Author: Greg Staggs
The twin set of taillights quickly gained speed on the gravel road, disappearing in a cloud of dust and leaving the darkness to quickly envelope me and the gear stowed beneath the bridge. The water quietly lapped at the side of the boat, making soft plinking noises, and I managed to make out its form below me in the soft moonlight. I plopped lazily onto the concrete bridge, settling in for what was sure to be a thirty-minute wait as Dad drove his white pickup to drop off at our destination. Mom was following in the car so she could bring him back to the boat, then she would go home – her night over even as ours was barely beginning.
A chorus of insects slowly gained volume to accompany the cascade of fireworks hanging in the distance over town. I swung my feet slowly to the rhythm of the screaming cicadas and katydids and enjoyed the show until my parents returned.
“There’s a pretty big one sitting up that way about sixty or seventy yards,” I told Dad after we said our good-byes to Mom. “I may have spooked him off, though. I walked up that field row to see if I could place him a little better when y’all guys first left. I haven’t heard him since.”
The sound of crunching gravel slowly diminished as Mom headed home, leaving us alone in silence. Dad pulled out the flashlight crammed in his pocket and switched it on. The sudden flood of light caused me to blink rapidly before my eyes became reacquainted with the light. We scrambled down to where we’d left the boat nearly an hour before, and I gingerly stepped in and crawled to the back half that jutted out into the water. I hooked up the powerful Q-beam spotlight to the battery and was careful to point the lens down and away from us before setting 1 million candlepower free to cut through the darkness. Dad stepped into the tiny jon boat and gave a shove with his foot, pushing us out into the middle of the little ditch. I handed the monstrous light to him and began paddling upstream. I laughed to myself, thinking about the miles and miles laying between us and our destination in the opposite direction, and yet somehow our boyish enthusiasm was propelling us the opposite way.
“I think he was somewhere around where that tree is sticking up on the left,” I said.
I took a couple deep, powerful strokes to gain momentum against the current, and enjoyed the resistance the water offered to my shoulder muscles. The beam of light stretched forth from Dad’s hand, pulling us in the direction of whatever he allowed it to rest on. With the skill of a prison tower guard searching for an escapee, he played the light up and down the banks on either side of us.
“Don’t forget the middle, Dad,” I quietly reminded him. “We’re starting to get into quite a bit of moss.”
He played the light out in front of us, illuminating the vast patches of surface weeds we were struggling to pass over. Ahead, two jewel-like objects reflected back at us, burning an intense emerald green in the artificial sunlight. I thought about how they reminded me of the day-glow thumbtacks deer hunters use to get to their stands in the morning darkness.
“Could be just a can,” Dad mumbled.
That sounded like him: always so darn pessimistic. But I wasn’t so sure. I focused in on the fiery lights glowing back at us and didn’t allow my gaze to waver. Dad was starting to swing the light back to the side of the ditch, obviously neglecting the object of my attention. The beam wavered momentarily before starting its path to the shore. That was all it took. My heart rate quickened as one of the green jewels began to diminish in size, quickly shrinking until it emitted no more light. Then, it reappeared as instantly as it disappeared.
“That was one up there too, Dad,” I whispered, forgetting that we had long ago learned that we could talk as loud as we wanted on these expeditions. “I saw him blink… just as you were taking the light off of his eyes.”
Dad nodded in the faint light being cast off from the back of the spotlight, and I knew he was going to hold the light off him until we could get closer. It was too risky to put it on him and try to not let the light waver again as we fought the moss in our approach. Besides, Dad had learned a trick of holding the Q-beam far enough away so the main beam didn’t shine in their eyes, but close enough to illuminate items in the surrounding floodlight.
“Go ahead and hit ‘im,” I said as we pulled to within ten feet.
“Hurry up, or we’re gonna float right by him,” he said. He always said that.
I gently laid the paddle down to my left and picked up the .22 that had been lying beside me on the seat. The hardwood stock felt cold and clammy from the water droplets that had collected on it from passing the boat paddle back and forth over it, from one side of the boat to the next. I lined up the bead on the front ramp sight with the buckhorn and gently raised the barrel before snapping the safety off with my index finger. I blew out softly in an attempt to control my breathing, and concentrated on the rise and fall of my chest. In, out. In, out. Exhale… pause… The water exploded beside the boat, bringing bits and pieces of moss back down along with it in a two-foot radius.
“Put the light back over there,” I said. “A little to the right… over some more.” I reached down and slipped my hand around his midsection, grabbing him firmly in case he had life enough to kick out. “Got ‘im,” I said, raising the bullfrog triumphantly in the air as a grin spread across my face.
Wild Edge team member Greg Staggs shows off two huge halves of a turkey breast he just finished cutting out. Though his family loves the meat provided by all his hunting, it’s the thrill of the kill that brings him back time and again.
Author: Greg Staggs
“What’d that turkey ever do to you?”
It wasn’t an unexpected question really, I guess… I mean, I knew her parents and they weren’t outdoors-people. Actually, I had taught both of them in my English 101 class when they were freshmen in college and I was a graduate assistant finishing out my master’s in English. Even though they came from a town of less than 15,000 people, neither was raised by hunting or fishing parents. Now here was their daughter, continuing on the family legacy of not understanding why we hunters do what we do.
We were sitting at the ballfield while her dad was coaching my youngest son’s baseball team. A few innings had brought on boredom and I started surfing around on Facebook. I came across a video showing a turkey hunt, and I showed her how majestic and beautiful a strutting tom is, replete with the ability to change the color of its head in splendorous red, white and blue. “But they’re gonna kill it…” she half-wailed, refusing to look at it any more. “Yeah, that’s what you do with turkeys,” I replied. “And deer. And all game animals.”
Yes. We kill things. It’s what we do.
“Why?” is a hard question to answer, I suppose. For some, it’s purely to help sustain their families. To supplement their ever-burgeoning grocery bill. That’s a plus, for sure. I mean, take me for example. My family was featured on NBC’s syndicated TV show “America Now” a few years back because we haven’t bought red meat from a store in over 20 years. Think about that: I’ve been fortunate enough to be so successful as a pure bowhunter that we haven’t had to buy beef of any kind from a grocery store in over 20 years … and we basically have red meat of some sort -- in some form or fashion – every single day of the year. I’m a meat eater, plain and simple – so we go through a lot. Yet, that’s not why I hunt.
I believe in eating what you kill. It’s how Dad raised me, and what he taught. It’s shameful to waste something that could be eaten. Now, to clarify, I’m talking about things that can and should be eaten. I don’t want any confusion later on when you find out that I’m a hard-core trapper. No, I don’t eat coyote. I have eaten bobcat, and it’s delectable. Surprised? You shouldn’t be; people rave over what wonderful table fare mountain lion is. But coyotes still need to be managed, irrespective of whether they can provide a meal or not. To wantonly waste what’s considered edible though is a different matter.
So I eat what I kill, but it’s not why I kill. I’ve been blessed in my life. I struggled at first financially. It’s what you often do when you’re the first person in your family to try to break the mold. To not be a factory worker or farmhand. I went to college, almost on a whim. Really, it was because only Hardee’s had called twice to offer a job after high school, and I didn’t see that as a career. So I went to college. It didn’t take long for bills to start piling up and money to run short. I turned back to hunting to help put some food on the table. But a few measly rabbits and a plate-full of crappie only go so far. I thumbed through the Arkansas Conservation Code book looking at all the game animals one could hunt and landed on whitetail deer. We didn’t have deer where I grew up in the Missouri Bootheel. Surely one of those could feed me for a few months! I went to Walmart that night and found a used bow hanging on the rack in the sporting goods section, and talked the manager into selling it to me for an even further discounted price.
So, yes – at one time, I did take to the field in pursuit of food. But that was years ago, and I don’t need a single thing I kill these days to help offset the grocery bill. I continue to hunt because I yearn for it. I need to be out there, taking my place in the food chain. To help participate in the struggle of life and death. I kill because I crave it.
It would be easy to relegate it to something my father instilled in me, and about continuing on a part of him and the love he gave me for the outdoors. But I’m not sure he “gave” me anything, if I were being honest. He got me a job at the local factory one summer too and I didn’t care for that too much, proving that just because Dad got me started in something didn’t mean I was going to love it. But when he took me frogging one summer night before I had even turned 10 years old, and I turned deathly sick and started puking after about two miles of paddling with about umpteen more miles ahead of us -- and we had to get out and walk home as the local river was at its closest point to our home it was going to be and forego the rest of the trip -- Dad was “afraid he’d ruined me.” His words. But he couldn’t. No force was great enough to keep me from falling in love with the outdoors. Yes, he exposed me to it. Yes, he facilitated the love affair. But he didn’t “give” it to me.
I greatly enjoyed rabbit hunting and frogging growing up in the Missouri Bootheel. It was the most prevalent game animals we had to pursue, I guess. But if I have a chance, I’d rather pursue something I can “match wits” with. I think that’s why my trophy room is full of 5-year-old public-land bucks and older. I love going up against wild turkeys because they beat me more often than I beat them. The show they put on when I finally finesse one in close enough? That’s a bonus.
So there’s all that wrapped up in, too. Matching wits. Admiring the many nuances of nature. Soaking in the beauty and serenity of being in the wild. But at the end of it all, I still enjoy killing. I love applying just enough tension to my release and then allowing my shoulder muscles to take over, squeezing them together towards my spine before the release simply lets go of the energy it had been holding back under my command, driving my arrow straight toward and through my target. For those who say they don’t enjoy the killing, I wonder if they’re being disingenuous. Perhaps there are some that don’t. Perhaps there are many who don’t. But I’ll be honest with you… I do.
Author: Greg Staggs
It was eerily quiet… yet another morning offering little hope of success. I stared out into the murky grayness of the sky as my surroundings were caught somewhere between darkness and daylight. I should have heard something by now if it was going to happen. Out west, they would have been hammering for a good 20 minutes now...
I thought about how much we’d come to enjoy our annual trips to Kansas and the occasional foray all the way out to Northwest Nebraska. I smiled to myself. It was really hard to believe what this had turned into. In just a few short years, something I really had no interest in previously had come to occupy so much of my time and thoughts now. Before the season began, I cavalierly set a goal of 10 turkeys this spring, tempering the outlandish number by calling it a “stretch goal”. Yet, here I was now, attempting to kill bird number nine, and still sitting on a last remaining Kansas tag.
It hadn’t always been this way. I’m a die-hard bowhunter who chooses to use run-and-gun tactics to chase my beloved whitetails on public land, putting in over 100 sits per year for the last 25 years. Doing so necessitated I picked and chose my battles. When I started that intensive effort, I was newly married. A few years later we had kids. Leaving my wife to do everything on the home front was bad enough for three months out of the year – pursuing another species that would add a couple more months to that equation? Out of the question.
But as the boys got older and more self-sufficient, I looked at taking them with me… using a blind to bow-hunt these birds was the answer. The boys could stuff a backpack full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Hot Wheels cars, and whatever else their little minds could think of that would keep them entertained during the slow hours. It worked, too.
I had them in a blind somewhat brushed in against a fencerow during a fall deer hunt once. I was actually hoping for a string of does to walk by that I’d been seeing occasionally move from one side of the farm to the other. One of my boys was sound asleep and the other lost in some make-believe world he’d created when I looked up and saw a large flock of hens walking from my left to right, about 35 yards out in front of us. I let the bulk of the birds walk on by before picking out one of the last hens as my target. Easing my bow back and settling into my anchor, I split the difference of my 30- and 40-yard pins and squeezed off the shot, watching my arrow disappear directly in the middle of the turkey.
Surprisingly, she gained flight… and gained and gained until she was 75 yards in the air and headed to the woods on the east side of the farm. I followed her flight and watched her go down about 30 yards inside the timber edge. I turned and woke my sleeping son, who couldn’t figure out why his brother was so excited about what he’d just seen. We jumped out of the blind and went to the impact site and immediately found blood. What still amazes me to this day though is what else we found: Not only blood at the shot site, but blood heading towards the woods. “Okay,” I thought to myself… “This is where she took off running before getting airborne.” But we continued walking – and we continued finding blood. Lots of it. Fifty yards into our blood trail and I realized she was leaking the entire time she was flying, so much that we were able to stay on her blood trail all the way into the woods.
My son who had been asleep found her, piled up where she had crash-landed. We were excited: it was the first kill we’d all experienced together as “the Staggs men.” We took pictures to commemorate the event. I’m so thankful we did… that time seems so long ago now. Please, take pictures. Lots of them. More than you think you’ll need.
I pulled out my custom glass pot call and pulled hard with the striker against its surface, creating sharp clucks before rounding off with some softer yelps. I wasn’t even sure if the tom could hear me from this distance. I glanced at the time on my phone; it was 5:57 a.m.
We kept playing the game for at least 10 more minutes. I broke out my box call, which could hit audible levels so high it literally hurt my ears inside the blind. I knew he could hear that. Then I shut up for a while. He gobbled, and I could tell he had turned on the branch to face me. I kept quiet. He thundered out once again… still I kept quiet, as tempting as it was to respond. A few minutes later his throaty gobble erupted once again, but this time it sounded different, from another location perhaps. I guessed he had hit the ground. I offered a couple yelps, changed into a hard cutting routine and finished with a last yelp or two.
A minute later and he had cut the distance in half. I yelped softer this time, but I wanted him to know where I was since he’d started from so far away. Another minute and he gave away his presence even with me, but still inside the woods. A light purr would be sufficient. I looked outside a small hole in my blind where two panels came together and spotted his outstretched neck, peering above the pasture grass to survey the scene. His neck disappeared and then all I could see was the tip of his fan above the green grass. He alternated between full strut and stretching out his neck to look everything over before beginning the slow shuffle to my waiting hen and jake decoy about 12 yards in front of my open window.
When he was just 6 yards away, he blew himself up into full strut once again, and literally shook every feather he had as he spit and drummed. His waddles were fiery red, and the dark barring of his huge fan typical of our beautiful Missouri Easterns pivoted towards my decoys with every turn he made. He abandoned showing off for the fake hen, and slid over to my jake deke, brushing against it with his huge chest. He circled and I kept a close watch on his head and eye, and the moment those huge tail feathers hid everything from my view I snapped my bow back to full draw.
I stared at the back end of him, observing how all his tail feathers came to a single point at his butt and thought to myself that if I’d had a fixed-blade broadhead, it would be a simple matter to send it there and end this game. But with my big guillotine-style head, patience was needed. These were head-shot broadheads, not made to penetrate a body. Slowly he turned and exposed his blue face. I waited a bit more until I could see the waddles, burning red with an intense mixture of rage and love. I settled the green 20-yard pin in the middle of them and touched off the release; he dropped in his tracks instantly – the game over less than 30 minutes after it had begun.
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Welcome to the very first Tactical Tuesday from Wild Edge Inc. Here’s what you can expect…
Every Tuesday evening at 8:00 PM EST, a representative from the WEI team will host an Instagram live video. This week we were joined by one of our favorite podcasters, Walter of Chasing Tales Outdoors. As the weeks progress, we’ll be hanging out with experts from across the industry.
Later in the week, we will post a quick and dirty, written recap of what you missed. So, here’s what you missed on our very first Tactical Tuesday…
The Run and Gun Set UP
Q: @rhienhart: “How do you attach [the Steppladder] to your pack for transport?”
A: Andrew: My system changes drastically depending on how I am accessing the piece and what kind of topography I am walking in to. Often times I’ll be strapping a set of stepps directly to my kayak and throwing them over my shoulder when I access public land by water.
On short hikes they’re always right around my shoulder. I’m a big proponent of keeping things simple. When I walk into the woods, I want to be able to start my climb immediately. This means I don’t have to pause to take my backpack off. My sling is already on, my Bowhanger is in my pocket, my lineman’s line is tucked into my sling and my bow is clipped to the other side of my sling.
If I have a long hike, I’ll often attach the stepps to the outside of my pack. This way, I can move through the woods more effectively.
Q: @topnockbowhunting: “How long does it take you to get up and ready to shoot? And how long to get down and all packed up?”
A: Andrew: My motto has always been, slow is smooth, smooth is fast. We’re not fighting to be the fastest system on the market because I don’t see the advantage to sprinting into the woods and blasting up into the tree. This isn’t a reflection of the stepps either; it’s my personal style. I can throw up a set and climb 30 feet in 3 minutes, but I think we all need to remember to slow down, take our time and hunt on the way in.
Walter: It’s important to note that the faster you move, the hotter you’re going to get. No matter what the temperature is outside, you’ll have to manage your core temperature and your layers. It is also extremely situational. It took me 17 minutes to climb 16 feet into a cedar, but it was littered with branches.
It’s best to approach this from a woodsmanship mentality, and I think the true answer to this question is, it does not take too long to climb. It depends on where, when and how you’re hunting, and how much you’ve practiced.
My goal is to be in the woods, quiet an hour before I want to be hunting. I’ve gotten up into a tree an hour before sunrise and decided that it wasn’t perfect. I had the option to get down and choose a new tree because I gave myself enough time to slow down and think.
Q: @Ugly_step_kid: “How heavy is your set up?”
A: Andrew: This is another one of those questions that is not an easy answer. Each step weighs 11.7 ounces, so you’ll have to do some math. The tough part is the fact that my set up is always super specific to the piece of land that I’m hunting.
So many guys are so weight conscious down to the ounce. And honestly, they’re overestimating how far they’re traveling. In Connecticut we can’t walk a mile without leaving a property!
Q: @whitetail_legacy_podcast: What is the comfort level for all day sits?
A: Walter: I like the way my platform relieves some stress on my ankles during long sits.
If you’re using a ring of stepps, you need to increase your angle from the tree to relieve some of that pressure.
Andrew: I’ve never sat all day in my life! I’ve hunted all day. I’ve never sat all day. For a couple hours I’m super comfortable!
When you kill deer as efficiently as Andrew you don’t have to sit all day!
Q: How many do you personally use?
A: Andrew: The only way to answer this is by saying that I never use the same amount of stepps, ever. If I’m setting up a spot for my family to use all season I might use 18 of them spaced one foot apart. If I’m run and gunning and going in blind I might grab 5 stepps and an aider. It really depends on the situation.
The one thing that is a definite is a preseason set up. I will always walk out with no less than a set of 16. Of those 16, 3 of them will have 8-foot ropes. I would much rather not use them all than be a few short.
Q: Walter: Okay, you’re on a brand-new piece of property and you’re going in blind, how many stepps are you taking?
A: Andrew: Depends on the topography. Let’s say it’s a swamp. I may only need 3-5 get above cattails and phragmites. If I accessed by boat I would definitely have an additional 10-12 stepps in the boat that I could go back for after my hunt to create a better future set up.
Q: @bowhunterchronicles_podcast: “Are you using a knaider, swaider etc. what’s your preferred setup personally?
A: Walter: I use the Etrier, which is a rock-climbing aider.
Andrew: I use the Wild Edge Aider. It’s easy to use and adjustable. Plus, I’d rather do a pull up before I start attaching ropes to my feet. All that knaider, swaider stuff gets clumsy and complicated.
Q: @Louis_bowhuntingnz: What bows are you guys shooting?
A: Andrew and Walter: Matthews Triax and New Breed respectively.
Wild Edge Housekeeping
Q: @jgrosss: How’s the platform prototype coming?
A: Andrew: The prototype is finally ready, and we are really excited to start testing it. To give you an idea of the strength of this thing, I’m a buck-85 and I can jump on the corner without any movement. It handles side pressure like a champion.
Walter: So just to clarify, on our latest podcast you said you were not a platform guy. Has this changed?
Andrew: The biggest disadvantage I see with platforms is that you only have that one spot for your feet. The platform is different than the stepps. I will definitely use it, but there’s a tool for every scenario. The reason I like the stepps so much as a platform is because I have places for my feet all the way around the tree. On the other hand, if I were truly run and gunning, I could get up with 4 or 5 stepps, an aider and slap a platform on.
You definitely loose a degree of mobility with the platform. With the stepps you can comfortably go around the tree. With a platform it’s possible to go ass over tea kettle if you push it a little too far.
Walter: It’s super personal. Everyone who gets into saddle hunting ends up customizing their set up.
Andrew: And you don’t have to be so rigid with your set. Sometimes I use one step and a branch sometimes I use two branches as foot holds.
We’re going to put the prototype through the ringer, so I’m not committing to any dates. We’ll have a couple guys test the hell out of it first.
Q: @jcristobal61: “What’s the most ordered amount of stepps?”
A: Andrew: The set of 12 has always been super popular. I’ve definitely seen numbers rise with the set of 10 with an aider. Honestly though, ever since we introduced the “Build your own” option, guys are taking full advantage of their ability to customize their order.
Q: @Topnockbowhunting: “Will you have steps for sale at the outdoor show in PA?”
A: Andrew: Yes we will have a whole truck load. Catch us at boot 1112 in the archery hall!
Q: Walter: Are you taking the Mantis or the Aero hunter to Saddlepolooza?
A: Andrew: Mantis it is light, the seat is bigger, and that thing is comfortable.
Walter: For anyone wondering, Saddlepolooza is the world’s largest gathering of camo-diaper wearing men who hog hunt, hang out, drink beer and camp together. This year it is happening on President’s weekend, February 17,18 and 19.
Q: @Bowhunterchronicles_podcast: “Are you going to be at ATA?”
A: Andrew: Probably as an industry guy. We haven’t committed to getting a booth.
Q: @mittenstatearrowslinger: “How are the stepp ladder orders coming along?”
A: Andrew: We are still at an 8-12 week lead time. And working as quickly as we can to ship to the customers who hit that 8-week mark. Sign up below to stay updated on steppladder lead times!
Comments from Listeners
@jtmoore_: “I use 4 with a 5 step aider, but I may buy 4 more and use yalls aider.”
@urbanbowman: “Takes me about 10 minutes to set up at 20’; but I allow 30 minutes from bottom to setup, to go slow and make no noise. Timing doesn’t matter. Noise does… you’re gonna sit there all day. Just take your time and be quiet. For anyone asking, the steps are way faster and quieter than the sticks ever could be.”
@Jtmoore_ : “Its freaking fast… and quiet, just takes a little practice. Way faster than my lone wolf setup.”
@Ry_nev82: “I think a lot of guys like to compare them to sticks because it’s what they know. Apples to oranges. Wild Edge is more versatile. Period.”
Participate on our next live video to be featured in next week's blog!
To Sum It All UP
We ended the live cast by discussing how abnormally large Walter’s noggin is. He wears his Wild Edge snapback on the very last snap. We learned Andrew and Walter are not hip and don’t know how the kids wear their hats these days.
So, that just about sums it up. Thanks for watching and reading! Before you leave be sure to share this post so your buddies can catch up. And don’t forget to subscribe to our Instagram stories to find out who might join Andrew on our next Tactical Tuesday! Stay wild.
To be honest I don’t think of my style of hunting to be defined as run and gun. I feel like it is more than that. It is the evolution of the savage and predatory instinct that drives me to be a hunter and to harvest prey. We all see it these days in the social media driven, “Look at me” world we live in. Everyone is a big buck expert. No one hunts deer anymore; they grow them, feed them and have 24-hour surveillance on them with the finest technologically, advanced gear, and gadgets on the market! That’s not me. I don’t have a scent eliminating air conditioner, a scent proof closet worth over $600.00, or trail cameras texting me pictures!
Don't get me wrong, I love technology; however, I have seen how something as simple as a trail camera has both helped and hindered me. I found myself relying too much on a picture with a timestamp. I trusted the camera that the deer were not showing until dark. I believed that there weren't deer in the area simply because they didn’t show up on camera. It wasn’t until I took a step back and returned to hunting basics, that I saw a change. I began to enjoy myself as much as when I was a kid and applied 15 years of experience to that same excitement and passion.
Success came when I looked at the bigger picture. If you are like I was, you would find an area that is tore up with sign. You hunt the first time and declare it an amazing location. You hunt it again and again, each time seeing less sign and less deer. You begin to get frustrated and blame the moon, mass crops, or the hunting pressure from hunters on neighboring properties. Sound familiar?
At this point, you know something has to change. You move trail cameras and wander through the same section of woods scratching your head. Yes, I’ve been here. The deer have us patterned. It’s time to move!
Run and Gun may sound fast to people, like it’s a race to walk miles to discover far-away honey holes. It’s marketed as if you have to carry gear lighter than dental floss and ascend a tree in a matter of seconds. That’s not all true! Run and Gun can be slow and methodical. It can be planned or totally done on the fly! It's time to get back to the basics.
One day, after leaving one of the same small pieces of private land, where I’ve consistently killed mature bucks, I stopped at the edge of the field. I needed a new perspective. I forced myself to sit down and look at the same topographic map that I’ve stared at one hundred times before. What was I missing?
I had to think like a deer. Where would I feel safe? Where would the average hunter not have the ambition to go? This led me to look beyond the property boundaries. Eventually, it led me to a piece of public land accessible only by kayak.
With a fresh outlook, new research and scouting led me to the edge of a river. We tend to forget that deer swim. For a deer to plunge into a river and swim a few hundred yards is not out of the norm. I strapped my bow to my kayak and approached the island without a sound. It was then that I realized, the nearly impenetrably thicket would severely limit my shot opportunities. I’d have to be elevated in a tree.
I couldn’t find a way to strap a tree stand to the kayak and haul it through the undergrowth. This is when I began saddle hunting. It became vital to simplify my gear. What is absolutely necessary to kill a deer from a tree, and how can I bring it all in and out with my kayak and carry it through the scrub?
I had to reevaluate my entire set up because this location didn’t allow for anything superfluous. The landscape was far too impenetrable to roll up with the duck boat and place 10 stands around the island. I also did not want to do this. This was an opportunity to move through the woods like a predator, not a herd of cattle. I had the chance to start fresh and be invisible.
It was Veterans day, and it was the perfect morning to be hunting. I slid my kayak out of the bed of my truck, stepped into my sling, strapped a set of Stepps and my backpack on the back and my bow to the front. After a short paddle, I arrived at the shores of the thick jungle, threw my backpack on, slung the Stepps over my shoulder, and grabbed my bow without a sound.
It took 30 minutes to walk 100 yards as the brush grabbed at every inch of my clothing. I took my time and setting up in a scrubby oak only 12 feet off the ground. Once the sun came up I knew this was the ticket. I could now shoot over the thick brush and actually see what was coming.
This was only the second time I had stepped foot on this island and the first time in a tree. The night before I visualized the scenario on repeat. I planned everything from wind direction to access time, from packing my gear into my kayak to setting up in the dark. I immediately began seeing deer the first morning. A doe snuck by with a nice buck on her tail. A few short grunts later and he was playing cat and mouse with me. It wasn’t long before a nice 8 pt. came looking for a fight.
Like all the “professionals” say on tv he wasn’t the biggest deer, but I was happy with him. I don’t judge a good deer by his age or the size of his rack I judge it by the experience and the hunt itself. This deer was the first legitimate deer I killed from a sling and the first deer on public land accessed by a kayak. The hunt got even more interesting when I then realized this deer would not fit on or in my kayak, nor would I be able to carry or drag him out of this thick island. I always carry contractor garbage bags for this reason! I deboned him and took his head just as if I was packing out an elk. I did all I could to fit the meat in every square inch I had in the kayak and paddled back with 80 extra pounds than I had on the paddle in!
This hunt was more than a public land hunt. It was the realization that hunting from a tree doesn’t have to mean setting up a tree stand in advance of the hunt. It was proof that scouting can be done while hunting. Now, there is rarely just scouting or just hunting, I am always hunting. I did not have trail cameras taking surveillance, no shooting lanes trimmed or preset stands. I trusted my gut instincts and just hunted! As corny as it may sound, I always think like a predator, as if I am a bobcat or coyote. How often do you see a bobcat or coyote aimlessly walking with no care in the world and no interest in their surroundings? That is how many hunters walk to their stands. On the way to my stand, an arrow is always knocked, and I am alert. The run and gun set up I have established allows me to carry everything I need on my back and around my waist. It allows me to climb any tree I see fit, without stopping to make adjustments, or reorganize. To me there is no reason to go into the woods and scout during the hunting season without hunting, I just hunt. The first time in is always the best time so why spread your scent and give the deer a fair warning you are there and coming back! Just Hunt!
Have you ever seen a set of products advertised by a company you’ve come to know and trust? They take some really badass photos with a clever tag line about their success as “Run and Gun” hunters. They even have the article to back it up.
At this point they’ve got you. They’ve sold you on this persona and false representation of the “ultimate set up” that turns out to be nothing more than an ultimate disappointment with a laundry list of limitations.
Don’t worry, I’ve been there. And I’m not going back.
How I Got Started
When I was a kid, my dad and I were always moving our stands throughout the season. We would begin in the summer and set stands. We would put some in trees that had been successful in the past, and others in completely new areas. We would rotate our single trail camera between the different sites hoping to catch a glimpse of their patterns.
We would often go through the effort of trimming shooting lanes, only to move the stand 10 yards closer to the “highway.” Eventually, my patience would wane. I would get down from the stand and actively pursue the deer. I didn’t know what “Run and Gun” was, but if I saw a deer out of bow range I would go after it.
Sit and Wait? Never.
I am not one to ever sit still, and my hunting style developed just the same. I was always getting down from my stand, pushing deer to a friend, or simply trying to cut them off myself. It’s a game. A game of predator and prey but i'm too impatient for chess. It’s easy to sit still when you’re surrounded by deer, but much less so when the army of squirrels descends upon your bait without a deer in sight. This is when my feet hit the ground.
Back then, running and gunning meant just that: boots on the ground and gun or bow in hand. I would free climb trees and boulders for better vantage points. I would follow game trails, creep through thick cover and search for the flicker of a tail, the horizontal silhouette of the body, or if I was lucky, the points of a big rack.
This works, for me.
At 15, I got permission to hunt a property after the land owner lost all of the apples and peaches off of his fruit trees. I began by creeping into the woods and setting up at the base of a big oak.
After a few minutes it just didn’t feel right. I moved 50 yards and found a boulder the size of a Peterbilt. I hoisted myself atop of it and hunkered in. Moments later, I sent an arrow through the lungs of a 130” 8-point at 5 yards. He was so big and so close that all 5 of my sight pins were in the vitals!
I continued to evolve my style with the addition of more advanced gear. I was ecstatic to add a Lone Wolf sit and climb tree stand to my arsenal after the Christmas of 2005. By age 16 I weighed in at a whopping 120 pounds. I remember the effort of strapping 30 pounds on my back. I would secure a backpack to the climber and waddle into the woods with my weapon in one hand and 20 additional pounds of bait in the other.
The set up took time, the stand caught on branches and briers, and I was lucky to find a perfectly straight tree to climb. I hit the lottery if that tree happened to be in the area I actually wanted to hunt. And, there was always the added fun of realizing you’re 10 feet lower than you thought you were once the sun came up.
Oh, how things have changed.
Hunting equipment has advanced so much over the years that it is now possible to carry an entire set up on your back for miles.
Thanks to the internet, we have access to the best equipment and infinite information on techniques, methods, gear set ups you name it. Unfortunately, this has resulted in an over saturation of information that is often unrealistic.
I’m honestly disheartened by the commercials and graphics that show “run and gun setups.” These typically includes a tree stand with 3-4 climbing sticks strapped to their back and a bow in hand.
Where are the ratchet straps, the extra layers that you’ll need once you stop walking, heck where is any of the gear that you ultimately shouldn’t be out in the woods without (water, compass, headlamp, etc)? Ultimately, it wouldn’t make for a nice photo if they showed a realistic set up.
Now let’s think about how far you can walk with a Volkswagen on your back. Maybe the edge of a mowed field, a paved road perhaps? To truly pursue a whitetail, you will blast through swamps, across river bottoms, up and down steep ridges and cedar thickets. Those as seen on TV setups will have you upside down and sideways, and ultimately frustrated. The good news? When you collapse from exhaustion, you’ll have a ready-made blind from all the brush that got caught in your stand on the way in.
Shown on the left is my entire winter set up. The image to the right shows the competitors on a beautiful day with their version of a "lightweight," "run and gun" set. I support simplicity, plain and simple.
I’m not here to harp on the downfalls of other systems. I write with the intent of exposing the false hopes that other big-name marketing campaigns feed on. There is a better way, and I know because I’ve been on the underside of that same VW.
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“If you consider an unsuccessful hunt to be a waste of time, then the true meaning of the chase eludes you all together.” -Fred Bear
As bowhunters we all want an epic story, rich in history with that specific, elusive whitetail deer. It’s the deer that you “know” and have “passed” numerous times, you’ve found his sheds, and know where he beds. The intimate details of his daily and even seasonal routines are documented in a library of trail camera photos. You tell your buddies, “this deer is too young to shoot. In a couple years he’ll blow into a giant!” He’ll be big enough to make the most seasoned hunter’s heart pound.
That’s cool and all and sure sometimes it plays out like that, but let's be honest, it's pretty rare and nearly unheard of in New England. I have killed numerous pope and young bucks in Connecticut, and there was only one deer that I truly had history with. The rest of the deer I may have caught on camera or run into him a time or two, but they were nothing close to textbook multi-season hunts. Typically, I found sign of a big deer, made a plan, and I hunted until I harvested him.
In today's industry you hear everyone naming deer and creating a “hit list” for the deer that they want to kill. I do not. The only names deer get are, “the 8” or “the 10.” I called the one and only deer with true history, “The Big 6”. The story of The Big 6 began two years ago, or so I thought. It was only after I killed him that I returned to my trail camera archives and realized the history began four years ago in a thick swamp, on the ground, with my bow.
Many of you know that I have grown up in a family of hunters and by extension have become one myself. I began shooting a bow as young as age 6 with my first homemade stick and string longbow. As I grew older, I noticed how much it excited my dad to share this passion with me. When I was old enough to hunt, he dragged me to the local sportsman’s club for the hunter safety course, where I shot a bullseye before heading out the door to pursue my passion on the soccer field. In high school, I was consumed with sports and academics, and I allowed my perfectionist tendencies to take control. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I realized making time to hunt would benefit me and bring me closer to my older brother, Drew. I described hunting as my father’s passion, but it is my brother’s sickness; obsession is too soft of a word.