Growing up as an only child in rural Oklahoma in the 1960’s, I was into everything I could stick my nose in. Building forts, climbing trees and playing “cowboys and Indians” provided a little burr-headed terror like me with his daily existence. To say that I quickly became hardheaded and independent would be an understatement. No amount of advice (or threats) from my parents could deter me from my quest for self-inflicted adventure. Cuts, broken bones and countless scars awaited me at every turn. I was one hammerhead that was well on his way to becoming a full-fledged life member of the school of hard knocks.
Fast-forward about 40 years and you have a middle-aged boy who is still learning things predominantly the hard way, and so it is in my life as an archery hunter. Sometimes my escapades are funny, and at other times, my boners make me scream and throw fits–whether they are from anger, pain, or both. Nowadays, I don’t make nearly as many mistakes out of naivety, but instead, most of my hard lessons come from doing things I know I shouldn’t do. Yeah, you know what I mean.
In the following lines, please allow me to relate a few of my countless “learning experiences” to you while attending the school of hard knocks. These stories will surely make you realize that I certainly must be one tough fellow, because you gotta be tough, if you’re gonna be stupid!
Hang In There
I’d made my mind up that I was going to bow-kill a big buck this particular year. I had a Kansas tag in my pocket and I had access to some ground that certainly harbored some great bucks. I’d scouted intensely during the off-season and had prepared numerous tree stand locations that rutting bucks would be passing on a regular basis. Now, all I needed to do was to hunt hard and smart, while passing opportunities on numerous bucks that were sure to test my mettle.
By mid-November, everything was going as planned. I’d been in the field every day for two weeks, the rut was cranking and I’d passed up many nice bucks. There were some large rubs in the area that I was hunting and I’d seen their maker a couple of times–a 160-class buck. It seemed only a matter of time until I’d get my chance at this bruiser. Taking a lunch with me each day, I remained on stand all day long.
On November the 20th, I’d been in my tree for more than six hours by noon. The sun was out and it was a pleasantly warm day. Having eaten my lunch previously, I soaked-up some rays. Shortly, I began to nod off, almost falling out of my tree stand a couple of times. With resolve waning, I contemplated getting down and napping for a short period while under my tree stand. Knowing better, I was determined to stay put.
At 1 p.m., I simply couldn’t take it any more. I had to have a short nap. Climbing quietly down, I sprawled at the base of my tree and was out like a light. The next thing I remember was being awakened by a nearby sound. Gaining my senses, I slowly raised my head and peered around my location. Yep, you guessed it! Walking by at a mere 20 yards was the buck that I’d been waiting for! With my bow hanging on a limb 20 feet above me, there was nothing I could do but watch as the monster quickly strode away.
After the trophy had departed, I quickly climbed back into my tree stand and tried to call the buck back within range–nothing doing, he never showed. Realizing the irony of the moment, I glanced at my watch to see how long I’d been asleep and found out that it had been no more than 10 minutes. I couldn’t believe it! When I’d gotten down from my stand, the buck must have been little more than out of eyesight. If I’d just have stayed put a couple of more minutes, I’d have had a certain opportunity to harvest a great buck.
The moral to this story is this: diligence, patience and perseverance are keys when bowhunting rutting, mature whitetail bucks. Never let your guard down, even for a few moments. Get tough!
That Inner Voice
A few years ago, my brother-in-law, Mark Perkins, and I were bowhunting whitetails in Illinois in December. It had been very cold for a long time, and living out of the shell camper on the back of our pickup trucks was a real endurance test. It was a classic case of poor boys, have poor ways. Our passion for big whitetail bucks drove us forward.
Early one afternoon, after having met at our trucks for a quick midday sandwich, we each headed hurriedly back towards our stand and an evening hunt. Walking together for a while, we came to a wetlands area that we had been skirting to get to our destination. Looking straight across the frozen slough, we could see the area that we wanted to reach, only about 200 yards away. To get there however, required a walk of nearly one half-mile to go around the frozen wetland. We’d been making this necessary detour for many days, but on this particular day however, my mind began playing games with me. Thoughts of walking across the ice entered my mind, so I voiced this idea to Mark. Always one of good judgment, his response was quick and sure, “no way, not me, you gotta be stupid to try that!” Being the independent hardheaded cuss that I was (am), and always loving a good challenge, Mark’s response instantly warmed up the demon of rebellion that lurks just under my skin. To think that I’d shy away from such a challenge irked me. I knew I was a rugged outdoorsman and that it was time to “represent!”
Walking out onto the thick ice, I began strolling quickly across the slough. In short seconds, a loud crack sounded below me, quickly reverberating outward in numerous directions. Coming to a quick halt, I looked back toward shore. Mark was quietly taking in the situation in clear amusement. Slowly spinning around toward shore, I took a quick step in that direction. Crack, crack, crack. Things were getting hairy fast! Quickly assuming the prone position to distribute my weight over a larger area, I began to slide forward on my belly, slowly inching toward terra firma, hoping to save myself from an icy dip. Things were going seemingly well, and my audience of one was cheering me on heartily as I neared land.
About 10 feet from the shore, my experiment came to an abrupt end, and in a split second, I was underwater. Since I was in the prone position when I went down, I went completely under. Thrusting my legs under me
, I quickly floundered to my feet in the waist deep water! Hurrying ashore, I’m sure that if looks could kill, Mark would have been one dead sucker, especially since he was in a gut wrenching, tear-shedding fit of laughter! Not even bothering to give him the satisfaction of a response, I headed for camp, pronto.
By the time that I made it back to the truck, I could barely get out of my clothes because they were literally freezing into a suit of armor around me. Firing the truck up, I sat under the heater for a long time. It didn’t seem that the truck would ever warm up. As I began to thaw, I slipped out of my wet clothes. I was now sitting in the truck completely naked, suffering from a serious case of damaged ego, and worse yet a serious case of “shrinkage!” Was I having fun yet?
After acquiring enough body heat to function, I drove into town and dried my clothes and gear at a laundry mat. Peeved about the fact that I’d missed an evening hunt, I slowly made my way back to camp, arriving at sunset. Much to my surprise, Mark was already there and to top it off he’d just killed a 160-class buck! I couldn’t believe it, talk about adding insult to injury! On our way back into the woods to recover Mark’s buck, just as we walked by the spot of my earlier incident, I was sure that I could here my partner choking down some guttural laughs. I guess perspective is all about which side of the fence you’re on!
There are many morals to this story and here are a couple to start with. Leave macho-man at camp; listen to that still-small voice inside your head, and heed it’s warnings, because if you don’t, you’re gonna have to be really thick-skinned!
Think Long, Think Wrong
At the end of the previous whitetail season, I’d expended a lot of time and energy on post-season scouting. During these scouting efforts I’d found a spot that was clearly one of the best bottlenecks that a guy could ever hope to find. The area was littered with old rubs that dated back many years. It was clear that rutting bucks–some real whoppers–had been moving through this spot for many seasons. Instantly getting that “warm-fuzzy” feeling inside, I basked in the afterglow. Yep, this dog would hunt this no-brainer spot, for sure!
After a closer inspection of the area, it became apparent that most of the larger bucks that passed through the location were doing so on the uphill edge of the strip of cover. This upper area was strewn with numerous old, massive rubs. On the flip side, it was also very clear that most of the does and average bucks were passing through the strip of thick cover along the bottom of the hillside. This lower area was littered with scrapes, average-sized rubs and countless tracks. Immediately preparing a tree stand location just downwind of the upper zone, I walked away from the spot certain that I could take a large-antlered buck from the spot during the upcoming season.
When the following November finally arrived, I started to make occasional forays into my secret spot to hunt. Immediately, I observed a lot of action. Problem was, all the action was occurring along the lower trails. Numerous “nice” bucks were spotted trolling through the lower area, while my upper zone remained nearly devoid of visitors. Certain of my strategy however, I hung tough.
By mid-November, a couple of huge rubs had appeared along the upper zone of the bottleneck where my tree stand was located. This excited me greatly, simply confirming what I’d already believed and anticipated. As the peak of the breeding season approached, I hunted long and hard. Day after day I watched as numerous bucks frequented the lower area, just out of range of my stand. My resolve was severely tested because a couple of these bucks were clearly 140-class animals. My mind was starting to play games with me.
By late-November, “head-games” finally got the best of me. Deciding that I was wasting away in my location, I decided to make a move. Quickly and quietly moving my stand to the perfect spot for the lower area, I settled in for the show. Deep down inside, that still-small voice was ripping me a new one. Did I listen? Nope.
The morning after Thanksgiving found me perched in my new stand as first light arrived. Shortly, I passed on a 130-class buck that hurried by my location. Then something much larger appeared, the problem was this monster buck was making his way along the upper zone! Grabbing my grunt call, I sounded off. Not even acknowledging my efforts, the huge buck purposefully strode on right past my previous tree stand location! As the booner walked out of my life forever, I could have died.
If there’s a good moral to this story, this is it: If you’re a seasoned outdoorsman, and you’ve got “the feeling” about something, stick it out!
I hope that these stories of a few of my bowhunting goof-up’s will inspire you to go ahead and graduate from the school of hard knocks. Use your head for something more than a hat-rack. There are many benefits to this course of action such as less physical and mental trauma, more bone on the wall, a much healthier ego, etc. Get the picture?