Tag Archives: bowhunting

Elk Hunting’s EASY!

(Story published in Eastman’s Bowhunting Journal, September/October 2013, Issue 79)

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Elk hunting’s easy! Well, that’s what I tell my fellow bowhunters anyway. And they usually get a little irritated. But I’m only half-kidding. Compared to spot-and-stalking trophy mule deer, yes, elk hunting is easy.  You can’t call mule deer; believe me, I’ve tried. But with enough practice (about ten years worth) you can call trophy elk. I ate ten tags in a row before I finally arrowed my first bull elk…but it was still kinda easy.

In 2012, after ten years of applying for the Beaver, Utah limited entry tag, I finally drew. It was probably the worst year I could have drawn since I’d just purchased a major fixer-upper house that spring. I had absolutely no time to scout the area and spent the entire summer swinging a hammer instead. But I wasn’t about to give up the tag I’d been waiting ten years for. Fortunately, my brother, Brent, had drawn a premium tag for the same unit in 2011. He’s crazy about elk, an absolute fiend, and spent 30 days non-stop hunting over the entire unit. I spent a week calling for him that year, and the knowledge I gained from his hunt would prove invaluable for my own.

Surprisingly, my other brother, Russell, drew the same tag after only two years. So the plan was to hunt with him for one week in late August, and if we couldn’t get the job done, we’d return in September and hunt the last week too.

Elk hunting’s easy! At least that’s what I kept telling myself the first couple days as we hiked all over the high-altitude part of the unit without a single response from the elusive bulls. On the third day, Russ and I split up; I went high and he went low. A light rain started that night as I hiked alone into some high-alpine peaks. As soon as I got there, the downpour started. I couldn’t pitch my tent fast enough as lightning crashed all around me. To say it was a little unnerving would be an understatement. But hey, elk hunting’s easy, right?

The next morning I crawled out of my damp sleeping bag and began hiking and calling. But it was all for naught. There wasn’t a fresh sign in the whole area. As I was packing up my tent to leave, however, I heard what sounded like a half-hearted bugle way back down the mountain near a small saddle. I decided to investigate the area on my way out. Sure enough I found some big, fresh tracks and droppings headed over the saddle and down the mountain. Since I was headed that way anyway, I decided to follow. I made several cow calls along the way, but got no response. Eventually I lost the tracks in some rocky terrain and gave up my futile chase. A couple minutes later, there was an explosion of elk below me as the whole herd blew out of the area. This confirmed my suspicion: the elk were in the area, but not vocal yet.

I met up with Russ a short time later and he we decided to try yet another area. That afternoon I borrowed the lone ATV to go retrieve my knife that I’d left on a tree stump back down the road. I made it about a mile down the roughest, rockiest trail ever when the ATV tire suddenly jolted off a small boulder, causing the machine to veer hard right and climb the steep bank. In about one second the ATV flipped over. Realizing I was about to be crushed underneath, I did a mid-air swan dive onto the rocky opposite bank while the ATV landed upside down behind me. I was bruised from head to toe, but relieved that I wasn’t dead. One of my ribs took the worst of it and for the rest of the week I couldn’t cough, sneeze, or even sit up in bed without excruciating pain. But, I wasn’t leaving the mountain; not without an easy elk anyway.

After a very discouraging fourth day, I left the mountain. The elk rut was happening yet and I wasn’t going to waste one more day calling to the trees. On my way down the mountain I blew a truck tire on the rocky road. No big deal; I had a spare tire. Then, half an hour later while driving down the highway, my truck began to shake violently as one of my rear tires shredded into a thousand pieces. Now I was stuck. I spent the rest of the day hiking to cell phone range and then getting towed back to town where I had the pleasure of shelling out nearly $1000 for a new set of tires. I thought elk hunting was supposed to be easy!

I returned two weeks later with my lovely wife (and elk caller), Esther. Since my first trip, I’d gotten a report from my brother that the lower elevation bulls were in full-rut mode. We drove to Beaver on Sunday evening, and on Monday morning we hiked a mile up the mountain and instantly had bulls bugling all around us. See, elk hunting is easy…sometimes. I probably could have arrowed an elk that morning but my poor caller (Esther) got lost behind me while I followed the herd up the mountain. Later that evening I found her back at camp and we were both a little frustrated. After educating her on the finer points of elk calling, we once again headed up the canyon. Only a quarter mile from camp, we blew a couple cow calls and two bulls came screaming in simultaneously. They met across a small ravine, but didn’t seem to care much for each other. They locked antlers and smashed and crashed in the forest for a while, raising quite a ruckus! The biggest and meanest of the two bulls finally emerged and crossed the ravine towards us. Though I didn’t get a long look at the bull, I could tell he was a solid six-point and a shooter in my book.

Keeping his distance, he circled around us while bugling and chuckling at the top of his lungs. I quickly positioned myself in a small clearing between the bull and Esther. It was about 7:45 pm as I knelt beneath a giant pine tree in the thick woods. The bull hung up at 80 yards and refused to come closer. I violently flapped my arms at Esther, motioning for her to drop further back…WAY BACK. The bulls in the area were very responsive, but they were smart and hung up well beyond bow range. Esther continued her cow and estrus calls as she dropped way out of sight.

A few minutes later, the big bull couldn’t take it anymore. He suddenly appeared from behind a thicket of pines and came stomping right towards me, his huge rack rocking back and forth as he weaved through the dense trees. He was coming in fast and quickly passed a 40-yard tree that I’d ranged. He was facing me so I didn’t have a shot. At thirty yards I still didn’t have a shot. At 20 yards he suddenly veered broadside. As his head disappeared behind a tree, I swung my bow and settled the pin. A second later, his shoulder appeared and my arrow was off. A PERFECT HIT! The bull smashed away but only made it 50 yards before going down. When Esther caught up to me, I was shaking with excitement and immediately began raving on about the details of the last few intense minutes. After giving the bull a little time, we slowly crept in on him. Although the bull ended up scoring in the lower 300s, it didn’t matter to me. He was my biggest bull yet and I did it with a bow. Mission accomplished.

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This part of my limited entry elk hunt ended quickly, and sure enough, it was pretty easy! But, there’s no way I could have done it without my wife and her sweeeeet elk calling. She made it easy! I suppose the hardest part of the hunt was packing that huge bull off the mountain on our backs. That wasn’t easy, but I did it with a big smile on my face.

What a great hunt; what a great wife!

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Secret Bowhunting Tip #3: Be Patient

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Never underestimate a buck! If you hunt long enough, this will ring loudly in your head.

To be kind, let’s call him Joe. A few years ago I went elk hunting with Joe. After a long, fruitless, half-day hunt, we finally spotted a herd of cow elk bedded on a steep hillside. Since I was really holding out for a bull, I let Joe lead the charge on the unsuspecting elk. What transpired was sad and kinda ridiculous. I crouched behind Joe as he steadily climbed through the thick scrub oak towards the bedded elk. There were probably 20-30 animals total, but we could only see bits and pieces of a few. As we got closer, a bedded cow came into full view and was looking right at us. At more than 90 yards, I pleaded with my Joe to slow down and wait for one to feed into view. But he persisted forward. Joe was somehow convinced that he was invisible to the cow because he was wearing camouflage. At about 40 yards, the bedded cow leapt from its bed and blasted away, taking the whole herd with it. Surprise, surprise.

Had Joe been just a little patient, I’m certain he would have gotten a shot. The wind was perfect in our faces. The cows couldn’t see us crouched in the brush, and some of the elk were feeding randomly around us. Because of the snow and steep terrain, they felt safe and weren’t going anywhere.Even if it had taken three or four hours, inevitably one of the cows would have wandered close enough for an easy shot. Instead, we went home empty-handed.

In 2012 I was hunting the extended hunt for deer. On the second day I spotted a massive, tall-racked, mature 4×4 buck. He was a true giant. Unfortunately, I spotted him late in the morning as he was bedding down with a group of does. The ground was blanketed with crunchy snow and I knew it would be nearly impossible to stalk close. But I had to try. For the next seven hours I worked carefully into the area. As I got closer I literally had to break the frozen ground with my hand before placing my foot down. It was the most arduous stalk I’ve ever been on. Finally I knew I was close, but the thick oak brush made it impossible to see anything. So I just sat and waited.

Right around 4 pm I heard the crunching of hooves in the snow. By some miracle, the group of deer were up and feeding in my direction. Long story short, the buck appeared briefly in the only window I had. I misjudged the distance and sent my arrow sailing harmlessly over the giant buck’s back. Game over.

Although I failed with my shot, I succeeded in my stalk—a stalk that burned up then entire day. The failure still stings today, but not as bad as it would have if I’d simply rushed in and blew out the deer.

In bowhunting, the hunt only just begins when a deer is spotted. Having patience and getting close is the real challenge. But if you are patient, there is almost no buck you can’t get close to. Since hunters are really predators, we can learn from studying other predators. Have you ever watched a lion stalk a gazelle on TV? Have you noticed how carefully, calculated, and slowly it’s done? Wild predators have innate and instinctual patience. Otherwise they starve.

Next time you’re on a stalk, remember the lion in the grass. He might not be successful every time, but he never gives up and he moves with eternal patience. Be a predator; be patient. Let nature unfold at its own pace.

Click here for my Secret Bowhunting Tip #4: Hunt Alone

Secret Bowhunting Tip #2: Success is a Decision

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It took half a lifetime to finally understand that success in bowhunting is a decision. Failure comes not from luck, but from failure to commit to the goal. The decision to succeed is not made a week or two before the hunt, but the very second the last season ends.

In sharing this insight with other bowhunters, I’m usually met with some skepticism or hesitated response. They want to agree with the premise, but don’t really understand it. So here’s what I mean:

When I make the decision to succeed—to arrow a great buck—I set a goal for the entire year. And it’s not just any goal, but the most difficult goal to reach. It’s so difficult because there are just too many variables in bowhunting, and no guarantees. What if I simply can’t find a buck this season?

By setting such a lofty goal, one’s mind begins making immediate preparations to accomplish it. This goal is broken down into planning, studying, shooting, equipment preparations, mind-set, and a myriad of other sub-goals.

Keeping this goal in the forefront of my mind, I find myself making daily decisions to achieve it. One example is to block out my intended hunting dates on the calendar. No matter what opportunity or “responsibility” arises, I adamantly refuse to alter my schedule. This year alone I’ve turned down two potentially profitable jobs because they would interfere with my hunt dates. Admittedly this can be very difficult for some people. Most jobs will allow one week off work, or two if you’re lucky. The sad fact is, if you let your all-important job interfere with your hunting schedule, then you CANNOT set the goal in the first place. The decision isn’t yours to make, thus you must prepare for failure.

Making such a big goal sets a precedence upon which failure is not an option. If you are truly committed, subconsciously you will make mental and spiritual goals which you aren’t even aware of; goals which will seemingly magically bring you and your quarry together into a single space and time.

As prepared as I might be, successful bowhunting still feels overwhelming to me at times. I believe that bowhunting is the hardest thing a person can do successfully and consistently. I also know that there are greater forces at work than I can ever understand which will increase my odds. Call it the power of positive thinking. Call it Zen.

There is nothing more magical than the breaking dawn of a season opener. And there is nothing more deflating than last light of an unsuccessful season closer. I have no intention of ever experiencing a failed season again. I’ve made the decision!

Click here for my Secret Bowhunting Tip #3: Be Patient

Secret Bowhunting Tip #1: Weight is Everything

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Be prepared. – Boy Scout Motto

Be prepared, not OVER-prepared. – My Motto

In this article I’m going to address weight issues. I’m not talking about body fat; if that’s an issue then it’s a personal problem. No, today I’m talking about unnecessary items we carry into the field, and which are most likely hampering our success.

Utah offers a great opportunity for bowhunters who still have unused archery tags at the end of the general season. It’s called the Wasatch Extended Archery Hunt. The “extended hunt” runs from the middle of September clear through the middle of December, and encompassing the entire Wasatch Front, and even the entire deer rut. I usually see more giant bucks during the extended hunt than the whole general season and scouting trips combined. The biggest downside to the extended hunt—particularly in November and December—is the steepness of the terrain coupled with deep snow and cold weather.

In late November, 2012, I hunted the extended hunt for a few days alone. There’s always a little apprehension when venturing into those steep and freezing mountains alone. No one knows ever knows exactly where I’ll end up, including myself. To feel safer that year, I brought tons of extra gear including extra clothing, food, water, hand warmers, boots, and even some reading materials for when I got bored. In other words I over-packed, and that was a big mistake. Instead of taking three hours to drag my sled up to camp, it took five and I didn’t get to bed until 1:00 am. For the duration of the trip, my legs cramped, I blew through my water, ate more food, and had to rest more frequently. Although it was warmer than previous years, I was more tired and miserable. Miraculously I arrowed a nice buck two days later, but with so much new weight, I had to leave half my gear on the mountain and return the next day to retrieve it. Not fun!

In 2013 I returned to the same spot alone, only this time I brought my brain. Before the trip I went over the list of junk I hauled up the mountain last year and then crossed out almost half of it. Most of that ‘extra stuff’ served only to make me feel safer and had no real use for hunting. Some of the items included extra food, extra water (I could just filter water as I went and /or eat snow), extra boots, a pillow, books, propane, extra knives, hand warmers, utensils, batteries, archery tools, a handgun, extra flashlights, lighters, etc. I also noticed that my big, leather hunting belt weighed twice as much as my skinny “church belt,” so I wore that one instead.  I even cut the tags off my clothes and the handle off my toothbrush. All in all, I probably removed 30% of my pack weight, and man did it pay off. I got up the mountain in record time, ate less, and covered more ground than ever before. You’d be surprised at how difficult it is to be quiet while carrying a heavy day pack. In the end, I didn’t miss any of the junk I left home. Well, at first I did miss my handgun once I learned there was an active cougar den with kittens only 300 yards of my tent!

For most people, it’s hard to believe that such small items matter that much. But in truth, these items have a compounding effect. You never know which erroneous item will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Weight is especially  a negative factor when hunting in snow. More than anything else, a pair of heavy boots will fatigue you in the snow. For years I had two boot options for various weather conditions. One pair is a heavy, high-top, insulated cold-weather boot, and the other is a lightweight, breathable, un-insulated stalker-style boot. In 20I3 I stopped using the heavy boots altogether. What I found was the heavy boots always got too hot, primarily because of the amount of steep terrain I was covering. They were also noisy and very heavy compared to my stalker boots. Now, the stalker boots weighed only half as much (similar to tennis shoes),  but there were two minor drawbacks. First, my feet always got cold when I wasn’t moving, and second, they had minimal traction-tread. To counteract the cold, I simply wore two layers of wool socks. As for traction, I simply used a pair of lightweight ice cleats which worked wonders in the snow.

The next time you return from a grueling backcountry bowhunt, empty everything in your backpack onto the living room floor, and then make a list of everything you didn’t use. Is there still a tag on your tent? Why did you pack it into the woods? Were you going to eat it? Is there half a tube of toothpaste left in your toiletries pocket? Why did you pack extra paste?

Weight is everything; that’s what I learned in 2013. And surprise, surprise, fear is your worst enemy. Fear is why we over-pack. The more afraid we are of the mountain, the more extra stuff we cram in our packs; you know, just in case… And then there’s the great gear paradox:  the more we fear failure, the more hunting gear we carry around in our daypacks. Bowhunters, heed my plead:  You are the predator, not the crap on your back. You are too be feared, not the mountain. All that extra weight is an anchor keeping you from your goal. Pack light. Don’t be your own worst enemy. Be prepared, not over-prepared.

Click here for my Secret Bowhunting Tip #2: Success is a Decision

Zen Bowhunter Blog: Maiden Voyage

 

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It’s happening early this year! That hunter instinct is creeping in, and the bowhunt is still two months away. I guess it’s just been on my mind…

…hence my new bowhunting BLOG.

Welcome everyone to The Zen Hunter blog. The purpose of this blog is not to sell anything, but to help people, bowhunters and Zen seekers alike. In this blog, I wish to share my experience and expertise in the field of bowhunting, while expanding on the subject of Zen, archery, and bowhunting. I don’t want to make this blog all about ME, and in future writings I will try my best to reduce the usage of the word, “I.”

So, you might be asking yourself, “What is Zen hunting?”

Zen, as I understand it, is the grasp of the spiritual universe outside of physical observances. It is a concept (not a religion) based on the Eastern philosophy of achieving a ‘oneness’ with the world, usually associated with meditation, formal or informal. Zen is associated with the sixth sense and allows a subtle command of physical elements outside normal human understanding. Zen hunting is simply the application of Zen to hunting, just as Zen can be applied to archery or anything else we do.

Your next question might be, “What qualifies this blogger to write on such subjects as Zen and bowhunting.”

Simply put, I’ve been an avid bowhunter since 1996, and over the course of these past 18 years I have found my own personal Zen via regular trips alone into Nature. In just the last five years I have arrowed three trophy animals, all within 20 yards, all with very little effort on my part, and all of which were entered into the Pope & Young record books. Throughout this period, I realized that ‘Zen’ is a process of letting go. In other words, the less you try, the more you gain.

As the years pile up behind me, I’m realizing that the natural progression of life is first, to explore ones interests, then to master the things one is passionate about, and finally, to share this accumulated knowledge with others. In 2012 I published my first book on Zen hunting, entitled, Zen Hunting. The idea for this book was first conceived in 2002 after a particularly enlightening and successful hunt. It then took ten years to really understand the magnitude of this concept and materialize it into a sprawling, 200-page book about the meaning and purpose of life!

For today, just remember one thing: hunting is more art than a science.  In order to achieve the greatest success in hunting, you must be willing to expand your consciousness beyond the gear and beyond the basics of hunting.  My mission is to help people along this path.

As this post is now in peril of running amuck, I will digress. Stay tuned for regular postings, and please, comment and/or question at will. Thank you for reading!

Below is a short excerpt from my book:

July

There’s a certain point in mid-July when everything begins to change. Midday shadows grow longer, inch by inch, day by day. The slightest change in the earth’s angle to the sun is detected deep inside of me and it stirs my whole being. A switch is flipped and my senses sharpen with anticipation for something great. The air and the ground comes to life as if charged with an electrical current which flows through all things, and through me, then out again, bringing all of life into focus and oneness.

By August, the weather is hinting of fall and the great harvest. Afternoon gusts of dry, hot air carry with it nostalgic aromas of ripening vegetation that will accompany me into the depths of the woods and back into the womb of Mother Nature.