Bill Winke has whitetails. Randy Ulmer has giant mule deer. Cameron Hanes the whole exercise spiel, and Chuck Adams has all those world records. Me? Iâ€™ve never actually settled into a single thing that defines me. Sure, count me in if you have decent whitetails to offer, and I canâ€™t get enough elk and mule deer; or black bears or pronghorns or African safaris or Alaska float trips or varmint calling or small-game jaunts.
So, as you mightâ€™ve gathered, Iâ€™m about as focused as a Ritalin-munching kindergartener when it comes to a bowhunting career plan. I find the lowly feral hog as fascinating as stone sheep, and slime-sucking carp infinitely more appealing than fire-breathing Kodiak bears.
Well, at least when Iâ€™m in hog country or on carp water with bow and arrow in hand. But then again, I can actually afford to bowhunt wild boars and bowfish â€śtrash fish,â€ť so maybe these metaphors are a stretch. Nonetheless, let a friend suggest a day directing flu-flu arrows at tree-top fox squirrelsâ€”even if the Illinois whitetail rut is in full swingâ€”and Iâ€™ll be there.
Bowhunting fun comes on many different fronts, some of them not as pretty as others for sure, but hey, at least different. Sometimes full of adventure. Always exciting.
Cutting The Bull
Letâ€™s cut through the bull. Literally. Bowhunting bullfrogs is as much fun as is legally possible in 47 of 50 states. Thereâ€™s nothing really demanding in way of preparation and equipment here, though shooting is often non-stop and typically very challenging. Itâ€™s all about fun.
To those insisting on imparting Calvinist gravity to everything archery related, consider that centering fist-sized bullfrogs across daytime stock ponds or drainage ditches whets your shooting eye and steadies the shooting hand like few other targets. Frog legs are darn tasty, too, something ordinarily acquired only via snootier dining establishments.
Daytime shooting is most challenging; seeking naturally camouflaged lumps squatted at the edge of ponds, ditches, rivers and creeks with binoculars, ducking to pussyfoot within comfortable range. Step too heavily, move too abruptly, and youâ€™ll hear only a strangled-duck squawk followed by tell-tale splash. Youâ€™ve just blown it. No worriesâ€”thereâ€™ll be another.
For faster action, try bowhunting bullfrogs under the cover of darkness (where legal, of course). Even trophy bulls misplace normally innate caution with nightfall, sitting tight for bright headlights, allowing closer approaches and often multiple misses before leaping for deep-water cover. Dust off grandpaâ€™s old recurve to add even more challenge to the endeavor.
You might use fieldtips in this business, pinning frogs to solid bank, but â€śfloatersâ€ť and soft mud demand something that better impedes penetration. Enter Precision Designed Productsâ€™ (PDP) Game Nabber. A needle tip tapers quickly into flat blunt, trailing edges flanged into cutting edges that open up a serious can of bullfrog whoop-ass that assures solid anchoring and sure recovery
Driving My Stingray
Matagorda Bay, Texas, 5 a.m.: I step into the custom skiff, a refined, linear intimation designed to traverse shallow tidal flats and backwaters at high speed. I clutched a favorite Sage 8-weight, a redfish rod, also a bowfishing rig (not exactly inconspicuous against sparse surfaces designed to allow fly line to sweep over clean surfaces). Captain Tom Horbey, arguably the Texas Gulf Coastâ€™s top fly-fishing guide, offers a pained inquiry.
â€śStingray,â€ť I offer hopefully. The prospect does not move him. Negotiations follow. Itâ€™s ultimately agreed Iâ€™ll be permitted a single ray to satisfy curiosity.
Matagorda Bay, Texas, 1:43 p.m. (nine stingrays later): â€śTwo oâ€™clock! Closing fast â€” stick that %@(&%#*!â€ť Iâ€™ve created a monster.
Why the change of heart? I live by the maxim, â€śYou kill it, you eat it.â€ť Horbey appreciates the gesture. And stingray meat? Think in terms of scallops â€” more or less. Use your imagination.
Let me put it another way â€” Iâ€™d eat it again. Marinated in soy sauce with fresh-crushed garlic and red pepper flakes, quick sautĂ©ed in smoking olive oil.
Surprisingly, there is precious little youâ€™re actually allowed to bowfish in our shining seas â€” with the exception of Louisiana, where you can legally kill nearly anything, including redfish and sharks. The glaring exception is stingrays (not to be confused with manta rays, a protected species). This likely has something to do with stingraysâ€™ proclivity for wounding witless, sun-worshiping tourists.
Stingrays prove abundant in temperate, shallow waters along any North American shore, though Iâ€™ve personally seen the largest numbers in waters ringing the warm Gulf of Mexico and Mexicoâ€™s Baja peninsula. They can reach pickup-hood dimensions, but bowfishermen are normally after trashcan-lid specimens found in waters tractable to our inefficient gear.
Below 10 feet, bowfishing becomes quite literally hit-and-miss, but this leaves plenty of stingrays readily accessible to waders and small-boat owners. One note of caution: Shuffle feet while wading. Rays habitually burrow into soft bottoms, becoming part of the sea floor. Bump them and theyâ€™ll normally scurry away. Tread on them and youâ€™ll likely get cut, resulting in extreme pain induced by mild-grade toxin.
In regards to gear, thereâ€™s nothing really special to report. Standard-issue carp gear gets the job done (including top-drawer Polaroid sunglasses); just make sure your reel is stocked with stout line. Bigger rays will certainly give you a tussle.
I wanted a pair of alligator boots, something I could prop up on furniture like a Clint Eastwood Western gunslinger, jutting out my chin and saying something like, â€śKilled that baby myself.â€ť
So, it would only do that I collect my own raw material. Florida was the obvious answer, allowing public-land hunting with bows and crossbows only, and Lewis Clanton (Bow Gator, 772-201-1732) the obvious man for the job. But then I ruined my plan by shooting a 12-foot, 6-inch monster.
â€śHeeâ€™s too ode. Thee sceen too theek,â€ť the Mexican boot maker in Juarez would relate. I still donâ€™t have my boots, but dang did I have a blast. Florida gator hunting just might be the single most adrenaline-filled
adventure Iâ€™ve enjoyed with bow and arrow in tow.
This might have something to do with the darkness, as a Florida swamp after midnight gets pretty spooky, even when outfitted with headlights and million candle-power spotlights.
Darkness is dictated by law, keeping the entire operation out of sight of visiting Disneylanders. Nighttime also happens to be when the biggest of these prehistoric reptiles go on the prowl. Another factor is, after youâ€™ve stuck 300-600 pounds of lizard (with fish arrow attached to a break-away buoy by 100 feet of Kevlar cord) all hell breaks loose.
The gator isnâ€™t exactly tickled to participate. Two hours might pass (my 550-pound behemoth required two-and-a-half) before backup shots are administered and the brute coaxed aboard. Every second includes tension-filled, anxious anticipation.
Lewis has the machinery and knowhow to get you in sure range, while Muzzy Products has the specific gear for such formidable amphibious targets. Muzzyâ€™s Gator Getter Kit represents the type of specialized bowfishing outfit youâ€™ll need to make your alligator hunt successful. Other than that, you might want to bulk up a bit, work into additional draw weight to assure ample penetration while pushing a barbed fishing point through thick, armored hide.
I shot an 85-pound compound on my hunt and certainly didnâ€™t feel overgunned. Consider 70 pounds minimum, and select Steel Forceâ€™s cut-on-contact Gator bowfishing head should you find yourself on the low end of the energy scale.
Muskoxen are the only obvious remnant of a long-past ice age when they occupied the very top of the earth alongside wooly mammoths.
I guess nothing has really changed in their world through millennia, despite the politically charged cudgel of global warming. Temperatures measured in double-digit minuses are still the absolute rule nine months a year, which is where the real challenge lies during typical bowhunting forays to the northern reaches of Nunavut, where the species is most common.
Shooting a bow around layers of insulation required of the place is euphemistically termed challenging; unless youâ€™re in the habit of shooting while swathed in five tiers of puffy duds beneath a caribou-skin parka matching the approximate mass of an average Labrador retriever.
And while muskoxen are strange beasts indeed â€” 500-pound hairballs characterized by pug nose and smaller versions of the helmeted, upturned horns of Africaâ€™s Cape buffalo â€” the land and native Inuit inhabitants encountered might be even stranger, if in a wholly pleasant, refreshing manner regarding the latter. The land itself does not inspire relocation.
The average muskoxen isnâ€™t exactly worthy of a MacArthur Foundation Grant. Like cutthroat trout in secreted wilderness streams, theyâ€™ve no real reason to be clever. There are no 10-step plans involved in this program, such as those favored by whitetail strategists. Hunting them involves three simple steps; discover one you want, walk to him and shoot him.
You might have to follow a mile and invest in some amount of maneuvering for a clean shot, but in such austere habitat they can ill afford to stampede over distant horizons like a Midwest town under alien attack, though they might just charge if you push your luck. Their circle-the-wagons approach to menace works decidedly against them when pitted against men; even bowmen.
To take that shot, youâ€™ll spend days in the air en route to desolate, arctic outposts, days more inside a suspension-free sled drawn across featureless snow and ice by exhaust-spewing snow machine to reach productive game country, cold all the while despite oppressive clothing and layers of shedding hides piled into that same sled, thrust into a culture so diametrically counter to your own as to encourage vertigo.
Years later, gazing upon the full-body-mounted, Boone and Crockett-class bull, I recollect my muskoxen experience with great reverence, infinitely appreciative of the opportunity. But I also understand Iâ€™ll never return, even should circumstances merge to make that economically feasible once more.
Been there, done that, as the man says. Iâ€™m on to new experiences â€” even if these pursuits are considered strange by many observing peers.
This is what bowhunting is all about for me; a far cry from the blindered bowhunter stuck in the whitetail rut.