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Traditional Bows

Hunting with Faith, Hope and Charity

I watched the miles multiply on my odometer as I sped south and west across the vast plains toward Wyoming’s legendary Spearhead Ranch. Like every autumn for the past ten years, I was looking forward to a week of bow hunting pronghorn antelope on this amazing and expansive piece of property. But more than that, I was particularly excited about hunting with a very special bow; a longbow that came into my possession through the incomparable forces of faith, hope, and charity.

St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital is nothing short of a living shrine, an anthem of hope and healing built in the 1950’s by entertainer Danny Thomas, a group of philanthropic business people, and some 100 representatives of the Arab-American community. For Danny, the construction of this hospital fulfilled a pledge made to create a tribute to St. Jude Thaddeus, patron saint of lost causes, for answering a prayer made by Danny when he was still a young, struggling entertainer who had petitioned the Saint to help him find his way in this life.

Today, the living legacy of Danny Thomas’s faith stands as a beacon of light, reaching across the world to help children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases regardless of their family’s ability to pay. It is an example of the very best of human generosity and character.

As a person who has been fortunate to make my life’s work serving others in the ministry of healthcare, I remain deeply moved by the origins and mission that are such important elements of the story of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Thus, a few years ago when a group of philanthropically minded traditional bow hunters at Tradgang.com endeavored to start an annual on-line auction to support St. Jude’s, I was quick to participate.

The 2009 auction offered many wonderful items for the enthusiastic bidder and I was only too thrilled to be the winner of a custom Firefly Take Down Longbow to be built by Bowyer, Jim Jones. The bow would be made to my specifications and as an unanticipated surprise; Jim indicated that he would have the bow in my hands well before my Wyoming bow hunt.

True to his word, my Firefly arrived three weeks in advance of my hunt; more than enough time for me to tune the bow, match it to the perfect arrows, and practice to assure proficiency. Shooting the bow proved to be a dream, as my St. Jude’s Firefly was one of the smoothest, best performing longbows I had ever had the pleasure of owning. I was confident that if all went well while hunting, I could place the arrow right where it needed to be at the moment of truth.

After an uneventful journey to the ranch and a good night’s sleep, it was suddenly August 31st and the first morning of my hunt. From my hunting blind I marveled at the sight of the prairie awakening. Pinkish light growing against the retreating darkness was quickly punctuated by the sounds of songbirds, the sight of two distant mule deer moving casually in my direction, the wispy hush of temperate wind snaking through the sage. I looked at the Firefly and smiled, for there was no doubt that this bow and I were in the presence of the Divine.

The two mule deer finally arrived at my location. Both were immature bucks and I admired their youthful splendor as they bent their heads low toward the waterhole in front of my blind and began to drink. The youngsters meandered away to the southwest and soon enough antelope began to appear.

From 7:20 AM to 11:30 AM I enjoyed a procession of wildlife that most people only dream of seeing. There were countless pronghorn does, fawns, and immature bucks. There were plump prairie hens, melodious song birds, and even rodents to keep me inspired and entertained as the morning ebbed away. And if that wasn’t enough, I just felt lucky… like something good was going to happen. And so with anticipation I looked forward to my afternoon.

A scant 45 minutes passed when I looked up and saw a mature pronghorn buck waltz into view only 15 yards away. He was intent on quenching his thirst in the warming air and when he moved his body broadside to the blind and began to drink, I quickly drew the St. Jude’s Firefly longbow to anchor, concentrated on making a good shot, and released the Grizzly tipped carbon arrow toward its mark. The arrow struck the big buck perfectly, hitting low in the chest and punching through both lungs. It was clear from the buck’s behavior that his death would be quick.

I watched the animal until I was sure he had expired and then exited the blind to look at him. After giving thanks for his life, I was struck by this animal’s beauty. He had good body size, was in perfect condition, and boasted exceptional horns with long, heavy cutters. Although I had not come to the Spearhead specifically to trophy hunt, I was certain that my longbow and I had indeed scored on a trophy.

There were nine other hunters in camp the same week that I was there and two of them scored on nice antelope bucks the first day. Given that the weather forecast for the week was expected to be hot and dry, I was confident that all of my hunting partners would have opportunities at pronghorn bucks before their hunts ended on Friday. And since, for this week, there were actually four of us hunting with traditional bows, I was particularly anxious to cheer on my stickbow toting counterparts in their quest for this legendary beast of the western prairie.

Since my hunt had been booked for two animals, I still had another antelope tag to fill, so day two found me in a blind called “Solar Well.” It is the farthest blind from the lodge in a remote section of the ranch that is simply teeming with wildlife and I looked forward to spending my day there in anticipation of what was to come.

The first bird of the morning chirped out a greeting at 5:50 AM. The westerly breeze was light, barely cool, and pleasant in the way that early autumn is always pleasant: filled with the aromas of drying foliage and damp, fertile earth.

Antelope began to appear at 7:30 in the morning and before the day had ended I suspect I must have viewed at least 60 animals. Although I chose not to shoot any of the bucks that came to water outside my blind, I was nonetheless excited about my day in the field. It was extraordinary in every sense of the word and left me even more optimistic about the prospects that awaited me on day three.

Day three found me in a blind I knew well. “The Studio” was the blind where I was lucky enough to arrow and tag an exceptional antelope buck in 2007 during cold, inclement weather. Like all of the blinds at Spearhead, the shooting distance to the water was close; the animal traffic was usually high, and the prospects of tagging a nice buck were excellent. Now I simply needed to watch and wait.

The wind blew steady and strong on this Wednesday, but the animals did not appear to be disturbed by the gusts. In truth, there are few constants on the prairie, but the reality of wind is typically one of them and the resident wildlife quickly learns how to adapt to its continuous presence and to interpret its rhythms and moods.

Various mule deer and antelope took up their positions at the water throughout the day. I looked over a lot of animals and even considered shooting one very nice young antelope buck that came to water with a small herd of does early in the afternoon. But I wanted to tag a pronghorn that had done some living; a buck that I was sure had left his genetics in the fawns on the prairie. So I gripped the St. Jude’s longbow lying across my lap and silently prayed that I would know the right buck when he appeared.

At 6:50PM with evening beginning to close in, several antelope does, fawns, and one mature pronghorn buck trotted up to the tiny pool of water to drink. The buck had heavy horns, a thick body, and broad shoulders: a buck with a history, a buck who had lived. The more I looked at the big antelope, the more it became apparent that this was the buck I was meant to take. So, when all of the other animals had cleared away from the shooting area and the big antelope stood broadside less than 15 yards away, I tightened my grip on the bow, drew the string, and released my second arrow of the week.

The big buck jumped when the arrow struck and he made it only a short 100 yards before going down and quickly expiring from a double lung hit. For the second time on my trip, I gave thanks for the blessing of the hunt and as I walked up to place my tag on the big antelope, I also gave thanks for the St. Jude’s longbow. For it occurred to me that in this bow lives the same spirit of faith, hope, and charity that lives in the story of Danny Thomas and his tribute to St. Jude Thaddeus. It is a story of commitment, humility, generosity, and joy and it has been my honor just to share in it.

 

A Step In The Right Direction

In 1994, after shooting a compound bow for just over 12 years, I became enchanted with the idea of shooting a bow without the aid of sights, the clatter of gadgets or the distinctive look of techno-mechanics. Thus, I happened upon my first recurve bow: a dazzling yet understated beauty of zebra wood and red elm with a smooth draw and wonderfully comfortable grip. I was sure that this would be a match made in heaven. As a result, I could hardly wait to take my newfound hunting companion for a walk in the woods. However, I still had one minor problem. How the heck do you shoot this thing?

To the seasoned traditional bow aficionado, it seems simple to pick up a recurve or longbow and efficiently propel arrow after arrow into a distant target. However, to the unacquainted among us, learning to shoot a traditional bow can be a bit like learning to ride a bike for the first time. Such a venture is not without its bumps and bruises along the way. And in my case, I can certainly attest that I jettisoned enough of my arrows into the unknown to prove it!

Often what makes the difference between the person who sticks with traditional archery and the person who does not is not a lack of either commitment or interest, but the absence of a mentor. For me, the quest on the road to hunting with traditional bows may have begun in 1994, however, it wasn't until the end of the 2001 calendar year that I finally made the switch from modern to exclusively traditional archery. What took so long? I simply did not have anyone to assist me in terms of proper form, how to select the right bow at the right poundage, how to locate written and web resources, etc. In effect, I was stumbling along under the mistaken impression that I might eventually fall upon the "right" combination of anchor point, stance, release, etc. and that everything would magically fall into place. Boy, was I wrong!

In frustration, I gave up my pursuit of the recurve and longbow for a few years. But after the Fall hunting season with my compound in 2000, I decided that it was time to get back into the traditional saddle and try again. By this time, I had added other stickbows to my stable and had begun to practice in earnest. Despite my best efforts, however, I was still having difficulty getting consistent arrow groups at hunting distances and was by this time, really looking for people who could give me some answers.

In March of 2000, I booked a hunt on an all women's hog hunt in Oklahoma. The camp owners/outfitters were highly regarded as traditional bowhunters, so in addition to packing my compound hunting bow, I decided to take along a stickbow in the hopes I might learn something from these confirmed veterans.

During the mid-day break on the first full day of the hunt, one of the camp operators took time from building a new lodge to watch me shoot and give me a few pointers. This was my first lesson in traditional archery and I was anxious for any suggestions that could help me on my journey. The most significant of his recommendations was related to my stance. As a right-handed shooter, my left foot was forward toward the target in much the same manner as I had always shot my compound bow. After watching me shoot a few arrows, he simply suggested that I take my right foot and move it forward, thus opening my stance toward the target and improving my line of sight. All I can say is that this minor change was not just a step, but a step in the right direction. My shot consistency saw immediate improvement and with further practice and the adoption of the "gap" method of shooting, I was soon able to develop the confidence I needed to put away my compounds for good. Although I had been shooting a bow for nearly 20 years, at the age of almost 41, I was still in as much need of traditional bow remediation as any new comer was to archery. Had it not been for the few minutes of personal time that was shared with me, I might still be floundering for answers and wasting time struggling to overcome poor shooting habits.

It has been said that practice does not make perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect. Relative to archery, and traditional archery in particular, nothing could be more accurate. As traditional archers and bowhunters, we can not forget that the chasm between practice and perfect practice is often best bridged by a mentor; someone who will take the time to help soften and shorten the learning curve for those who are new to shooting and hunting with this equipment.

The mentoring I received made all the difference for me in my quest to become a traditional bowhunter. Nearly one year after those initial archery lessons, I returned to that same camp in Oklahoma on another women's hog hunt and was fortunate to send a carbon arrow through both lungs of my first traditional big game animal... a fat 80 pound boar. I owe that thrill, as well as those that have followed, to a number of things including perseverance, practice, determination and patience. I also owe it to the spirit of mentorship that makes traditional archery not just a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors, but a wonderful way of life.

 

The Video Store

It was a September afternoon, brightly back-dropped by cerulean skies, when I concluded my cross-country trek from my home in Arkansas to the familiar sage brush and prairie grass of Wyoming’s Spearhead Ranch. As I drove along the dusty, winding five mile ranch road toward the lodge and bunkhouse, I scanned the infinite acres for a glimpse of the creatures that had drawn me to this hallowed hunting ground. Rounding a bend near the creek, and as if by magic the Greek goddess Artemis had swept her mythic hand across the prairie, there they were: pronghorns!

This was my second bow hunting trip to the Spearhead, but my first with traditional archery gear. As a result, I was particularly excited at the prospect of hunting with this new, more challenging choice of equipment and had packed a selection of my most faithful bent sticks for my western odyssey.

After arriving at camp, unpacking and sharing greetings with both old friends and those who would become new friends by week’s end, Frank Moore, owner/outfitter of the ranch, began the pre-hunt ritual of orientation and assignment of hunting blind locations. Since I was one of only two hunters in camp possessing tags for both mule deer and antelope, Frank suggested that I hunt a blind that was known to be frequented by both species. And so began my acquaintance with "The Video Store".

The Video Store, like most of the hunting blinds on the Spearhead, is a huge inverted steel tank buried two thirds underground, thus creating a pit where hunters wait for game. The tank has a single small shooting window that overlooks a preferred prairie watering hole less than 20 yards away. In addition, there are tiny viewing ports, just inches in diameter, cut in the tanks to allow hunters to scan for approaching game. Each blind is equipped with a comfortable chair and hunters are dropped off well before daylight to begin their daily vigil.

Like most of my hunting trips, I awoke well before my alarm clock was scheduled to ring on the next morning, my first day of hunting. I wasted no time climbing into my camo, doing a final inspection of my bow, arrows and broadheads, and checking the contents of my pack before heading into the lodge for a welcome cup of coffee and the substantial breakfast that Shirley, camp cook and Spearhead kitchen icon serves up with more warmth and cheer that can ever be articulated in print.

After breakfast, each hunter picked up a small cooler filled with cold drinks and a packed lunch for the day afield. Then we climbed into vehicles to be transported by our guides through the cool predawn to our blinds and whatever may await in the hours ahead. As one by one each person was taken to his designated location and seen off with wishes of luck from those of who remained, I was reminded of the sincerity that I have come to appreciate in most bow hunters. With few exceptions, phrases like "shoot straight", "good luck", and "get a big one", are said as much as an encouragement as a hope for good fortune. It is one of the many reasons I have come to love my time in hunting camps and my time with hunters.

I arrived at the Video Store just as pinkish light began to peer over the eastern horizon, splashing the prairie sky with the first hint of muted color. Crawling into my blind, I looked forward to watching the world awake to a new day.

The early morning resulted in little movement on the ridges surrounding the Video Store. However, by mid-morning several small bands of antelope became visible feeding in all directions from my location. Watching them browse the sage and contiguously scan the prairie for predators was a delightful way to pass the morning hours.

At about one in the afternoon, after watching some 50 antelope throughout the morning, I was surprised to see a velvet antlered mule deer appear on the western ridge some 350 yards away and feeding beside a group of about a dozen prairie goats. Given that no mature antelope bucks had elected to visit the waterhole, my interest in the deer heightened.

I watched the mulie buck disappear and reappear in the hilly creases at ranges of up to 400 yards for the next hour. Then, without notice, he began a determined trot down the ridge and quickly closed the distance between us until he was standing at the edge of the languid pool. As he cautiously lowered his head to drink, forelegs and muzzle submerged in the water, I drew my 47# recurve bow and unleashed a 560 grain carbon shaft. The arrow hit the wrinkle of skin just behind the shoulder, crashing into the flesh just as the buck exploded and disappeared behind the blind at break-neck speed. Heart pounding, I endeavored to catch my breath and calm my nerves while waiting for the prudent minutes to pass between my shot and any effort toward game recovery.

A half an hour finally ticked away as I climbed from the Video Store and out into the sun soaked 85 degree air. My boots crunched against the parched soil, brushing against the abundant sage as I slowly began to walk in the direction the mule deer buck had fled. I picked up the deep crimson trail of blood and followed it for several yards until my patience failed and I gave into the temptation to raise my binoculars and scan the earth ahead. There he was, down and lifeless some 100 yards directly in front of me. I approached slowly, bow and arrow at the ready, even though I knew that another shot would not be necessary. It was obvious, and I was grateful, that this buck has expired quickly. I knelt down by the beautiful creature and took his velvet antlers in my hands, silently thanking God for his life and the gift of his harvest.

Spearhead blinds are equipped with a flag that is to be hung outside the blind when hunters wish to signal their guides for pick up. Guides check for the red banners throughout the day from high vantage points using spotting scopes and binoculars. Thus, it wasn’t long after the deployment of my flag that Leo, my guide, came rumbling down the two-track to where I was sitting in the grass with the buck.

Leo, an accomplished traditional bowman himself, was thrilled with the results of my day afield. As we laughed and talked about the hunt, it was obvious that his appreciation of the day’s efforts were as genuine as the lifetime of western wrangling that had made him not only a great hunting guide, but also the quintessential American cowboy.

Day two saw me back for another engagement with the cast of characters occupying the real estate around the Video Store. The stage began to fill at around 10 am when I observed a good looking pronghorn buck bedded on a high Southwest ridge nearly 600 yards away. I watched anxiously throughout the day as the buck got up, stretched, changed locations and occasionally fed without ever altering his altitude. The wind was gusting from the West on this hot 90 degree day. With the buck bedded on the dry open ground, I hoped that he would eventually become thirsty and come to water.

While having my patience tested by the dark faced buck up the ridge, activity at the Video store was anything but light. The procession of doe and fawn antelope coming in to quench their thirst at the tiny pool kept me well entertained. In addition, there were two more mule deer bucks, both appreciably bigger than the one I had taken the previous day, who kept me company for over half an hour as they repeatedly took turns drinking from the little oasis.

Finally, at 3:30 in the afternoon, after watching the pronghorn buck for most of the day, my prayers were answered when he suddenly rose from his bed and began the descent from his vantage point. After stopping to make two scrapes along his route, he finally appeared just 10 yards in front of my position. As I began to draw my bow on the broadside beast, he sensed something was amiss and turned his head to face directly into the shooting window. I froze in mid-draw, muscles straining against against the bamboo limbs until I was forced to meticulously let down. Moments passed and by some twist of luck, Divine intervention, or both, the buck settled, put his head down and began to drink. I could see his cheeks fill and the water ripple as I again began to draw my bow and focus my attention on the target of tufted hair that was evident just behind the antelope’s shoulder.

Instantly the arrow was gone. The buck jumped from the pool, made a semi-circle and at a full run, headed back toward the ridge. I tried to catch my breath as I watched the buck’s futile efforts to escape from what had startled him, but the arrow had already done its job and after 140 yards the big goat collapsed and was finished. After my usual wait, I approached the downed antelope. I stroked his neck and experienced that strange but familiar sense of conflicting emotions…excitement, remorse, and thanksgiving that make hunting such an enriching and full experience.

Waiting for my pick up there under the bright, arid sky, I pondered on the seasons of the hunting life. There are many times when we go afield and return with only our memories of the day. It is the blessing of those times that give us the appreciation for those magical hours when predator and prey come together in the dance of life that is as old as antiquity itself. My time in the Video Store will long be remembered for the success of the harvest, but equally, it will be treasured for the sound of the wind, the scent of the sage, the joy of watching other hunters fill their tags, and the familiar feel of a traditional bow in my hand.

 

Revenge of the Green Thermal

The West Texas wind blew unseasonably warm across the sunny Schleicher County morning as my hunting partners and I sped toward the hunting lodge that would be our home for the next four days of December. There, just outside the dusty little town of Eldorado, a place of menacing prickly pear and gnarled mesquites, is a veritable Mecca for America’s favorite big game animal: the whitetailed deer.

This was my seventh consecutive year to make my annual pilgrimage to bowhunt with my good friend Gerald Altmann, owner of Fort Mckavett Outfitters. In the previous six years, I had killed five good bucks on the ranches managed by Gerald, and thus always looked forward to returning to chase the abundant deer population I knew existed.

All of the previous bucks I had killed on this West Texas bowhunt had been taken using modern archery equipment. Although I had already made my conversion to traditional bowhunting gear by the time I had arrived to hunt during the 2002 season, taking my greenish hued verawood Marriah Thermal recurve to do the honors, the hunting gods simply refused to smile on my plan to take my first traditional whitetailed buck during that trip. Instead, after missing a close shot on a deer that jumped the string, the Green Thermal and a carbon arrow connected on a fat mature doe to fill the larder near the end of the hunt. I was grateful for the doe and excited to have a made a good shot, but I was already anticipating next year and the hope of avenging the honor of my beloved bow by adding a whitetailed buck to the bag.

Now it was 2003 and the Green Thermal and I were looking for a chance to get even with the resident West Texas buck population. I had practiced all Spring and Summer almost daily with a new arrow and broadhead combination and even had the opportunity to try my luck on a recent hog hunt that had resulted in a nice sow for the freezer, so I was confident that given the right opportunity, the Green Thermal would do it’s job if I could do mine.

Ironically, the first afternoon of my hunt saw me in the same tripod stand where I had both missed and connected on deer during the previous year’s hunt. It was in my view, the perfect bowhunting stand for the traditional archer. The height was only six feet, minimizing the effects of severe downward angles. And even better, the stand was set up for shot distances that would likely be in the 15 yard range. While the stand had good visibility to the surrounding pasture, it also offered excellent concealment to the location in front where deer were likely to appear, thus increasing the likelihood of drawing the bow undetected. A final feature of the stand, and one I particularly liked, is that it was strategically placed in the middle of a small group of cedar trees. The aromatic scent of the cedar helps create an extra measure of cover scent that is both familiar to the deer and completely natural.

I crawled into my stand at 4 PM to warm, gusty, southern winds and temperatures near 70 degrees Fahrenheit, something far different than I had experienced during previous hunts at this time of year. As always, before settling in for the afternoon hunt, I drew my bow, bringing the string to full draw several times to check limb clearance and loosen up my muscles before nocking an arrow and beginning my vigil. Upon making one final check of my equipment, I positioned the Green Thermal for ready access, applied my face paint, and waited in the fading afternoon sun for action.

Just after 5 PM, a young, tall-tined eight pointer arrived on the scene and began to feed. Within 20 minutes, several other bucks had also begun making appearances near my stand, all cautiously approaching from down wind, but none more than 20 yards from my position.

The bucks varied in age from 1 ½ years to 3 ½ years with antler points from five to eight. This late in the season, with the rut wrapped up for yet another year, the bucks were feeding aggressively in an attempt to regain precious weight before the onslaught of Winter weather that was sure to follow this unseasonable warm snap.

As a matter of fact, weather forecasts for the remainder of our week indicated declining temperatures, with morning lows in the mid 20’s and highs in the high 50’s to low 60’s. There was even a chance of rain, something that was not an appealing thought from the perspective of hunting, but was desperately needed to quench the parched soil and promote the growth of adequate winter forage to see the deer population through to Spring.

At about 5:30 PM another eight pointer entered the arena. Though this deer also appeared to be a 3 ½ year old, his stocky build, aggressive posturing and broken tine off his right main beam made it obvious that he was a scrapper. He pinned his ears and raised his hair to warn any potential competitors that this particular feeding area was now his and that he would clearly not hesitate to defend it.

As I watched the buck parade back and forth in front of my position, I felt my left hand tighten around the grip of the Green Thermal. I had already decided that if I had a standing, broadside shot at the deer, that I would take it.

Minutes seemed to pass in slow motion as I waited for the opportunity to raise my bow and draw the arrow. Finally, at 5:45 PM, just as the buck appeared to be turning to leave, he hesitated with his body nearly broadside. Without a thought, I concentrated on a spot behind the shoulder, brought the 47 pound Green Thermal to full draw and watched the 260 grain Magnus tipped carbon arrow disappear into the side of the deer. As the buck bolted and ran for cover, I saw the blood soaked arrow on the ground and was certain I had made a lethal shot.

Twenty minutes passed before I grabbed my bow and trail marking tape, and exited the tripod. With dark approaching I wanted to try to recover the buck before nightfall and given the look of the frothy blood on the arrow, I did not anticipate the task to take very long.

I picked up the blood trail close to where I saw the deer disappear from sight. It was a fair blood trail, but certainly not as heavy as I expected to see. Closer inspection revealed why. Blood was sprayed in small droplets about every 10 to 15 feet. Occasionally, mixed in were larger droplets of dark red blood. This combination told me that I had likely hit only one lung on the deer and possibly the liver. I decided to be patient, go slow and work the trail cautiously, backing off to give it more time if the trail diminished.

Fortunately, after almost 40 minutes and nearly 130 yards, I saw the white belly of the deer. He had collapsed and died between two small cedars. I was relieved and grateful to have made the recovery on this beautiful animal.

In the now declining light, I grabbed his antlers and began dragging him toward the road, Green Thermal clutched in my left hand as I navigated the loose rock and prickly pear of the pasture. When I arrived at the ranch road to wait for Gerald to pick me up, I looked at the bow lying there next to the buck and smiled at the results of my year of practice and patience since I had last hunted at this location. Not only had I been able to take my first traditional whitetailed buck, but also avenge the honor of my closest hunting companion. I smiled at the thought of it and at the fact that in some instances, revenge really can be sweet!

 

The Whole Enchilada

Trying to describe what it is like to bowhunt south Texas javelina is a little like trying to describe what it was like the first time you ever went to an amusement park. The experience is simply pure, unadulterated joy! And given the fact that most javelina hunting occurs from January to March, after nearly all of the regular big game seasons close, it is a great way to extend hunting opportunities and create a diversion from the drudgery of late Winter. Combine that with hunting in some beautiful scenery, with fabulous, authentic Mexican cuisine, and a guide whose antics are reminiscent of a court jester, and you’ve got more than just a hunt. You’ve got the whole enchilada.

My late season javelina adventure started by being the winning bidder of a hunt donated for a charity auction by Rob Kiebler of Fairchase, LTD. I had hunted successfully with Rob a year earlier and knew that he not only had some outstanding ranch leases, but that he was also a primo host and extremely entertaining guide. I mean, where else can you find a guy who gets his kicks by catching and playing with rattlesnakes, orchestrating endless practical jokes, and generally approaching life like it is one big, festive ride? Needless to say, I was not short on enthusiasm when I scheduled two days in late February to fly down to south Texas, team up with Rob, and chase one of the most unique animals of the southwest: the collared peccary or more commonly known as the javelina.

I arrived in historic San Antonio, Texas on a Friday night and rented a car to travel the two and a half-hours south to the tiny town of El Indio. There, Rob met me at the post office and I followed him to the 17,500 acre ranch bordering the Rio Grande River that would be my hunting grounds for the next two days. By the time I settled into the cabin and unpacked my gear it was almost midnight. Time for bed and a few hours of sleep before the next day’s hunt.

They say that the best things in life are free and I can attest that after a short night, the aroma of fresh brewed coffee is one of those experiences that is seldom equaled by things that have much more substantial price tags. It’s just hard to beat that first sip of joe on the morning of a hunt, especially when tempered with a teaspoon of whipping cream and shared with friends under a warm pre-dawn sky.

Rob dropped me off at 6:30 a.m. at a 12-foot tripod stand for my first morning of hunting. Waiting for shooting light I watched the sky begin to awaken in streaks of orange and pink. The breeze was faint and gentle, warm as a baby’s yawn and almost as subtle as muted white light began to fill the morning. I visually checked my bow and the arrow I had already nocked to make sure that I would be ready to shoot if given the opportunity. All was well.

The first animal I saw came from the east. She was a black hog, a feral sow that circled my stand nervously, constantly testing the drifting currents of wind, not sure she wanted to commit to come into the feeding area. I watched her for some ten minutes before catching additional movement in the eastern sendaro. I shifted my eyes to the left and there, heading in my direction was a band of 12 javelina. They were closing quickly and as automatic as clockwork, I felt my fingers tighten on the bowstring in anticipation of a potential shot opportunity.

In seconds, I was surrounded by javelina of every size. And they were close; anywhere from 10 to 18 yards. However, there was one problem, they were a squirming, moving mass that would simply not stand still for a shot. It was obvious that this might take some extra time.

As I watched the group feed and waited patiently for a standing, broadside shot on one of the larger members, I listened to the west as a band of coyotes began to howl. Interestingly, the mature javelina took note, bristling their hair and lifting their snouts into the air to test for the scent of the canine-like predators. It was obvious that they were endeavoring to confirm the intent of their nemesis to advance, but finally calmed down as the song dogs silenced, mistakenly believing they were safe. Little did they know, a mere 12 feet above them, another predator was lurking and ready to strike.

At 14 yards one of the javelina finally stopped slightly quartering toward me. I drew my 56" Morrison TD recurve, focused on a spot, and released a 500 grain carbon arrow. As the arrow hit its mark, the javelina spun around and ran, collapsing in a heap only 25 yards away from where I had shot. I was exhilarated! Though I had killed javelina before, this was my first with a stickbow so I was anxious to have this particular animal mounted and memorialized as something special, for indeed it was.

Quiet moments passed and then I saw that about half of the original band of 12javelina were beginning to reassemble. Before long, they were once again in front of my stand, feeding aggressively and moving about. Given that Texas allows two javelina per license holder per year, I decided that if given a good opportunity, I would try to fill my final tag. After watching for what seemed to be an eternity, I saw a mature animal at 16 yards turn broadside. I lifted my bow and for the second time that morning released an arrow. The shot zipped quickly through its target, but appeared to be a bit far back. The javelina stood there for a moment, fell over, got up, and then slowly began to walk into the brush. I watched it bed down within 30 yards of where I had shot and felt confident that if not pushed, it would be easily recovered.

Rob had left me with a two-way radio and after about 40 minutes I called him to come and provide some tracking assistance. By the time he arrived, the wounded javelina had gotten up and wandered further into the trees and undergrowth. Although we quickly found an excellent blood trail, we decided to give it some time and come back to recover the animal later in the morning.

We loaded up the first javelina and headed to camp to take pictures and have breakfast. Knowing that the shot was farther back than optimal, we decided that we would give the animal a couple of hours before taking up the trail through the thick south Texas brush in the hopes that our tracking time would be relatively short.

A few hours later found us picking our way along the arid soil and prickly pear in pursuit of the wounded javelina. The blood trail was steady, varying in size from near puddles to scattered droplets as we crouched under the low hanging limbs of the dense thicket. I wish I could report that we recovered this animal, but unfortunately, we abandoned the search after losing the blood trail and being unable to find it again. We made wide circles of the area, trying to see beneath the dense underbrush for some sign to follow, but even after a lengthy search, it was not to be.

Losing an animal is always a great disappointment. Still, in the world of hunting it occasionally does happen. Ethics requires a diligent search, a good faith effort to find and recover every animal that is shot. When such recovery efforts fail, it is no less discouraging, but a hunter can take heart in the fact that if every reasonable resource was deployed, the ethic of the hunt was upheld regardless of the outcome of the search.

Saturday evening found me in a different stand. The wind was from the south and blowing steadily. Activity was slow until almost dark when I saw countless whitetailed deer retreat from the brush and begin to pour into a food plot to the west. It was interesting to note that the bucks still had antlers. This was a surprise since I had bowhunted deer in west Texas in late December only to discover many bucks already shedding their antlers.

Rob picked me up at dark and we returned to camp and a dinner of the finest fajitas and enchiladas ever to tempt my tastebuds. The food was simply outstanding, accompanied by freshly prepared beans, salsas, tortillas, and guacamole; it was nothing short of passion to the palette. Food that fresh and flavorful is a stark contrast to what passes for Mexican cuisine in most American restaurants and is probably worth a trip to the border even without the fantastic hunting. One word of caution, however. Make sure you bring loose fitting clothes. This cuisine is no more for the faint of heart than for the fanatic of physique. One thing is for sure though, it is worth every calorie!

Sunday was a day of numerous activities. There was more hunting, some outstanding catch and release bass fishing, and a tour of some of the ranch’s spectacular views of the Rio Grande and the land of Mexico just on the other side. One of the most interesting things I had the opportunity to see was a soldier’s name dated in the 1800’s that was carefully carved into a sandstone bluff overlooking the Rio Grand where he was stationed to watch for Mexican invaders during the bandit days of the infamous Pancho Villa. It was a reminder of the history of the old West and of the rich traditions and influences that are so closely interwoven into the fabric of south Texas. As I touched the carefully carved script writing I felt strangely connected to the spirit of this place, to all its antiquities and treasures, and to the people who defended it and traversed its soil in the hundreds of years before I was born.

My final hunting day with Fairchase, LTD was filled with wildlife. There were countless hogs, javelina, turkeys, and deer not to mention birds of every kind, including vibrant green jays, cardinals, hawks, and doves to name a few. Although I did not fill my second javelina tag, I count my experience as one of the fullest of my hunting life. Not only did I kill a fine mature animal for my trophy room, but also I had the opportunity to see, feel, and appreciate the heritage of true Texas. Not only was it a two-day adventure that filled every sense and every appetite I could have ever imagined, it really was the whole enchilada!

 

A Room With a View

Like a lot of traditional archers, I seem to march to the beat of my own perplexingly unique drum, trotting along at a pace that leaves my friends and family simply shrugging their shoulders in bewilderment. Perhaps that’s why I love ground blinds. There is just something about being toe to toe and eye to eye with your quarry that really puts the "X" in excitement and keeps you coming back for more. In my humble opinion, ground blinds are the ultimate room with a view.

As bow hunters, we live in the elevated era. Everything seems better from a vantage point that allows us to be suspended in air. While I own and hunt from my share of tree stands as well, I have come to appreciate what a well-placed ground blind can add to the hunting experience. Indeed, there are any numbers of virtues to be had from hunting a whole lot closer to terra firma and we will examine only a few of these as we proceed.

Safety is probably the number one reason that many people prefer to hunt from the ground as opposed to a tree stand. Let’s face it, if you trip over your boots strings getting into your blind, the biggest bruise you’re likely to suffer will be on your ego and I’ve never known that to be terminal. A fall from even a 10 ft. tree stand, however, can cause serious injury or even death. This is something to consider when pondering methods to use during a hunt.

Another important strength of ground blinds is flexibility. While tree stands require trees of a certain size, ground blinds can be constructed virtually anywhere from natural materials such as branches, grasses, weeds, etc. or man made materials such a camo cloth, burlap, boards, or special blind covering materials that are then brushed-in with natural foliage. This affords bow hunters economical concealment that is both effective and capable of meeting the requirements dictated by a variety of terrains and natural topographies. In addition, blinds made with boards or other sturdy materials can be left up year round, ensuring that game animals become accustomed to seeing them in their natural surroundings.

Portability is yet another feature of ground blinds that deserves mention. When I am hunting, I always carry a piece of camo cloth that is 15 ft long and 5 ft wide with some nylon cord in my day pack. This material is used to construct a quick and easy hunting blind by tying the cloth between trees or brush in the event I discover a likely location to intercept game while in the field. In the event I want to relocate or fine-tune my hunting position, moving is as easy as untying the camo cloth, putting it back in my pack and moving to a new location.

Arrow trajectory is always an important consideration for the hunting archer. With ground blinds providing an arrow shot that is on the same level as the game hunted, steep angles into the vitals are avoided, thus creating a proportionately broader target zone. This more direct path to the animal’s heart lung region can create more vital hits and cleaner kills, which is an important consideration in bowhunting.

Despite all of these obvious advantages, however, one of my favorite reasons to use ground blinds is that not only can they be wildly productive, they can also be the ultimate room with a the view. As you can see from the photographs, while hunting from ground blinds I have had animals as close as fifteen feet away without ever knowing I was there. Now that’s the way to get your heart pumping!

The next time you go hunting, why not march to the beat of a different drum and try a ground blind. Like me, you just might find that you like hunting from a room with view.

 

 

September in Wyoming

I don’t know what it is about Wyoming that puts me under its spell and draws me back every September to bowhunt. Perhaps it is the un-obscured beauty of the open prairie or the scent of sage upon the western wind. Maybe it is the way the cottonwoods reach for the temperate autumn sun or the way the native antelope and mule deer dance across the landscape, punctuating the prairie with the exclamation of excitement and wonder. Whatever the reasons, for four consecutive years I have returned to this amazing state, bow in hand, to experience its triumphs and agonies. This September was no exception.

My hunt began on August 31st in a blind known as the Solar Well on the famed Spearhead Ranch some 60 miles from Douglas. I was carrying one of my Black Widow recurve bows on this hunt, a 58" SAV take-down that hits hard and propels a carbon arrow with authority. I had practiced for months with this bow and felt confident that I could easily hit my mark at typical Spearhead hunting distances.

I watched through the windows of the blind throughout the day as antelope does and fawns and flocks of sage grouse came and went to the waterhole in front of the blind. There were even two magnificent bull elk that crossed the pasture to the distant south, their strides taking in yards with every step. Despite this variety of animal activity, the only thing I killed on my first day of hunting was a Louis L’Amour novel. I started and finished "The Road to Seven Pines" in the 13 hours I sat in the blind, alternating between reading pages and peering out the windows for antelope bucks.

Day two of my hunt was different in several respects from the previous day. First, I changed blinds and found myself in a location I knew well, The Video Store. Second, September 1st was the opening day of deer season. Thus, with both antelope and deer tags in my pocket, I had the option to shoot either one that presented me with a good opportunity. Finally, wildlife was everywhere on this morning and I could sense that today might just be my lucky day.

It was 7:00 am when the bucks appeared just over the hill in front of the blind and began to cautiously make their way to the tiny pool in front of my location. There were four of them in all, mule deer that varied from tall fork horns to a nice 3 ½ year old 4 x4. Having taken previous bow mulies that were 3x3s and 3x4s, my goal on this trip was a 4x4 mule deer or better. Since there was an acceptable candidate among this group, I watched him diligently as he marched with the other members of his bachelor group toward the water and ever closer to me.

One of the deer in the group, a tall tined 3x3, nervously bobbed his head in the direction of the blind some 80 yards away. Finally, he separated from the others and turned toward a rocky outcropping to bed down.

The other three bucks kept coming, with the 4x4 in the lead. When this deer was 60 yards away, his body language told me he was committed, so I readied myself for the shot within the shadowy concealment of the blind.

The buck came in from the left and like all animals I had seen at this blind, stooped to drink with a slightly quartering toward angle. Although this is often a shot I pass on taking, the angle was not severe and I had taken it successfully three other times from this location, retrieving beautiful animals at the end of short blood trails in two previous years.

When the mulie was settled and relaxed, I drew the 48# Black Widow recurve, carefully aimed at the crease behind the shoulder and unleashed a Magnus tipped carbon arrow. The arrow stuck its mark, causing the buck to jump and kick straight backward before bolting away. He ran only a short distance before walking and then lying down in the grass about 200 yards away. As he walked away, I could see the arrow hanging out of his off side, with a substantial blood stain mid-way of the body, and clearly excellent penetration. My guess was that the buck would stay put until he expired which I expected to be in short order.

There had been two other bucks with this deer, however, and as social animals sometimes do, they made their way to their fallen comrade, got him up, and urged him over the hill and out of sight. I could not believe my eyes. I knew where I hit this buck and could not comprehend that he could have the strength to get up follow the other deer up the hill and out of the valley where he had fallen.

At this point, I knew I needed help and placed the red flag that is designed to summon a Spearhead guide, in the holder on top of the blind. It was almost two hours before help arrived, but after explaining what happened to one of the capable guides, he radioed base camp and several other guides and hunters who had already filled their tags arrived to help search for the buck.

One of the other hunters spotted the buck lying in tall sage only 50 yards off the ranch road. His head was up, but he was clearly mortally wounded. Still, he managed to get up and try to make his way toward deeper cover.

I thought it might be difficult for me to close in on the buck and get a finishing shot with my recurve. Not because the recurve isn’t capable of completing such a task, but because my range with a recurve is limited to 20-25 yards and this appeared as though it might be a 30-40 yard follow-up shot. Thus, I armed myself with a compound bow for a finishing shot.

After several hours in the hot Wyoming sun, I finally managed to get a follow up arrow into the wounded mule deer buck and finish the job. When I approached the deer, my first question was about arrow placement of my initial shot. As I thought, it was right in the crease low and behind the shoulder. However, the broadhead had hit a rib on entry, deflecting and making an almost right turn into the body of the deer. This initial shot would have certainly been fatal, but ethics demanded immediate follow up and a finishing shot in order to quickly bring the animal to bag.

As I kneeled over the buck in the dense sage where he fell, I was struck by multiple emotions. I was not only grateful to have met my objective of harvesting a 4x4 mule deer with a bow, but also struck by the reality of just how challenging hunting with a bow can be. There are no guarantees…only proficiency and luck. To be successful, you need a measure of both.

Day three saw me in yet a different blind. This one was known as Double Trouble because it offered shot opportunities at a waterhole that expanded into two different pastures. I had seen a massive pronghorn buck in one of the pastures the day before, so I was anxious to see if he would come to water today, possibly offering me a shot.

I was reading another Louis L’Amour novel, "The Proving Trail", when at 8:45 am the procession of wildlife began. Somehow between pages, four mule deer does and fawns managed to slip into the waterhole undetected. I watched them as they peacefully drank and casually turned away to browse and then bed in the security of the dense sage of the pasture.

At just before 1:00 pm the big antelope buck I had seen the day before showed up and seemed to be headed toward water. I exchanged the novel for my recurve and waited.

The big buck was a dandy and with tall ebony horns and excellent cutters, he would easily score 70 + P&Y inches. The only problem was that when he came to water at only 16 yards away, he was quartering sharply toward me. No shot. Although I hoped he might reposition and turn his body more parallel to the blind, he had other plans and simply turned and trotted away, leaving me shaking my head in frustration. So close, yet so far away.

I returned to my book only to discover that I was suddenly exhausted. The encounter with the buck combined with the events of the previous day had left me sleepy. I closed my eyes for a quick nap and upon waking up at just after 2pm, discovered two antelope on a distant SW ridge that seemed to be headed my way.

Glassing the goats I could clearly see that one was a buck. He was not the bruiser that was the subject of my earlier encounter, but he appeared to be respectable, so I decided to watch and to be ready in the event he offered me a shot.

Throughout the day, the sky threatened rain. Gray clouds seemed to be forming overhead in greater density as the afternoon progressed and knowing that rain on the prairie meant a distinct slowing of antelope activity at the blinds, I decided to take this buck if given the right opportunity.

It seemed to take forever for the antelope to commit to water and to finally make their way toward Double Trouble. However, at 3:00 pm the buck came to drink, lowered his head, and stood perfectly broadside. At 14 yards I sent a carbon arrow from my Black Widow through the chest cavity of the buck and watched as the blood soaked projectile buried into the ground on the opposite side of the waterhole. I breathed an audible sigh of relief.

I looked at my watch and waited 20 minutes before exiting the blind, retrieving my arrow, and looking for the buck. Walking in the direction the antelope had run, I quickly spotted him lying motionless some 200 yards from where he was shot. I approached him cautiously, but it was obvious even from a distance that he was done. Needless to say, after the events of the previous day I was even more grateful for the well-placed shot and the short blood trail that lead to this beautiful, unique animal.

As I waited for my ride back to camp, I allowed myself to be caught up in the sights and smells of Wyoming: the sound of the grass shifting in the breeze, the pungent aroma of sage, the incomprehensible visibility of the prairie, and the amazing array of wildlife. This is the place I choose to experience September and as a bowhunter, it is unimaginable there could be any other place quite like it on earth.

 

Arrow Weight and Traditional Bows

Most traditional archers tend to stick together, but when the subject turns to arrow penetration and lethality, particularly as it pertains to projectile weight, everyone has an opinion. While some favor lighter, faster arrows as a means of minimizing trajectory at hunting distances, still others favor heavier arrow weights that deliver a decidedly stronger punch at the point of impact.

The intent of this discussion is to examine some of my own personal observations in real traditional bowhunting situations with arrows of varying weights. The reader is advised to keep in mind that this discussion is not intended to be anything but a very limited work as it relates to the subject matter and is only offered as a look at one facet of the total equation of an arrow’s performance in the field.

In the four plus years I have been a traditional archer, I have been fortunate enough to hunt for and harvest a number of game animals. In many instances, the blood trails were decidedly short, while in other instances, they were incredibly long. Conventional wisdom suggests that the difference in the two has been shot placement, but in reality, that assumption is incorrect. In fact, in two of the most difficult tracking jobs I have ever had, the arrow was placed perfectly behind the animal’s shoulder. What went wrong is in part, what has facilitated the writing of this article.

I shoot carbon arrows from all of my traditional bows which are from 47# to 49# at my 27" draw. Depending on how I tune the arrow to a specific bow, the weight of the finished projectile varies from 400 grains to 570 grains including the point. Needless to say, all else being equal, I get the most speed and cast from the lighter arrows, while the heavier arrows require more mental calculation for me to shoot consistently at most ranges.

Of the animals I have shot with traditional bows where the wound channel could be closely evaluated upon recovery, I have had the following experiences:

Arrows weighing 400-420 grains (or approximately 9 grains per pounds of draw weight):

  • One hog, quartering away, hit behind shoulder, not a pass-thru shot, arrow deflected off rib and into non-lethal portion of the chest. Animal recovered via rifle several days later.
  • One pronghorn antelope, broadside, shot through the chest, pass-thru shot, no rib contact, quick recovery.
  • One mule deer, slightly quartering toward, hit behind shoulder, deflected off rib and into paunch. Pass-thu shot. Animal recovered via follow-up shot eight hours after initial shot.

Arrows more than 500 grains (or approximately 10.5 grains per pound of draw weight or more):

  • Three hogs, all broadside, rib broken on entry in two instances, pass-thru shots, all recovered with relative ease.
  • Three white tailed deer, two broadside shots and one quartering away, one pass-thru, two with ribs broken on entry and exit, one with rib broken on entry and foreleg broken on exit, all recovered quickly.
  • One mule deer, slightly quartering toward, near pass-thru after penetrating almost the whole length of the animal (arrow sticking out of off-side), no rib contact, quick recovery.
  • Two pronghorn antelope, both slightly quartering toward, rib broken on entry on one, pass-thru shots, quick recovery.
  • One javelina, quartering away, broke shoulder, not a pass-thru shot, quick recovery.

In each of the instances described above there was a significant difference in performance based on projectile weight when the arrow contacted bone. While both arrow weights performed well under circumstances when soft tissue was the only thing that was penetrated, the additional resistance encountered by the arrow when striking a rib, shoulder, or a leg bone clearly favored the extra weight of 500 plus grain arrow. Further, the arrow penetration that has been the best for me in the over 500 grain category has been a 570 grain arrow. When shot with my 47# recurves (my preferred hunting weight), that’s more than 12 grains per pound of draw weight, which is considered by most to be a little on the heavy side.

In conclusion, there are any numbers of factors that are important considerations relative to how an arrow will perform on game. They include broadhead design, arrow tuning, and shot placement to name a few. However, in my own personal experience, arrow weight has been the most significant common denominator (all else being equal) in determining how an arrow will perform when shot from a traditional bow, when that arrow encounters the resistance of bone. That does not mean that all bone (such as shoulders) will be penetrated, but only that the odds of penetrating such obstacles and striking a lethal blow are better with a heavier arrow than with a lighter one. And no matter what each traditional bowhunter’s varying opinion may be, the objective of bringing our game to bag as effectively as possible is something on which we all can agree!

 

The Hunk

The first Saturday of the 2004 Arkansas bow season was not the kind of day that bowhunters dream of. In fact, in the southwest border town of Texarkana, it was downright ugly with hefty helpings of heat and humidity. And to make matters worse, the wind direction was completely wrong for the tree stand I had positioned next to an abandoned peach orchard on my 93 acre farm. As I peered out the back door toward the orchard, all I could do was shake my head. Maybe tomorrow would be a better day.

October 3rd was Sunday and it was afternoon before I had the chance to consider a bowhunt. Temperatures were still in the 80s, but the humidity had appreciably declined from the previous day and more important, the winds had reversed course and were now favorable for hunting the orchard stand, a location that I knew was being frequented by deer.

I had recently received a new custom Quest recurve from Bowyer and artisan, Bill Howland of Brackenbury Custom Bows. When Bill was building the bow, he emailed me pictures and the stunning combination of cocobola and leopardwood lead us to nickname the beautiful brute "The Hunk." One look at the bow after its arrival and a few shots later validated that "The Hunk" had received the appropriate moniker. Not only was this bow drop-dead gorgeous, but it sizzled arrows with authority, accurately finding its mark time and time again. I could hardly wait to get it into the woods.

The orchard stand was a short walk from my back door. About 350 yards through the horse pasture, across a fence, and into a small cluster of oak trees was where I had placed a portable tree stand. The oaks bordered the orchard with a towering stature that stood in stark contrast to the seemingly diminutive peach trees below. This was a classic transition corridor and deer loved it. Thus, I was confident that if "The Hunk" and I could brave the heat, we would have an excellent chance at getting a shot at an unsuspecting whitetail on this bright October afternoon.

It was 4:00 pm when my bow and I got settled in for what I anticipated would be a reasonably long wait for deer to emerge from the heavy cover of the orchard and begin making their way down the trail that would lead to my well-concealed location. I nocked a razor sharp Grizzly tipped carbon arrow onto the string of "The Hunk", placed the bow across my lap, and quickly used my range finder to verify yardages to my shot openings. I was ready.

At just after 5:00 pm, I caught movement to my right and was astonished to see the legs of what appeared to be two deer walking down the trail. Although I had not expected to see deer this early, it was clear that Mother Nature had them on the move so I carefully raised the bow from my lap and mentally prepared for the possibility of a shot.

As the two deer made their way down the trail I could see that they were yearlings. Considering that the previous year’s supply of venison was running exceptionally low and young deer make the tastiest of table fare, I decided to take the biggest of the two if the right opportunity was presented.

Intently I watched as the steps of the deer drew them closer to my position. At 16 feet high and hidden among the leaves of the red oak with the wind steady in my face, I felt my heart pound as with each passing second, the pair of whitetails closed the distance until stopping just 16 yards away.

The largest of the two deer was a button buck and as he stood quartering away, lowering his head to feed on some of the still green grass between the oaks and the orchard, I had already brought "The Hunk" to full draw and picked a spot behind the buck’s shoulder. It one subconscious instant, my fingers relaxed their grip on the bowstring and sent the Axis carbon shaft on its course toward the target. Frozen, I watched the arrow strike the deer at what appeared to be a perfect spot and as he bolted away into the cover of the fruit trees and orchard grass. I lowered the bow and listened in the direction of where he appeared to flee.

Twenty minutes passes slowly after an arrow has been released at a game animal, and that time can feel like an eternity when the weather is warm and a hunter’s concerns turn to getting an animal into the freezer before spoiling. I watched impatiently as the minutes passed and was relieved when I was finally able to descend the tree and take up the buck’s trail.

Frothy red blood was apparent almost instantly on the grass leading into the orchard. I followed 60 yards as it weaved between trees and through the underbrush until leading to the handsome deer, collapsed as if he had been in mid-stride and before he even knew he had been hit. Like all hunters who have experienced such moments, I felt my self breathe an audible sigh of relief.

Upon examination of the young buck, I discovered that my arrow had broken a rib on entry, penetrated the chest cavity, and completely shattered the off foreleg bone on exit. The performance of this projectile combination propelled by my 47# Brakenbury Quest, was truly impressive. Even during all the years I shot higher poundage compound bows, I never experienced anything quite like this. As a result, there was no question that "The Hunk" had earned his place as a permanent resident of my hunting household.

After a few quick and sweaty pictures, I got the deer field dressed, quartered and into the freezer. Since I was only minutes from home, valuable time was saved that preserved the quality of this animal’s meat for future consumption despite the warm temperatures. And since the flesh from this deer was intended to supply as much sustenance to the body as the hunt for him provided to the soul, I was grateful that I was so close to home, grateful for the clean kill, and grateful for "The Hunk" that brought this wonderful beast to bag.

 

Passing On the Tradition

Twenty three years as a bowhunter and five as a traditional archer have reinforced to me that bowhunting is as much about spirit as it is about equipment and as much about life as it is about the reality of death. It’s about the people and places and experiences that become a collection of stories that make up our history, reinforce our identity, and establish how we will pursue our future as well as recollect our past. It is a tradition that must be passed on.

My step-father, Jim is a fit 79 year old, who has hunted whitetailed deer most of his life. However, his hunting trips have always been limited to local farms, places where deer numbers were consistent and tagging a buck with his 30.06 rifle was almost routine. Still, in recent years since Jim and my mother sold their farm, he has hunted little and thus, I was interested in getting him back into the woods and perhaps trying his hunting hand at something different: a guided hunt for wild hogs in the mountains of East Tennessee.

August 11th found Jim and I on our way to Caryonah Hunting Lodge near Crossville, Tennessee. Jim had packed his trusty 30.06 Remington semi-automatic rifle while I had selected my 58" Morrison Cougar Longbow. This proved to be a hunting trip of firsts for both of us as this would be Jim’s first guided hunt and first hog hunt. For me, a die-hard recurve fan, it would be my first hunt with a longbow and my first trip to the famed Caryonah Lodge. I could hardly wait!

The three and a half hour drive to Caryonah went quickly and upon our arrival we promptly unpacked our gear, checked our respective weapons, and began to prepare for the next day’s hunt. A short night, a huge country breakfast later, and Doug, our guide, shuttled us out to one of the lodge vehicles to begin to make our way into the hunting area.

Jim and I were taken to separate areas to begin our morning hunt by doing some spot and stalk hunting. This would prove to be a supreme challenge given the intense Summer heat and dense Tennessee underbrush. I was fortunate to see three very good hogs during the early morning period, however, I was never able to get into position for a shot before the swirling mountain breeze gave my location away and they bolted into the safety of the thick cover. As it turned out, Jim was having the same kind of luck, so when Doug picked us up to return to the lodge for lunch, he suggested that we change tactics for the afternoon’s hunt.

After a hearty home cooked lunch of chicken tenders, farm fresh vegetables, corn bread, and glasses of iced tea, we were ready to head back to the woods. This time, however, Doug stopped at the dog kennel and loaded three anxious hounds into the back of the old GMC. Our quest for Tennessee wild hogs would continue with the aid of some of Caryonah’s well trained hog dogs; canines that live to strike the trial, chase, and bay the wild mountain pigs that call this rugged landscape home.

"Blue" a big female blue tick hound that more closely resembled a black and tan, was the first to strike a trail. With her loud bawl, the other two dogs joined the pursuit and it wasn’t long before the music of the howling hounds tumbled through the mountain air as the first hog was bayed in a blow-down. This pig however, was about a 90 pound boar and not what Jim and I were looking for so Doug quickly called the dogs off and we continued on our search for something a little bigger.

In less than an hour, the song of the hounds once again confirmed that a hog was bayed. This time, the hog appeared to be in a distant hollow and I quickly encouraged Jim to follow behind Doug to assess the size of this animal and give him the opportunity to take the first pig of the trip. I stayed on the ridge above the activity so as not to interfere with Jim’s chances and within only a few minutes I heard the resounding crack of his rifle as he brought his first wild hog, a fine 130 pound black boar to bag.

When I finally made it down to where Jim had shot his hog, his smile said it all. He was ecstatic, and to say that I was ecstatic for him would be an understatement! His enthusiasm confirmed that passing on the tradition of hunting should not just be focused on the young, but also to others as an often overlooked opportunity to bring joy to the more mature.

By now, the heat was beginning to tire the dogs and since we had an animal on the ground, we decided to get Jim’s boar in the cooler and call it quits for the evening. We were all ready for a shower and a night’s rest before returning to try to get a shot at one more hog the following day.

Doug and I headed for the woods at 8am with two hounds and one excited Mountain Cur named "Granny" in tow. A winding trip over the narrow dirt roads finally led us to an area choked with mountain laurel and blow downs. It was here that Doug decided to release the dogs and see if they could strike a fresh track. To our amazement, the chase was on within minutes and with Doug and I in pursuit of the barking, bawling pack of hounds, we attempted to close the distance to the dog’s position.

Travel through the thick woods, underbrush, and mountain laurel thickets was slow and every time we attempted to approach the position of the bayed hog it broke and ran into even denser cover. Still we could tell that the hog was a dandy; a big red boar that looked to easily weigh 200 pounds and definitely worth the extra effort to pursue, despite the difficulties of temperature and terrain.

Unfortunately, just as we thought we might get a shot at this mighty beast, he broke and ran for a third time, thus making it obvious that this was a hog that had eluded danger before and it would take more than three dogs to hold him at bay while we positioned for a shot. It was time for reinforcements, so Doug called another guide from the lodge and arranged for two extra hounds to be brought into the woods for the chase.

When the dogs arrived, a group of hogs was spotted crossing the road. Quickly, the collection of four hounds and "Granny", were released and began the chase. It was only minutes before the pack of dogs had caught up with one of the hogs and was holding him at bay in a creek that wound through the bottom of a hardwood hollow. Doug and I moved quickly down the steep bank toward the creek to see all five of the dogs working in harmony to keep the big black boar close to the undercut bank in the water as we moved into position from behind.

As I came up over the bank, I could see the hog’s chest as he lunged at the dogs. At a distance of only 6 yards, I drew my Cougar longbow, picked a spot, and released a Gold Tip carbon shaft with a razor sharp Grizzly broadhead at the target. The arrow hit perfectly as evidenced by the end of the arrow’s white nock just barely sticking out of the entry point on the hog. Although he never flinched or moved at the shot, within seconds he began to lose his balance, collapsing into the creek from the lethality of a double lung hit.

Wading into the shallow creek to examine this 200 pound beast, I was amazed at the team work I had witnessed from this enthusiastic pack of dogs. It was a reminder of the efficiency of a group of canine hunters and how they and their kind have survived over the millennia. Needless to say, this hog was as much a trophy for the dogs now wagging their tails at my feet as it was for me, the hunting archer that delivered the final blow to complete this primal pursuit.

After taking a few pictures, Doug and I managed to get the big boar into the GMC and headed toward the lodge, where he would be skinned and quartered for the drive back to Kentucky. As we pulled up, Jim was waiting to see what the results of the morning had been. I could see that he was pleased that the last three hours of chasing across the miles of mountainous terrain had resulted in such a fine specimen and as we hugged to celebrate the mutual success of our trip, he was already talking about making arrangements to return.

The spirit of the hunt in alive in every hunter, during every experience afield, and in every opportunity we make to share this tradition with others. Passing it on to each generation, young or old, experienced or novice, male or female is as much a responsibility as it is a gift and as much a blessing as is the blessing of the hunt itself. And when a tradition such as this is shared in beautiful mountain scenery, with the music of a pack of hounds undulating through the misty air in pursuit of noble quarry, passing it on has never been more wonderful.

Trip Notes:

Location: Caryonah Lodge PH: 931-277-3113

Camo: ASAT

Bow: Morrison Cougar Longbow

Optics: Nikon Monarch Binoculars

 

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