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. 


Some days it just all comes together. The weather does exactly what you had anticipated, the birds fly right at first light, you shoot straighter than you’ve ever shot before and the dog marks every bird that hits the water.

These are the days waterfowlers dream about. These are the days to be savored. This is the culmination of all of the hard work because, as every waterfowler will tell you, these kind of days are few and far between. This is the zenith that continues to bring the real waterfowlers back out day after day, season after season.

More often then not these true hunting addicts show up at the boat ramp and realize that someone misplaced the plug…again, that a damn squirrel chewed through the wires on the boat…again, that a hunting partner left his waders at home…again, or that the spot they had planned to hunt somehow iced up over night…again.

True waterfowlers understand that overcoming a S.N.A.F.U. is just part of the obsession.

The great news is that most waterfowlers don’t take no for an answer. They beg, borrow and….well let’s just say they do what it takes to get themselves on “the X”.

Waterfowlers are a dedicated lot. They are up early, appreciate horrible weather and thrive on gas station coffee. They scout constantly, study maps and drive countless miles to secure new hunting spots.They ponder over their decoy spreads, fidget with their calls and obsess over blind concealment. All in hopes of experiencing that “perfect hunt” just one more time.

The waterfowler community has its fair share of interesting and unique characters. There are often differences of opinion, terse conversations and and even long standing feuds. There are always more leases to line up, motors that need tuned up and blinds that need propped up.

This is the kind of people I chose to spend my time with. These are my people. Hopefully one day, when I’ve suffered a little more, I’ll earn the title of Waterfowler?

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.

Hog Hunting Finding a Georgia Peach

Olaf and I left the house at eleven in the evening.  It was a cold, late winter, Virginia night, and we were on our way to Georgia for our third hog hunting adventure.  We enjoyed a very relaxing and speedy drive clear through the night.  Though the further south we went, the more temperatures seemed to stay the same. 

We met Olaf’s buddy from college, big Joe, your classic educated but somewhat slow southern redneck, just outside of the south side of Atlanta.  We shared a morning meal and all pigged out (pun intended) at the Golden Corral, for what would turn out to be a breakfast/lunch combo for Olaf and me.  We managed to remain awake for the next two hours or so. Once we got within 25 miles of our final destination, we were so excited that we all but counted down every mile.  The GPS took us easily to our destination, and soon we turned off the dirt road leading to the camp.  We turned and grinned at each other when we had to slow to let deer pass in front of us on our way to the cabin.

The other hunters in camp and their guide were gone and out for their morning hunt, and Olaf found a note on the deck saying, “Make yourselves at home, and be back at around eleven.”  We quickly unloaded and chose our bunks in our private room.  The three of us stretched out on hammocks on the back deck and the next thing I remember, I was woken up from a lazy sleep.  Olaf, woke up first and had been looking for me, was holding a drink in his gloved hand, watching a doe feed some 200 yards away.  Yup, this looked darn good!

We did not feel the need for lunch, as we were still full from our earlier stop, and our host and guide, Vinny and his other hunters, Bo and Max, showed up around 2:30.  By that time, Olaf had pointed out the outstanding deer mounts above the seating in the den, and we all gave enough “ooo’s” and “aaah’s” for 10 hunters.  We enjoyed our drinks as introductions were made.

Apparently, Bo had seen some hogs that very afternoon.  He took a shot at one at about 50 yards, and the entire herd bolted and ran straight towards him.  He picked out another likely target, and let a second arrow fly, and soon both he and Vinny had the small hog under control.  Suffice it to say, that Bo was good-natured about the experience and more than happy to hear the rest of us say how much we looked forward to a wonderful pig-pickin dinner planned for the next night.

We finally made it to bed that evening with visions of big boars crowding our thoughts.  Early the next morning, Vinny asked if we might follow them to our designated hunting areas to avoid crowding one vehicle, and we were fine with that.  Olaf, Joe and I were off to our stands by flashlight, clutching hand-drawn directions, and were finally in place well before sunrise for our initial sit.  It was a 34 degree March morning in South Georgia.  Who would have thought it would be this cold in Georgia?  I always love sitting in the woods as the sun begins to brighten the new day, and that cold morning was no different. I had made my way as quietly as possible to the stand, imagining I had already missed it in the dark.  Once I found the stand, I put on my two additional layers, fired up my hand warmers, and climbed the ladder to my seat.  The foot warmers already in place and my extra clothes carried in my pack proved to be just the ticket for a very comfortable sit.  The highlight was seeing, after dawn broke, a doe at about 30 yards and wondering why she was not moving about.  Then I realized that she was bedded! I had snuck in, climbed up into my stand, and was able to keep from spooking that doe bedded nearby.

We sat, enjoying the sun’s warmth that finally came some two hours later, and only when I was wondering when she would finally get up, did she do so.  She headed into the thickets, feeding.  As if on cue, she left just in time for me to climb down and go pick up Olaf, and Joe.  My first sit had not provided any hogs, but had shown game was likely abundant in the area.

When we returned to the lodge a big breakfast was enjoyed by all, and we used part of the downtime at noon to enjoy a little rest in preparation for the afternoon’s sit.  We left around 2:00 pm, and the day had warmed into the 50’s and was bright with light winds.  I decided to walk slowly to another stand location.  On the way, I thought I heard a hog rooting, but it turned out to be an armadillo instead.  I snuck up to within five feet of it before it scurried off with its peculiar little gait.

My afternoon stand was in a thick area where I strained to see anything more than 60 yards away.  I was located where hardwoods transitioned into the typical Georgia pines, and my hopes stayed high until sun set and beyond.  Olaf, Joe and I met and headed back to camp for the evening and the aforementioned big pork dinner.  All of us remained hog-less thus far.  When we went to bed that night, our spirits were still high and our bellies were full.

The next morning found the ground wet from some night rain, and most of the heavy clouds were still around as we headed back to our hunting areas.  Walking was very quiet and I chose the first location where I had sat the previous day, as it offered a longer view of the expansive open field.  Two hours into my sit, with no game spotted, I decided to move further into the woods and still hunt along a network trails that meandered through the woods and the property.  Shortly after setting out on foot, a light rain began and made my walking even quieter. I kicked out a lone deer after turning onto another trail, and perhaps 15 minutes later, as my watch was telling me it was just about time to head back out, I saw a stand in the distance.

I walked to the stand and noticed two things of great interest.  One was that a large hog had just been there, rooting about fifteen yards in front of the stand.  The second being that it was apparent no one had sat there for some time, because of the leaves and branches lying across the seat of the ladder-type stand.

Bingo!  I’d found my afternoon spot, but now had to walk much faster to get back and meet the guys by our appointed time.  We drove back to the cabin, encouraged by the signs we had seen that morning.  Olaf found that the corn spread by the feeder the previous night in his area had been eaten, and was anxious to get back out and see if they might stop by a little earlier that afternoon.

By lunchtime, it was raining hard, but by mid-afternoon the skies brightened, and the rain finally let up a bit.  Olaf, Joe and I were traveling down the now muddy dirt roads on our way to our afternoon’s stands when the rain stopped.  I climbed into my newly found ladder stand at about 3:00 pm, after clearing the debris away.  We had decided to meet around 6:15 pm at the truck, so that gave me right around three hours to sit.  I sat back, relaxed, and listened to the sounds of the nearby marsh, knowing our best chance for seeing something would likely be right at dark.

At around five, the slight breeze died and the woods became very quiet. I heard a single hog grunt at perhaps 5:45 and noted it was still very light.  We had miscalculated our departure times!  I continued to sit and check my watch, deciding Olaf would feel the same way. I wasn’t going to leave until it was too dark to shoot.

At 6:15 pm, I could still plainly see through my peep site.  I texted everyone and told them just to sit tight for an hour.  Just a few minutes later, I heard something making noise to my right and I focused my attention in that direction.  I heard more noise and then saw some movement; it was a hog, and a nice size one.  He was walking slowly towards me from about the two o’clock position.  I had hoped he might head over to where he had rooted around before.

He decided to make a left turn and walked the edge of the swamp off my right shoulder at maybe 45 to 50 yards.  As he passed behind two good-sized oak trees, I made my move, standing, turning right and drawing back on my bow.  As he passed behind yet another tree, I set my pin on the hog’s neck as he came out the right side, just behind his right ear.  The pin settled and I squeezed the release.  He immediately ran about 20 yards before falling to the ground, thrashing and chomping his jaws as the sound of snorting echoed through the woods.  It had been over 20 minutes since sunset, although there was still enough light to see.

I texted everyone and let them know what had transpired, and I sat calming myself for thirty minutes and then climbed down from my stand.  I approached slowly. Just before prodding him with my bow, I stopped and whistled.  There was no reaction.  Then, I picked up a small stick and tossed it, hitting him in the ribs.  I figured that he was completely spent.  If not, he would be when we got back in 30 minutes or so to get him out.  I tried to pull him out into a clearing and could not move him so marked the area before meeting the guys back at the truck.

I walked as fast as I dared in the dark back to my truck, knowing Olaf and Joe would surely wonder what had caused me to scream like a girl with excitement.  It turns out Olaf had seen several hogs during his sit, but could not get a clear shot at any of them.  I called Vinny saying we needed his help and his UTV to haul out a hog out I’d shot.

Vinny arrived in about 20 minutes.  I wasn’t sure what to tell him about the size of the hog, except to say that the three of us might not be able to get him into the bed of the UTV.  He gave me a stupid look, and we drove slowly down old logging roads to where my hog lay.  We got Vinny’s UTV to within 10 yards of the hog and walked over, carrying some nylon ratchet straps to use for dragging him.  Long story short, we broke two straps and it took us a good 30 minutes to get him out of the brush and drag him the 10 yards, and then another ten minutes to get him onto the tailgate.

We stood at the tailgate marveling at the sheer size of the hog, and we were all glad Vinny had a cooler with a couple of cold ones, now that the “hunt” part was complete.  Vinny warned me that the meat of such a large boar might not be edible, and the owner promised to show up the next morning to help with the camping duties.  It was almost nine at night when we finally got back to camp.

We enjoyed a late celebration dinner and rolled into our bunks early enough to be out at daybreak one more time on our three day hunt.  The morning passed quickly, with no hogs sighted, and we returned to camp to begin our skinning chore. It took longer to hang the old boar than it did to drag him to the truck, and the camp owner, Willie Walters, then showed us just how impressive it could be to watch a skilled skinner and caper!

The head and cape alone were well over 100 lbs. and Olaf was kind enough to help me carry it to my truck.  Vinny and Willie agreed that only one other hog they had seen taken was bigger, and it weighed over 500 pounds.  There was no scale big enough to weigh my boar at the camp, so we settled for an educated guess of about 450 pounds.

It was what it was. I was pleased to have seen such an animal, and to have been lucky enough to harvest him. We finished our chores at camp and headed for lunch.  That Russian Bore now has a special place on the wall in my office, and I can’t but smile every time I walk past him and think about that hunt.

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. 

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.

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. 

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. 

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy A Montana Elk Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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