Tag Archives: bowhunting

Dealing With Failure in Hunting

Dealing Failure in Hunting

Whenever you fall, pick something up. –Oswald Avery

If you are following this blog, then I apologize for my absence. My last post was over a month ago. Work obligations are somewhat to blame, but more than that, it’s been my lack of inspiration following a long and difficult hunting season.

When the general season ended with no new venison in the freezer, I was somewhat perplexed. What did I do wrong? Going in, I was convinced I’d unlocked the secret to bagging big bucks. But try as I might, I couldn’t do it. Immediately following the hunt, I  felt deflated and uninspired. Five weeks later, I’m just starting to realize that failure is exactly what I needed to keep my ego in check. How can a person ever fully understand big bucks in the first place? It’s impossible. They are brilliant, highly adaptable survivors!

All told, I spent 13 days hunting hard all over my prescribed unit, but never drew my bow on a buck. At the same time, I could have shot at least a dozen small bucks–mostly 2- and 3-points–but I was holding out for a trophy. This is what caused me so much grief. No matter how much ground I covered, and no matter how high I went, I was disappointed by the low numbers of mature bucks. I knew I could find them if they existed, but they were almost non-existent. Of the 50+ bucks I saw, only two were mature bucks in the 170-180″ class range; barely trophies in my book. Long story short, these bucks were either inaccessible or the stalk failed for one reason or another. Either way, the problem is with how few big deer there are anymore.

In observing so many deer in the wild, I was blown away by the sheer brilliance of the modern mule deer and the ways in which it’s adapted to avoid modern hunters.  Their survival tactics seem well thought out and highly effective. For instance, some of the largest bucks would keep does between them and the timberline as a sort of security fence. Basically, a bowhunter would have to get through a string of does to get to the bucks, making it nearly impossible to hunt them. This and many other evasive tactics were documented and will be covered in my next blog-post.

So the hunt was a failure, but only because I failed to provide meat for my family. At the same time, the hunt was a huge success. The countless hours spent sitting alone in nature, watching sunrises and sunsets, creeping through the dark timber, and observing innumerable animals going about their business–all these things stirred my soul and rejuvenated my being. Life’s daily problems  and stresses melted away. I saw the hand of God through all his creations, and all questions about the purpose of life were answered.

Fortunately the hunt isn’t over yet. The extended hunt began where the general season ended. Now, the extended hunt can be extremely difficult due to high hunting pressure, dry and noisy leaves on the ground, and the low numbers of scattered deer. At the same time, the odds go up when the snow flies and pushes big bucks down from the high country and concentrates them on the lower elevation windswept slopes. This occurs in mid-November, and that’s where my hunt will resume.

Yes, I failed to harvest a deer, but the season isn’t over yet. I still have an unused deer tag and an elk tag in my pocket, and I will succeed in providing meat for my family. I have learned humility through failure. I have found my inspiration and I’m full of hope. I still believe in Zen hunting, and through the process of Zen hunting, success is still a decision.

2014 Bowhunt Part 3 of 3

2014 Bowhunt Part 3 of 3

On Saturday I got back from my third of three bowhunting trips to Southern Utah. Me and my wife drove into the vast unit on Sunday afternoon and began hunting various areas throughout the week. After five days of “running and gunning” with little success, the lessons I’ve learned are many:

  1. Just like all public land hunting units in Utah, the Beaver unit is over-hunted, too easily accessible, and contains very few, if any, real trophy deer. According to all human evidence, the area has been depleted of its greatest resource (mule deer).
  2. The few “big” bucks that have managed to survive to maturity exist only above tree-line (above 10,000 feet), in relatively open areas. They’ve also developed intricate security measures to avoid hunters. In other words, they are mostly unhuntable. With very few opportunities at decent bucks, the odds of success are extremely low, even for the greatest hunters.
  3. The big bucks are only visible in the early morning and only for a short time before they seemingly vaporize without a trace. They also do not reappear until after dark, so your only opportunity is morning.
  4. Because mature bucks live in such inaccessible areas, it requires the hunter to be in extreme physical condition. If you can’t climb 1000 vertical feet before sunrise, you have no chance.
  5. Throughout the week I saw a total of 40 bucks scattered throughout the unit. Of those bucks, only two would be considered “trophy” quality, scoring between 170-180″.
  6. It only takes two days for a hunter to completely blow out an area, even in the biggest valleys. What I mean is, after pursuing deer throughout a valley for two days, a hunter’s scent and presence is made known. In turn, every deer changes its behavior and location, and by the third day there are no more deer.
  7. The largest bucks in the unit repeatedly return to the same food source. Like they say, “Where you find the best feed, you’ll find the best bucks.” After being spooked, however, the bucks do not return, or feed only at night.

That’s all! The general bowhunt is now over, but the extended hunt has begun and will continue until December. My goals have not changed. I will continue to pursue these mystical creatures, but now with greater fervor.

2014 Bowhunt Part 1 of 3

2014 Bowhunt Part 2 of 3

2014 Hunt Photos: 3 of 3

2014 Hunt Photos: 3 of 3

Here are some photos from my third bowhunt of 2014:

My hunt area, mid-September, watching fall roll in.
My hunt area, mid-September, watching fall roll in.
Wild currant berries grow everywhere in this unit. If the fruit wasn't so hairy I would eat some.
Wild currant berries grow everywhere in this unit. If the fruit wasn’t so hairy I would eat some.
September 10, 2014, 7:17 a.m.
September 10, 2014, 7:17 a.m.
Above 10,000 and almost straight down. This is some of the steepest country I've hunted.
Above 10,000 and almost straight down. This is some of the steepest country I’ve hunted.
Looks like a cougar got to this deer before I could.
Looks like a cougar got to this deer before I could.
The scattered buck skeleton I found was picked clean by predators. The antlers measured 26+".
The scattered buck skeleton I found was picked clean by predators. The antlers measured 26+”.
More high country.
More high country.
 I could have shot a small buck every single day, but I'm holding out for a big one that's lived past his prime. My lonely bow got no action on this hunt, just lots of scratches.
I could have shot a small buck every single day, but I’m holding out for a big one that’s lived past his prime. My lonely bow got no action on this hunt, just lots of scratches.
Lichen on the rocks. Might as well enjoy the small stuff.
Lichen on the rocks. Might as well enjoy the small stuff.
Parting shot: I was walking through a meadow at dark without my flashlight when I noticed a dark form in front of me. Suddenly half split off and ran down the mountain. Stupefied, I dug out my flashlight and found 1 of 2 porcupines nervously turned away from me and showing me its bristly backside. Neat little animals!
Parting shot: I was walking through a meadow at dark without my flashlight when I noticed a dark form in front of me. Suddenly half split off and ran down the mountain. Stupefied, I dug out my flashlight and found 1 of 2 porcupines nervously turned away from me and showing me its bristly backside. Neat little animals!

 

2014 Hunt Photos:  1 of 3

2014 Hunt Photos:  2 of 3

2014 Bowhunt Part 1 of 3

2014 Bowhunt Part 1 of 3

On Friday I got back from my first four-day bowhunt in Southern Utah. I hiked in Monday morning and began hunting that evening through Thursday. Since the area is still new to me, I considered this to be a scouting mission for the last two weeks of the season. So far, here are the lessons I’ve learned:

  1. There are about 10 bucks living in the immediate area by camp. All but two are smaller, 2, 3, and 4 points–not mature bucks. The other two, which I did NOT get good visuals on, are average-sized, mature four-points in the 160-inch class range. As far as I’m concerned, these are “settlement bucks,” or bucks I will only shoot if I cannot find any bigger before the season ends.
  2. The surrounding area, which extend for miles in all directions, contains only sparse amounts of deer, mostly does. I also couldn’t find any heavy deer traffic areas, and only a few random large-buck tracks.
  3. All bucks are still in velvet and the younger bucks still have their summer red-coats. The older bucks are beginning to grow out their gray winter coats. Because the bucks are still in velvet, they are living mostly in and around open feeding areas.
  4. Undisturbed, the bucks tend to bed down around 9:30 a.m. On cooler days, they begin feeding early, around 4:30 p.m.
  5. Deer are concentrated and feeding only the East and Southeast facing slopes.
  6. Scent control is impossible. Although I try to diminish my human scent with scent-eliminating laundry and body soap, by the second day of hunting the deer can smell me immediately and bust out of the area. At the same time, I had 5 does and fawns bed down within 10 yards of me on the fourth day when the wind was in my favor.

That’s all I have right now. I’ll be hunting most of next week so stay tuned for Bowhunt Part 2.

2014 Hunt Photos: 1 of 3

2014 Hunt Photos: 1 of 3

Here are some photos from my first bowhunt of 2014:

Here’s why deer in my area aren’t centered around water. Many rocks have pits that collect rain water.
Here’s why deer in my area aren’t centered around water. Many rocks have pits that collect rain water.
I found this broken arrowhead near camp.
I found this broken arrowhead near camp.
A small stream running through an open meadow.
A small stream running through an open meadow.
Water springing out of the rocks.
Water springing out of the rocks.
One of three horned toads I ran into. They are very unafraid of people and gentle to handle. Probably good eating in a pinch...
One of three horned toads I ran into. They are very unafraid of people and gentle to handle. Probably good eating in a pinch…
Inside my tent, and a boring photo from a camera test.
Inside my tent, and a boring photo from a camera test.
Elderberries grow in great abundance in my area. I eat hundreds a day to stay hydrated. Also a good source of fiber.
Elderberries grow in great abundance in my area. I eat hundreds a day to stay hydrated. Also a good source of fiber.
When I came home this buck was wandering through my yard. Notice the archery target behind its head!
When I came home this buck was wandering through my yard. Notice the archery target behind its head!

 

FYI:  All of my field photos are taken with a Canon Powershot G-Series camera which shoots the pro-quality style images required for magazine publication.

Click here for 2014 Hunt Photos Part 2

 

Holding Out For the BIG One

Holding Out for the BIG Buck

The archery season is in full swing and NO, I haven’t even gone hunting yet. I don’t hunt the opener for the following reasons:

  1. The deer are under a lot of pressure after opening weekend and go into deep hiding. A week or two into the season and they usually calm down and fall back into their normal summer routine.
  2. The bucks are still in velvet, and I just like hard horns better. Velvet is deceiving. Velvet adds about 30% more false mass to a buck’s rack, making quick judging a little more difficult. When that velvet comes off, well that’s the true measure of the deer’s rack. Plus, velvet has to be carefully preserved in and out of the field, which can be a pain. But in the end, it comes down to personal preference. Some people just love fuzzy bucks.

So, I have three more days to get some work done, and then I’m gone! I’ll pick up where I left off last year, in the Superbuck area. I only spent a couple days there last year, but from what I’ve seen it looks very promising. There’s plenty of feed, water, and best of all, very little pressure.

Wish me luck!

Stealth in Hunting

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Stealth in Hunting

As bowhunters soon learn, the deer’s few disadvantages are greatly outweighed by its many advantages, particularly in terms of its super-sensory abilities. Now, assuming you’ve finally located a deer undetected, how does the novice hunter close the distance—that very small gap required to get within bow range? Of all the skills a bowhunter must learn, stealth is probably the most important and difficult to master.

During my early bowhunting career I climbed clumsily through the woods, snapping twigs and crunching pinecones as I went. Meanwhile, all the forest creatures sat staring my way in horror. Eventually, you get tired of busting all the deer out before you see them and learn to slow way down, becoming painfully aware of each step which is carefully placed around endless twigs, pinecones, brush, and crunchy pebbles. You become obsessed with wind direction which is your best friend or worst enemy. You must diligently adjust your approach against the breeze which carries your human scent back and away from you. Not only can you use wind direction for scent control, but the rustling leaves and howling wind can work wonders to camouflage the inevitable noises you do make. But hunting in high winds has its drawbacks too. Like most prey species, deer are extra wary on a windy day because it’s difficult for them to hear predators approaching. If you observe a buck feeding on a windy day, you’ll see his head up and looking around a lot more than usual. They also tend to stay bedded longer.

Besides using the wind to mask my noise, I try to keep my movements to a minimum. You’re obviously going to have to move to find deer; ambush plans don’t always work. When you find yourself hunting midday, for example, and it’s dreadfully hot and the deer aren’t moving, then you must move. Otherwise, you are here and the deer are there and you never meet in-between. But you can still optimize your approach. For example, I rarely take more than eight or ten steps before stopping to listen and glass over the ever-changing landscape. Many years ago I developed a game to help me with stealth. Whenever I snapped a twig I would force myself to stop and sit down in that very spot for fifteen minutes and just listen. I found that unless I continued making noise, the deer would eventually go back to what they were doing. But if I continued moving, the deer would confirm the danger and leave. A single noise in a forest full of other wildlife is eventually discarded by the deer. Countless times I’ve watched deer turn and stare in the direction of a noise with eternal patience, but if the sound wasn’t repeated, they’d eventually go back to their normal routine.

Every track, rub, bed, and sign you encounter, along with other factors such as wind, terrain, and forage, will dictate your direction of travel. The hardest part is moving undetected. It was during one of these early lessons that I had my first encounter with a bull elk. It was my third archery deer hunt and I had just spent much of the day ghosting along slowly and quietly, like a puff of smoke through the dense timber. Suddenly, a patch of tan fur caught my eye only ten yards ahead of me. I crouched down and observed a giant six-point elk standing in a thicket of pines, completely oblivious to my presence. I didn’t have an elk tag so I just sat and watched him while he stood and watched the woods. At that moment, I knew my lesson in stealth was complete.

Hunter Evasion

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Hunter Evasion Tactics

We could argue all day about what the mule deer’s greatest strength is, whether it’s their superfluous hearing, specialized eyesight, or powerful sense of smell. The fact that they must live in the outdoors year-round under extreme conditions requires them to have many strengths. But in my observation, the mule deer’s greatest strength is evasion.

In most instances, as you go sneaking quietly through the woods, the deer have already sensed your presence and are quietly sneaking away from you. Novice hunters aren’t usually aware of this, and if they don’t see any deer all day, they just assume there aren’t any around. Well, that’s exactly what the deer wants you to think! If every time a deer sensed a hunter, he went flying out of its bed and bounded noisily away, then experienced hunters would know there were deer in the area and continue putting more pressure on them. Instead, smart bucks have learned the art of quiet evasion.

As a rule, you’ll hear a lot more deer bound away than you’ll ever see, and you won’t see or hear even more deer that sneak silently away from you. But if you learn to slow way down and play the wind just right, you’ll eventually get within bow distance of an unsuspecting buck. This still doesn’t guarantee a shot because in most cases the buck will still sense some sort of danger before you can raise your weapon. He’ll suddenly explode from his bed and fly out of sight, carefully keeping as many trees as he can between him and you as he goes. That’s just part of hunting. There’s no way to fool all the deer all the time.

Big bucks have also developed a tactic for avoiding stealthy hunters by “lying low.” Since the deer doesn’t detect the stealthy hunter from a great distance, the sudden appearance of a hunter at close range will force the deer to make a decision: either he can flee out of his bed and alert you to his presence, or he can lie low and let you walk by, hoping you don’t see him. On numerous occasions, I’ve had bucks explode from a bed within just a few yards of me. Obviously the deer knew I was there beforehand, but chose not to flee until danger was imminent.

Since most bucks you encounter evade you one way or another (sometimes even after being shot), then evasion is obviously the mule deer’s greatest strength. The best advice I can give you is this: Never underestimate a mature buck. In most cases, the best you can do is to get in the vicinity and hope things play out in your favor. Be patient and let things unfold slowly, at nature’s pace. Even if it takes all day to stalk a buck you’ve spotted, your best chance of success is just getting close. Once the buck has sensed you, the jig is up and you’ll have to go find another one.

Deer Hunting: Art or Science?


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Deer Hunting: Art or Science?

Is deer hunting an art or a science? What a great question!

A year ago I had a really interesting conversation with a non-hunter about art and science and how it relates to hunting success. Now, this non-hunter has a friend who loves hunting more than anything, but his results over the years have been very poor. The hunter is not only a scientist by profession, but a scientist in just about every other facet of life. Almost everything he does has to be calculated and planned out, with little left to chance. In other words, he’s an extreme left-brain oriented person.

In contrast, I’m a real right-brain oriented person. I’m an artist not only by profession, but in every other way as well. So, my only common ground with the scientist is our love for hunting. This got me thinking.

If you aren’t familiar with the difference between left and right brains, maybe this comparison will help:

Scientist-hunters tend to be left-brained. Some characteristics of left-brainers are:

  1. They tend to be numbers oriented.
  2. They are very rules oriented
  3. They are facts oriented
  4. They tend to be less open to abstract ideas such as religion, mysticism, romance, etc.
  5. They are more confident, but also more close-minded
  6. They tend to be politically conservative
  7. They tend to be more financially successful

In contrast, abrainers are:

  1. They are art oriented
  2. They are more intuitive and open-minded
  3. They have distrust for science, facts, and numbers
  4. They are more hopeful and romantic
  5. They have more politically liberal views
  6. They are more visually oriented

Ideally, a person is perfectly balanced between the two, meaning the two halves of their brain work together rather than one dominating the other. Mbalanced somewhere between the two extremes, but a lot of people aren’t. Being extreme one way or the other is actually dangerous because it means we are close-minded and prone to mental disorders.

How does being left- or right-brained affect hunting success?

When a person bags a giant buck, the scientist will immediately begin assessing the situation. Where, when, and how did this hunter come to arrow such a great trophy? If the scientist can just answer these three simple questions, then the formula can be implemented and success can be repeated, right? But in real-life hunting, it doesn’t always work that way. For instance, what if the hunter just wandered into a section of unknown woods on a hunch and stumbled into a big buck. Miraculously, the buck didn’t notice the hunter who immediately sent an arrow sailing perfectly into the buck’s heart. End of story for the hunter, but great mystery for the scientist. None of the scientist’s questions were answered so there can be only one possible explanation: sheer, lethal luck. And the scientist knows that absolutely nothing can be learned from luck, so all the data must be dismissed. Could it be that the scientist is asking the wrong questions?

In contrast, the artist views hunting is art. Yeah, there might be a little science thrown in, such as knowledge of deer behavior and physics-optimized weaponry, but the true artist-hunter glides fearlessly along a path of infinite variables and gut feelings. He might begin the day with a basic plan or direction of travel in mind, but almost immediately veers away from preconceptions, and ends up in mysterious places he never thought of. The scientist may do this occasionally, but it’s usually avoided. Scientists tend to stick with the plan at all costs.

As an artist, I’m probably a little biased. I see the purely scientific approach to hunting as a triple threat to success. The first problem is over-planning. The scientist has probably stared at a map for so long that he just knows where the deer will be the next day based on a number of physical factors, and nothing can lead him away from his plan. The second problem is over-packing. He is aware that the woods are full of infinite problems, variables, and dangers, so he overfills his pack which in turn slows him down and makes him noisier. The third problem is ignoring intuition. As a predator-animal, the scientist is prone to intuition and a heightened sense of awareness just like every other hunter. The problem is that he resists acting on hunches, premonitions, feelings, etc. This narrows his vision both physically and metaphorically. If your vision is narrow, you will ignore the gentle prodding’s of Nature.

Game over. The results are in and the winner is…

The Artist.

But scientists, don’t despair. Anyone can change. The first step to becoming more artistic in hunting is to realize you’re a left-brainer. This in itself can be a challenge since left-brained people tend not to buy into the whole left-brain/right-brain idea. To help identify your bias, simply review the traits listed above and make an honest assessment of your priorities. Do you love math? Great, you’re left-brained. Now that you’ve accepted this title, read back over my previous blog-posts entitled Zen in Hunting: Part 1, 2, 3. The left-brainer is bound to scoff at such Zen-nonsense, but that’s exactly why he experiences such limited success in the field. So read it again.

By now you’ve probably concluded that the author is a pompous jerk; pointing fingers and calling names. Nothing could be further from the truth. In life, money, and relationships I’m really a big failure. There’s only one thing in life I’ve been great at and that’s bowhunting. So, bowhunting is all I can give back to the world.

Happy Hunting!