Pencils Down Lessons from the Woods

The sport of hunting teaches us more than we could ever learn in a typical classroom setting.  The woods provide us with a lifetime of learning from which the collective experience that is hunting builds a solid foundation: not only of hunting knowledge, but also of human knowledge.  It is this knowledge that can be taken out of the woods and applied to the classroom, to the boardroom, and to our everyday lives. 

Only in the woods while hunting do you fully realize that every time you pull a trigger of a gun, or release an arrow, something or someone has the potential to die.   You must respect the power of the weapon that you hold in your hands at all times.  Before you ever pull the trigger or release an arrow, you better be sure that you can kill that animal, because a wounded animal is far more dangerous than a healthy calm one.   It is the understanding of a cause and effect relationship between shooting and dying that is probably the most important lesson that hunting can teach young people and adults.

In hunting, the goal of ultimately killing an animal is how kids learn how the choices they make directly affect the things around them. For example, if you don’t stay still, the deer will spook.  If you shoot an animal, death can, and often will, result. If you do not wear a safety harness you can fall out of a tree and die.  Most American kids today don’t understand that the choices they make ultimately result in, depending on the choices made, a positive outcome or a negative outcome.  Most young people today associate killing with video games, and not to the ending of a life.  If you die in a video game, you can just hit the reset button; unfortunately, the woods, and life, do not work that way. Hunting teaches that you are directly responsible for the actions you take, and of the outcome of those actions. This is a very important lesson for living in today’s society. The choices you make affect how things turn out, and it could be positive or it could be negative. You make the choice. Is there a better lesson that could be taught to our children?  After fifteen years of teaching in a public school, I can personally attest that there is not.

Experiencing this type of power literally in your hands will give anyone a new perspective on life and on its value.  Once you have killed your first animal, you begin to fully understand that hunting equals killing.  To take the life of any animal must be done with great care, respect, and an understanding of why you are doing it.  Are you harvesting the animal for food for your family, or food for others?  Are you harvesting the animal so you can have a trophy on your wall? Can you get the animal to the butcher before the meat spoils and the kill is wasted?  Will you take the time to properly field dress the animal, even though it will make you feel uncomfortable?  Will you do these things out of respect for the animal?  All of these scenarios force hunters young and old to make sound decisions based on the value system in which they were raised. 

Defining an ethical shot is not a highly debatable topic.  Quite simply, an ethical shot is one in which you can easily place the arrow in the animal’s vitals just behind the front leg.  It is one in which you will be able to hit the heart and lungs at distance no greater than 40 to 50 yards, depending on the type of bow that you are shooting.  Remember: the further your wounded animal travels, the further you are going to have to go to recover the animal, and the more difficult it becomes to find the animal all together.  There are other things that must also be taken into consideration before shooting the animal; for instance, are there other animals behind the one that I am aiming at that could be wounded if my arrow passes through the first animal?  Are there branches, bushes, leaves or any other obstructions in my way that could deflect or alter the course of the arrow after it has been released?

The hunt also teaches how to think critically and adapt in a variety of situations.  Hunting applications change daily, sometimes hourly, and sometimes by the minute.  No two hunts are ever the same.  Questions such as, should I hunt from a tree stand or from a ground blind?  Can I stalk the animal?  What direction is the wind coming from?  Where should I put my stand?  Should I use my call?  If so, when and how often should I use it?  Other decisions, like when to shoot and what to shoot, also come into play when you are hunting.   These types of questions must be addressed every time you head into the woods.   This type of critical thinking and analysis of the environment can easily translate from the woods to the classroom or the boardroom.   It is about developing a plan and being flexible enough to change your plan when the conditions of the hunt make it necessary.

All hunters begin to have a better understanding of their environment once they begin to pursue game in it.  Every great hunter I know is a “wannabe” earth scientist.  They have an understanding of meteorology and are constantly checking wind speed and its direction.  They understand how barometric pressure and the phase of the moon affect the feeding cycles of the animals. They are part topographer and are adept at reading a variety of maps, allowing them to find pinch points and other optimal stand locations.  A hunter is part biologist, too: one should never underestimate the importance of being able to identify which plants and trees produce food for deer.  Additionally, being able to determine the age of animals and which ones to select for harvest is critical to growing bigger animals on managed properties.

A lot of hunters today have become part farmer as well.  This is directly reflected the number of companies that are making land improvement equipment and other land improvement based products for four wheelers, small tractors, and side-by-sides.  The number of products on today’s market is simply mind-blowing.    Food plots are all the rage, and every good hunter recognizes that the more they improve their big game habitat, the bigger and better animals will be able to grow and hold in a given area.   

In addition, people are developing environmental plans according to the standards set forth by the Quality Deer Management Association to improve habitat and stream flow, to build ponds, and to develop marsh land to hold deer on a given property.  Most people understand that in order to shoot the ten pointer of a lifetime, you have to pass on that deer when he is a six pointer.  By shooting only mature animals that have reached their full development, you improve the overall quality of your deer herd.   

Focus, or lack thereof, is one of the topics that seems to get more attention every year in the psychological world of this country.  The number of students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) seems to double in schools every year.  Students are reportedly unable to sit still in their desks, and constantly require some sort of electronic stimulation to help them stay on task.  I have personally seen kids that have been diagnosed with ADD and ADHD sit absolutely still and quiet for hours in the woods concentrating on the task at hand, all without medication, team-teachers, or electronic stimulation.  For example, youngsters learn to increase their attention span by sitting for long hours in a tree stand focusing on the single goal of shooting a big game animal.  Others learn to increase their focus through the endless hours of practice needed to execute the shots necessary when they are under the duress of the hunt. 

If a student can learn to focus on a series of tasks in the woods, than he/she can take that skill set into a classroom.

Hunting allows people to set goals for themselves and then teaches them what it will take to reach those goals.  Additionally, the more time someone spends practicing and honing their skills as a shooter, the more confident they will become on the range, and, in turn, become more confident in the field.  Once a student becomes more confident as a person, this will naturally spread into the classroom.  Just like with anything, the more time and effort you put into something, the greater benefit you will get out of it in the end. 

For me, the thrill of the hunt is the hunt itself.  If I get to harvest an animal, it is a bonus.  A trophy is any animal that I am able to harvest with my primitive stick and string hunting equipment.  Granted, these are not the bows of Robin Hood and his merry men.  Today’s bows are made up of a super-strong aluminum or graphite that has been machined down from a single billet to less than four pounds and can hurl an ultra-light-weight carbon arrow at the rate of 340 feet per second, but you get the idea.  It is still more primitive than a rifle or shot gun. 

When I was new to hunting, all I could think about was waterfowl hunting and the early goose season, but as I matured and saw my first gray hairs, I gained patience and the understanding of how to sit still for more than ten minutes.  My focus then began to switch to big game.   Now that I am older, I love to archery hunt for deer, elk, moose, wild hog or anything else for that matter. It is not the size of the animal: that is not important, just the opportunity to go after them.  There is something magically intimate about getting inside of an animal’s living room at a distance of 10 to 30 yards and putting the smack down on something that big. 

The soft twang of the bow string smacking up against the a rubber stopper as the arrow is released, the crack and thump of the arrow hitting the deer moments later and passing through the animal, the anticipation of the impending secondary hunt that begins at the first drop of blood from the animal, where recovering the animal is the hardest part of the harvest itself: It is just so awesome. Archery hunting is simple by design, but complex in its execution. Today’s hunters are always hunting.  Pull back on a string with an arrow, aim, and let the arrow go. 

Many people never seem to stop hunting, because even if they are not in a stand or sitting in a blind, they are always scouting for that next prize.  They find themselves constantly glassing into the woods and fields when they are on the road, carefully analyzing the area, or they are finding time to hone their shooting skills on the range so that they may make the perfect shot under pressure. 

It is an addiction that is seemingly stronger than crack cocaine.  Many would say that it costs the same as a crack habit.  Last year, hunters in the United States spent over seventy billon US dollars on hunting equipment. 

When you release your first arrow and it strikes a deer in its sweet spot, your body receives a rush of adrenaline that is so intense, you freeze that moment in time into your permanent memory bank, and your body becomes supercharged.  That is a high that no drug could ever produce. 

In Search of Tom A Virginia Turkey Hunt

It was well into the third week of the Virginia fall turkey season when my buddy Olaf called; we decided to cut out of work early Friday afternoon and head towards his family’s farm in Fauquier County.  Olaf had been bitten by the turkey hunting bug since the season before, when he bagged his first gobbler with a bow, and has been obsessed with turkey hunting ever since.   

We got down to their farm late Friday afternoon, and as we got out of the car, we were greeted by Olaf’s family.  They told us that they had seen a couple of big turkeys down by the pond that was located just about 200 yards below the barn.  We rushed into the house and put on all of our camo gear, but by the time we got back out of the house, the birds had already begun to move up into the field behind the barns with some hens.  All we could do was sit and watch them work their way up to the woods and fly up to roost.  At least we knew where they were.  Even though we did not get to unleash an arrow, it was still an incredible sight to see on a cool fall evening.  After it got dark, we walked backed to the house where we found an incredible meal prepared by Olaf’s dad. 

We got some good footage of the turkeys from a trail cam that Olaf had set up a few weeks before, and we thought that one might have had a double beard, but it was hard to see in the pictures or video.  As soon as we stepped out of the old farm house on Saturday morning, we could hear thunderous gobbles beginning to erupt all around us.  We set up on the tip of a finger of the woods that jutted out into the field next to where the birds had come up to from the pond Friday night.  I started in with some soft yelps, to get their attention; as it got close to fly down time, I pulled the fly down call out of my bag of tricks.  A fly-down cackle is a good call to use to let gobbler know that a hen is on the ground.  As odd as it sounds, I always wait to use this call until I know the toms are on the ground.  It’s been my experience that a fly-down cackle often works best if the gobbler is already on the ground before you call.  Otherwise, a lazy tom may stay on the roost; waiting for what he thinks is a hen turkey to come to him before he flies down.

Soon after I made the fly down call, birds started running down from the ridge above and into the soybean field.  It was difficult to tell if they were toms or hens, but one bird in particular was very easy to make out.  This big tom landed towards the middle of the field and immediately went into full strut, puffing his chest out for all to see.  Through my binoculars I could clearly see not one, but two, nice, thick, long beards that were probably close to ten inches.  My heart pounded as I realized that this obese gobbler might be the biggest bird that I had seen in a few years.   

I let out a few yelps on the mouth call, and he broke strut and started trotting towards us.  He slowed down a bit, looked around, and started then to strut again; eventually, he worked his way over to our left to meet up with the second tom that had flown in right next to us, but had remained hidden behind a patch of bamboo trees.

As if this weren’t enough to focus on, the hens had moved to our right, and we were in the perfect position; toms to the left, hens to the right, decoys in the middle, and our bows nocked and ready.  I started in with some clucks and purrs on my glass slate call, and was immediately rewarded with ear drum, bone shaking gobbles.  It was clear that both birds were very close and coming even closer.  I put my call back in my pocket and grabbed my bow and got ready. 

By this time, both toms were now clearly in sight, and I was astonished at how fat they looked in full strut at 40 yards.  Everything was going just as planned; they were working their way towards the decoys that were 20 yards in front of us; when, suddenly, one of them stopped and raised his head nervously, and began looking around for signs of danger.  I thought at any moment he would turn and run, and that the other big tom would scurry off into the woods.

At that moment, I made a split-second decision.  I thought that they were no more than 35 yards, a shot I believed I could make.  I settled the sight pin on his body and released the arrow.  It felt like I swallowed my throat, when, to my bewilderedness, at the moment I released my arrow, he flew to the other edge of the field and sprinted into the woods, no worse for the wear.  I couldn’t believe that I had just shot right over top of the turkey.  I had blown my shot at possibly the biggest bird that I will ever see.  I was in complete disbelief. 

I had made one key mistake that morning.  I normally use my range finder to determine the exact distance from the decoys back to where I’m sitting, so I can better judge the distance when I cannot get to my range finder, or don’t want to make any excess movement.  I obviously forgot to do that, because I later ranged out to where the toms were, and it was 20 only yards.  Devastated, I had no clue what to do next, until we heard gobbles coming from the field at the top of a huge ridge.

It was quite a hike up to the top of the ridge to get to the field, but the sound of the gobbles getting closer and closer helped push my mind off the burning sensation coming from my thighs and calves.  As we neared the top of the road, sweat had soaked through all of my clothing.  As we got closer to the field where we thought they were, we decided to crawl the last 100 yards, or so, in case the birds were in sight of the entrance to the field.  It turns out the only thing that spotted our approach was a herd of horses who had escaped from a neighbor’s farm.

We glassed for the gobblers and found that the turkeys were on the opposite edge of the field.  I decided it would be best to stay on our side and attempt to call them to us, rather than take the chance of spooking them while trying to get closer.  I set the decoys out, and we melted into the brush a little ways from the edge of the field.

I threw out some sweet sounding yelps from my slate call, mixed in with some clucks and purrs.  I was answered by double gobbles, and watched as two toms began making their way towards us.  I threw in some KeeKee calls to see if I could get any more to answer.  After about five minutes of calling, we saw two white heads bobbing just on the other side of the hill.  The white heads soon materialized into two great looking long beards.  My heart started its usual dance as the pair looked towards the decoys and went into full strut.  They continued to work closer to us, but hung up at about 60 yards as turkeys all too often do.  They didn’t seem to like something about the decoys, and leisurely skirted past us, never coming closer than the 60 yards, no matter how much I pleaded with them.

Monday morning happened to be a holiday, so we had off and decided to stay at the farm an extra day to hunt.  We started on the opposite end of the farm where we had watched birds go to roost Saturday night.  We set up in the field where we expected them to fly down to, but that apparently wasn’t on their itinerary for the day.  They proceeded to fly down in the exact opposite direction into a cut power line and worked their way feeding up the ridge instead of moving our direction.

At this point, I was pissed, and was convinced I was going home empty handed.  We were unsure what our next move was, but figured that a weak plan was better than no plan.  We decided to head back up to the bluff in the hopes that there would still be a lonely long beard wandering around up there looking for the rest of the flock.

We were both pretty tired and worn out from hiking all across the farm, so we decided to take the Bad Boy Buggy half way up the bluff road and walk the rest.  As soon as we killed the engine on the cart, we heard another engine; it was the drone of a tractor working the very soybean field that we were headed towards.

We both had a sinking feeling that we were doomed, but as the tractor made its way to the far edge of the field and grew quiet, we both heard gobbles from the opposite end of the field.  We decided to go ahead and try our luck.  We glassed the birds in some open oaks a little ways off of the field, and set up on them.  I was able to coax just two gobbles, and a whole lot of hen talk, before the crowd went silent.  It was clear that the hens were not about to let some newcomer steal their boy from them, and moved off with the tom in toe.

I was even more pissed now, as we were once again at a loss as to what to do next.  In the meantime, the tractor had left after he finished pulling the soybeans.  A big part of me hoped that the turkeys would return, now that it was quiet, to feast on what the farmer had just left behind.

About that time, we heard a gobble from the corner of the field where the tractor had been working.  We decided to work our way around the edge of the field to where the bird was and try to be as inconspicuous as possible.  As we were about to crest a small rise in the field, Olaf put out his hand and stopped me dead in my tracks.  He had somehow spotted a tom fanned out in a corner of the field that was less than 100 yards away.  Thank goodness for his good eyes: two more steps and that tom would have busted us for sure!

We backed down the hill a ways and tucked into the woods.  Three yelps on the mouth call were answered quickly by a deep roaring gobble.  I slid the slate glass call from its pouch in my pocket, thinking this big guy was going to need some clucks and purrs to convince him to come in.  As I did, I let out a few more yelps on the mouth call and about jumped out of my skin when he let out a gobble that reverberated through me.  I realized he had already closed the distance more than half way and would be visible any second now. I set the slate glass down, and it was now “go time.”  This time, I remembered my range finder and I knew exactly what distance I was shooting. 

Just as I was about to draw, the big beautiful tom appeared in full strut, not but 20 yards away and pounded out two more gobbles.  I was in awe at how beautiful he looked in full strut, but quickly came to my senses as he stretched his neck out in search of the hen who had enticed him over with her sweet words.

I squeezed the trigger on my release, the arrow quickly found its mark in the bird, decapitating the bird and the big tom collapsed.  Olaf was the first to let out a hoot, and we commenced with back slapping and high-fives with giant smiles on our faces.  We marveled at the big tom lying in front of us and talked about how it had been such a roller coaster of emotions during the last day and a half of hunting.  The tom was a great bird with a ten inch beard and two inch spurs.  It weighed more than 25 pounds, though I didn’t get an accurate weight.  He was a great bird by anyone’s standards, and he tasted just fine.

An Exercise in Patience and Fitness A Hunt for a Dall Ram

Like many hunting stories, this one started last year with a phone call from a stranger who is now a good friend.  Outfitter Forest Smith of Southern Gold Mine Outfitters called to inform me I had drawn one of the most coveted tags Alaska has to offer: Dall sheep, unit 14C, archery only.

Forest’s call was quite a shock, as I had no hopes of actually winning this bow hunting lottery.  I had been applying for this tag for the last ten years and had never been chosen.  After a lengthy conversation with Forest, I immediately called a few of my friends who frequently hunted in Alaska and listened to their praise for him.  He was a legend.  Soon, I called Forest back and said, “Forest, it’s Steve, and I will be seeing you in October.”  The hunt was now booked, and it was up to me to turn up the dial on my workout meter!  I needed to lose 50 pounds if I was going to be able to do this hunt.  My weight has been a constant battle I have fought since my mid-twenties.  Hunting has served as a great motivator to get in shape and loose unwanted weight each summer. 

After five months of training, my mind and body were ready.  The only problem would be leaving my daughters for such a long time.  I would be gone for at least two full weeks, and possibly a third. The thought was weighing heavily on my mind, but I also knew if Campbell was 25 instead of 4, she would be stoked for me to go on the hunt of my lifetime.  In fact I am positive she would be trying to go with me.  So, I set my sights on this hunt, made the plan, and visualized success!

September 30th had finally arrived, and it was time for my epic adventure to begin.  I had been waiting for this day for over twenty years.  This was one of the hunts I dreamt about when I was kid.  Like all hunting trips, this one began by getting all of my stuff through the airlines and to my final destination.  That, in and of itself, can be a nightmare.  Fortunately for me, this time everything arrived with me.  Luckily, I found a direct flight from D.C. to Anchorage.  With a direct flight, I knew I was more likely to land with all of my belongings than if I had taken a cheaper two stop flight. 

After landing in Anchorage, I collected my gear and made my way to the hotel for a good night of rest and reorganization.  All I could think about was if I was really ready for this.  I wondered whether I had trained enough, whether my job would be okay without me, and most importantly, whether my girls would be okay.  I had my cell phone and a newly purchased satellite phone so I would always be able to communicate with them.  For anyone who plans to go on any hunt where cell phone service is nonexistent, or sketchy at best, a satellite phone is well worth the investment.  It not only becomes a piece of comfort equipment like a good sleeping bag, it becomes a piece of survival equipment like a first aid kit.  I really had to make an effort to not let my mind run away with the low percentage “what if’s” and “maybes” that were tormenting me.  I just kept thinking about the Zen master Phil Jackson and his book along with its great lessons.  The practice of positive visualization came into play, and it slowly began to lead me in a positive mental direction.  I couldn’t wait for this hunt to begin.

An Alaskan Dall sheep hunt requires extreme physical and mental fitness on the part of the hunter and the guide.  After a full-day hike into base camp, hunters can expect to spend their days climbing and descending several thousand feet at a time as they attempt to glass for trophy rams.  Again, I said to glass for them, there is no guarantee you are even going to see one.

The next morning, I re-packed my backpack, got my personal bag together, and made positively sure my bow was ready.  I spent an hour shooting in the parking lot out to distances of 60-80 yards.  At 7:30, Shane Reynolds, one of my guides, showed up at the hotel to pick me up, and we were off to meet Forest at a small airport about an hour away and then would head out to our spike camp.  Forest’s wife, Linda, and their two kids were there to give their daddy a proper send off before he headed off, once again, into the Alaskan bush.

Forest talked to Shane the entire drive up to the trail head in the famous Chugach Mountains.  Almost all of unit 14C is located within Chugach State Park, which covers 495,000 acres in Southeast Alaska.  Fortunately, it was an area Forest and Shane knew well.  They discussed certain land features and past hunts they had worked on together and a part, and described where particular bands of sheep possibly were, and how we would go after them, how we would make our approach, and how to maximize a shot opportunity.  That’s all you get there, is just one shot.  I paid close attention trying to familiarize myself to the features they discussed.

Accommodations on an Alaskan Dall Sheep Hunt aren’t fancy; but after climbing mountains all day in search of a trophy ram, extreme comfort isn’t usually required to fall asleep.  Our camp consisted of tents with sleeping bags and portable stoves for cooking.  Prepared, freeze-dried meals in a bag would be plentiful.  I felt like I was like a kid on his first dove hunt; I was beyond excited to be one of the very few who had been granted permission to hunt these awesome animals with bow and arrow!  Adrenaline was starting to build.  When we arrived at the trail head after what seemed like an eternity, we immediately started to prepare the final preparations for the nine hour hike into the Alaskan wilderness. 

It was about 10:00 am, and we were on the trail with our heavy packs.  In my mind, I knew I was ready because I had trained exactly for this!  Training is a must for this type of hunt.  I had spent the spring and summer training with an eighty pound pack on my back five to six days a week.  My motto was “train harder than you will hunt,” and now it was about to start paying off.

After two hours, we stopped for a quick lunch break.  I asked Shane how much farther it would be to our camp.  “Oh, about 12 more miles should get us to the general area where we’ll start looking for sheep,” he said matter-of-factly.  Believe me when I say, I thought he was pulling my leg…he wasn’t!  Seven hours later, we stopped to set up camp, but only because it was about to get dark.  We were still about two miles from where base camp would be located.

The next morning was cold, and Shane had the camp stove fired up and hot coffee was soon to follow.  The mountains that surrounded us were quiet, yet screamed with adventure.  After a quick breakfast, we hastily packed up camp and headed up the moose trail towards what I will call “Emotion Mountain.”  After about 15 minutes, Forest pointed out a healthy grizzly on the mountainside.  You could tell these two spent many months each year hunting wild game in the Alaskan bush.

Only in their early 30’s, Forest and Shane are well- seasoned guides, and they really know how to have a good time and make hunts fun; that is if Dall sheep hunting can really ever be described as fun.  It can be the most rewarding hunting experience of your life, but fun?  Ask an experienced sheep hunter that question, and I’m sure you’ll get a surprising answer.

Later that afternoon, Forest spotted a band of sheep with a pretty good ram in the group.  We looked him over through the spotting scope, and the general consensus was that he was good, but we should continue glassing.  I had told them I would be happy with any ram, they both told me not to settle for anything less than a true trophy.  After climbing for another 45 minutes up a small “hill,” as Forest called it, we leveled out and slowly moved around Emotion Mountain.  We set up to glass for the rams we had seen earlier.  As I sat there with the cold wind blowing in my face, I let my mind race off again and dreamed of the giant rams that lived here on this mountain.

Soon, it was back to the task at hand, which was keeping up with my guides and spotting sheep.  I thought I better get focused, because these two guides weren’t here to babysit.  I can tell you one thing, as long as I was safe, they weren’t waiting for me. 

That evening, we climbed high on the mountain and glassed for a few hours.  Forest and Shane kept whispering as they glassed the hills, “They’re here.  I know they’re here.”

After hearing that, I was confident the rams were in fact there, but also knew they must have gone higher up the mountain.  Going any further would not be in our best interest, as they most likely would catch our wind and be gone.  And when sheep are gone, they are just that; gone for days.  We elected to back off and search for these rams from farther down the mountain.  Soon after we descended, we found the rams and watched them get out of their beds and walk within 20 yards of the position we had just left early in the day.  We continued watching them until they were out of sight, which was our sign to head back to camp and get ready for the next day.

On morning three, we woke up to yet another awesome day.  Yeah, my boots were frozen solid, and rather than try to pry my feet into them and wear them around camp for about 30 minutes before I could tie the laces, I opted to put on my sneakers and set my boots by the fire to warm them up.  It was still an awesome morning, even if I had to defrost my boots.  The sun would soon be over head, my feet would be warm, and my belly full of Forest’s gourmet instant coffee and oatmeal.  We didn’t even eat much breakfast that morning.  Instead, we threw some energy bars into our packs, gulped a cup of hot coffee, and headed up the mountain after the two rams we had seen the night before.  Forest stayed on the valley floor, and Shane marched me up the mountain.  I kept positive and reminded myself I wasn’t a slouch in the mountains either.  I had hunted deep into the Montana wilderness many a times, played lacrosse, and had trained hard.  So, I figured I could keep up well enough, but I was only fooling myself.  By the time we got to our first glassing position, I was sweating like a fox in a forest fire, and Shane was proving just how seasoned he actually was.  He was hardly breaking a sweat!

After Shane let me catch my breath, he told me he was just going to peek around over the edge to see where the rams were.  Soon, he returned and said, “Let’s go!”  Quickly, I put on my pack and followed him through some unfriendly terrain.  Shane moved like a mountain goat, and I followed in his footsteps.  Soon, we were right on top of two giant rams, but still out of bow range.  The wind was perfect, so we watched the rams feed, and Shane got some great video footage. 

After watching for an hour, the rams began to move up-hill, and Shane and I followed, always climbing just a bit higher than the rams as to prevent them from catching our wind.  Shane whispered “82 yards,” a little too far for my bow.  So we waited and waited, and climbed higher and higher, until we ran out of cover.  It was at this point, many hunters elect to pull out the gun.  But, on this hunt, it just wasn’t an option.  This was a bow hunt, and I am a bow hunter.  Eventually, the rams caught our wind and climbed up and away from danger.

Later that day, we caught up with Forest and had lunch.  We continued to glass Emotion Mountain and found our two rams from earlier that morning.  The only difference was, they were about 2,000 feet higher.  We also spotted a group of five rams and watched them the rest of the day.  They just kind of hung out, and we bedded down with them for the afternoon.  Just before dark, three of the five came down the mountain to feed on some of the last remaining grasses.  We left them there, feeding peacefully, but knew tomorrow would be a different day.

The next morning, we headed back to our glassing location about a mile up the river.  Soon, we spotted two of the rams from the previous evening.  After watching them for a while, Forest said, “Look, they are right where we want them. Let’s go!”  And off to the races we went!  Again, Forest and Shane showed why they are professional guides and sheep hunting extraordinaire.  They are mentally tough, physically strong, and most important, driven to assist their hunters to succeed.  When they say, “Let’s go,” they mean “Let’s go!”!  By the time I had shouldered my pack, I was 100 yards back and had to double time to catch up.  Twenty minutes later, we were directly across the river and about 1,500 feet below the two shooter rams.  This time, Shane stayed to direct Forest and me.  It was still very early in the morning, and I did not have those 30 minutes to warm up my frozen boots enough to tie them tight before we headed out.  I was climbing in loose boots, but it didn’t matter, because we had a “giant ram” to stalk, and I had a great guide pulling me up the mountain to do just that.

After a 25 minute climb, Shane signaled that we were even with the rams.  Gulping breaths of air, Forest and I labored to whisper to one another about our plan of attack.  Shane signaled the rams were 300 yards away, and as we moved, he signaled 200 yards.

From afar, we must have looked like two hungry coyotes moving in on a well-guarded chicken coop.  Soon, Shane signaled 100 yards.  I couldn’t believe what was happening, and adrenaline definitely took over.  I wasn’t tired, cold, or nervous.  My feet no longer hurt.  And, like my two guides, I was feeling seasoned.  Forest said, “Give me a puff,” and I was like, “Huh?” And he said “Give me a puff!” again; then I remembered my wind checker.  I checked the wind, and it was perfect.  We continued to move to what we figured was about 80 yards from the rams.  There, we dropped our packs and became one with the mountain as we morphed into extreme stealth mode.

After slithering in another 30 yards, Forest slowly raised his head and peeked over the ridgeline.  He immediately dropped back and whispered, “They are right there!” He ranged them at 50 yards.  I nocked my arrow and started visualizing my broadhead slicing through the vitals of a giant ram.  Forest nodded as if to say, “Let’s go.  It’s show time, Steve.”  I slowly stepped toward the sheep and moved to the edge.  I could see the back of one of the rams and knew he was feeding toward me.  I ranged him at 42 yards, came to full draw, and slowly stood up.  As I cleared the grass, I suddenly moved my eyes to the left, and spotted a ram at 18 yards!  He was larger than the other, and at freaking 18 yards!  I immediately focused on the closer, bigger ram, turned quickly, and picked a spot just behind his front leg.

At the release, everything seemed to go into slow motion.  The arrow struck just behind the heart and passed through the ram to the gravel mountainside.  As the ram ran uphill, I had already nocked another arrow.  He stood there, looking back at where he had been standing, rather than take a chance of him going much further, I ranged him at 70 yards and let another fly, and watched the bright Blazer vanes disappear into the vitals.

After the shot, both rams ran away from us along the slope, but my ram was leaving a crimson trail for us to follow.  Just 54 yards out, he crashed, rolled over, and landed softly on the only flat spot in sight.  At this moment, I heard a distant “Whoa, yeah!” from about a mile away.  It was Shane celebrating.  He had witnessed the entire stalk from the riverbed below.

I raised my arms to the sky, followed by my eyes, and lastly, my heart.  I could feel the powers from above touching me.  Within seconds, I was experiencing emotions I had never experienced before.  The lump in my throat brought on salty tears I just couldn’t fight back.  I dropped to my knees and placed my hands over my face. There was no stopping the flood of emotions.  I prayed; thanking the Lord above for all that he had given me.  As I knelt there, I thought about my early failures as a whitetail hunter, and just how far I had come. 

Soon, Forest came to my side and slapped me on the shoulder. I hugged him and said, “Thank you!”  I was so happy and thankful that I could hardly talk.  Forest and Shane had guided me to a real “smoker ram,” and I was now feeling seasoned enough to be a part of their team, which was a good thing, since we still had a 22 mile hike back to the truck.

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.

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.