I Shot a Deer: Now What? On the Trail

After sitting in the cold for hours, you finally get to draw back your bow.  You stare through your peep sight and down the sight, focusing your sight pin on a single hair on the deer’s body.  You ignore the coat rack on top of his head, and you take a deep breath while gently squeezing your release, sending the arrow hurling towards your target.  Schwack, thump, your arrow has hit its mark.

Carefully watch the deer as it runs off into the distance.  If you are hunting over an open field or some other type of open terrain, follow him with your binoculars for as long as you can.  Listen to hear any sounds of breaking sticks or wrestling of leaves: anything that might sound like a crashing animal that might give you a clue later to his final resting place. 

Your heart is racing and your blood is pumping through your body like never before.  You are beginning to uncontrollably shake a little as your body gets a full shot of adrenaline.  Despite the freezing temperature outside, your body is now warm from the excitement of the shot.   Quietly, you cheer and pump your fist to celebrate from your perch.  Your body is experiencing a natural high from all the excitement. You check your watch, note the time, and wait to climb out of your stand, for if you don’t and the deer is still nearby, you will spook him.

Finally, after a 30 minute wait, which seemed like an eternity, you can climb down out of the tree and the process of blood trailing begins.  That ever-slow process by which you’re carefully following every single drop of blood on the ground, leaves, trees, rocks, and anything else it ends up on, until it leads you to the animal that you just shot.  Once on the ground, make sure that you nock another arrow; you just never know when you might need to shoot again. 

If it’s raining, snowing, or precipitating in any way, you should climb down immediately, as the rain and the snow make it difficult to find the blood, for it gets washed away fairly quickly. 

Before you take a single step down the trail, you need to determine where you shot the deer on its body.  The first clue of where a deer was hit, is its initial reaction to the arrow.  If the deer was shot through the heart and lungs, its back legs will typically buck up in the air, much like a bull does when it leaves the chute at a rodeo.  If the deer gets shot in the stomach area, it will run away hunched over.  A deer that gets shot in the spine will drop immediately to the ground and will require a second shot to kill it.

If you are not sure of where you shot the deer, a second indicator of where a deer was hit begins with an arrow examination.  If the arrow has little-to-no blood on only one side of the shaft and one or two fletching’s, or has meat or hair on it, it is likely a meat hit.  If there is no blood, you probably shot the deer in “no man’s land” and the deer will likely heal and live.  Any vital cavity hit will completely cover the arrow in blood.  An arrow covered with bright, red, frothy blood that bubbles signifies a lung hit.  Dark red blood is from the liver or stomach area and will stink.  A leg hit produces thin watery blood.

You are going to have to wait longer to track a liver or stomach-hit deer.  Patiently wait three to four hours before following the deer.  If an animal was shot in the gut, wait at least 12 hours.  This will give the animal the chance to bed several times and die.  It is typically more profitable to wait too long to track, rather than not long enough.

Once the blood trail has been located, do not leave it to randomly search the woods.  Always stick with the blood trail moving cautiously and slowly.  You never want to jump an injured deer, as they can run a long way on adrenaline.  Constantly scan your periphery for the deer.  I have had a lot of deer run a curl pattern on me. 

Attempting to find deer in dense terrain is nearly impossible without a blood trail.  Even if you think you know where the deer went down, just stay on the trail.  As you follow your trail, it is often helpful to use neon colored survey tape to make the blood trail.  This will give a reference point to look back to if you lose the trail at any point.  As you are trailing the deer, stop every ten yards and use your binoculars to look ahead.  When looking out ahead of a blood trail, look at the tree stumps, compost piles, hay bales, and such, as deer will often curl up next to these items.  I have even had one crawl into a thicket and die there. Patience is your best friend when you are trailing deer. 

You do not want to spook the deer if he has not died yet.  If you go more than 150 yards and do not find him, stop, back out, and wait four more hours.  Deer will head to water when they are injured.  If you shoot a deer near a creek or a river, expect the deer to head in that direction. 

Blood trailing is best done with the help of only one other person.  Any more than that will make too much noise and could spook the deer.  If it is dark, make sure you have a high-quality blood trailing flashlight.  You should only ever add additional people after several hours of searching and when you are going to do a grid search. 

Sometimes, you may even be down crawling on your hands and knees.  It is when you find your dead animal that you can truly appreciate the power and magnitude of the weapon that you hold in your hand.  It is also the moment you realize how majestic the animal is that is laying front of you.  It will definitely cause you to pause for moment and thank the Lord above. 

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. 

Aiming Points – Dead Down Wind

Nothing bothers me more in hunting than failing to find an animal that I shot.  Knowing well ahead of time what represents a good first shot will make you a more aggressive and successful deer hunter.  Knowing when not to shoot will make you a more ethical deer hunter.  Too many people get caught up in the moment and lose focus, and thus lose their best opportunity to shoot. 

While many people go with the “if it’s brown, it’s down” philosophy, others take a more mature attitude when hunting.  This is evident in the size and age of deer they shoot.  It is important that you evaluate every situation and be able to differentiate between a good shot and a bad shot.  Making the right shot takes time and practice in the field and on the range.

If you are hunting with a gun, a head-on shot is an option.  This should never be done with a bow.  This shot presents gun hunters with three vital targets.  A shot in the chest will hit the heart or lungs.  A bullet in the neck will usually break the neck or cause enough shock to drop the animal instantly. It could also destroy the esophagus and/or carotid artery or jugular vein.

For a bow hunter, the best shot is when a deer or any other animal is standing broadside to you.  With this shot, the archer has the ability to easily pass the arrow through both lungs and the heart.  This will allow for the quickest and most ethical kill.  Look for a spot one third to one half up the deer, and about a hand’s width behind the shoulder.  That is your aiming point.  You should avoid hitting the shoulder blade, as this will cause your arrow to deflect away from its intended target.

For archers, the quartering-away shot offers a chance for success in the field.  Even if the arrow hits a bit too far back, it can angle the arrow forward into the chest cavity for a quick kill.  When taking this shot, the point of aim should be through the deer to the opposite shoulder.

When an animal is quartering towards the hunter, the shot should not be taken.  It is possible for a properly placed arrow to hit the vitals and make for a clean kill.  However, often times when bow hunters take this shot, they miss the lungs and hit the stomach and intestines.  This will ruin most, if not all, of the meat on the deer.  It is better to simply wait for a better shot to present itself.   

Making a clean and quick kill should be the goal every hunter.  Thinking each shot through will help you become a better and more ethical hunter.  Remember the list of facts below to help you become a better hunter in the field.

When shooting at deer with bow and arrow, aim for the heart regions.  If the deer “jumps the string” by dropping sharply before bounding away, the arrow will still hit the lungs.

The average Whitetail deer, weighing about 150 pounds, carries about eight pounds of blood in its circulatory system.  Massive hemorrhage is necessary to bring the deer down quickly.

A deer must lose at least 35 percent of its blood.  The better the hit, the quicker the loss.  Deer blood carries high levels of vitamin K in early autumn.  Vitamin K is an anti-hemorrhage agent, which greatly aids blood clotting.

Frightened Whitetails produce high levels of B-endorphin, which supports rapid wound healing.

Deer, particularly in northern areas, have thick layers of tallow along the back and below the brisket.  This can plug wounds, preventing a good blood trail.

Remember, above all else: if you have any doubts about the shot, do not shoot.  Be patient and wait for the animal to give you the opportunity to take a quality shot.

Scouting – These Are Not Your Grandparents’ Woods

Daylight was just breaking on a late-December morning.  I had been in the barn stand overlooking a small area that I had cut free of trees and was littered with old rotting logs.  I was freezing and could not wait for the warming rays of the sun to get above the horizon and begin to thaw my body.

As time passed, I sat quietly and watched the squirrels go to and fro looking for food to stuff in their thin winter cheeks.  Then, around mid-morning as I was about to climb down out of my stand, I spotted him.  I looked through my binoculars and discovered what I had been waiting for: a beautiful ten point, the one I had named “Rusty” because of his reddish brown tone.

How did I know it was Rusty?  Just by looking at his antlers.  I had seen him numerous times on the trail cameras that I had set up around my property.  Today’s trail cameras are awesome, with fast shutter speeds, infrared flashes, and animal centering technology.  You never know what you might see when you download your pictures.  Those ghostly deer images, which we used to only be able to see through a thick fog, have now given way to full-color photographs and the ability to name and monitor deer. 

I only recently began using trail cameras, and now I wonder how I ever hunted without them.  They definitely make hunting more fun.  Every time I go into an area where I have cameras set up, I can target a specific deer.  It can also give me specific information about what times certain deer visit certain areas.  Am I always successful at targeting the bucks that I see on the pictures?  No, but it does give me one more tool in my arsenal to make me a more successful hunter and put the odds in my favor. 

How do you choose the right camera for you?  The age old adage of “You get what you pay for” has never been truer than when it comes to buying a trail camera.  You should buy the best camera that you can afford to buy.  If you have to choose between buying one $200.00 camera or two $100.00 cameras, buy the one that costs more and move it around your property.  You will be much happier with the results in the end.  Build your trail camera arsenal slowly over time, and you will be thankful that you did.

One of the main features that you will have to decide between, at any price range, is whether to purchase a flash camera or a no-flash, infrared camera.  The infrared cameras are becoming more popular with hunters these days; however, I prefer the flash style because of their ability to take color photos at night.  Some hunters want to argue that the flash scares the deer, but I have plenty of photos that show otherwise.  Others features on digital cameras include being able to erase unwanted pictures, downloading the photos onto your computer, and putting the photos in different files for viewing and management purposes.

Common sense in using trail cameras is useful and smart.  I know it sounds stupid to say, but if you photograph a big buck in a certain area, odds are he will be harvested within a half mile of that area.  I have learned that if you stick to an area where a certain buck was photographed, your chances of harvesting him will go up.

If I know about a certain buck from earlier photos, I’ll try to locate him in the fall by placing cameras in areas where I think he will be.  I begin the process of trying to locate a summer monster in late September, and use cameras throughout the hunting season. If you set up a camera on a scrape area, the number of pictures you get will often be low, but most of them will be bucks.

I’ve gotten pictures of as many as eight bucks on one scrape in one night. A key behavior pattern I’ve learned through the use of trail cameras is that older bucks don’t always visit the same scrapes every night.  Instead, most mature bucks I’ve photographed seem to be on a three- to six-day rotation.  That means if a buck was in an area, he will be back. This knowledge keeps me in the woods longer, and ultimately increases my hunting success.

After the season is over, it’s time to find a mature buck for next season.  Using trail cameras for this endeavor is much more than a hobby for me.  I enjoy it as much as I do actually hunting, if not more.  The first thing you want to do is make sure you know how your camera operates before placing it in the woods.  Most cameras will trigger themselves when facing direct sunlight, and you don’t want moving limbs, sticks or weeds in front of your camera lens.

Where is the best place to put a post-season camera?  Food sources or feeders (if you use feeders) are always excellent locations in which to get multiple pictures of different animals.  If you do set up over a feeder, be sure to set your camera’s timer to take pictures at 15- to 20-minute intervals because the animals are usually there for a while and you don’t want to end up with 10 pictures of the same deer.

Older aged bucks usually won’t come to new feeders.  However, if you put some feed on the edge of a food plot or trail, they’ll often come to this feed without hesitation.  Doing this may get you a picture of an old buck that no one has ever seen before.

As mentioned, I like to use my cameras year-round.  This enables me to monitor such important things as when bucks are shedding their antlers, when fawns are being dropped, when new antler growth starts (allowing me to watch the progress of that growth), when the bucks start getting back into their bachelor groups, and when they start shedding their velvet.  Perhaps, most importantly, my cameras help me pinpoint areas where the bigger bucks are hanging out before anyone else knows this information.  This is also a great way to get younger kids involved in hunting.  My two year old daughter loves to fill feeders and check the cameras.  It is one of the things that we can do together before she learns to hunt.

Trails are good bets for locations likely to provide a variety of deer photos, but unless you have a quick-reaction camera, you will miss a lot of pictures.  For a trail setup, place the camera facing up or down the trail so the deer will be in the trigger area longer. With the aid of my trail cameras photos, I try to keep an annual log of how many different deer I know about in certain areas and what their ages are.  It is important to keep track of your does as well as your bucks.  If you do not have a good number of does, bucks will not frequent your area as often.  Also, if you have too many does, you will need to do some population control hunting. 

The cameras also allow you to determine which bucks made it through the season, so that in January or February I can start planning to fatten them up for the next season.

Here Deer, Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are – Calling and Decoying Tips for Bringing Them in Closer

Okay, so you bought a call, now what?  You have two choices: use it or lose it.  If you bought a call, the only way you are going to know how effective it truly can be is if you learn how to use it and learn from your mistakes when you use it.  Everyone hits a bad note now and then and scares off a deer.  That is just part of the learning curve.  You will learn more from your failures than you will from your successes.  It is just like anything else: the more you use it, the more proficient you will become at it.  Get yourself a quality CD or DVD and listen and learn how to reproduce the sounds that deer make from the professionals. 

Some calls are so simple, like a can call, and all you have to do is turn them over and they produce a perfect doe bleat.  Unlike waterfowl calls, deer calls are extremely affordable and very user-friendly.  Most cost fewer than $25.00, and are found at sporting goods stores everywhere.  Rattling bags and rattling horns are designed to imitate the sounds of two bucks sparring in the woods.  Whether you choose a can call, a mouth call, or rattling antlers, if you are not going to use them, then just leave them in the truck.  They will just get in the way. 

There are four basic sounds that every hunter should know how to make.  A doe bleat, a snort/wheeze, a grunt, and a growl.  By mastering these four sounds, you will become a much more effective hunter in the woods.  Each of these calls has a time and purpose.  A bleat is the sound a doe makes throughout the year, but in particular during the rut.  The wheeze is a defensive sound that is supposed to intimidate other animals.  The grunt is the basic “what’s up?” sound in the deer world.  It is a greeting call.  Finally, the growl is a sound of dominance that bucks make during the rut to get the attention of a hot doe. 

When to call is a question that is up for debate.  For me, I like to wake them up early, right before dawn, with some soft grunts and soft bleats.  This can often get older bucks up and moving, especially during the rut.  They can interpret this sound as a young buck trying to move in on his hot does.  Remember: these are soft, tender grunts. 

When using your deer call, do not use your call more than once every 15 minutes, and preferably no more than once every 30 minutes, to maximize your opportunities.  You want to give the deer the opportunity to respond to your call.  If you see a buck and he does not respond to your call, stop calling; he might not be interested in what you have to say.  If you do not stop calling, you might very well educate him to your sounds.

When calling, you always want to have an arrow nocked up and your release ready to go. You never know when a big buck is going to hear your call and come charging in your direction. This is especially true when you are using a rattling bag or antlers.  They interpret these sounds as a threat to their personal space.

A highly effective sound that can be used in conjunction with rattling is the snort/wheeze.  This is a very aggressive sound, and it will often put a rutting buck into full fight mode. 

Another effective tool that can help you bring that bruiser buck into bow range is a decoy.  Where and how you place your deer decoy may determine how successful you are, and which sex and size deer respond to the decoy.  For your own safety, when using a decoy, wrap the decoy in blaze orange when you are carrying it in and out of the woods.  Also, disassemble the decoy as much as possible when carrying it.  Many of today’s decoys have legs and a head that can fit in the belly of the decoy.  Failure to disassemble could result in someone shooting you as you are carrying your decoy. 

After you have set up your decoy, make sure that you spray the decoy completely with a cover scent.  You need to avoid getting any human or unnatural scent on the decoy.   Remember a deer’s nose if far more powerful than ours.  It is helpful to wear gloves when carrying and positioning the decoy to eliminate human scent.  It is important to place your decoy in a high-use area where you have previously seen deer, such as feeding, bedding, and trail areas.  Your decoy set-up should match the terrain that it is in.  For example, you do not want to put a bedding decoy in the middle of a soybean field.

You should place your decoys on the upwind from where you expect the deer to appear, as bucks like to approach other deer from downwind side of cover if they can.  It allows them to feel more secure in their approach.  You should place a doe decoy with its tail side toward you. Bucks often approach does from the rear or side, and this will present you with a quartering away shot.  When using a buck decoy, position it with its head toward you.  Bucks generally approach another buck cautiously from the front.

You should never place the decoy in a direct line between you and where you expect the deer to come from, as the deer may see you.  Instead, place the decoy off to one side of your stand to distract the deer’s attention from your position.  To help get the buck’s attention on the decoy, tape a small piece of white plastic or white feather to the tail area.  You can also tape feathers to the ear area, as well.  They will blow in the wind and give the appearance that the decoy is moving.  To keep the buck’s attention focused on the decoy, place a few drops of deer urine on it, doe in estrous for doe decoys, buck in rut for buck decoys.  More sure that you use the correct scents with your decoys, otherwise the deer will know that something is wrong.  Use buck or doe scents, and calling or rattling to create the illusion of another deer in the area, and to initially attract bucks to the decoy.

Will decoys and calls work every time you use them? No.  Nothing is effective every time.  However, if they help you kill that once-in-a-lifetime buck, they are worth every penny you spent, and all the time you put in to learning how to properly use them. 

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.

Ground Blinds – A Playhouse for Hunters

Over the past decade, more and more companies have begun to produce ground blinds. Why the explosion?  They work.  Not only are they responsible for a large number of kills each year, but anyone can use them.  Anyone can hunt out of them, and for people that are afraid of heights, they are the perfect way to conceal yourself in the woods.  The best part is if you fall asleep in a ground blind, the only thing you might fall out of is your chair.  Ground blinds weigh typically less than twenty pounds, and are easy to carry in and out of the woods.  They can keep you out of the wind and rain and they turn a normally miserable hunting day into one that is comfortable.  Companies have begun making specialized light systems, fans, heaters, and chairs for ground blinds that are quiet and scent free. 

The most popular style of ground blind is the hub design.  It sets up in minutes and comes in a variety of camo patterns.  You want to choose a camo pattern that matches the area in which you plan to hunt.  Most even have mesh windows that you can shoot through.  It is important to remember that set up does not end with an erect blind.    

Next, you need to try to arrange the blind so that the sun does not glare off it.  A good way to do this is to face a morning blind west and an evening blind east.  Set up your blind downwind of where you will see any game, especially if you are hunting deer. Spray your blind with an odor-killer.  Make sure to close the back door of your blind, so that game cannot see you through the other side.

It’s a good idea to set up your blind, and then let it sit for a while in the weather.  This will cause it to blend in a little better.  Don’t set up your blind in the middle of a path or thoroughfare, as this will alert game to your presence.

Next, look at the vegetation around you and decided how to use it to help your blind blend into the environment that it is sitting in.  I, normally, try to find a variety of tree branches and leaves to help blend my blind into its surrounding.  Always carry a small saw when you are hunting out of a ground blind.  This will make trimming branches and limbs a snap and will allow you to set the height exactly the way you want it.

You may want to bring a pruning shear, as well.  These two tools do not add significant weight to your backpack and make a world of difference in the overall look of your blind.  I am also very cautious not to block my shooting lanes.  Finally, I always put the blind about 10 to 15 yards back off the edge of a trail or field.  That helps the blind stay concealed and undetected by the animals.  Remember, the goal is to make the blind look like it has been there forever.  If you spend a few extra minutes doing it the right way, it will pay off later. 

Camouflage is the standard uniform for the bow hunter.  However, black is a better option for the ground blind hunter.  Inside the blind is dark, and darker clothing helps conceal you even better than camo.

Ground blinds may not be for everyone, and they won’t work in all circumstances.  They limit your mobility to some degree, and you can’t see or hear, as well, from inside.  But they do offer some distinct advantages.  Portable blinds weigh less than most climbing stands, and you can set them mostly anywhere, instead of hunting for the right tree.  They also take minimal effort and time to move, should you want to make minor adjustments in your location.  You don’t have to worry about moving when game is close-at-hand, and they help to control your scent.  They’re also safe; to my knowledge, no one has ever fallen out of a ground blind.

Up, Up and Away Tree Stands 101

Using a tree stand is like anything else: the more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the more comfortable it will feel.  With so many options out there, there is a stand for everybody, and every hunting level.  Ladder stands, climbing stands, and fix stands all provide their advantages and disadvantages.  It is important to remember that any time you are using a tree stand, you MUST wear a harness and a fall arrest system.  Keep in mind that more people are killed each year from using homemade tree stands than all others combined.  Old boards crack, nails and screws become unattached, and rain and sun weaken the boards.  They are just plain unsafe and should be avoided at all costs. Additionally, any time you are hanging stands, you should also be wearing a lineman’s climbing belt for additional stability and balance.  If you are afraid of heights, then a tree stand is not right for you.  There is nothing wrong with hunting from the ground.  I will cover that topic later.

Ladder stands are just as the name implies: a ladder with a tree stand attached at the top of the ladder.  They come in a variety of materials, most often steel and aluminum.  When installed properly, they are the safest of all tree stands.  They are extremely stable, and some are big enough to hold two hunters comfortably.  This makes them ideal for taking young hunters aloft for their first few seasons.  Generally, this type of stand is put up once at the beginning of the hunting season and left up in one for spot for the duration.   

Ladder stands require two people to set them up and are often cumbersome to maneuver around.  Most ladder stands range from 15 to 17 feet in height.  At this height, most people feel comfortable hunting and it provides them with the optimum shooting angle.  The higher you are off the ground, the steeper your shooting angle becomes, making it more difficult to get a double long shot.  Ladder stands are attached to the tree with a series of straps and ratchets the lock it in place.  The ladder is very easy to climb, and is extremely sturdy. 

The platforms on ladder stands vary in width and length depending on your specific hunting need.  It is important to match your platform to your style of hunting.  Rifle hunters generally do not need as big of a platform, because most of their shooting is done from the seated position.  Bow hunters, on the other hand, often prefer larger platforms so that they can shoot either standing or sitting. 

The only downside to a ladder stand is that they are more visual in the woods, thus making it more difficult to hide than the other two types of tree stands.  Also, because of their size, they are not portable. 

A climbing stand is the most portable of the three types of tree stands.  It is carried into the woods the day of the hunt and taken back out at the end of the day.  There are two pieces that make up this type of stand: a seat and a base.  Each piece is attached to the tree via a cable. The hunter then inches his/her way upward by lifting the seat up and the base up, much like an inch worm moves, until he/she is at their desired height.  To climb a tree with this stand, it must be straight and free of branches.  Essentially, you are climbing a telephone pole.  This can leave the hunter exposed to the game if the stand is on the edge of a field or any other open area

Climbing stands are the most comfortable to sit in for long periods of time.  Most come with a heavily-padded seat and arm rests.  Some hunters refer to this type of stand as a lounger, claiming that they are as comfortable as their favorite lounge chair.  I can personally attest that many of the high-end climbing stands have chairs that are very comfortable, too comfortable for my liking.  This is the type of stand that most hunters fall asleep in and fall out of. 

One major advantage of this type of tree stand is its versatility and ease of use.  You only have to carry the stand.  There are no ladders and no other items to carry into the woods with you.   Also, if you are going to hunt public land, this is your best option for getting off the ground.  Any time you leave a stand in the woods, you are at risk of having some steal it.  I have even had this issue on private property.

The third type of stand is a fixed stand.  It requires the hunter to carry the stand, plus some type of a climbing device.  Climbing devices range from portable ladders, to interlocking climbing sticks, to strap-on rail systems.  This type of stand is very popular because of its ease of use and its ability to be highly mobile if necessary.  This is the type of stand that I use most often.

They allow individuals to climb to any height desirable.  Most climbing sticks and ladders max out at 20 feet.  Additionally, they allow you to place the stand above limbs and branches, allowing the hunter to have extra cover from the game below.  The platforms are very spacious and allow the hunter to shoot comfortably from the seated position or standing. 

Fixed stands are stable and very safe when used properly.  They typically attach to a tree with a belt or chain that is affixed to the stand directly below the seat.  Once connected, the hunter then synchs the belt tightly to the tree.  Add a secondary strap on the bottom for stability, and you are all set and ready to hunt.   Many high-end companies such as, Lone Wolf and Summit, now connect the stand to the tree with a strap and a hook system.  This system makes hanging stands extremely simple and fast. 

With any tree stand I hunt out of, I always attached a few extra accessories to the tree to aid in my comfort.  First, I always screw a bow holder to the tree.  From the bow holder, I can then hang my ropes for hoisting my bow and backpack up to the stand.  It also provides me with the space to hang my gear, backpack, range finder, binoculars, and calls.

When trying to decide where to hang your tree stand from, remember it is all about location, location, location.  Logging roads, field edges, and creek bottoms all make excellent locations to hang stands.  You should try to hang them some place where the deer are going to move past as they are following their daily routine.  Keep in mind that all deer have to eat and drink.  You just need to find out how they are getting from their house to the supermarket.  This is where off season scouting and trail cameras can pay big dividends. 

How high should a tree stand be?  Well, for most of us there is no reason to go above the 15-20 foot range.  Within that range, a hunter should be able to find adequate cover, even into the late season. 

Another important factor to take into consideration when hanging a tree stand is your ability to approach the stand undetected.  You need to determine what the prevailing wind is for that area and base your decision of how to enter your standoff of that.  You do not want to wake up the deer as your entering your stand area.  This may require you to go the long way in and out of your stand, but it will pay off in the end.  As walk, go slowly.  The slower you move, the quieter you become.  Do your best to avoid stepping on leaves and sticks in order to minimize noise. 

If you want the perfect tree stand location, keep your mouth shut.  Far too often, people want to brag about the big deer they have scouted around their tree stands.  Whether you do it in person during a conversation or chat about it online, the results will always be the same: someone else is going to either sit in your stand when you are not there, or they will erect one of their own nearby.  If you want to brag, wait till after you shoot the deer and then tell everyone that you shot it in the peach orchard.  Within a week, someone else will have a stand in that peach orchard. 

You must be comfortable on your stand.  You need to be able to sit fidget-free all morning or all afternoon.  The more you have to move around, the more likely that a deer is going to pick you off.  It is also important that you learn how to shoot from your tree stand in the seated position.  This will help you further conceal your movement in the tree. 

If you are seeing lots of deer, but cannot seem to figure out why they keep giving your stand a wide berth, look at the ground below.  Often times, fallen branches, downed trees, and other obstacles may be forcing deer to move just out of shooting range for you.  You want to move obstacles so that they force deer towards you, not away from you.  This is a little thing that can make a world of difference. 

Safeties on People Using Common Sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2009 by TMA

My Corn-Fed Iowa Giant – It’s a Whitetail World

Although I have been hunting Whitetail deer for nearly 20 of my 40 plus years; I have had very few opportunities to take a real trophy buck.  My brother was lucky enough to shoot the buck of a lifetime at the age of twelve.  It was a 183 and ¼ inch Boone and Crocket.  People stopped by camp all night to take pictures of his deer.  After years of talking about a trophy Whitetail hunt, my buddy Olaf and I decided to book a hunt in Iowa.  My goal was simple; take what I considered to be a trophy deer (something in the 185 inch to 200 inch class deer), and beat the monster my brother shot, or go home empty-handed.

Our outfitter Spike Dicemen, of Super Buck Outfitters, told us we should come the last week of the archery deer season, as the best part of the rut would be in full swing and the cold weather would keep the deer moving throughout the day.  The weather reports coming out of Iowa in the weeks prior to our departure seemed to be exactly what we had been told to expect.  Then, four days before we were scheduled to leave, the weather in Iowa warmed drastically to the mid to high 40’s.

When Olaf and I arrived in Battle Creek, Iowa, on November 12, it was 45 degrees outside.  Most of the snow was gone from the early November storms, and it had been raining for the last two days.  Sunday morning, Spike picked us up at the airport, and we could tell he had a rough time the week before.  Spike told us the weather was not going to help us, and it looked like things were not going to change until mid-week.  We met up with our guide, Whitey, Sunday afternoon, and he took us out to see the country where we were going to be hunting for the next few days.

Olaf picked out a spot that looked promising and would sit up in one of the Gorilla tree stands.  I decided to set up on the edge of a field several hundred yards from Olaf.  The following morning, I heard a scream of joy about 8:30 am from Olaf’s direction and figured “one down one to go,” knowing it couldn’t possibly be this easy.  Upon picking up Olaf that evening, it was quite a letdown to find that several resident hunters had noticed our setup, and jumped his spot.  Olaf had to watch them drag out a 190-200 class buck that he had spotted about 500 yards out and was waiting for a shot.

The afternoon of the second day, Spike decided to take us to another area he felt was more promising, and one he had exclusive rights to.  Spike and I packed up everything while, Whitey went to collect Olaf from his tree.  When we met that evening, we decided that we would split up, and go one on one with a guide each.  The temperature had started to drop slightly, and there was some precipitation in the forecast.  I was set up in a portable ground blind on the edge of a large oat and hay field.  I spent a few extra minutes tying in some additional brush to the blind.  Tuesday afternoon produced very little in terms of shooter bucks, but I did see enough to want to return to the blind on Wednesday morning.

Wednesday morning before daylight, I had a buck thrashing the brush 40 yards behind my blind, but I never got to see him.  All I saw was the rustling of the brush, and I heard his antlers rubbing on a tree or something.  That afternoon before heading out, the farmer who owned the property showed me a set of very large sheds that he had found from last year.  He said that this buck was still around and much bigger this year.  That really got my heart pumping and got me excited.  Despite my initial excitement, when I set out that afternoon, the rest of the day was pretty slow. I only saw one little spike.  The weather front that was predicted finally started moving in, and it had begun to sleet and snow, so things were looking up.

On Thanksgiving morning, it was 15 degrees out and we had two inches of fresh, wet snowfall overnight.  As I woke up, I could smell the fresh coffee brewing and the fire burning in the hearth.  After filling our bellies, Whitey and I laid out a plan for the day and felt that the deer should really start to move with the weather changing. He was going to drop me off and then go and set up a tree stand in another spot for the afternoon hunt.

I expected to see a lot more activity that morning with the change in weather, but all I saw were several does just before dawn.  I was honestly starting to get a little discouraged.  The temperature had risen to about 25 degrees, and even though I had on about five layers, I was still freezing.  My hands were so cold I could not feel the tips of my fingers.  Around 7:30 am, I heard two loud grunts a quarter mile away.  This was followed every three to five minutes by a single loud grunt over the next 25 minutes.  Despite the cold temperature, the grunts began to warm my hunting soul.  I waited until things quieted down, and blew a single grunt from my call.  I waited a couple of minutes and did it again, then quit. 15 minutes later, the spike I saw the day before came out of the tree line and was looking around.  He stuck his nose to ground and began feeding.  Then suddenly, the spike looked to my right, and I turned to see what he was looking at.  A huge buck came trotting across the field toward me.  He stopped directly in front of my ground blind, just 35 yards out, and standing broadside to me. He looked directly at me, and I froze.  He then turned his attention to the spike. When he did, I immediately grabbed my bow from the stand and drew back on the monster.  I concentrated on making sure to put my sight pin on his vital area and not to look at the rack.  Looking at racks was something you did after the deer was on the ground and when he was on the wall, I told myself.  I believed this was the buck that produced those huge sheds the farmer had shown me the day before.  My frozen fingers squeezed my release, and I watched the arrow go into the buck behind his right shoulder.  He immediately bucked like a wild rodeo bull and ran off through the wheat field before dropping less than 80 yards from where I hit him.

I sat in the blind for probably thirty minutes, now sweating despite the cold air temperature, not really believing what I has just done, or really knowing how truly large this buck was.  Every ounce of my being just wanted to sprint towards the animal, but I knew I had to wait.  The excitement finally overcame me and I literally threw the blind over and cautiously walked over to find that I had bagged the monster I had come to Iowa for.

After tagging him, I wandered back to the farm house to wait for Whitey, who was to arrive around 10:00 am.  When I got there, I told the farmer and his wife of my success. She said, “You got old Chuck!” They were almost as happy as I was.

Whitey arrived shortly after ten and I told him, “We’ve got a problem.” After a short pause I said, “I don’t think this deer will fit in your truck!” Whitey went nuts.  Looking the deer over, Whitey asked me if I had any idea what I had.  I didn’t, and it took several weeks for it to sink in.

The deer was a 14 point non-typical buck with double drop tines.  He field dressed at 270 pounds and scored 204 Boone and Crocket.  The deer was six years old and there was not an ounce of fat left on him.  He was rutted right out. My Rage Broadhead performed flawlessly.  It was very important to me that this deer was taken cleanly with one shot.  It is my belief that as hunters, we all owe the animals that much, especially a true king of the forest like this.