Author: Greg Staggs
Three simple words ended a three-year quest. Of course, even those couldn’t be that simple.
Three years earlier, I accompanied the man who had moved in next door to my family to Colorado for his 34th straight trip to the Rocky Mountains. I had met Larry Pierce at what we affectionately called “Crappie Camp”, where a few friends of mine had a cabin on one of the local lakes. Somewhat of a crappie-fishing legend, he came in a week early every year and caught all the fish for the fry that would feed upwards of 30 grown men with nothing but filets on a weekend night.
He had sought out the owner of the vehicle with the personalized BOHNTR plates pulled to the side, and we had formed a fast friendship. When he and his wife, Jo, moved in next door a couple years later, it was a true Godsend as they quickly became a very special, loving third set of grandparents to my two boys.
Tagging along those first two years with Larry, I came so agonizingly close to punching my tag each year. Once, I was working my way back from a remote meadow up the draw back to camp when I had a nice 5x5 come down and slip in behind me across the canyon bottom. A quick cow-call with my mouth stopped him in his tracks as I snapped to full draw, but the crevasse between us made the yardage-estimating task an extremely difficult one, especially given the self-imposed need to quickly get off the shot given that I had the bull’s full attention. My 45-yard shot nicked the bottom of the bull’s chest exactly beneath his heart as he stood 54 yards away on the other side of the ravine, leaving three thumbnail-sized drops of blood in his wake.
After foregoing the trip to Colorado last year for an antelope hunt instead (where – even with taking a nice P&Y speedgoat -- I vowed I’d never do another trip in lieu of Colorado; if anything, it would be in addendum to…), I found myself nestled in the back seat of Larry’s pickup once again for the 23-hour drive to the Uncompahgre National Forest situated a few thousand feet above Montrose, CO.
We were pleasantly surprised to find the inability to purchase a cow-only tag in our unit had seemed to keep many of the hunters we shared the public woods with at home this year, as the mandatory either-sex tag was closer to $600 rather than the previous years’ $260 pass to launch an arrow at the female elk. Combined with the tough economic setting of the past year, we virtually had the mountainside to ourselves.
It took a couple days of scouting after setting up camp, but I started feeling confident slipping through a newly discovered bedding area as I walked past rub after rub on trees bigger than my thighs with deeply grooved scratches ending above my six-foot frame. Opening day would find me stealthily making my way through the dense cedars and aspens, hoping to sneak up on a big elk before it noticed me. Everyone else in camp had elected to sit over a wallow, but I had found none to my liking. It would be the ultimate cat-and-mouse game.
Sunrise on our first day of hunting found me doing just that, and I worked the bedding area so slowly it took me three and a half hours to cover just 3/10ths of a mile. Emerging off to the side, I found myself overlooking an expansive draw that signaled the beginning of another big canyon. Spotting a log that ran parallel to the drop-off at the very edge of it, I sat down and took my backpack off while carefully laying my bow and nocked arrow beside me. After digging out a power bar and devouring half of it, I froze as I heard sticks breaking over my left shoulder. Whirling in that direction, I was awestruck as a monster 6x6 was just 15 yards behind me, moving quickly at a quartering-to direction as he neared the top of the draw.
I sat down the bar, grabbed the bow and came to full draw while still seated on the log. I followed the huge bull through the brush with my top pin, having to lean ridiculously far back to avoid the tree to my left. I cow-called with my voice to stop his gait, having removed my diaphragm call that I had in my mouth for the first three and a half hours of the morning to eat my snack. The bull froze in mid-stride but was stopped behind a wad of limbs. I waited, stomach muscles quivering as I was nearly balanced evenly on the log at full draw and my feet extended out in front of me. I had to wait for him to move again, and then quickly mewed once more. Of course, he stopped behind more brush.
I swung my bow to stay on him, and now had to lift my bow arm up and behind the tree in front of me while maintaining full draw to give my stabilizer clearance so I could keep my sight picture on the bull’s vitals which I estimated to be around 30 yards away now. Still, I had no shot; I would have to let him walk again. The third time I cow-called to stop him I was able to find a small dinner-plate sized opening in the brush between me and his lungs. Still precariously balanced on the log with my bottom as the fulcrum, I placed my 30-yard pin in the middle of his lungs and squeezed off the shot.
I was anguished to see my arrow hit extremely high, and its penetration stopped well short of what I would have preferred to see. The behemoth exploded down the face of the draw, smashing whatever got in his way. I followed his progress as best I could, especially noting that at one point I couldn’t see the dangling arrow shaft any more emitting from his wound.
I waited for close to 30 minutes before getting up and heading off in the direction I knew a camp member to be hunting; I had marked his wallow the previous day on my GPS, and it lay only .35 of a mile off to my right. As I worked my way towards Roy Poe, I found myself staring at a series of step-down wallows that as far as I knew, no one had discovered yet. I mentally marked the spot but was otherwise too occupied with thoughts of the huge 6x6 I had just arrowed.
With Roy’s help, we returned to the shot scene a few hours later and took up the trail. We quickly found spotty blood, but not good blood. One hundred yards into our search, I found the arrow, the first 1/3 of it snapped off and apparently still in the bull. Its shaft revealed way too much fat and muscle on its exterior for our liking. Roy had done his best to convince me the shot was probably better than I had relayed to him, but unfortunately all the sign we were finding proved what I saw correct. Five hundred feet from the shot site, we were forced to give up the spotty trail as blood simply gave out. We spread out and walked on in the direction the bull was travelling, but eventually was forced to give up. The DVD-cover quality bull was probably hurt with nothing more than a severe flesh wound.
I slowly still-hunted in the area that evening and the next morning, working methodically back and forth in hopes by some miracle I may actually find the bull downed by my arrow, eventually giving way to doing more grid searching than actual hunting. By the evening of the second day, I was ready for a break from all the walking I had done over the previous four days counting the two days of pre-season scouting; I opted to lash my Lone Wolf Alpha Hand Climber to the 4-wheeler rack and an eventual seat 30 feet over the series of step-down wallows I had discovered on my way to request trailing help from Roy.
A little after 7 o’clock that evening, the straight-line winds were back with a vengeance from earlier that afternoon, but this time they brought with them booming thunder which eventually gave way to loud cracks of lightning. I began looking around nervously, noting the billowing clouds tumbling across the skies just before they opened up. At first the rain came before being replaced by hail. Having seen plenty by this point, I decided to live to fight another day and lowered my bow down with my pull-up rope. However, I’d made a habit over nearly two decades’ of bowhunting to not just simply drop the loose end of the rope not attached to the bow; that end quickly got clipped to the D-ring on my safety harness.
For once, after all those years of employing that practice, it paid off. The rain slowed to a slow drizzle on my way down the tree, and halfway down the big aspen I heard limbs breaking off to my left about 60 yards away. I stopped my descent and looked over to see two big bulls working their way down the middle of the ravine. Just as quickly as I had lowered the bow in fear of the storm, I now raised it in anticipation of a possible shot opportunity. What an incredible difference five seconds could make in attitude!
I clipped on to my D-loop and applied pressure to the string… only to find now that my safety harness was going to prevent me from drawing. Only 15 feet off the ground now, I carefully laid my bow on the seat portion of my stand and unscrewed the locking carabiner from the safety rope. Then, I slid the top portion of the stand around and out of my way, all the time eyeing the two bulls milling around a little over 50 yards away.
I continued watching them feed slowly past before realizing they were about to walk out of my lives forever. I pulled my Hyperlip Single out of the cargo pocket of my pants and turned my head away from the bulls to begin a series of enticing cow calls which hopefully sounded like they had just come 40 yards from behind my tree. My spirits lifted as the second bull broke off from the first and began milling around slowly in a circular path that would swing him back my direction. He continued on that path until I could see he would hit a crossroads of sorts about 45 yards away from me. There, he could turn towards me and hopefully keep coming until I had a 15-yard broadside shot, or he could keep going straight through a thick patch of cedars.
I attempted to recall every yardage-estimation trick I had learned while shooting 3D around the state, zeroing in on the critical juncture where the bull would have to choose a direction. I walked it off in my mind in 10-yard increments. After coming up with a distance, I guessed where halfway between that and me was and found the distance to there, then doubled it to double-check it. I flipped 20-yard telephone poles end-over-end as I’d read about 3D World Champion Randy Ulmer doing in his prime.
And then the bull was there. He stopped, turned his massive headgear towards me, and feinted coming down the trail that would put him in easy gimme distance before holding up. Another big step put the bull ¼ of the way through the opening as he changed his mind and headed straight on through. I yanked the BowTech Destroyer 340 to attention while cow-calling with my voice once again. The front foreleg and massive chest of the bull now out of sight behind the undergrowth, I could still see all of his vitals and everything else behind that; it looked like the length of a truck was still visible.
I put my 40-yard pin in the middle of his body, and counted breathlessly to myself “20, 30, 40….” I counted down, wanting to make sure I somehow didn’t use the wrong pin in the heat of the moment. Settling into my anchor, I applied very light pressure to the release and then let my shoulder muscles take over from there. My rear elbow exploded backwards as the energy I had been holding back was suddenly and violently released, sending the Muzzy MX-3 arcing toward my target.
Whether it was the overcast conditions or something else, I never saw the flight of my arrow, despite its last 10 inches being adorned by a custom Onestringer wrap that faded from my beloved Predator Fall Gray to a gloss white to aid with in-flight visibility. All I heard was the Muzzy slamming into a log somewhere behind where the bull stood. I was mortified. How could have I missed? In disbelief, I watched as the bull took two steps forward, unfazed as he looked around at the source of the sound which had just come from so close to him. I quickly pulled up my binos to look at him through the overhanging cedar branches that now shielded him from me, searching for any sign of a hit. I was crestfallen; I could find none.
Ten minutes later, still the bull stood in the exact spot he had stepped into after the shot, and I began to wonder now. Then, my spirits lifted as he simply bedded down right there. I heard a stick break off to my right, and I found his buddy through the trees 50 yards away still hanging around. A few minutes later, I heard him leave and watched my bull carefully to see his reaction: he didn’t move a muscle. That was incredibly reassuring, as I knew his instinct would be to leave with his companion he was running with.
Forty-five minutes later, I studied the forest floor intently, examining the rain-soaked dirt and evaluating a path that would lead me to him so I could get a second arrow in him. I couldn’t bear the thought of bumping him out of his death bed though, as his massive rack still swiveled freely left and right as he surveyed his surroundings. I finally talked myself out of a stalk and decided to wait him out to see what he would do. Perhaps if he stood and then walked back into my original shooting lane, I could get that other arrow in him I so desperately wanted.
At 7:43 p.m., he attempted to get out of his bed, but his hindquarters failed him, and he fell back to the earth. I was praying hard now, asking that he die right there in his bed. I had no idea of the shot I had on him, but I knew he was hurting extremely bad now. Ten minutes went by before he stood, and then another 10 as he remained motionless on his feet; I hoped he would simply fall over dead. Just in case, I kept tension applied to my bowstring and stood at the ready, much as I had done for the last hour and a half solid of watching him.
Then he left, trotting away before I could even yank the string back and ignoring my pleading cow calls. He ran down through the canyon bottom as though nothing was wrong with him, and I was thankful I had decided to stay put so I could get a line on where he headed. With the thunder and lightening moving back in, I decided to quickly climb the remaining length of Aspen I had below me and go investigate his bed; after all, I doubted much sign would remain after a stormy night, and I wanted to have a look at the damage I had done before it all washed away.
What I found left me in sheer amazement. How had he been able – after an hour and a half – to simply get up and trot away? There were two huge pools of bright, red blood bigger than the lid of a 5-gallon bucket almost a yardstick’s length apart signaling a solid pass-through hit. The pool of blood on the right was literally almost three inches thick with pink, frothy, bubbly blood. I stared in disbelief at the bed, then looked over to where the bull had stood when I shot him, a mere three feet away. There was my Victory arrow sticking out of a log, soaked with bright, red blood – the feathers matted down to the fletching tape with reddish, pinkish coloring.
I backed out without even taking a step in the direction the bull had run and began my hike to the 4-wheeler I had parked a half-mile away in the increasingly stronger and stronger downpour. When I told the guys at camp, some asked if I wanted to go after him right then. No, I told them… if he was dead now, he’d be dead in the morning and I didn’t want to bump him. What an incredibly fortuitous decision that turned out to be.
I tossed and turned all night in my cot and thought of how many times I’d read of others in the bowhunting world doing the same. I thought of how many years I’d been pursuing animals with a bow exclusively, and how I guessed I was fortunate that this was my very first time to ever lose a whole night’s sleep over my quarry. I thought of my family, and the sacrifices my wife makes for me to pursue bowhunting with such passion. I thought of God, and how blessed I was – whether I recovered the bull or not. I thought of everything that I could think of in 10 hours of staring at a tent ceiling. And then the heavens opened as inches upon inches of water crashed down onto the mountainside.
By 9 o’clock the next morning, two friends from camp were standing beside me as we stared at the bull’s bed where I’d watched him for over an hour and a half. Amazingly, there were STILL two huge puddles of blood – a testament to how big and thickly pooled they were given how much rain had been dumped on the mountainside that night. Our spirits lifted briefly at the hope of the blood trail remaining but were quickly dashed as we tried to find anything outside the bed itself.
We immediately spread out three abreast and started down the canyon, hoping the bull stayed close to the creek in the bottom. A half-mile later, we decided to turn around, and spread out on the opposite side so that we could cover up into some likely bedding area in case the bull had crossed the canyon bottom and went uphill to bed down on the other side. My GPS told me we had almost made it back to the starting point of our grid search when James yelled out the three words I’d been longing so badly to hear: “I found him!!” As I stated at the beginning, though – even that wasn’t so simple. The words were immediately followed by “… and he’s still alive!”
Incredulously, I made my way through the underbrush towards him when I spotted the hulking figure off to my right, head up and alert. I had to circle behind and around James to get the angle I needed to put a finishing shot on the big 5x5, and eventually ended up about 17 yards away broadside from the bull. Crouching slightly to allow the arrow a path through the limbs, I settled my pin directly on the bull’s front shoulder before watching my barred feathers come to rest against his tawny skin. The bull didn’t flinch. “What does it take to kill one of these animals?” I thought, reaching for another arrow from my Octane quiver.
I held my top pin an inch away from the feathers and nock barely sticking out of the elk and sunk another arrow into his vitals. Upon impact of the second arrow, he exploded out of his bed and crashed away – only to fall to his final resting place 20 yards away.
Author: Greg Staggs
The question probably came from as far out of left field as she would have ever expected. It was more of a statement, actually.
“I grew up hunting. I bowhunt. I’m going to have mounted animals in my house. I’m not saying this relationship will ever get to that point…” I trailed off. Then I picked back up again, diving full-steam ahead. No sense in stopping now. “But if it ever does,” I began again, “Is that going to be a problem?”
She thought for the briefest of moments before giving her answer. “As long as you don’t put them in the bedroom, bathroom or the kitchen.” I paused just as briefly. “Fair enough,” I answered before we both started scanning our menus in prelude to the meal on our first date.
It had been the second question of the night for my future wife, right after the one asking when she wanted to have kids. We were both a bit older: She had been in the work force for a while and I was in my last year of graduate school. We had both been in enough relationships to know what we didn’t want, and neither one of us danced around issues important to us. We dove headlong into a beautiful relationship that after 24 years of marriage and counting has continued to provide me with the most supportive bowhunting spouse who doesn’t hunt that I could have ever hoped for.
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.”
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 ball-field 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.
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...
Welcome to the very first Tactical Tuesday from Wild Edge Inc. Here’s what you can expect…
Tuesday evenings 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.
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.
“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.