modern bows. As mentioned previously, split-limb and single-cam models significantly reduce mass weight. This quality is beneficial to those adventurous hunters who hike into remote backcountry in search of elk, sheep, moose, and Mule deer. Also, in comparison to their two-cam and two-wheel counterparts, single-cam bows are relatively easier to tune and maintain. 

In addition, the lightweight aluminum and carbon material used in the limbs, handles and risers, and the fabric used in the strings and cables of new age bows contribute to overall speed and weight reduction. If speed and weight reduction are the determining factors, choose your bow accordingly. These types of bows are better suited to those who utilize a shooting release, due to the sharp angle created in the string when a short-limbed bow is fully drawn. 

On the other side of the equation, longer axle-to-axle bows are more accurate and forgiving, although this trend is starting to change with ongoing improvements in bow design. If the main concern is supreme accuracy, choose a bow that offers a longer brace height, a moderate to low let-off, and has as long of an axle-to-axle length as possible.  A low to moderate let-off will also yield more accuracy. 

Compound bows have one distinct advantage over all other bows: let-off. Let-off is measured by a percentage of the draw weight that is reduced when the wheels or cams roll over at or near full draw. During this process, a fraction of the peak draw weight is decreased or “let-off.” The amount of let-off will not only affect accuracy, but will also affect the personal satisfaction of the shooter, and quite possibly, trophy book consideration. Much controversy has arisen from the limitations that the Pope and Young Club has placed on the amount of let-off a bow can possess. 65 is the cut-off point. Any amount of let-off over 65 percent disqualifies an animal from being entered into the archery record book. Some bows offer higher let-offs in the 75 to 80 percent range. 

Be aware that a legitimately harvested trophy may not be eligible for record book recognition if the bow you choose has a let-off that is prohibited by the club. 

Though the Pope and Young Club currently lists animals taken with bows having a higher let-off than 65 percent, an asterisk is placed next to the name of the individual who harvested the animal. The asterisk denotes that a bow with a higher let-off than 65 percent was used to harvest the animal. 

Limb selection is no longer limited to solid one-piece models. The appearance and performance of bows changed dramatically with the inception of split limbs. However, both types of limbs have advantages and disadvantages. Solid fiberglass and carbon limbs are inherently more durable than two-piece limbs. Nevertheless, split limbs not only reduce weight, but also transfer and distribute energy from the bow to the arrow more evenly. Some archers appreciate the appeal of a split-limb bow, while others favor the traditional shape of solid limbs. The option of choosing straight limbs or recurved limbs is also available on most bows in production today. Straight limbs are generally faster, while recurved limbs are more forgiving. With the overall differences minimal in comparison, personal preference normally plays the biggest role in limb selection. 

These are just a few examples of what state-of-the-art engineering has to offer in bow design. It also illustrates the dilemma one will face when attempting to reach a final decision on which model to purchase. Only research and a healthy amount of leg and arm work will assist you in the quest for choosing the “right” bow.  As a final thought, when choosing a bow, choose an established company that has a solid reputation for taking care of its customers before and after the sale.  As tempting as it may be, never purchase a bow online.  You might save a few dollars, but my experience has been that you will be far more satisfied by going into your local bow shop and being fitted by a professional.  


My Search for Boss Hog

I had wanted to go wild boar hunting for the past ten years. I had never had anyone mention a good public area or place to go until now. I had finally gotten my chance to hunt wild boar. It was a completely fair chase on an unfenced place, without bait, and it was an absolute blast. The ironic part was that I originally set up the trip at the request of my sister as a surprise birthday present for my brother-in-law.


She decided to tell him early, instead of surprising him a few days before his birthday. Well, as it turned out, he apparently had little interest in shooting a wild hog and said he’d rather not go.


I’d already invited a couple friends that hunt with me here in Virginia and in Pennsylvania, and they decided it sounded like something they would enjoy, so I said, “Heck with it, I still want to go,” and the three of us made plans for the last week in December to travel to Southeast Georgia. We would spend two full days hunting an 800 acre farm set up to accept hunters to pursue wild hogs, deer, and turkey in season.


The wild hogs have no closed season, and in Georgia all that’s needed is a general hunting license (in or out of state). There is a three day license available for such a hunt at a cost of 20 dollars, which we felt was more than reasonable. We also could have made this a combo hunt for deer and hogs at a slightly higher price of 90 dollars. We decided to hunt only the wild hogs, as we could shoot deer at home.


I had been very clear that I wanted a place to hunt that was not fenced and did not use feeders.  Normally, I have no issue hunting over bait, but for my first hog hunt, I wanted to go about it the old school way.  That’s just my preference.  I understand people enjoy different things, but that was the unanimous decision of the three of us for our first ever wild boar hunt.  Hell, anybody can shoot fenced in animals in the zoo. 


We left at two in the morning, two days after Christmas, loaded down with all our gear, including bows and coolers aplenty, should we get lucky enough to whack anything close to the two hog per day limit. The drive took around 18 hours (including one little miscue in directions), and we were in contact with our host, Barb and Sam Hutchinson, the business owner of the hunting lodge, as we got closer.  They assured us that there would be plenty of food waiting for us upon our arrival.  


We arrived shortly after dark on the 27th. We were quickly taken to our cabin, which overlooked a 20 acre lake on the grounds of the camp, which was illuminated by the moon. Everything was first-rate, and my worries of being stuck in a dump for two days were completely unwarranted. This place was five star all the way. There was a set of large bathrooms in our cabin, along with six sets of rooms with beds and baths. We were happy to hear only one other hunter would be there during our two day hunt, and the accommodations were just great.


We set a time for Sam to meet us in the morning to take us out to the stands for our morning hunt. Then, we relaxed with a fantastic meal, a beer or two, until it was time to call it a night.  We had a 4:30 am breakfast call, so no one wanted to miss that.  


The morning was perfect; it was cold with a very light frost, and no wind. Our spirits were high as we loaded into the truck to head out for our morning hunt.  We each had a bagged breakfast and coffee to sustain us until after the morning hunt.  We sat from six until ten, and even though it was a fine morning for most any type of hunting, we did not see a single hog. A “blonde” fox made its rounds and was passed on by three anxious hog hunters.  We each saw plenty of deer and turkeys, just not what we were after.


After our morning hunt, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast of bacon, sausage, grits, eggs, and some of the finest breakfast biscuits on earth.  With each of our stomachs stretch to the max, we retired for a short “break” in the cabin until it was time for our afternoon hunt. We used this time to check our eyelids for any holes. Yup, a nice midday siesta; now that’s my kind of hunting.


We were back in our stands around 1:00 pm, and hopes were still sky-high. I watched four does pick their way down a nearby creek.  I was amazed at myself, because here I was hunting wild boar now, yet they didn’t seem to satisfy my desire to see game. We all enjoyed the afternoon and the sunset.  No arrows were unleashed again, but we all saw deer. All of us, except of course, our additional hunter, who was hunting (you guessed it) deer and hogs. So the only one able to whack a deer was the only one who didn’t see one that afternoon. Such are the fortunes of a big game hunter.


We all enjoyed our sits, though. The weather continued to cooperate with our schedule, granting us a nice, cool, December afternoon devoid of anything but light winds.  We had our first dinner in the dining room and immensely enjoyed the fresh fried chicken. My only problem was that I only had one more day to decide if the breakfast biscuits OR the dinner rolls were better.


After dinner, we went back to our comfy cabin and watched some videos of past hunts that had been filmed right there on the farm. One hunt ended by rolling an absolutely monstrous 600 pound boar. Another showed the running of hogs with dogs (also available there), and the demise of said hog at the end of a very sharp bowie knife. It was interesting to watch, but not exactly my cup of tea.


By 10:00 PM, I was exhausted and headed off early to bed, knowing I had to wake up at 4:30 am for another great morning hunt.  The second morning was even cooler and quieter than the first. After each of us were dropped off at a new set of stands, we settled in awaiting the first hint of a sunrise, which would come in about an hour.


It turns out, we all had a treat that morning as we heard a hog running and squealing, possibly with wild dogs in pursuit. We had been warned that it was not unusual to see wild dogs running through the woods here, and at times chasing deer or hogs. We were told it was up to us whether to shoot them or not. Anyway, the commotion continued on and off for a good hour or two, and then finally an arrow was released as a hog passed by Al’s stand. 


At the appointed time of 10:00 AM, I was picked up by the guide, and promptly asked if I had gotten lucky that morning. With my answer being no, we had hoped one of the others had been luckier.  We were at Al’s stand a few minutes later and found that he had indeed gotten off a shot, but he didn’t put much stock in it being a lethal hit, or any hit for that matter.


The guide answered just as I hoped he would, that we needed to follow up and see to know for sure it had truly been a clean miss. With our bows in the UTV now, Al was the only one still “hunting” as we all set off to check for sign of a hit (four hunters and the guide).


As we combed the woods for signs, we all again heard a commotion with a pig and some dogs. Following the noise, we came to the property line, with the noise coming from just a bit farther on. The guide instructed us to remain there while he and Al went to investigate the noises.


As I stood with Chris 2 (both other hunters were named Chris), the Chris who had traveled there with Al and I said he thought he saw a turkey up the trail we were standing on. A few seconds later, after I had said I didn’t see a thing, Chris 2 said, “hell no, that’s a hog.” I still didn’t see a thing, and they turned to face the hog as it approached our position walking down the trail towards us.


All at once, we did spot it about 75 yards away and closing. I turned to see Al and our guide about the same distance away to my right, and quickly whistled to get their attention. When they turned to look, I urgently waved them our way. They began retracing their steps, and I turned to see the hog at some 50 yards and still closing. I waved again, encouraging them to hurry down (after all, Al was the only one with a bow in hand).


Now, I was turning my head back and forth like a loony toon, watching each approach my position; the pig from the front on the trail, and Al and the guide from my right in the woods. In unison, the two Chris’s knelt down and decided to get their bows from the UTV. So, here I was standing, waving, pointing, and telling Al to shoot the damn pig, with Chris 2 kneeling in front, bow now raised and aimed as the pig walked within ten yards.


Al was now a mere 20 feet to my right, and the pig was 30 feet to my front, though Al was claiming not to see it through the brush as I steadily urged him to shoot. He was hearing the same from the guide to his other side. The pig was now 15 feet in front of us, and both Chris’s were aiming and hoping (one hoping Al would whack him with his bow, while the other wanting to whack it himself with his own bow) to resolve this before the pig’s snout met theirs. All of a sudden, Al saw the hog 15 feet from me, and the hog surely went no more than that in front of Chris #2.


The pig flopped on his side and kicked for a second before expiring, and at that moment, we all began laughing and recounting our first wild hog experience. It had truly been remarkable; so much so, that even the guide, who had seen hundreds of kills, thought this one was quite unique.


I’ll have to admit, a comment was made about me looking something like a General (brave, I’m sure) pointing his soldiers to where they should be shooting. It truly must have been a hilarious sight with them kneeling in front of me and Al and the guide standing to my side, all with bows pointing and Chris 1 directing the “battle” with his finger. It did keep us amused the rest of the day anyway, and will provide us years’ worth of stories and remembrances.

We still had one afternoon left to our hunt. We enjoyed yet another great brunch (breakfast biscuits won) and siesta,as well, then we were ready to head out to our stands. We had to planned to be in them by1:30 pm. We had devised something of a plan, figuring to hunt the same area that afternoon after seeing the pig and a good bit of signs there that morning. Everyone selected their stands, and mine was to be a climber that the guide would set in a thickly-vegetated location close to the creek.


I climbed about 20 feet up in an old pine tree that was bare of branches on the bottom two thirds of the tree.  The spot offered a great view of the pine flat leading to the winding creek behind me. I was only 200 yards or so from another hunter in our group, but we had completely different views, and both being in elevated stands, we knew we were perfectly safe.


I was just beginning to settle in, and enjoying my surroundings when I heard something off to my left. It was a fat hog moving down the creek bed in my direction. I quickly got up and turned around to face the creek as the hog stopped behind a tree to feed on something lying on the ground. I raised my bow as the pig continued to walk out from behind his tree, and then I fired my bow. The fat hog ran a short distance and then dropped, with a neat hole punched clear through it lungs.  The Helix broadhead easily made a clean hole through the dense thick hide of the hog.  I sat patiently in my stand as I did not want to mess up anyone else’s hunt with my movement.  Because I stayed in my stand until dark, it took a while to locate the blood trail of what I thought had been a solid black hog. We finally found it about 20 minutes later, and the fat hog looked similar to the one that was shot that morning, a spotted hog weighing about the same at 253 pounds.  It will surely make great bacon and ham.


After we returned to camp, we enjoyed another stellar dinner, and I almost changed my mind about the dinner rolls, but I really think that the breakfast biscuits were the winner.


All in all, we felt our hunting trip was a huge success. We had harvested two hogs for the three of us in two days.  While a great time was had by all, it might not have been the outcome that we all had hoped.  It was completely acceptable in the context of only having two full days to hunt.  We also realized that we each could have taken a deer, as well, if we had gotten a combo hunting tag.  A mistake none of us will make again.  Given this was a new hunting experience for all three of us, it was a definite winner.  It is one adventure we will surely revisit again in the near future, and this time maybe stay for four days.  


Using Common Sense When Off the Ground

Have you ever wondered why some people jump out of perfectly good air planes, or why others drive dragsters over 200 miles an hour and not worry?  The answer is simple: they have on safety equipment that protects them when something goes wrong. 

There are guys who will spend well over two thousand dollars for a bow, a set of arrows, countless accessories, a tree stand and scent proof clothing, but yet are too cheap to buy a quality safety harness.  I just do not understand this thought process.  For many, this line of thinking results in severe injury or death.  

Every year, we read in the papers or in magazines about guys and gals who fall out of tree stands and are severely hurt or die, and for what?  Because they are too cheap or too lazy to wear a full body safety arrest system.  For me, the best $200.00 I could spend on hunting equipment is on a harness and a life line climbing line.  One of the best companies out there is Hunter Safety System.  All they do is make harnesses and harness accessories.  This company is dedicated to bringing you back home at the end of the hunt.  It is so simple: buckle the harness on, (which takes ten seconds) and then clip the harness in the safety carabineer before you step on the ladder to climb up the tree.  It is just that simple.  Now I have no worries.  If I slip off the ladder, not a problem, I will hang comfortably in the air until I can reach the ladder and regain my balance, or wait until one of hunting party comes along to help me down.  

There are just too many things that can go wrong when you are 20 feet in the air.  One of the most common ways in which people fall out of tree stands is that they simply fall asleep.  The early hours of the hunt, the cool breeze, the gentle rocking of the tree, put many hunters right to sleep. Many do not ever wake up again, and those that do often wake up in intensive care and suffer from severe paralysis the rest of their lives. The second most common area where hunters fall is while they are climbing up and down their ladders or climbing sticks.  Others fall out of their tree stand as they are preparing to shoot. They lose their balance or step where there is nothing but air.  

These are senseless injuries that could all have been prevented by simply wearing a full body fall arrest system.  Would you get in your car and not wear a seat belt? If so, you are gambling with your life. 

If you are going to hunt by yourself, let someone know where you are going, and when they should expect you back. Also, before you ever head into the woods, remember you have to purchase more than a bow and a license.  There are pieces of safety equipment out there specifically designed to get you into the woods and back again safely.  Please considerer all the cost associated with hunting, not just the cost of basic equipment.  

With all of today’s modern techno gadgets for hunters, there are simply no excuses for dying in the field.  Years ago we would hear tales of hunters who would die in the mountains because they would get lost and become so disoriented that they could not find their way out of the forest.  

Now, thanks to hand-held global positioning systems (many that cost less than a set of good arrows), there are fewer and fewer of these types of stories being told in deer camp.  Online, you can find free mapping programs that can give you a complete lay of the land before you ever leave your house.  There is even a spot beacon locator that allows you to communicate to friends and family that you are ok.  Heck, if you want to, you can even purchase a personal EPIRB to take with you into the woods.  There is just no excuse for getting lost.  


As a point of emphasis, I am including the Tree Stand Safety Guidelines from the Tree Stand Manufactures Association, despite some redundancy: 


ALWAYS wear a Fall-Arrest System (FAS)/Full Body Harness meeting TMA Standards even during ascent and descent. Be aware that single strap belts and chest harnesses are no longer allowed Fall-Arrest devices and should not be used. Failure to use a FAS could result in serious injury or death.


ALWAYS read and understand the manufacturer’s WARNINGS & INSTRUCTIONS before using the treestand each season. Practice with the tree stand at ground level prior to using at elevated positions. Maintain the WARNINGS & INSTRUCTIONS for later review as needed, for instructions on usage to anyone borrowing your stand, or to pass on when selling the tree stand. Use all safety devices provided with your tree stand.


NEVER exceed the weight limit specified by the manufacturer. If you have any questions after reviewing the WARNINGS & INSTRUCTIONS, please contact the manufacturer. 


ALWAYS inspect the tree stand and the Fall-Arrest System for signs of wear or damage before each use. Contact the manufacturer for replacement parts. Destroy all products that cannot be repaired by the manufacturer and/or exceed recommended expiration date, or if the manufacturer no longer exists. The FAS should be discarded and replaced after a fall has occurred.


ALWAYS practice in your Full Body Harness in the presence of a responsible adult prior to using it in an elevated hunting environment, learning what it feels like to hang suspended in it at ground level and how to properly use your suspension relief device.


ALWAYS attach your Full Body Harness in the manner and method described by the manufacturer. Failure to do so may result in suspension without the ability to recover into your tree stand. Be aware of the hazards associated with Full Body Harnesses and the fact that prolonged suspension in a harness may be fatal. Have in place a plan for rescue, including the use of cell phones or signal devices that may be easily reached and used while suspended. If rescue personnel cannot be notified, you must have a plan for recover/escape. If you have to hang suspended for a period of time before help arrives, exercise your legs by pushing against the tree or doing any other form of continuous motion or use your suspension relief device. Failure to recover in a timely manner could result in serious injury or death. If you do not have the ability to recover/escape, hunt from the ground.


ALWAYS hunt with a plan, and if possible, with a buddy. Before you leave home, let others know your exact hunting location, when you plan to return and who is with you.


ALWAYS carry emergency signal devices such as a cell phone, walkie-talkie, whistle, signal flare, PLD (personal locator device) and flashlight on your person at all times,and within reach, even while you are suspended in your FAS. Watch for changing weather conditions. In the event of an accident, remain calm and seek help immediately.


ALWAYS select the proper tree for use with your treestand. Select a live straight tree that fits within the size limits recommended in your tree stand’s instructions. Do not climb or place a tree stand against a leaning tree. Never leave a tree stand installed for more than two weeks since damage could result from changing weather conditions and/or from other factors not obvious with a visual inspection.


ALWAYS use a haul line to pull up your gear and unloaded firearm or bow to your tree stand once you have reached your desired hunting height. Never climb with anything in your hands or on your back. Prior to descending, lower your equipment on the opposite side of the tree.


ALWAYS know your physical limitations. Don’t take chances. Do not climb when using drugs, alcohol, or if you’re sick or unrested. If you start thinking about how high you are, don’t go any higher.


NEVER use homemade, or permanently elevated stands,nor make modifications to a purchased tree stand without the manufacturer’s written permission. Only purchase and use tree stands, and Fall-Arrest Systems meeting or exceeding TMA standards. 

NEVER hurry!! While climbing with a tree stand, make slow, even movements of no more than ten to twelve inches at a time. Make sure you have proper contact with the tree and/or tree stand every time you move. On ladder-type tree stands, maintain three points of contact with each step.

Copyright © 2009 by TMA


Lessons from Deer Camp

My dad never went to college: he went to Vietnam.  Yet, when I was 13, he introduced me to the greatest fraternity house on the planet.  The Buckeye Sportsmen Club was located in the small North Central Pennsylvania town of Morris.  This was my first experience at deer camp, and my first experience of what fraternity life would bring later.  From the outside, it just looked like a simple square building with four white cinder block walls and a green roof, but inside there was magic.

According to Wikipedia, fraternity and sorority housing refers largely to the houses where people live and work together. In addition to serving as housing, fraternity and sorority housing may also serve to host social gatherings, meetings, and functions that benefit the community.  This is also the definition of a deer camp.  At night, there were social events consisting of large meals and games of poker and pinochle.  Others would sit idly around and tell stories of the day’s hunt and drink beer, while some were busy planning tomorrow’s hunt.  Many would question the social benefit of deer camp, but look no further than the many wives and mothers who got some quality down time once the boys headed off to deer camp with dad.

Inside the cabin, there were no college diplomas or composite pictures of the classes that had come before.  Instead, the walls held antlers from deer, elk, and moose; turkey beards and spurs, and an old bear skin rug.  On many of the antlers, guys would hang hats and gloves to dry from the day’s hunt.  There were old sofas that guys had brought home before their wives threw them out, lining the long side perimeter walls for sitting and telling stories. There was an old, wide counter top that had been converted into a table with wooden benches for eating, and in my case, doing homework.  Just off the middle of the room was a large, old kitchen table where unshaven men played cards, smoked cigars, drank beer, and ate meals.  On the opposite perimeter wall facing the couches was a fireplace that had a wood insert in it that heated the cabin.  It was so warm inside the cabin that you had to leave the door open just to cool the place down.  On the wall adjacent the kitchen hung a gun rack for storing your weapon after the day afield, although many guys just left their guns in their trucks.

As you entered the main hall, you went about ten feet before you entered the bunk area off to your right.  There were two large bunk areas with military-style steel bunk beds.  Each bunk had a mattress to sleep, though you had to bring your own sleeping bag and pillow.  By the time you hit the bed at night, you basically passed out from exhaustion anyway, so comfort was not a prime concern.  There had to have been enough room to sleep 30 guys if necessary.

In the back of the bunk areas was the bathroom.  It was a big bathroom with a mismatched tile floor with two fiberglass campground showers, two sinks with mirrors, and two heads.  The showers were a welcome oasis after a cold day of hunting.  I am not really sure why there were mirrors, as nobody shaved and everyone wore hats.  There was not much to look at; that is for sure!

The centerpiece of the cabin was the kitchen.  It had two large gas stoves, numerous old refrigerators, and a large table which was used for baking and not eating.  One of those refrigerators was converted into a keg draft system and eventually found its way right next to the front door; the tap seemed to be open all night long.  Yet, somehow, no one ever appeared to have a hangover the next day.

I never remember eating at deer camp, yet I never remember being hungry either. I know we always took lunch into the woods, but I cannot recall what we ate for dinner or breakfast.  I made the mistake once of asking the cook one day if he was deaf and dumb after he failed to answer my question (I had just finished listening to a Rodney Dangerfield tape and thought I was being funny). However, nobody else got the joke, and before I got the last word out, my dad had me by the ear, and I was being slung to the ground.  I learned quickly not to piss off the cook, or you won’t eat.  Not to mention, if the cook is unhappy, everyone is unhappy.  So I apologized quickly and volunteered to help out in the kitchen for the next few meals doing dishes and making pies for dessert.  I quickly fell back into the good graces of everyone at camp.  It was a lesson in respect to my elders that I never forgot.  Not to mention that whomever cooks, whether at home, or at deer camp, has unyielding power over everyone.

Today, my dad belongs to the South Lebanon Hunting Camp, just down the road from Morris in the coal mining ghost town of Antrim.  While it is an older building that was built in the 1880s, it has all the charm.  It is built out of virgin growth forest pine, and covered in green asphalt shingles.  When you are inside you feel at home, regardless of who you are.  I recently spent my first hunting season in the new cabin.  While it did not yield the results I was looking for, it reaffirmed all the values that I learned as a young teen hunter in the mountains of Pennsylvania.

It’s like Christmas…but different

A short video of the night before archery season opener. Ticks (aka turkey mites) are especially bad this year. I pretreated my gear with permethrin spray and allowed it to dry before placing it in my Scent Crusher bag. Opening morning began with Dead End game calls scent free women’s line, which offers body wash, shampoo, CONDITIONER AND LOTION!! Scent Crusher OZone Go ran in the truck while I sipped my coffee and drove to my lease. My new Hunter Safety System Women’s Contour Vest kept my safe as I used a Summit Climbing stand for the first time in years!!! Opening morning takes me back to excitement a child feels at Christmas every year. It’s a time when all our hard work comes full circle. Our primal instincts are fulfilled. And the Hunter climbs back into their happy place….