I’ll never forget. Ten years ago I rounded a large fir tree and spotted a 180-class buck bedded in some deadfall at thirty yards and facing directly away from me. But before I could even pull an arrow, a nearby squirrel lit up with a world-class barking fit. The buck instantly stood up and walked into the deep woods without offering a shot. Since then, I’ve had innumerable stalks thwarted by these cursed tree rats, some ending entire seasons in failure by a single squirrel.
Aside from using other deer as sentinels, big bucks use a myriad of other forest creatures for safety too. As you travel through the woods you might notice that squirrels, chipmunks, and a variety of birds are continually announcing your presence. They do this to warn their own species of danger, but the deer pick up on their calls and use them to their advantage. Big bucks, especially, are completely aware of their surrounding and pick notice anything out of the ordinary.
How Deer Use Squirrels
If you’ve had the chance to observe many deer in the deep woods, then you’ve probably noticed that every time a squirrel fires up, the deer will stop whatever he’s doing and stare in that direction. Squirrels don’t bark randomly; there’s always a threat, even if it’s just another squirrel in their territory. Either way, if you agitate a squirrel, then just know that any deer within earshot is now looking for danger. Conversely, squirrels bark at deer as well as people. Several times I’ve found deer in places where I’ve heard a squirrel fire up. So don’t be afraid to investigate random squirrel barks.
Like elk, big bucks enjoy the security of bedding in thick, over-grown conifer forests. The problem with conifers is the abundance of squirrels and chipmunks that inhabit them. Like most animals, squirrels are territorial. Long ago I noticed that the whole conifer forest is gridded in squirrel territory. When you leave one barking squirrel behind, you’ll likely run into another and another as you move through the woods.
Squirrels aren’t too noisy early season, but it gets progressively worse in September as the squirrels begin to amass food stores (pinecones) for winter. In my neck of the woods, August 25th is the beginning of mayhem.
If you have an abundance of chipmunks in your area, you might notice they’re equally bad, erupting with a myriad of alarming noises that deer pick up on. One time I stumbled upon a crabby 4×4 buck feeding off a trail at 15 yards. Immediately, a cantankerous chipmunk situated between us erupted into a machine gun-like, high-pitched chirping fit. The buck stopped feeding and spent the next five minutes scanning the woods for danger. Eventually he marched nervously away. Just last year my eight-hour, once-in-a-lifetime mountain goat stalk was nearly blown by a single chipmunk who threw an alarming fit in a nearby tree.
Knowing that squirrels and chipmunks are such threats to bowhunting success, what do you do? I’ve tried everything, but here are a few tried-and-true techniques that might help you.
Squirrel Avoidance Techniques
Unless you are sitting in a fixed ambush position, your best strategy is to just get up and move. Once out of sight, squirrels will soon shut up and go about their business. Fortunately, not all squirrels are bad. Some will even allow your presence, like if they’re too busy gathering pinecones to notice you.
A second option is to wait the squirrel out. Squirrels will generally bark for 30 minutes or less, during which time no deer will enter the area, guaranteed. After 30 minutes squirrels will tire out and go back to their business. Another effective technique is to walk directly towards the squirrel’s tree. Most squirrels will get nervous as you approach and shut up—but not always. Some just get louder! Fortunately chipmunks are more skittish and scare easily.
As a last resort, feel free to shoot the wretched beast. You don’t necessarily have to kill him, just whiz an arrow past his head. When he realizes he’s in danger, he’ll likely run off. For this reason, I always carry a cheap, aluminum “squirrel arrow” in my quiver—because you’re not likely to get your arrow back; believe me, I’ve shot at a lot of squirrels. My Spanish name is actually Squirlero! Okay, it’s not, but it should be.
Again, it depends on the squirrel you’re shooting at. Some just climb higher and bark louder. For this reason, a more lethal method might be in order. I know one hunter who carries a lightweight BB pistol in his pack…just in case.
If you hunt long enough, you’ll inevitably have an entire hunt go down the toilet thanks to a random tree rat. So be prepared by using the aforementioned squirrel-avoidance techniques. On a side note, I’ve actually eaten more squirrels than the average person. It was a long time ago, but eat them I did. They’re actually quite tasty; like chicken but with a nutty overtone. Bon appétit!
Hunting with passion will take you farther than anything else. When the mountain is just too big and too steep, it’s not physical strength that pulls me up, but a deep-seated, burning passion that keeps my legs churning. It’s much more mental than physical.
I first noticed this back in 2015 while elk hunting with my wife. In the early light I could hear the elk herd moving farther up the mountain. My legs burned as I huffed and puffed steadily behind them. Still, I didn’t stop or rest as I was compelled with great desire to catch up to them. For a moment I felt as though I’d split in half: my boundless spirit was moving ahead of my faltering body, and then reaching back to pull my body along. It was a weird mental moment, but it got me up the mountain despite the apparent physical impossibility.
That drive comes from the hope of infinite possibilities lying ahead, or some magical opportunity lurking in the near future. Unfortunately, this “drive” is nearly impossible to teach; it has to come from within.
How to Find Your Drive
Learning to be passionately driven will bring more success than anything else, even extreme physical training. If you can learn to fan that initial flame into a burning desire, then you’ll find your passion and use it as a tool.
The best way to kindle you hunting passion is to set realistic goals, and then do whatever it takes to reach them. As you begin to have small successes, set bigger goals. By continually striving for bigger and better bucks, your love for hunting grows forever.
Throughout this process, try focusing on the whole hunting package, not just the kill. Take time to appreciate the miracle and beauty of nature. Read and learn about the long history of the bow-and-arrow and its precious heritage down through the ages. Feel the power you transfer to the bow from your own body, and then observe the mystical flight of the arrow into the target. It’s a beautiful, artistic craft!
Be sure to immerse yourself completely into the entire hunting process, from preseason preparation to the final harvest. Try processing the animal’s sacred meat by yourself and you’ll attain a greater appreciation for the animal.
This is the recipe for passion that will drive your spirit up the mountain and towards long-term success.
If however your intentions are impure; if you just want to kill something with little regard for the sanctity of life; if you’re really hunting for recognition and ego, then your passion will erode and eventually falter. As exciting as the kill might be, most people—hunters and non-hunters alike—don’t really care about your success. That is, unless you shoot a real monster, in which case they’ll just be jealous.
In the end if you aren’t hunting for yourself, or your family’s dinner table, then you’ll lose your passion for the sport. That’s because the mountain is cruel; it often beats you up and holds out on you. Over time you’ll grow to resent it. Finally, one day, tragically, hunting becomes too much a burden and you don’t return.
Don’t go down this route! Instead foster your passion and you’ll find success afield, whether you harvest something or not.
2020 was been a terrible year for most people, and hunters are no exception! After all the difficulties I personally endured afield, I finally mustered the mental fortitude to write a new post, and just in time for Thanksgiving.
Note: This will be my first hunting-related post since moving to Southern Utah last year. This move was prompted by several factors, primarily getting away from the hordes of the big city, taking control over my time, and being closer to Nature (see my previous post: Panguitch Manifesto).
After settling in to my new home, I looked forward to having more time afield–and thus more success–during the 2020 archery season. This was not the case. Instead, the Covid crowds bombarded the forests with hunters and non-hunters alike, thus driving the deer deeper and further away from my usual haunts. Long story short, I spent a record 42 days afield with nothing to show but a handful of missed opportunities.
For the first time in five years I was left with no story to write. Returning from failed trip after trip took it’s toll on my spirit as I sunk into a hunting funk like never before. Fearing a continual descent into despair, I took heed of one of my life-long mantras: Always turn reaction into action.
I started by reading all the following books:
The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale Blood in the Tracks, by Jim Collyer Creativity, by Osho
These books proved invaluable for creating a new mindset based on hope and positivity. Sure I stunk it up this year, but that doesn’t change who I am, nor does it discredit all the invaluable hunting skills I’ve accumulated over decades of hard hunting. Gradually I began to look forward rather than dwelling on the past.
But was the past really that bad? No way. Despite 2020, I can still walk downstairs and bask in the glow of past success; successes almost unimaginable, and for which I am eternally grateful!
Next, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I sat down and wrote a list of gratitude. This included items such as my health, home, freedom, and my supportive hunting-wife partner; what else does one need? Well, does of course! After all, I did harvest a beautiful Idaho doe to fill the freezer this year.
Success or failure isn’t as important as how we react to it. Simply put, failure forces change.
Already I’ve begun making plans for next year. There are still plenty of great deer in my unit, I just need to change how and where I hunt for them. This includes more effective scouting and strategies to avoid people…which is something I specialize in.
Guy Eastman once wrote that “a failed hunt just makes the successful ones that much more special.” This might be hard to stomach, but it’s true.
Over-achievement can actually inhibit our growth by making us complacent. Inflated egos cultivate an air of entitlement which goes against everything natural. Nature requires us to continually evolve. If we aren’t moving forward, then we’re moving backwards. Challenges are therefore something to embrace because it perpetuates growth.
This year I’m most grateful for continual opportunities to pursue the greatest passion of my life–bowhunting–even in this difficult time. I’m also grateful for my past successes, and even my failures from which I continually learn. I’m especially very grateful for an old doe harvested with my bow.
It was the fifth morning of my 2015 archery deer hunt, and I was walking the same dusty trail back to camp. I left the cruel woods early that morning, chased out by the looming heat and impending failure. My head was hung low as I mindlessly kicked up dirt along the path. Suddenly I was awakened by a fresh set of bobcat tracks crossing the path.
I remembered last night when I was startled awake by a high speed chase around my tent and the screeching of a squirrel. Probably a bobcat, I thought.
Now, intrigued by these delicate tracks, I pulled out my camera and knelt down to take a picture. I was suddenly gripped with clarity and crushing emotion. It was the first time in a long time that I wasn’t thinking about deer, and was just enjoying nature. In this moment I was filled with love for every aspect of the woods. Just like the bobcat, I had a place there too, and knew I was accepted by a greater whole. Success or failure meant nothing in that moment.
Until then I was desperately pushing a dangerous energy ahead of me, filling the tranquil forest with thoughts of killing. This, I believe, is why we often fail in our hunting pursuits. There is a connection to life that only humans don’t understand. Our gift of consciousness blinds us to higher levels of understanding.
We must conquer ourselves before we can conquer nature. This is the natural order of things, and a lesson I’ve been blessed to learn over and over. These little surprises–like those bobcat tracks–add up to a much larger experience, and that experience is what I’m really hunting for. This is why I’m really there.
Like any old marriage, the woods and I have our moments, both good and bad. Sometimes we ignore each other. But once in a while I remember why we’re still together, and why I love her so deeply. In the end, I’m to blame. It’s me that fights, not her.
I just spent the last few days prowling around Idaho and still haven’t seen any decent bucks. Days are ruthlessly hot and dry; nights are freezing, which is probably why I languish with a painful head cold. My first step out of the dusty camp and my legs are sore with disease; my joints hurt, my muscles ache, my head throbs.
Foreign lands and no deer sign yet, but this remote valley looks promising. I’m headed toward the dark, north-face timber where I may get some reprieve from the glaring sun. But the route is thick with oak brush and cedar. Endless branches grasp at my body, tripping me and shoving me back down the steep slope.
I stop frequently to mop pouring sweat from my forehead with my camo cap. I’m still wearing the same stinky outfit I’ve donned for three days. Wind is my best ally or my worst enemy. There’s no point trying to be quiet. I just need a vantage to glass from. I don’t know where I’m going or where I’ll end up; just following my nose and reading sign.
Moments ago something crawled across my neck. I swiped at it and monstrous orange spider fell to the ground. But I won’t be dissuaded. This is what I live for; it’s all I know. Only a year ago my arrow sailed over the biggest velvet buck I ever shot at. He’s long since vanished now, which is why I’m here in Idaho. Redemption. New woods and new hope. I push onward.
Long out of tissue, both nostrils drain continuously, leaving a slimy trail of moisture everywhere I go, likely the only moisture this parched forest has seen in months.
Finally some tracks, but small. I follow to see where they lead. Maybe I’ll strap on my release; I hope I brought it. Just yesterday I was hiking in grizzly country and halfway up the mountain I realized I’d forgotten to load my arrows into my quiver. Stupid, stuffy head!
My life has been various attempts at various activities, but bowhunting has been my one true passion, and better yet, the only thing I’m really good at. But here and now, it’s hard to tell. My brain is gripped with pressure, my body is weak. I push on because I know nothing else.
In the pines a squirrel fires up, barking relentlessly, giving away my position. I always carry a squirrel arrow, but it’s mostly futile; there’s always another squirrel, and the biggest bucks are always in the dark timber with them. During a heavy wind last year, I stumbled upon a giant 4×4 buck bedded in a patch of thick blowdowns. Before I could pull an arrow, a squirrel fired up alerting the buck who quickly rose from his bed and melted away into the forest.
I try to imagine heavy horns moving through the brush, and then my arrow carrying cold steel through its chest cavity. The only way I win is if I wreak maximum carnage on an innocent, unsuspecting deer. I wince at the thought. Will I ever turn away from this bloody pursuit? Likely not, because life outside the woods has little appeal to me, and even less venison. A predator must eat.
At this time I’d like to formally apologize to my faithful and finely crafted compound bow which I’m currently dragging through an almost indescribable tangled hell. Only five years old and it’s already covered in battle scars; scratches, dents and dings. Sure it’s seen some fine moments, but this year it’s just a hiking companion. Its one moment of glory was a dirty coyote I sniped near camp in Utah.
After weed-whacking for two hours I’ve arrived at a fantastic rock outcropping with views of the entire valley. Only an 90 minutes of shooting light left and still no deer. I glass empty draw after empty draw, stacked in vertical rows below the summit.
I want to underestimate the mighty buck; I try to convince myself that he’s just another dumb animal eating and sleeping his life away. But I know better. He’s an ingenious survivor, evading predators year after year with very little effort and hardly a conscious thought. How is that possible? A hunter, no matter his experience, goes to his grave having merely scratching the surface of everything there is to know about these amazing survivors. Outsmarting him is the greatest challenge, and I suppose this relentless pursuit is why it never gets old.
The rest of my Idaho excursion iss nothing short of a grim letdown. The once promised land is mostly bleak, ravaged by human intrusions, just like Utah. ATVs and trash litter the landscape and the woods are devoid of huntable game. Big bucks live short lives hidden away in dark holes far removed from human reach.
While bow hunting last year, it occurred to me that success can be divided into three equally important pillars. To put it in perspective, I created the diagram below:
Think back to your last hunt. Were you successful? If not, which pillar did you fall short on? Since each step is equally important, it should be easy to pinpoint where you need improvement.
Let’s break it down:
Break-down of Hunting Success Components
The first step, locating a buck, is something you can start doing right now. The best way to locate more deer is to study their behavior, habitat, and ecology. You can also research harvest data and biologist’s reports on the unit you are planning to hunt. The next step is a concerted scouting effort to locate and pattern bucks.
The second step, stalking a buck, is not always intuitive. Getting close to big bucks is the hardest step to master because, unlike shooting, it’s something we rarely get to practice. What it really boils down to patience: knowing when and how fast to move depending on current conditions such as wind and cover.
Finally, shot execution. Almost everyone I talk to is pro-class shooter…until their arrow flies wide of an unsuspecting buck. Bowhunters are lucky just to get one or two shot opportunities in a season, so it’s important to prepare for real-life hunting scenarios in advance. The best way to do this is to practice shooting in different positions, unknown yardages, around objects, and in adverse conditions such as wind or near-darkness.
Keep these three pillars of hunting success in mind when you enter the woods this year. Try to pinpoint which area needs more work based on past hunts or failures.
I’m unofficially declaring December as National Anti-Political Correctness Month! The following has been on my mind lately…
I’m not racist. In fact I had several Hispanic and African-American friends throughout my life, and still do. My best friend growing up was gay as a June bug! Some of my best friends now are flaming liberals. Doesn’t matter to me; I judge each person on his character and not on his color, religion, creed, or political preference. This is normal. And for the vast majority of Americans, this is exactly how it’s been for many decades. Yet just recently racism has been re-introduced into our culture, not by normal individuals, but by race-baiting liberals in order to demonize good, patriotic citizens.
The Silent Truth
That being said, I am very prejudiced! I am prejudiced against every “politically correct” person–white, black, green, or otherwise. Politically correct persons (PCs) are the most offensive creatures on the planet. PCs are anti-America, anti-God, anti-freedom, and anti-Nature. PCs wish to take away your God- and Country-given rights to free speech, free thought, and free expression.
Modern America has been in a downward spiral thanks to PC lies for some time now, and it’s only getting worse. More and more people are being persecuted for their beliefs, whether it’s religious, political or otherwise. Ironically, if you believe in God or morality then you are automatically a hater. In my lifetime I’ve seen more good, intellectual, honest, hard-working Americans persecuted than any single minority person or group!
Because of this persecution, innocent, freedom-loving individuals are losing their livelihoods and reputations. One case that sticks out in my mind is from 2014 when Mozilla Chief Executive Brendan Eich was forced to resign simply because he made a donation to opponents of gay marriage. The evil PCs destroyed his career, not because of his job performance, but his personal values.
Another example is the Washington Redskins football team and their American-Indian mascot. Today, if I support the Washington Redskins–which I do–then I’m a racist. Never mind that more than half the team is black. Their mascot–the stately and strong, admirable American-Indian warrior–is detested NOT by American Indians, but ignorant, white, PC hate-mongers who don’t even watch football. Fortunately the NFL doesn’t care about these doltish PCs and their pitiful plight to change the team’s name. Team owner Daniel Snyder stood his ground in 2013, telling USA Today, “We’ll never change the name. … It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps.”
PCs are the REAL haters. These Godless, anti-freedom, socialist nuts are compelled to seek out and hyper-inflate any microscopic social issue just to feel better about themselves. They, along with the abhorrent, lying media, perpetuate racism by bringing the slightest black/white race conflict to the forefront of public awareness. They’ve hijacked the University by shoving these ridiculous, social-equity issues ahead of any actual education. They indoctrinate our children with a continual bombardment of liberal values, the highest being the elevation of the weak while suppressing the strong; this being the exact the opposite of Nature and survival of the fittest.
Why is rampant political correction on the rise? This question has plagued my mind for some time. It’s glaringly obvious that widespread racism has been all but wiped out, especially here in the future where we have a black president and countless other minorities in top political and social positions. But after observing many PC individuals in my own life, it occurred to me that political correction is simply a widespread fad; it’s the new “cool”. It’s cool to accept everyone and anything with no discernment between good and evil.
For decades American values were dictated by religious texts and the constitution. Suddenly these directors of values are persecuted and detested. It’s natural for our children–who are mostly excreted from broken and godless homes–to seek meaning and values in life. When they can’t find these things at home, they glean it from pop-idols and institutions of “higher” learning.
Since there’s so little for our children to believe in now, they buy into the religion of political correction (aka liberalism) which perpetuates the values of acceptance, tolerance, equality, environmentalism, anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism, and anti-God. Political correctness–aka Evil–is simply the new “cool”.
Tragically, kids think that being cool is acting, speaking, and looking like everyone else–in other words they are forfeiting their individuality. But if you live long enough, wisdom prevails. Being cool really means embracing freedom, saying what you think, pursuing your own dreams, and living your life according to good old-fashioned American values.
The major problem with being a cool kid today is that they don’t have a choice about it. One word of intolerance and the coolest cat in class becomes ostracized. You must be PC just to survive in society. From cradle to grave we walk on eggshells to protect our reputations and livelihood. Free speech and free expression are no longer tolerated in our poisoned society.
Being a hunter puts me in a minority class. I’m judged negatively by the most people for harvesting natural, organic, self-renewing animal protein. I find myself hiding my hunting lifestyle from many colleagues and clients. I feel I must continually defend myself against attacks against my lifestyle choice. By definition, I am an oppressed minority! No joke!
Well, ya know what’s funny about being a free-thinking member of the silent majority? I don’t care. It’s a free country and EVERYONE has the right to think and express whatever opinion they want. If someone hates blacks, gays, Jews, hunters, Hispanics, or any other minority, who cares?! Now, if someone burns a minority on their front lawn, well, that’s a problem. If they blow up a church in the name of God, that’s an issue. If someone makes a Muslim joke at Thanksgiving, who cares?! Go crazy. It’s a free country.
Speaking in poor taste certainly makes you less popular, but it doesn’t make you a bad person. Acting on evil impulses makes you a bad person. Say what you think, express how you feel, and turn Thanksgiving dinner into a racially- or politically-charged cluster bomb. That’s your right as an American. Liberty and freedom; that’s what makes our country great.
In conclusion, I implore you to do your part this holiday season to combat the evil of political correctness. If your free speech or free expression offends some mindless PC troglodyte, or if someone gets their feel-bads hurt at the annual Christmas party, just remember, there’s only one answer to political correctness: WHO CARES!
I never thought much about turkeys. I love bowhunting more than anything, but it was my wife Esther who took an active interest in hunting turkeys. In spring we drew turkey tags for Southern Utah where we’d come across plenty of birds in the past. Getting tags was easy enough, but that’s where easy ended.
First off, we decided to do it with a bow. I don’t do guns—I am a bow-snob…I mean purist—so now we were hunting unfamiliar prey with light tackle.
Second, Esther couldn’t get any time off work. Her schedule is a consummate nightmare, but somehow she was able to secure a single weekend at the end of the April. Now this proved to be a problem because the turkeys we ultimately hunted were already people- and call- wary. Can you say sloppy seconds?
Thirdly, the weather report called for heavy thundershowers and snow. What choice did we have? We went for it anyway.
We left late Friday night and already it was raining. Four hours later we set up camp in the back of the truck and went to bed. The morning was cool and lovely. We ventured across a small river and up the mountain. I decided to make a video of our ordeal, so Esther carried a bow and I carried a camera. I would be the caller for the first couple days, and after she got a shot it would be my turn.
We hiked and called for a few hours, but got no response. A while later, we heard a turkey gobble out of the blue, so we set up a decoy, dropped back, and began a calling sequence. The turkey ignored us and so we kept hiking.
Later that afternoon, some thick, black clouds rolled in. As we were making our way back down the mountain, a gobbler fired up fairly close by. We holed up under some junipers to devise a strategy, and that’s when the rain started. We pulled out our raingear and pretty soon it was a downpour. At some point I realized we were on the wrong side of the river, and if the rain continued we might get trapped on the mountain. So we bagged the hunt and made a run for it.
By the time we reached the truck the rain had turned to heavy snow. The snow let up later in the afternoon and so we ran back up to where we heard the gobblers. But they were gone. For the rest of the evening we hiked all over looking for tracks in the new snow, but found none. The turkeys had flown the coop!
The next morning we woke to a full-on blizzard. Around 10 a.m. it subsided, so once again we crossed the river and headed up the mountain. We hiked from four inches to six inches of snow. We covered an immense amount of ground, but heard no gobbles and found no tracks. The turkeys were gone.
It seemed to me that the only direction they could have gone is downhill, so we packed up the truck and headed to the bottom of the mountain.
It rained most of the day so we spent several hours driving the low-elevation dirt roads and scanning the hillsides for black blobs in the snow. We found none.
In the late afternoon we decided to find a place to camp. I remembered a dirt road that gave access to the low-elevation drainage. Basically, the steep dirt road drops into a bowl before turning back up the mountain. Well, half-way to the bottom, the truck started sliding sideways and I struggled to maintain control. We got to the bottom okay, but now we were really stuck. We slopped to a flat spot to camp, then, with a break in the storm, hiked up the mountain to see where we’d be spending the last day of the hunt.
Things began looking up.
Almost a mile up the muddy mountain, we heard a gobble. With a couple hours of light left, we rushed in, threw out the decoy, and made some calls. There were three gobblers struttin’ around us, but it was way too thick for a shot. I kept dropping back and making hen calls, but they just kept circling us nervously and gobbling every few minutes.
We pulled the decoy and repositioned to a better clearing, but they still wouldn’t come in. We pulled the decoy again and rushed toward them. We were getting close, and so was nighttime. As we sat there trying to figure out where to plant the decoy, some big red heads came bobbing through the sagebrush. The toms were about to pass right in front of us at only twenty yards! Esther nocked an arrow, and when the turks went behind a juniper bush I whisper-yelled, “30 yards!” When they broke into the open, Esther let an arrow fly…and missed! The arrow sailed right behind the first turkey and the second turkey jumped straight into the air. Somewhat alarmed, they all trotted out of sight.
It’s funny how thin the line is between failure and success. After two hard days of hunting, we suddenly had turkeys all around us. Although Esther missed, we were just excited to finally be into the turkeys!
On Sunday we got up early and hiked to where we left the turkeys. We were excited, and I even carried a bow this time. Sure enough, we were greeted by gobbles. Several times we set up the decoy and made calls. The toms responded diligently, but wouldn’t come in. Instead they continued up the mountain and we followed.
Now this is where things get real bad; where Nate and Nature have a serious falling out.
With plenty of new snow, it was easy to follow their tracks. We spotted the turkeys a hundred yards ahead of us. I quickly set up a decoy and dropped back to call. Just as I started calling, a small herd of elk came running through the oak brush. The elk had caught our scent and ran right through the turkeys, nearly trampling them! The turkeys spooked farther up the mountain and we followed.
We caught up to the turkeys moving ahead of us in some boulders and brush. Squatting low to the ground, I trotted up and planted the decoy again. No sooner had I started calling, some coyotes suddenly lit up howling like crazy a short distance behind us. The toms made one last gobble, some other turkeys across the canyon gobbled back, and then everyone shut up. Those were the last gobbles we heard.
Esther and I followed the tracks way up the mountain into the deep snow, but they were moving too fast. Eventually the tracks led out of the huge valley, crossed a saddle, and disappeared. Stupid coyotes!
Frustrated, we turned back. While on top of the mountain, Esther decided to call into work and let her boss know we were stuck in the mud and may not get out by tomorrow. Her boss wasn’t there, but the nice fellow who answered the phone informed her that her 23-year old work-friend had crashed his motorcycle and died over the weekend. Now we were super-bummed for the rest of the day.
With the day slipping away, we had no choice but to make our way back to where we started. Who knows; maybe we could find some new turkeys.
And we did! Half-way to the bottom of the canyon I spotted a hen walking in the sagebrush. I made some calls and some new gobblers fired up. I snuck out to the open and plugged the decoy in the mud and snuck back. I could barely make out two large, strutting males wandering back and forth in the trees ahead.
We started calling and this time a herd of nine deer came bounding out below us. Now, these deer were hell-bent on going uphill, and did so by running right through the turkeys. All the commotion spooked the turkeys off and again it was silent. You gotta be kidding me! First elk, then coyotes, and now deer!
With no other choice, we followed the toms into the dark timber. The snow had melted in the lower elevations, so following tracks was no longer possible. However, a short while later we got them gobbling again. The problem was they refused to come in. We called for more than an hour with no luck.
Frustrated, I decided to make a move. I told Esther to hang back. I’d sneak above them, and if they spooked, they might run back towards her.
It didn’t work. Instead, one of them busted me and all three toms slipped away down the mountain. I went back and got Esther. With only a couple hours of daylight, we made one more setup at the bottom of the canyon.
After half an hour of futile calling, I couldn’t take it anymore. I wasn’t going to just sit there and watch it get dark on my hunt. I told Esther I was going to enter the dark timber and sneak around for the last hour of light. She would stay in the ravine with the decoy and continue calling occasionally.
I was hiking up the steep, timbered mountain slope when out of the blue I heard something: “Cluck—-cluck—–cluck.” Well, this was new to me! I pulled an arrow. Sure enough, 40 yards below me, a huge chicken—I mean turkey—came sneaking and clucking along, all alone and completely oblivious to my presence. As it rounded a tree I let my arrow fly.
The arrow hit the giant black bird perfectly broadside and dead-center. The tom’s wings flapped wildly as it sprinted out of sight with my orange fletched arrow sticking straight out of its side. I was super excited as I dropped down to see my trophy…which was gone.
I found a couple clipped feathers and some torn up dirt, even a speck of blood or two. I followed in the direction the stupid bird ran, found another feather, and then lost the trail. I started walking circles. I called Esther on the radio to come help. She showed up and we search up and down and all over. The turkey was gone; run off to who-knows-where with my arrow. The problem with turkeys is two-fold: they don’t leave a blood trail, and they can sure take an arrow!
We continued our search by headlamp, but with no trail to follow, there was no choice but to give up. I was so deflated as I walked back to the truck. Few words were spoken.
The next morning we somehow slogged the truck out of the mud and drove home with nary a feathered foe for food.
Later study proved the turkey’s can take an arrow better than most animals. Basically their stiff wings, when folded against their bodies, creates a sheet of armor, like a stack of zip-ties. This armor will slow, or even stop an arrow, before it penetrates anything vital. In most cases it eventually kills the bird, but only after a lengthy sprint. A head/neck shot is really your best option.
The story ends here. But it also begins here. Next year you’ll find me and Esther in the same area, earlier in the season God-willing, with both heavier arrows and more experience in our quivers.
When facing nature one-on-one, the mountain and its infinite variables often wins. But this particular mountain still owes me a turkey, and I’ll never give up until I get one.
I was doing so well; adding new and exciting articles to my blog, so hopeful for a great 2015.
Then, in June I noticed my links and photos were being re-routed to malicious websites. MY BLOG SITE WAS HACKED!
Wonderful, I thought. All the hard work and countless hours spent building my site and posting lengthy articles, now ruined. Thanks evil world! Just what I needed!
In July I began diligent studies of ways to fix this problem. Basically the hackers are so careful to hide the hack within the site code that it’s almost impossible to fix this problem without nuking the site and starting over. So that’s what I did.
Long story short, I spent most of July rebuilding this site from scratch, spending countless hours re-uploading 88 posts and several pages of content.
Not only did I rebuild the entire site, but I then added several complex security measures to avoid future hacks. One measure tracks the number of attempted hacker logins. As it turns out I’m getting up to 60 attempted hacks per day. That’s crazy! What’s wrong with you people! It’s pure EVIL! To say that I’ve lost complete faith in humanity would be an understatement.
Finally, as of today, it’s done. The site is back up and running. This new and SAFER site is running at full steam, and just in time for the hunting season too!
If you’re following this blog, I apologize for my 6-week absence, the longest hiatus away from my writings yet. I guess I just needed to re-find my Zen.
As a general rule I don’t like to complain, but the past few months, as we transitioned into springtime, has been rather difficult for me. Here are just a few examples:
I’ve been consistently let down by family, friends, and work associates.
Having my taxidermy tanner disappear with my pelts that I need to run my taxidermy business.
Ever-increasing pain and difficulties with my right shoulder which has put a serious damper on the one thing I love doing most: shooting archery.
My little “adopted” feral cat, Pickles, was viciously killed by the local dominant tom-cat.
I had to shoot my old pet goat, Walter, when he became too weak and feeble to even sit up any more.
Then my first turkey hunt was a disaster. After fighting through torrential rain, snow and mud, the giant tom I stalked and shot in the last hour of the hunt ran off with my arrow, never to be found. That was the breaking point.
But again, I hate to complain too much because I know EVERYONE is fighting a har battle–that’s just life. Still, when too much happens at once, a person can lose his inspiration, his drive, and even his Zen.
How can I write inspired Zen-prose when the well is dry? Fortunately, the answer is gradually becoming clearer, and is two-fold:
First, life is difficult so that we might become stronger. As they say, “the axe is sharpened by friction.” Overcoming adversity is closely associated with the meaning of life: we are here to learn.
Second, my life is currently sad and deflating, but later it’s going to be amazing and beautiful beyond comprehension. There is always balance; yin and yang. The universe demands it! So I guess it’s just a matter of time and perspective. While stewing in my misery, I can simultaneously glance in the mirror and see a blessed and healthy being staring back with a loving, bowhunting wife his side. I can look outside my window and view deer feeding and pheasants strutting around in my wild and green backyard in the country. Even in despair I can see that I’m living the ife I always imagined.
In the end, it’s all about perspective and managing adversity. Yes, it’s taken a while to figure out how to mend myself, but I’m well on my way. My next several blog-posts will be dedicated to re-finding my Zen.