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.

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. 

A Cut Above Selecting the Proper Broadhead

Every veteran bow hunter has had a range of experiences with broad heads, much like people we all have dated: some have been good, some have been bad, and some were just plain ugly.  I may have blamed a lost animal or two on a broadhead when the real problem was my lack of proper form.  I also have attributed my success to certain broad heads, when any head that would have stayed in one piece could have cleanly killed the animal.  For a lot of hunters, choosing a broadhead is a very emotional subject, and I really do not know why.  I have never gotten into a heated argument in hunting camp about which bow is the best, but I have certainly been in a number of them when it comes to choosing a broadhead. 

There are two basic types of broad heads: mechanicals and fixed blade.  Mechanical heads open two different ways.  There are over the top deploying and then there are rear deploying. Both have their followers, and both are solid choices.  Personally, I shoot the Rage two blade rear deploying broadhead.  Accuracy is the most important goal of any shot.  That has to be priority number one.  Accuracy equals dead animals on the ground.  I have talked with many people over the years, and even those that didn’t use mechanical heads stated that any broad heads that stay more or less in one piece will kill a deer-sized animal if you hit it in the right place.  Well…duh.  So then, hitting the deer in the right place is obviously a big deal, or should I say, the biggest deal? 

There are many fixed-blade heads that fly nearly as well as field points under a wide range of conditions.  This was not always true with mechanicals.  This is a relatively new thing, as only a decade ago this was not so true.  It was just impossible to achieve any sort of accuracy with anything but a fixed blade head.  Achieving accuracy with fast arrows was a huge challenge.  I spent many days each year tweaking and making tiny changes to improve my accuracy.

When I first began trying mechanical heads, taking them to the field to use on live game was a no-brainer.  My accuracy was so much more consistent; my confidence surged.  Knowing you will hit where you are aiming is huge. 

More than three years later, I am sure that I have shot more than enough big game animals (I shoot does everywhere I hunt) with mechanical heads.  My recovery rate has been very high.  I can’t think of a single shot that I would take again with a different head.  I have never had reason to question the effectiveness of the mechanical heads I have used.  I’m sure there are situations where they are inferior to fixed-blade heads, but I have not encountered those situations personally.

Any time you put a wing at the front of a projectile, you have the potential for steering.  That is exactly what you are doing when you attach a fixed-blade broadhead to your arrow.  You work hard to figure out how best to shoot a bow, and you tinker with the tuning until you have great arrow flight.  Now, the last thing you want is an arrow that decides for itself which way it will go once it leaves the bow.  With a wing at the front, there is always that potential.  The larger the wing is, the larger the potential problem.  I’m not saying a problem is guaranteed.  When you have a well-tuned bow and a perfectly straight arrow with a nock, insert, and broadhead all in alignment, and when you hold good shooting form through the shot, you will shoot most fixed-blade heads accurately.  But if any of those elements breaks down, you will have a wind-planning issue.  And the faster it flies, the more it will wind-plane, and thus move further off target.

If you remove the wing from the front of the arrow, or reduce the size of the wing, you eliminate or reduce the possibility for a problem.  The goal then becomes a combination of two tasks.  First, make the wing as small as possible.  Second, get the bow, arrow, and your shooting form as good as possible.  The smallest wing is no wing, and that is the only reason to shoot mechanical broad heads.  Your choice in broad heads will end up being as much an emotional decision as a scientific one.

A lot of guys want a small mechanical head that opens to roughly 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches.  This is perfect for young archers because if you hit the shoulder bone on the shot, you will get better penetration.  You need to be able to kill a deer that you accidentally shoot in the shoulder.  With a smaller head, you increase the odds of a clean kill due to the increased penetration.  I prefer to use the larger Rage two blades that open to two-inches, or more.  My arrows possess enough energy to shoot a mechanical that opens up to six inches, like a pair of steak knives.  Ultimately, you need to shoot what you feel confident with.  I feel confident with Rage Broadheads.

When a mechanical head opens from the back forward, it acts more like a fixed-blade head on impact.  Less of the arrow’s energy is needed to open the blades, and more of it is available to penetrate the animal.  If the blades open from the front back (the way most of them do), the shorter blades used in the smaller designs will not rob as much energy.

Mechanical heads are definitely a good choice for those who want the most accurate possible head, but they aren’t as durable as fixed-blade heads.  Because the blades of a mechanical head are unsupported, it is easier for them to break off on a bone hit.  You can expect to replace them twice as often as fixed bladed designs. 

We need to go back to the analogy of the wing on the front of the arrow.  If we make the wing smaller, it has less potential to steer the arrow.  I like the new category of fixed-blade heads also for beginning hunters that have dominated the market during the past three years.  They have short, compact blades with high blade angles.  Like mechanical broad heads with short blades, they create more of a chopping effect than a slicing effect. 

Most of us can live with a chopping effect as long as the head hits where we aim.  That is the strength of these heads: by reducing the amount of blade surface area, they fly better under a wider range of conditions and at higher arrow speeds.

Here are a few examples of this style of broadhead.  There are many on the market now and I will probably miss a few, but you will at least get the idea.  Look at the New Archery Products’ Nitron, Muzzy MX-3, Slick Trick, American Broadheads’ Sonic, Wac’ Em, Aftershock Maniac, Steel Force Sabertooth HP, Tight Point Shuttle T-Lock, Rocky Mountain Blitz, Grim Reaper Hades, G5 Striker, Rocket Bunker Buster, Wasp Boss and Innerloc Stainless Extreme.  Cut-to-the-point versions include the Magnus Stinger and the NAP Hell Razor.

These are just some of the heads on the market.  The above list is in no way comprehensive.  There are literally dozens of different fixed blade broadhead models.  Not only can you choose between several different styles of replaceable blade heads, but you can also choose between several different styles of cut-on-impact one-piece heads.  The choices can seem bewildering.

As mentioned, you can choose between one-piece cut-on-impact heads or replaceable-blade heads.  Both styles have their advantages.  Recently, the cut-on-impact heads have really improved to the point where they will fly well, even from fast compound bows.  There is no reason not to try them.  It is the perfect choice if your number one goal is penetration.  A two-bladed cut-on-impact head will penetrate better than anything else on the market, bar none.

Replaceable-blade heads are obviously easier for the majority of bow hunters to use because you don’t need to sharpen the blades.  When you shoot them, simply replace the blades with new ones.  Most replaceable blade heads have three blades, some have four blades, and a very few have two blades. 

Cutting diameter creates another tradeoff.  A large cutting diameter means more surface to potentially steer the arrow offline if you are using a fixed-blade head.  However, on impact, especially with soft tissue, having a large cutting diameter increases the chances for quick kill.  Each person must make this tradeoff for themselves.

The more blades the head has, the less it will penetrate.  This is because every blade encounters resistance when it cuts into the animal.  The more blades, the more resistance.  Beyond a certain point, you gain very little tissue damage by increasing the number of blades.  I don’t see much value in shooting heads with more than three blades, the only exception being cut-on-impact heads with two primary blades and two smaller bleeder blades.  In this case, a four-bladed head makes sense.

If you know you are going to make a perfect hit, the broadhead you choose isn’t important.  It has only to be sharp.  However, making a perfect hit is where the challenge lies.  First, you need to figure out how you will make it, and then you have to reduce the downside if you don’t.  Those are the two big issues when selecting broad heads.

Your goal should be to choose a broadhead that lets you zip your hunting arrows just as accurately as your field point tipped practice arrows.  While accuracy is priority number one, it is never guaranteed.  If you choose carefully, you will also end up with a head that offers all the penetration you need to make good on a shoulder hit.

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.