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. 

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.

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.

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. 

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.

Big Bear and This Was No Picnic 

There were only four more days left of my Saskatchewan Black bear hunt of our seven day trip, as I climbed into my stand.  It was late afternoon and the bears were starting to feed.  I had only seen one small bear so far, and he was not the trophy I had come for, so refrained from unleashing my arrow through is tough hairy hide. He did, however, feel the need to check me out and climb up my tree and stop just below my platform where I pelted him on the head with a rock, after which he quickly retreated into the woods.

Bear hunting in Saskatchewan at times can be anything, but pleasant.  The biting black flies and mosquitos seem as big as birds.  They are relentless as they try to bite at you; it is a nonstop battle.  Even with multiple thermo cells running they are still ever present.  The smell from the bait can be overpowering, as well, depending how fresh it is.  Additionally, there always seems to be one animal, or another, coming to steal the bait before the bears can get to it. 

I remained optimistic and patient that the bear rug that I had come to collect would arrive soon.  I had seen plenty of signs that there were good bears in the area; such as the large deep footprints that covered the muddy landscape, and large steaming piles of excrement that littered the access trails leading in and out of the tree stands.  I was hunting with my good friends Doc, Earl and Cooper.  Doc was a high school principal, Earl was a truck driver, and Cooper was a building engineer.  Our career paths had sent us all in vastly different directions, but we remained true to our promise to always make time to hunt together.  We all met in junior high school; and we grew up hunting together with our fathers on the weekends for waterfowl, and by ourselves afterschool for pheasants, and other small game.  As we grew older, we got real jobs, got married; we all had children of our own; and less time to spend hunting with each other.  Thus, we stopped hunting for small game and switched our focus to Whitetail deer and Black bears.  This was our 18th annual hunting trip together.  We had been all over North America hunting for seven to ten days at a time. 

The dreary, cold, rainy weather that greeted us upon our arrival in Saskatchewan had finally begun to clear.  We were all cold and wet from dodging storms the first two and half days.  I knew that with the change in weather, the bears would be on the move and in search of an easy meal after seeking cover for the last few days.  I hoped that my luck, much like the weather, would be changing.  After a short time in my stand, a nice sized, 150 pound Black bear came into where I had set up my tree stand; and he worked at ripping apart a fish carcass for a meal.  He was a young bear, maybe around three or so.  It was a good feeling to see a bear munching on a meal from the river so early in the evening, and I just hoped he had invited his older relatives to visit for dinner. 

We chose to base our hunt out of an old remote cabin on Dewey’s Creek, which fed into Hastings Lake, so we could enjoy some time being away from civilization; while at the same time, taking advantage of the world-class fishery we had at our doorstep.  Otherwise, we would be making an arduous ninety minute long drive back to town each night from where we were hunting.  The cabin had all the amenities we needed, and was much nicer than we could have ever anticipated.  Everything was included: a world class cook who made all the meals, electricity, running water, hot showers, full kitchen, an aluminum Jon boat with a twenty five horse power gas motor, comfortable beds with bedding, the list goes on and on.  It was like staying at a five star resort in the middle of nowhere.  Our hunt was the last week of April and the temperatures in Saskatchewan had been in the 40’s with heavy wind and rain.  The camp guide would set up the baits for us daily.  The baits were a combination of fresh fish, beavers, and left over food scraps from the day before.  It was the third day of our hunt before I was even hopeful of seeing a bear because of the bad weather that had beat on us nonstop from the minute we had arrived.  I guess we were lucky to have satellite TV to keep us entertained.  In fact, we chose not to hunt on the second day because of rain and the winds were so strong we feared that we would be blown out of a tree stand.  The hunting stands with the best activity were not accessible the first two days we were in camp because the rain had washed out most of the old dirt logging roads that led to them.  We would have to wait for the heavy rains to reside before we would be able to access them via a truck or ATV.

We managed to get some fishing in early on the first day of our trip and enjoyed fresh trout and walleye for lunch the next couple of days.  Doc and Earl arrived a few days earlier than Cooper and I, and had set up a variety of stands to accommodate the four of us.  They were pulling out all the tricks to entice bears to our hunting area, as our hunt was almost half over and we had not even started yet.  Copper, Doc, and Earl put together a concoction of bacon, honey, and our leftover breakfast scraps in hopes of drawing in some wall-size bears.  This, plus the bait that the guide was putting out, we hoped would do the trick.  The bacon was fried, the honey burned, the Bear Bomb cans set off, and the nearby grounds and bushes were sprayed with every bear scent product known to man.  In addition, everything we touched was sprayed with Primos XP Scent Eliminator.  We all wore Scent-Lok Vertigo clothing, something Doc highly recommended.  Doc was serious about bear hunting, so I took his word as the gospel. 

It was finally a good evening to hunt on the third day.  At long last, the rain had stopped and the winds had calmed.  The ground was soggy and the trees dripped rain drops on our heads from above.  Cooper had a good bear come in, but it presented no shot as it looked to be more interested in finding a hot sow than eating.  Clearly, he had romance on his mind.  Doc saw several bears; the biggest bruin was a shooter, but stayed hidden from his arrow by a thicket of trees that were as wide as three old wine barrels tied together.  That night, I too saw a bear.  He was a young bear, which was very nervous, acting as if he was expecting a bigger bear to show and chase him away from the meal he had found.  He kept looking behind an old oak tree.  To my dismay, nothing else showed that evening.

Cooper had missed the three previous bear hunts we had gone on, as his wife was giving birth to three of his four kids.  We gave him a pass, but I thought it was just poor planning on his part.  He was surprised at how quietly a bear could appear from thick forest and muddy terrain.  No sooner had he just finished scanning the area and seeing nothing, a big Black bear was slowly nearing his tree stand.  With each step he took, dust would fly off his dried coat as the mud would break loose and drop to the ground.  Not wanting to lose his opportunity to shoot his first bear, he raised his bow, quietly drew back on the bear and followed him in his peep sight until he felt he had a good shot.  Cooper released the arrow and connected with the bear; the Helix broadhead drove through the bear and out the other side.  The bruin did not go very far before letting out a loud death moan, which we all could hear from nearly a mile away.  It was a mature bruin, and weighed about 200 pounds.  This was Cooper’s first bear and he stood over it smiling like a proud father at the birth of his first child.  After we all arrived back at camp and heard the good news, we took some time to congratulate Cooper and take some pictures before we needed to get the bear out of the truck to be skinned, quartered, and frozen.

The three of us got up early the next morning and caught some trout for lunch.  Cooper slept in; he was the last one out of bed because he was so jacked up from killing his first bear, not to mention, he did not finish processing his bear until after 3:00 am.  We loved our remote camp and enjoyed being away from civilization; it was the way a bear hunt; or any hunt for that matter, was meant to be.  After a little relaxation, we took showers and got ready for our evening hunt.  Cooper would continue relaxing and fishing around the cabin, while the rest of us headed out in hopes of tagging our own bears.  We had a few more days to close the deal and the weather continued to improve, giving us hope of seeing and killing a trophy bear like Cooper had done the night before.

Doc is a smart hunter with a lot of bear hunting experience.  He had been hunting for bears longer than all of us.  So, when Doc offered advice, you took it.  The stand I was going to, was one that many bears were familiar with, so he told me to put up a second stand to hunt out of that was well concealed to the bear’s running back into the woods from the river. 

When a medium size sow came into my stand area, she kept me entertained, so I decided I’d grab my new camera to take some photos, only to realize I had forgotten to put the battery back in my camera, which was still charging back at the cabin.  That sucked.  I had small and medium sized sows and boars at the stand almost all afternoon.  At one point when there were no bears, I suddenly heard footsteps on the trail behind my stand.  I could smell the stench of a bear, but nothing appeared.  I slowly turned my head, but could not see the trail while seated.  I waited, growing more impatient, only to see a big Black bear walking away from me.  My heart sank.  I should have waited longer, as he probably caught my movement.  One of the other bears, from earlier in the evening, returned to my stand area, and then was pushed out by a bigger boar.  I had really wanted to get a better look at the bigger boar, and really hoped he would return.  After about an hour, the bigger bear I had been watching, made a quick exit and I looked back on the trail again; nothing.  I had remained standing, as it was the only way I could see the trail behind my stand and could be prepared if the big bruin returned. I saw a big bear through the trees; he looked to be circling downwind of me, and he looked huge.  Its belly was nearly touching the ground, and he was long like a VW bug.  He was too long to be an old fat sow.  I knew I wanted this bear on my wall, this is the one that I was waiting for and that is when the adrenaline kicked in.

I did not think the bear had gotten my scent, otherwise, he would not have come back.  I was wearing two layers of Scent-Lok clothing, rubber boots, and had sprayed a cover up scent over my clothes, backpack, and bow.  I kept watching and hoping this boar would work his way back towards the bait I had put out earlier.  It had been several minutes since I last saw him and I did not know where he was, when suddenly, one of the other bears reappeared around my stand.  My heart was pounding, and I was nervous about getting a shot at this wary bear if he came to the bait.  He was the biggest bodied bear I had ever seen while hunting.

While watching the bear in a small clearing, I started to relax until I heard footsteps behind me again, and that distinct smell of bear hit me in the face.  I looked down and the big bear was walking right under my stand towards the bait.   The other bears took off running, and I expected to get a shot at the bear as he was walking away from me.  I slowly raised my bow and drew back quietly.  He walked just past the bait and kept going, never giving me a chance to shoot.  I came down off my draw and was really getting depressed.  The more I saw this bear, the more I knew I would settle for nothing less, and he was being extra cautious of the bait.  I guess he did not get this big by being careless.

He circled downwind again from me about 20 minutes later, and I could hear the bruin not too far from where we stopped the night before.  The big bear had gone about six hundred yards passed the bait, then paused, and then started coming back.  This time he stopped at the bait, giving me a shot.  As I drew back my arrow, my legs became weak and began to shake.  I took two deep breaths and lined up my peep and my Hog Father sight.  I was focused on a single hair behind his front shoulder.  I squeezed the release and let the arrow fly.  It struck the bear squarely behind the front leg, and I could see the blood beginning to pour out from where the arrow had entered.  He ran much further than any other bear I have ever shot, and I lost sight of him as he disappeared into the bush.  Normally, the combination of my Helix broadhead and Carbon Express Pile Driver arrow would bring down animals quickly.

I sat quietly in my stand for 30 minutes replaying the shot over and over in my head before beginning the two mile walk out to the truck.  I tried to reach Cooper on the radio, but I got no response.  I was really pissed about having to walk to the truck.  I knew it would be a long, foot-blistering walk (rubber boots are not made for long walks) being swarmed by mosquitoes and black flies, all the while reflecting on my shot and the big bruin.

Cooper and Doc were at the truck when I arrived and they were enjoying a drink when I told them the news.  We jumped on the ATVs and headed back to track the bear.  Day was fading fast and we only had about 30 minutes of good light left.  After a few minutes of checking the area where I had heard the last sound of the departing bear, we found nothing.  We went back to the point of impact and started to follow the faint blood trail.  It did not take long for the blood trail to turn from a few faint drops to a river of red.  The blood trail quickly became very visible.  Blood was seemingly flowing from the bruin, and man, was I relieved. 

I had never before had a bear go this far after being shot, and Doc had never seen this much blood come from a bear.  My Helix broadhead had done its job.  It had been a few hours since I had shot the bear, and the blood was still looking fresh.  The three of us talked it over and felt he may still be alive and we were pushing him deeper into the woods; although we were not sure how a bear that had lost so much blood could still be alive.  But I never heard the death moan that every bear seems to make right before it dies.  We decided to hold off until morning, as it was now pitch black dark and we were hunting for him without our flashlights.  With such a great blood trail, I was confident we could find the bear first thing in the morning.

We headed out early the next day, and with the full light of the sun, we quickly found the blood trail and soon thereafter, my bear.  It was only about twenty yards from where we had stopped looking the night before.  It was a great relief after a long sleepless night.  There on the ground laid the bear that would soon dawn the wall in my family room.  I think the arrow must have hit the shoulder bone and changed course as it cut through the bear and came out its neck.  The 125-grain Helix broadhead held up well, as I knew it would.  I had tested it on 3/4-inch plywood and cinder blocks.  I was thrilled when we found him; though he appeared a little smaller all piled up and deflated from sitting overnight then I had remembered him looking under my stand just twelve hours earlier.  He squared over seven feet and had a skull just shy of 20-inches.  Cooper told me that I did not get the big bear he had seen in the area.  Honestly, I do not think I would have passed on this one, even if Cooper were sitting next to me telling me that when this one came in. Maybe Doc or Earl would get the monster; they still had two more evenings to hunt.

That evening, the temperature began to drop into the 30’s, and I was thankful to be done hunting.  Earl continued to hunt the same stand where Cooper saw the big bear earlier in the week, hoping to get a shot.  Doc went to a new location with a stand set up more for a rifle hunter (than a bow hunter) in hopes of keeping his scent and movement further from the bait.  I wanted to sit with Doc, and be a part of his hunt like we had done in the past, but we decided it was best to minimize the amount of scent and movement.  Doc had a big boar come walking in front of him, though not as big as the one he had seen earlier in the week, and not as big as mine.  Still, Doc, with only two days left of the hunt and not wanting to go home empty handed, drew back and shot the bear through both lungs.  It was an impressive shot from 50 plus yards away.  This was the first time I ever shot a bear bigger than Doc.  Still, it was a nice bear and made a nice addition to Doc’s collection of fine bear rugs.

Earl was now the only guy in camp to have tagged.  We got a call from Doc as dusk was approaching, and Cooper and I went to help get his bear out of the dense woods and snap some photos.  We only had to follow the blood trail for about 70 yards before finding the bear on the ground.  It was a perfect double lung shot; a near impossible shot from where Doc had hung his stand.

The three of us wished Earl the best as he headed out for his final night in the stand.  He went to another new location where there were signs of a big bear.  Earl passed on a couple of bears even though it was his last day of hunting.  He had come to camp for something bigger than he already had, or at least a mature color phase bruin.  As the evening progressed, he played over and over the bear and the pass from the previous night.  He was content knowing he had opportunities, even though the week’s hunt was cut short due to bad weather.  Shortly before quitting time, he caught movement in the dense forest.  It was a large color phase bruin and it worked its way towards him.  Earl had a number of good bears come in that evening, but they were all more interested in finding a hot sow than eating the bait.  Earl did not think the bear was going to stick around as it walked past the tree, so he raised his bow and concentrated on the sweet spot before he squeezed the release and sent an arrow its way.  The arrow sent the bear on a sprint into the forest, where it was found a few hours later.  What a fantastic animal: it squared nearly above six and half feet and had a skull just shy of 20-inches.  While this was not his biggest bear to date, we were all very excited for him.

Hunting trips like this are why I keep going back to Saskatchewan and bringing others with me.  I have been to Saskatchewan several times now, taken several great bears, and have never had a bad experience.

Choosing the Right Bow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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