Monday, November 18, 2019

Expectations - 11.16.19

Expectations for deer season took an unexpected turn in August when I learned a property I bowhunted for close to a decade was being sold. Discussions with the new land owner seemed promising, until a mid-September phone call revealed their intent to sell off 20 acre parcels of the wooded area. Sure, I could still hunt, but only if I planned to purchase a slice of the pie. With a $200,000 land purchase not being a realistic option I began to scramble, knocking on doors, mailing letters and making phone calls. A slight sense of relief came when I secured permission on a new property thanks to the help of a friend. On the map the land looked good, but three hunts in early November revealed minimal deer sign and zero deer sightings. Normally I hunt a mixture of private and public land every year so I quickly decided to shift all of my hunting to public land. It was really the only option with what time I have to hunt and November’s all-too-soon arrival. My annual deer camp trip to southern Ohio came and went without an arrow taking flight. I passed on a doe followed by a six-point buck in hopes of something bigger joining their chase. Nonetheless, it was exciting to watch the persistent young buck pester the uninterested doe. On my last sit of the trip I spotted a good buck that elevated my heart rate, only to watch him walk out of my life, keeping out of bow range the entire time.  

Back on public land in central Ohio, I hunted one cold afternoon after a snowfall coated the ground. Scouting new possibilities through the onX app, I selected a few spots to hike to and the concentration of fresh tracks confirmed my thoughts. This would be a decent place to hang and hunt. A few hours watching squirrels followed by a beautiful sunset were all that happened.

The next opportunity to hunt was Saturday November 16. Preparing to hunt, yet not overwhelmingly optimistic I asked my bride whether I should hunt morning or afternoon. She chose the morning (probably because of my growing honey-do list and approaching holiday schedule), so I set my alarm for o’dark thirty then went to sleep. The alarm came too quickly. I slept great. I was warm and cozy. Thoughts crept into my head, “Sleep some more. It’s the weekend. Public ground is going to get hammered. Everybody and their brother is going to be hunting today.” Those are dangerous thoughts. The ones that help you justify complacency, not only in hunting, but in everything you do in life. They’re like participation trophies. They have no value. My feet hit the floor and I got ready to go. I hadn’t hunted this spot before, it was only a waypoint on my map. The view looked promising from my phone screen and it was over a half mile from the nearest access. With some snow still coating the ground, I crossed boot tracks in the early stages of my hike. The tracks stopped and split off after about two hundred yards. The further I walked the more deer sign was apparent. Clear skies, a bright moon and patches of snow enabled me to see tracks, scrapes and beds along the route I followed. Finding a suitable tree on an edge transitioning from thicker to open cover I settled into my stand almost an hour before legal shooting light. Hunting public land has conditioned me to always be extra early. Shortly after sunrise a group of five does wandered across the oak flat to my left, stopping and browsing along their way. Soon thereafter I spotted a fox hunting his way along a distant ridge. The critters were all out and about it seemed. Especially the squirrels. I was watching a big fox squirrel in front of me for several minutes when something suddenly caught his attention. He scampered up a tree, clung upside down, flicked his tail and barked loudly. Seconds later a buck emerged from the deep drainage and stepped onto the top of the ridge. Slowly surveying the area, he stood statuesque. As he lowered his head to the ground I moved from a seated position to standing, bow in hand, my release on the string. While the deer started angling toward me I began picking shooting lanes between the trees where I could slip an arrow through. Inside twenty yards he was now broadside approaching an opening as I tried to stop him for a shot. He continued through the window as I attempted to stop him a second and third time. Stopping directly behind the oak tree I used to help hide my tree stand, the deer stood still, completely hidden.

Where the deer was standing when the arrow impacted. 
Leaves crunched, signifying his continued course along the ridge. Now, with the deer quartering away I whistled in an attempt to stop him this time. Still at full draw, with the deer stubbornly and slowly walking away, my 30 yard sight pin was settled, aiming through his body toward his opposite front leg as the lighted nock launched through the air like a tracer round. 

A short dash. A few stumbled steps. A slide down the side of the ridge. It was over. Quick. Clean. It’s always what you want. In that moment I was thankful for many things, in many ways. A few texts were sent. A few pictures taken. The work began. My expectations were exceeded. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

The 10.25 Buck

The story behind this deer dates back to August 2, although I didn't actually realize it until after I tagged him and looked back to see if it was a deer I had pictures of. His camera appearances were sporadic at best, and after moving trail cameras to multiple spots on the property I really didn't have a strong feeling on where he and the other buck pictured below were living, or how they were moving through the property. These two deer didn't get names, or put on some kind of target list. I was simply thankful to know there were at two good bucks in the area and figured some in-season scouting would help me pick and choose where and when to hunt.

Fast forward to Friday October 19: with the day off school and winds blowing from the south, my son and I hunted a stand hung on the northern part of the woods in hopes of getting a deer, any deer, within bow range for him. We had a good buck work within 45 yards of us, but he had other plans taking him out to the field edge making scrapes and heading eastward away from our location. After we watched a flock of turkeys work their way past our stand the decision was made to hunt until mid-morning, then scout the southern portion of the property, checking one camera and hanging another on any fresh sign we found. There were at least dozen fresh scrapes opened up along the southern edge of the woods accompanied by a few really good rubs. We headed home after our speed-scouting, excited by all of the fresh sign we found. 

Due to family and work obligations the next opportunity to hunt was going to be Wednesday October 24. I started planning to hang a stand and hunt near a cluster of good rubs we found at the intersection of a grass waterway and the edge of the standing corn. With thick bedding, lots of acorns on the ground and the fact we hadn't hunted this part of the property yet, it felt like a promising spot. 

I arrived in the early afternoon allowing plenty of time to scout the sign along the field edge and work cautiously into the woods to hang my stand. With the leaves on the ground sounding like you were walking on cornflakes, each step was purposefully timed with any breeze that offered up some background noise. A cluster of trees offering great cover and located downwind of few trails provided the perfect ambush spot. By 3:45 pm I was tucked into the tree canopy waiting and watching. 

It wasn't long before deer were moving through the woods, then around 5:00 pm I caught the movement of an antler coming through the understory. It was a buck and it was heading my way. He browsed on leaves and his nose worked the area a doe and yearling had just meandered through. My mind shifted quickly, debating whether or not to draw my bow back as he cautiously walked toward the field edge. He stopped broadside at 20 yards. It looks like a good deer. He moved again behind some cover, still facing south, still broadside and moving closer to the field edge. At 25 yards he took his frustrations out on a tree, raking it up and down as I stood still, still debating on whether or not to shoot. I passed on the shot, watching him disappear into the standing corn. 

The rest of the evening was spent watching deer move in and out of the woods. The wind direction remained in my favor and none of the animals I photographed ever knew they were being watched. In the back of my mind I continued to scrutinize my decision. What the hell was I waiting for? There wasn't a much bigger deer around, at least as far as my trail cameras and scouting reported. What was I holding out for? Some unknown, non-existent, apparition of a deer to appear from a magazine cover? Maybe I just didn't want my hunt to be over? I have vacation days to burn with the best deer hunting just getting started. Was I being selfish? Was I thinking only about my season? Maybe I should be thinking about the season of the people I could be mentoring and creating these experiences with instead. That was a great deer. What was I waiting for?

The alarm clock sounded at 5:00 am Thursday morning. After breakfast, coffee and a shower I was out the door and driving down the gravel road. By 6:30 am my boots were pushing through the frost covered grass situated as a divider between the woods and corn field. The full moon on October 24 was the Hunter's Moon, and it still illuminated my early morning walk on October 25, casting my shadow clearly on the ground. 

I hiked to my stand as silently as possible, yet with no wind rustling the dry cornstalks every step seemed to echo out to the deer in the darkness. First light was at 7:26 am. I was climbing into my stand well before then, listening to the darkness, waiting for the world to awaken. The gray light of early morning slowly gave way to dawn's orange glow as the birds were now talking. The noises I had heard in the darkness and perceived as deer walking through the woods had gone silent. It was dead calm with only the slightest breeze blowing from the northeast.

The stillness of the morning ended sometime after 8:00 am when I caught movement of a buck walking down the small hill to my east and angling to the northwest. Wanting to see what the deer looked like, I reached into my pack, pulled out the grunt tube and let out one long grunt. He stopped immediately and whipped his head in my direction. He turned to the nearest tree and ripped it to shreds, making so much noise it sounded like he was taking a baseball bat to the tree. I could hear his feet tearing into the ground as his antlers thrashed against the trunk and branches swung wildly back and forth. 

He was looking for a fight, hoping his tree-thrashing display would scare off the challenger. I grunted again. A slightly long grunt followed by two, quick, abrupt grunts. The kind you hear when a rutting buck exhales with each step. The deer immediately started a semi-circle course in my direction, looking to find who just called him out. At 40 yards he found another tree to bully, and he gave it a beat-down that I wish I had on camera. Instead I was on my feet, bow in hand, release clipped on the string, heartbeat in my ears. It was the same buck from the day before. 

With the second tree battle finished, the buck continued on a line straight toward the base of my tree. Somewhere inside 30 yards I drew my bow and held, knowing I would not be able to draw when he came closer. He was angling toward me, stopping and starting his heavy steps every few feet. It always seems like an eternity as your mind races through millions of scenarios, analyzing every moment, yet somehow time slows down and your mental focus is as sharp as ever. When the moment is right, you pick a spot, settle your pin and execute your shot sequence. Feet, grip, anchor, pin, follow...

Suddenly the world is set back in motion as the buck bolts out to the field edge then cuts 90 degrees to his right. My eyes following him, my mind again analyzing his path and behavior. Losing sight of the buck forces my ears to take over, listening for sounds of a deer crashing. I think I hear him fall, but I trust my eyes more than my ears and uncertainty crept in. Was it a good shot? It was practically straight down. Yes, it was a good shot, he went down. I tried to reassure myself. Did I rush it? Should I have waited one more step? Doubt pushes back in. No, he's down. Waiting another second would have let him walk past you and into cover again, blocking a chance at a clear shot. He's dead. 

My mind ping-ponged back and forth as I hung my bow up and sat down. The adrenaline release caused my legs to bounce. I felt confident in everything that just transpired, but I don't get excited until the tracking job is complete. It was 8:18 am when my arrow connected with the deer. With more time to think things through, I slowly lowered my bow to the ground and started the process of pulling my stand and sticks down from the tree. The plan was to take my time, work back to my truck, text a few people and wait an hour before pursuing the trail. 

After quietly lowering myself and my gear to the ground, I began packing up. Apparently I was doing a good job, as I heard the sounds of a deer approaching. Standing at the base of the tree, I turned and saw more antlers walking my direction. Reaching for my phone I flipped over to video mode and captured this moment: 

The encounter with that buck caused feelings of thankfulness to swell. What an amazing morning. How lucky are we, as hunters, to have these experiences? We're able see the natural world in a way that very few people walking the planet today are able to. We interact so intimately with the natural world that we are part of it's process. It's easy to take for granted, but in that moment I was simply soaking it all up. Living, breathing, smiling, immersed. 

With my backpack shouldered and bow in hand I retraced the steps my buck took, starting at the spot he stood when my arrow was released and following the upturned ground his hooves dug into. Stepping out into the grass, good sign was immediately visible. A single droplet caught my eye, then another and another. 

I looked at the frosty ground and the deer's tracks were slightly visible in the long grass. My eyes lifted from the droplets on the ground in front of my boots, following the path I last saw the buck take. There was no need to walk slowly back to the truck. Feelings of thankfulness again swelled. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Huntervationist

What does it mean to be a Huntervationist? It’s a very simple question with a complex answer. First, you have to reflect upon what it means to be hunter, then what it means to be a conservationist, and finally, determine how those two words relate to you. After your self-reflection, the real challenge is articulating everything you know and understand in a relatable manner to those with little-to-no hunting or conservation perspective. So, what does it mean to be a hunter, a conservationist, a Huntervationist?

One of the first questions you will ask, is hunting a component of conservation or is conservation a byproduct of hunting? The short answer is yes, to both. The long answer could fill library shelves, so let's begin with a really broad overview of wildlife management funding. Through the principles established in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, hunting and conservation walk hand-in-hand. In the United States, hunting, fishing and trapping license dollars are specifically directed to fund wildlife agencies and wildlife programs at the state level. These state agencies are the departments responsible for managing the fish, wildlife and natural resources at the state level.

Other laws, such as The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, often called the Pittman-Robertson Act, provide additional funding for state's to utilize for wildlife management. Pittman-Robertson collects an 11% excise tax from the sale of guns, ammunition, bows, arrows and archery accessories. Since its inception, Pittman-Robertson has pumped billions of dollars in excise tax revenue back into state wildlife conservation programs that benefit our entire society, not just hunters. These funding models were designed by hunters to conserve wildlife and the wild places they call home. The success of these programs combined with the principles in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation have been wildly successful. Elk, antelope, whitetail deer, wolves, turkeys and so many other animals once on the verge of extinction, have flourishing populations today due to hunters creating a system to give back. But would hunters give back if the system wasn’t designed this way?

Without a doubt, hunters would give back. Each year, hunters volunteer countless hours for projects including habitat improvement, fence removals, litter clean ups, youth events, wildlife relocation efforts, hunter education courses and much more. Hunters voluntarily form local affiliate chapters of national organizations to advocate for wildlife, raise funds for causes they believe in and represent their organizations at a grassroots level. They willingly give of their time for the betterment of wildlife without asking anything in return. None of these activities are mandated, yet the same group paying an 11% excise tax on guns, ammunition and archery equipment willingly roll up their sleeves, put boots on the ground and open their wallets for the love of wildlife and in the name of conservation. Huntervationists give unconditionally of their time, talent and treasure. Not for immediate gratification, but for the unforeseeable future.

Conservation is defined as 1. a careful preservation as protection of something; especially: planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect. (water conservation, wildlife conservation) 2. the preservation of the physical quantity during transformations or reactions.

So, how can hunting and conservation be linked when the very definition of conservation is a careful preservation as protection of something? Isn't it counter-intuitive that taking an animal's life actually preserves and protects the rest of the species?

Regulated hunting is managed by state wildlife agencies, and in some cases, the Federal government. Scientific data is used to establish management plans on the various game species harvested each year. Hunters report wild game harvested, results are analyzed, management goals are adjusted according to harvest results and other data collected, then our state agencies adjust plans in order to provide careful preservation and protection of something. In this case, it is to maintain an acceptable balance of wild game and wildlife that occupy the available habitat. Through scientific wildlife management and regulated hunting, wildlife rebounded from scarcity in the early 1900's to abundance today. Keeping and maintaining a balanced ecosystem is something all of society should celebrate. Yes, Huntervationists care about habitat, the ecosystem and the environment too.

What about killing animals? How can you kill animals yet claim to care about them? It is true, taking an animal’s life is part of hunting, but it is a disproportionately small part of the entire experience considering the complete timeline leading up to, and after, you squeeze the trigger. Still, it is this precise instant that receives the lion’s share of attention. Perhaps this is because killing is interpreted as the crescendo of the hunting experience. After all, isn’t this the point of hunting? Isn’t this the photo that non-hunters see flooding social media every fall? We all post our grip and grin pictures with deer, elk, ducks and every other wild game species out there. How can you claim to love animals in one breathe then extinguish their breathe in the next? It’s an uncomfortable question every hunter struggles with.

Taking an animal’s life is not comfortable. Despite the way hunters have been portrayed in the media, I don’t know anybody who hunts because they lust for the kill. In fact, every hunter I have encountered has great reverence for the animals they pursue. They are students of the pursuit, constantly working on ways to hone their skills. They self-restrict their opportunities in order to ensure a clean, ethical shot is taken when it is presented. If they choose to release an arrow and an animal’s life is taken, there are somber moments that follow. There will be words, either silent or aloud, paying respect to the animal, showing gratitude for the experience and giving thanks for the food providing nourishment for the mind, body and soul. Huntervationists have a deep connection with their food. When was the last time you witnessed somebody giving thanks for a cellophane wrapped package of meat as they placed it into their shopping cart?

Walking the path of a Huntervationist means many things, to many people. Discovering your own
meaning comes through questioning everything you know to search for concise answers to complex questions. It means raising the expectations for yourself and those around you to aspire for more than just status-quo. It means ensuring the same outdoor world you have had the privilege to experience is available to future generations.

Being a Huntervationist is engaging in wildlife matters within your state by getting to know your state agencies and your elected officials. They need to hear from you, on matters both good and bad. It’s alright to disagree, but do so with dignity and respect even when you feel compelled otherwise. Become connected with other like-minded people through sportsmen’s clubs, conservation chapters
and social media communities. Work together, make plans, carry them out and tell the story. Shine a bright light on the good work Huntervationists do.
Huntervationists use their words to advocate for conservation, then einforce those words with action to make a difference. Big things grow from small things that are nurtured. Small things, like adding conservation-based context to your social media posts, can grow into a meaningful discussion with a non-hunting friend. Become a resource for wildlife, conservation and outdoor information. You can
have a profound impact. Huntervationists engage in a positive way, guided by knowledge and fueled by passion for the outdoors. 
There are many attributes aligning with the Huntervationist movement, all of which advance the role of the modern hunter. The link connecting hunting and conservation is undeniable, but for far too long hunters have not told their story. If we want wildlife and wild places to continue to exist for future generations, every person identifying as a hunter must be engaged. We have to tell our story. We need to share our experiences, the food and the connection between them. We are obligated to care for the resources and are morally responsible for giving back more of our time, talent and treasure than ever before. This is a calling. This is what it means to be a Huntervationist.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Five Habits to Become a Better Hunter

If you are like most people, the momentum of your New Year resolutions are a distant memory. Statistically speaking, there is greater than a 90% chance you have backslid on your resolutions. Most studies show it takes anywhere from 21 to 60 days of performing a new behavior to form a habit. The odds are stacked against you from the beginning, that’s the bad news. The good news, is now is the perfect time to make the resolution of  becoming a better hunter before the fall season by focusing on five, simple habits you can easily develop. Start your hunting resolution today by developing regular routines of reading, listening, exercising, practicing and scouting to make your next season the best one yet. 

The benefits of reading are well documented and numerous, including reducing stress, improving memory and enhancing your problem solving skills. Why not double down by reading more books on improving as a hunter? We are living in unique times where the volume of information we have access to is greater than at any time in human history. Take advantage of this opportunity and earn your hunting doctorate. Set a goal to read at least four hunting related books before fall arrives. 

Read a diverse selection to enhance your woodsmanship and understanding of conservation. 
As you are reading hunting-related books, the benefits of acquiring new knowledge spill over to other areas of your life. For example, reading a chapter or two before you go to bed is scientifically proven to help you sleep better, reduce stress and improve your intelligence. In this case, you are increasing both your hunting intelligence and overall brain functions! That’s a true win-win scenario. 

Make sure you are turning actual paper pages of a book before you go to sleep and not swiping electronic pages on a smartphone or tablet. There are many emerging studies showing blue light emitted from electronic devices actually has negative effects on sleep patterns.The blue light emitted by televisions, smart phones, tablets, etc. stimulate the brain to remain alert instead of relaxing at the end of the day, thereby causing your body to produce lower levels of melatonin, a hormone produced to help regulate sleep. 

Listening is the second habit to improve upon this year. Not just listening for the subtle sound of an approaching deer slipping through the woods, but listening to podcasts and audiobooks. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American spends 50 minutes each day commuting to work. That means 250 minutes a week or 13,000 minutes a year are spent behind the steering wheel. How can you maximize that time? Use it to exercise your mind by listening to content related to your outdoor interests. 

Podcasts are an excellent way to stay up to speed on everything from archery tuning to big game butchering. If there is a subject you are interested in, chances are there is a podcast out there that will expand your knowledge on the topic. Some excellent podcasts to check out are MeatEater, Hunt Harvest Health, Restless Native, Wired to Hunt and The Rich Outdoors. There are hundreds of hunting related podcasts out there to choose from, simply type in some search words and see what you can find. 

Along with exercising your mind, start an exercise routine to improve your physical fitness. You don’t need to be an Olympic power-lifter or compete in a marathon to get more out of your hunting seasons, but you will be amazed at how your hunting ability improves simply by being in better shape. There are also a variety of ways to get into great shape without having to plan your daily routine around going to the gym. If you have not exercised regularly, consult with your physician before starting an exercise routine and start slow. Beginning with a mixture of cardiovascular and body-weight exercises is a great way to increase your physical activity and produce results. Plus, you can do these routines anywhere as no equipment is involved. 

Running trails is another way to enjoy the woods outside of hunting season. 
Here is a great body-weight routine to start with: On Monday, Wednesday and Friday begin with one set, ten reps each of squats, walking lunges, push-ups, planks, mountain climbers,  jumping jacks and burpees. Rest for two minutes then repeat for four more sets, making five total. At the completion of five sets you should have a really good sweat going and an elevated heart rate. Adjust this routine accordingly by increasing or decreasing reps, sets and tempo of your movements. On Tuesday and Thursday work on your cardio by walking, jogging or running a few miles, or for at least 30 minutes. The best time to get your exercise is whenever you can fit it into your schedule. In the morning before going to work, during your lunch break or in the evening are all opportunities to take 30 minutes for exercise. Focus on forming the habit first, not  an overnight transformation. Remember, progress happens one day at a time. 

The next step to becoming a better hunter is practice. Life has a way of consuming our time but it is critical to take time back and practice your craft. With the many responsibilities we all have these days you may need to take a proactive approach to your practice and schedule time for it. A great way to do this is by joining a league in the off-season. Whatever your hunting passion is, there will be a league that aligns with it. Look locally for trap, skeet and sporting clay leagues to improve your wingshooting abilities, or find 3D archery shoots to hone your bowhunting skills. Getting involved in local clubs hosting these events is also a great way to network with fellow hunters sharing your interests. Practice is also the funnest habit to develop. Have you ever seen somebody frown while shooting a bow? Case closed. 
Perfect practice makes perfect. 
The last dimension to ensure a better season this fall is scouting. If you happen to hunt whitetail deer, which are pursued by the vast majority of hunters, late winter and early spring are the best times of the year to scout your hunting areas. Take advantage of the missing foliage to hike your hunting grounds looking for tracks and trails you may have overlooked. With all of the vegetation gone you can study the barren landscape to better decipher subtle terrain features that funnel deer. Follow buck rubs left behind from the one that got away to reveal the direction he traveled while looking for a consistent pattern. Those rubs might lead back to a secluded area that looks perfect for a new treestand. Perhaps the buck made it through the season and is using a different winter range but will return to the same area next fall. Keep track of your findings by taking notes as this type of intelligence can pay big dividends next season. 

Scouting is a great way to involve the next generation of hunters. 
Colin Powell is quoted as saying "There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, persistence, and learning from failure." The habits of reading, listening, exercising, practicing and scouting are directly related to preparation, hard work and persistence. Hunting is all about learning from failure as no hunter is successful filling tags every time they go afield. There may not be a single secret to success, however; these five key habits will certainly provide you with a strong competitive advantage leading to less time learning from failure and more time filling your freezer.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Deercation doe 11.09.17

The last few days of my deercation were the ones I was looking forward to the most. Since our college days, a group of us have been getting together at least once a year to hunt public land in southern Ohio. It all started many years ago with gun season, but quickly transitioned to spending more time together during bow season. We've been "keeping it public" long before "keeping it public" was cool, and our time at deer camp is something I truly look forward to  every year. 

A good deer camp has a magical way of letting friends pick up exactly where they left off. At camp we eat like kings, laugh until it hurts and make our time together an adventure. There's old war stories relived while new memories are being made. We wake up earlier, hike in farther, stay later and hunt harder than we do when we're all hunting separately back home... where ever each other's home hunting grounds may be. There are no trail cameras, no deer with names, no food plots and no corn piles. We review maps, supplemented with the latest apps to formulate ideas on new spots to hang and hunt. Then we mix in real-time boot leather, a dash of woodsmanship and a sprinkle of tribal knowledge to create our strategies. This recipe usually results in at least one or two good bucks taken at camp every year. 

The first afternoon, Marc and I decided to put the venison vessel in the water and hunt "the swamp." Another quality all good deer camps share are names of specific places. In addition to "the swamp" there's places like "the secret spot" and "the horse farm" along with everybody's favorite, "the shit-stir." I could try to explain, but some things are better left a mystery. The swamp is accessed by boat so it doesn't see as much pressure as the other roadside walk in areas, although people do hunt it. It's public land in Ohio so chances are somebody is hunting it. 

I dropped off Marc to hunt the top end then I ventured on, heading toward one of those predetermined way-points already pinned on my phone app. As the canoe quietly cut along the river channel, I must have jumped at least 50 wood ducks and a few mallards. The drake woods ducks looked amazing in the afternoon light. A short paddle later I pulled the boat ashore and diagnosed every tree in the vicinity of several well-worn trails. My stand was promptly hung among a selection with some cover and a favorable wind. I settled in for the afternoon hunt.

Not much happened until the last part of the evening when two does wandered in from behind my stand. They made themselves at home underneath me for quite a while, browsing away on everything green. Hoping a buck would soon follow I was stranding, bow in hand, release on my d-loop. Suddenly they both picked their heads up and looked to my left. I could hear the steps approaching but didn't want to move too quickly as the does were right beneath my feet. With my eyes strained to the left I could see another doe joining the party. Still optimistic that perhaps she would be luring a buck along I scanned the woods. No suitors in pursuit. 

Now there were three does under my feet with shooting light fading. I continued surveying the area for a cruising buck while debating whether or not to take a shot at one of the does. It seemed as though they were going to be dining underneath me for a while, but my time was setting like the sun. The decision was made. As the largest of the three turned broadside the string was drawn back toward my face. Feet, grip, anchor, pin, follow. That mantra repeated thousands of times during practice becomes automatic in the moment. 

The shot felt good, the arrow looked good, I felt certain I heard the deer crash after a short scramble through the brush. I paddled up to Marc and we returned to retrieve my deer. The trail was a short one and easy to follow. Just like you want. We recovered the doe within 50 yards of where my arrow passed through and stuck in the ground. Thanks was given, new memories were made and I was fulfilled.  

Friday, October 6, 2017

Trophy is a Bastardized Term

Hearing the word "trophy" associated with "hunting" makes me cringe. Not because I'm against keeping non-consumable parts of an animal. As a conservationist, I advocate for utilizing as much of the animal as possible. I cringe because the anti-hunting movement has completely bastardized the term "trophy hunting," painting a picture of those who hunt as blood-thirsty mercenaries killing for their next taxidermy mount. This could not be a more fictitious representation of the hunting community. But why do hunter's feel the need to keep something like a skull and antlers, to hang for display?

This 2015 archery buck provided many trophy meals for family and friends. 

Archaeologists discovered fossil evidence suggesting humans hunted and ate meat as far back as 2.5 million years ago. It was at this point in time that humans began cooking and eating meat, leading to the increased brain and body size of modern man. If we use an average human life expectancy of 80 years, those fossil remains represent 25,000 lifetimes of genetic hunting experience. Considering planet earth formed over 4 billion years ago the length of time humans have walked the planet is a drop in the bucket, but for humans to have hunted that many lifetimes certainly explains why we hunt. But why do hunters keep and display non-consumable parts of the animals we hunt?

Hunting is part of being human, as is our desire to express emotions through song, dance, art and countless other ways. Art is mankind's attempt to communicate an experience, to express what is difficult to describe with words. No different than our ancestor's recreating the emotion of a hunt through petroglyphs and pictographs. Early petroglyphs date back to 700,000 BC while some of the earliest pictographs date back to 70,000 BC. To continue measuring in terms of human lifetimes, that represents 8,750 and 875 lifetimes of artwork expressing and communicating the hunting experience.

Pictographs from a back country canoe trip in the Boundary Waters.

Keeping possession of hides, antlers, feathers or creating artwork through taxidermy is a continued expression of the hunting experience. Beyond the nourishing meals provided by the animal, artifacts kept for display tell the story over and over, honoring both the life of the animal and the pursuit involved. This ancient practice is akin to hunting, just as acrylics or oils are akin to creating a painting.

Art is one of the oldest forms of  human expression and part of our documented hunting experience for thousands of lifetimes. The argument can be made that in our increasingly modernized society, the discipline of hunting is an art itself. After all, few people existing today have a connection with the natural world, and their food, like a hunter. Regardless of bastardized terminology, hunters shouldn't shy away from these discussions. Instead, we should create conversation and have an open, honest dialogue about hunting. We understand the true trophy is the complete hunting experience, we simply need to do a better job of expressing and communicating this with others. 

I'm thankful to have hunting pictures of my Grandpa, and the antlers from this Colorado mule deer.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Opening Night 9.30.17 ~ All the fun, none of the mess

My goals for hunting are simple: 1. Have fun. 2. Fill the freezer. With those expectations set I ventured out to bowhunt for the first sit of Ohio's season. The breeze was coming out of the north to the north east with temperatures in the mid 60's and dropping throughout the afternoon. I decided to hunt out of an oak tree situated on the edge of a freshly combined bean field and inside corner of two blocks of woods. The deer should show up as evening arrives to dine on either waste grain left by the combines, grass along the freshly cut waterways or acorns dropping from the canopy that are not yet squirreled away by the squirrels. It felt good to be back in my element.

The golden hour was fleeting when the first doe appeared like a mirage, standing sixty yards to the south feeding toward me in the open field. What began as one, suddenly turned into three deer casually dining their way northward. I was already on my feet, reaching for my bow as they inched closer to one of my open shooting lanes. 

The lead doe quickly saw or smelled something that made her uneasy. As she was quartering toward me, her head snapped alert, staring into the woods to my left. I was at full draw, waiting for her to turn. She blew, spun and trotted out of the left side shooting lane. A clean shot was now blocked by the leaf cover in front of my stand. I was still holding at full draw as she stepped back into my lane. The doe was now quartering away at a hard angle, nearly facing away from me. Moments later she and the other two trotted south, bounding back into the woods. I let down from full draw, wondering if they had winded me or if something else had their attention. 

In the waning minutes of legal light I could hear more deer approaching, this time from the woods behind me. Two does stepped out into the field, working just outside of range through the shooting lane to my right. At about 40 yards out the lead doe froze in her tracks, her attention focused to the south. Noticeably uneasy, she turned and trotted back into the woods with the younger doe, running just ten feet from my stand. 

With darkness signaling the end of opening night I thought, "Well, that's that I guess." Just as I hung my bow on the hanger I could see what had all the deer on edge. The silhouette of a coyote quickly slinked through my shooting window and into the woods, following the deer that had just done the same. I don't blame the coyote for messing up my hunt, after all the coyote and I were both after the same thing, a meal. It definitely felt good to be back in the woods.