December 17, 2010
Sometimes, Everything Can Go Wrong and Turn Out Right.
A much younger Eddie Claypool took his first 170-class whitetail during a 1991 hunt in eastern Colorado. Eddie wasn't into photography back then, and this is one of only two photographs he took. Note the vintage camo pattern and stylish duds!
The maturation of a bowhunter is a long and winding road -- a journey unique to everyone who takes it. For me, it all started at a very early age with a fascination for whitetails. For a long time, the seemingly unattainable harvest of a simple doe haunted me. With time came dreams of bucks; then big bucks; then bigger bucks. After I'd wrapped my fingers around the beams of a few good'uns, I began to long for a real whopper.
Having reached the point where I fancied myself a hardcore whitetail killer, I began to take my hunting efforts to areas where I knew I had a realistic chance at encountering a Boone and Crockett buck. Not only did I dream of harvesting such an animal, but I wanted to do it on a well-planned, well-executed hunt where the satisfaction of the moment would be overpowering. Little did I know, but when my number finally came up, skill would have little to do with the harvest and pure luck would reign supreme.
Follow along as I relate the details of an outing where nothing went as planned. This story epitomizes a hunt where the outcome was ultimately based on split-second decisions and the fateful consequences that resulted. As I reflect back on this hunt, many years later, I can only shake my head and smile.
As I rolled into eastern Colorado during the second week of November, I was excited to the utmost. I'd found a whitetail bonanza in the area a few years earlier, and with each passing trip, I'd become much more familiar with hunting the habitat and its deer. On my previous visit to the area, I'd gotten permission to hunt a piece of riverbottom habitat that reeked of big bucks. Becoming more familiar with the area each day, I finally settled on a stand location that rewarded me with a big non-typical buck on the last day of the outing. As I drove away from that hunt, I knew that as long as everything remained as it was, I could come back to the property each year and have realistic hope at harvesting a big buck. And to top it off, there were Boone and Crockett bucks in the area!
As I arrived at my destination, I stopped at the farmer's house to make sure everything was still OK as far as my hunting rights were concerned. With that business taken care of, I pulled down to a barn by the river and set about establishing a quick camp. Gathering my gear, I set out to scout and erect a few treestands. It wasn't long until the buck sign in the area had me awed with its size and frequency -- big rubs and tracks littered the area! In short order, three treestands were up, one of which was in my "secret spot" from the previous year. Making my way back to camp as twilight fell around me, I dreamed of awesome hunts soon to come. As I slid into my sleeping bag that night, I knew there would be no need for an alarm clock to wake me the following morning -- anticipation would take care of that!
€¦ and Crashing Down
The next few days were filled with long mornings and evenings on stand. The weather was cooperating, with cold, clear days and light breezes throughout. Deer action was plentiful, with does and small-to-medium-sized bucks providing most of the excitement. On two occasions, large-antlered bucks had chased does near my hide, though I'd not been able to get a clear shot at either. Both of the bucks were in the 140 class, and I was fairly glad I didn't have the chance to shoot either buck, because I knew I would have taken them if possible. Such an early ending would have left me wondering what might have been.
As I made my way back to camp on the third evening of the hunt, the landowner awaited my arrival. As soon as the conversation started, I knew it was going to end badly for me. The farmer's words went something like this: "A guy in a fancy truck stopped by today. He was an outfitter from the Denver area. He offered a lot of money to lease the hunting rights on my property, and he wanted to start now. I couldn't turn down the offer, so you'll have to find somewhere else to hunt. The guy and some of his helpers will be back tomorrow to start looking the place over."
As I stood in stunned silence, my stomach knotted up. I simply could not believe what I was hearing! As the landowner drove away, anger, frustration and utter disappointment welled up inside me. I was having an emotional meltdown, and my mind was spinning out of control. Once again, I simply could not believe this was happening to me right now -- not at the end of my hunt, not a few years from now but right now, right in the beginning of my outing!
Sitting in my truck in a stupor a short while later, I finally came to my senses. Yes, this really was happening, and I might as well accept it and get about my business. If I was going to salvage anything good out of this outing, there was no time to spare! Grabbing a flashlight and backpack, I headed for the river and my stand locations. Everything inside me cried out against what I was being forced to do. I was one unhappy fellow. Hurrying along, within an hour I'd removed my three treestands and was back at my truck. Driving off into the darkness, I felt weak and helpless. What now?
Whether scouting long distance or up close and personal, be a diligent student of the habitat and the deer that move through it. Make good decisions, put them into action, go early and stay late during the rut. All this adds up to success on big bucks with a bow!
It's Better to Be Lucky Than Good
The next sunrise found me up early, hitting the ground running. Luckily, there was a piece of public ground nearby, on which I had previous hunting experience. Making my way through the darkness, I was determined to not miss a single morning in a treestand. Carrying a "v-board" with me, I intended to walk into a spot I knew from past experience, wedge my "stand" into the crotch of a tree and climb up for a hunt. Hey, it was the peak of the rut, there were big bucks in this country and I was far away from home -- I needed to represent!
As daylight flooded onto the scene, I slowly shifted my weight from one leg to the other. I had to laugh at my predicament, or I would cry. Here I was, standing in the fork of a cottonwood tree, 10 feet above the ground, in a place I had no confidence in. I struggled to keep my focus. The pessimist in me said it was going to be a long, uncomfortable morning in a tree, but the optimistic reminded me that at least
I was bowhunting.
My mind was still spinning from the events of the previous day. I couldn't believe how a few short hours could change my situation so drastically. A few hours later -- after having seen no deer at all -- I was even more depressed.
Climbing down around noon, I ate my lunch and rolled over onto the ground for a short nap. A while later, I began to slowly make my way through the area. Half still-hunting, half scouting, I slipped along in hopes of finding a productive spot where I could invest my evening hunting time. I'd hunted this area a few years earlier and had not been impressed with its trophy potential. Thus, my excitement level was low. As I made my way along, however, I soon came upon buck sign that was clearly made by a mature animal. And as I came into a particular spot, I instantly became excited at what I saw. Two heavily used trails joined there, and both trails had massive, fresh tracks on them. Big rubs and scrapes lined the trails also. Looking around, I quickly spotted a tree that would support my primitive platform. Climbing up, I wedged my board in place and climbed aboard (literally). It was about 1 p.m. -- not my idea of primetime -- so I pulled a candy bar from my pocket and munched. About halfway through my candy bar, glancing to my left, what should I see but a massive buck headed directly for me!
In an instant state of shock, I crammed the candy in my pocket and reached for my release aid, which I still hadn't put on. Not finding my release where it was supposed to be, I panicked. Giving myself a frenzied pat down as the buck approached, I found no release, which had evidently fallen out of my pocket during my midday siesta! Now I freaked out completely. Standing on my wooden wedge, I watched as the giant approached. I had never felt more helpless! Finally coming to my senses, I determined to at least go down fighting. Handling my bow, I slipped my fingers around the string -- a lifelong release-aid shooter, the feeling was very foreign. Slowly slipping the bowstring back to my face, my main focus was on simply keeping my arrow on the prongs of the rest. I managed to reach full draw with the arrow still under control, so I switched my attention to the big buck as he strode up to 15 yards, stopped broadside€‰€¦€‰and looked away. Pointing my bow at the buck, I let one rip right over his back!
The massive animal blasted past my location, quickly headed back in the direction he'd come from. Amazingly, the big buck slammed to a stop at about 40 yards, quickly snapping his head in different directions. Giving a few short "uurps" with my voice, the big buck began to once again make his way toward me. Preparing for another shot opportunity, I vowed to aim lower this time! Approaching to 20 yards, while alertly facing me, there was no chance to draw my bow. This standoff lasted for a good while, and my arms became heavy.
Finally, the big fellow spun to leave for good, offering me a chance to come to full draw. Aiming for the area behind ribs, I sent another arrow on its way. In a second forever frozen in my mind, I watched my arrow hit the buck with an extremely fatal blow. Gone in a flash, I quickly climbed to the ground, sat down and shook uncontrollably. I could not believe what had just transpired. I'd been in the tree for less than 10 minutes!
When I found the buck a short while later, I was amazed at my luck. I'd just taken my first 170-class trophy. Everything about the hunt had been happenstance, proving that all my well-laid plans amounted to little.
At that moment, I knew that being good is nice. But being lucky is even better!