Roots of My Hunting Passion

Size 8 boots, and a lazy right eye after I’ve had just one drink too many.

My dad passed down a lot of traits from the branch extending above me on our oak-like family tree.

Some of those things came innately, while others were taught over time. I’m unequivocally grateful for all of them.

That said I’m not sure many of those direct descendant qualities from dad mean more to me than the passion for the outdoors.

My dad passed away March 23.

The "game wall" at my dad's shop is a reminder of his hunting passion. He's far right. The fellowship of family trumped the hunting later in his outdoor hobby

The “game wall” at my dad’s shop is a reminder of his hunting passion. He is far right. The fellowship of family trumped the hunting later in his outdoor hobby

I knew that my next post on AHuntersTales.com would be about him. And I knew it would be a while before I would be able to muster up the ability to write that post. It took a visit to Iowa with a couple dear friends, and hunting buddies, to help me realize that time had come.

In thinking about my dad, hunting typically finds its way into the reflection. It was a shared passion. I have probably taken it to greater extremes than he ever did, but only because he gave spark to ignite and, most importantly, encourage it.

I’m a parent now. And so often when you’re a parent, you want your children to be afforded opportunities that were better than those you received. Not true for hunting and me. When it comes to hunting I want to do things the same way my dad did with me. If that leads to my kids having a similar passion for the outdoors that I’ve enjoyed for three decades, that would suit me just fine.

The stories …

It was on our way home feeding our cattle one Wednesday evening over 20 years ago when my dad and I made the trip to Belmont Archery. I was 15 and had saved enough money to make most of the payment for a new bow. Dad, who shot league archery many years previous to that, waited patiently as we outfitted a new PSE Spirit. When it came time to pay for the bow, dad surprised me by footing the entire bill.

I thanked him with hours and hours of shooting that bow in our back yard.

The recovery of my first archery buck came a couple seasons later. After we bumped the buck, he thought we should back out of the woods. I was dumbfounded that we’d leave the woods before laying hands on that deer. It was another teachable moment that proved his decision to be absolutely correct. We returned together early the next morning to find the buck within a short walk of where we stopped the night before.

I remember calling my dad a short time after arrowing my biggest deer ever many years later. He wanted to hear all the details of the encounter and gave his counsel on how to approach the recovery. It’s funny, I’ve recovered more deer than he probably ever did, but still soaked up every bit of wisdom he’d share. Of course, that sentiment didn’t stop at hunting advice.

Speaking of deer recoveries, one of my favorites included my dad in 2000. I’d arrowed a nice 7-point on our farm during a weeklong vacation there from Virginia, where I’d lived at the time. Dad wasn’t too far removed from a scary massive stroke he’d suffered that fall. Soon after getting out of the hospital, he purchased a four-wheeler to help him get around a little easier.

I called dad from the stand after connecting on the deer. He was excited to join in the recovery and I was equally elated to have him there. After he arrived on the four-wheeler, we used it to help us navigate the big woods.

The 7-point was no match for dad's new 4-wheeler!

The 7-point was no match for dad’s new 4-wheeler!

It wasn’t long before the deer was strapped to the back of the four-wheeler with me and dad riding shotgun out of the woods. It was a great moment, one we were blessed to have after dealing with the aftermath of that stroke.

I’m thankful for so many of the recoveries he and I shared over the years. And I wasn’t always the successful hunter. There was the time very early in my hunting career when dad had shot a buck. He valued the opportunity to teach my brothers and me during those early years of our hunting.

On this particular hunt, he was stressing the importance of gun safety, more specifically not climbing out of a stand with a loaded gun. Shortly after he descended, he tripped and fell into a spring, thereby filling his unloaded shotgun with mud. Lesson learned!

Dad admiring my 2010 Illinois buck while on a visit to our house.

Dad admiring my 2010 Illinois buck while on a visit to our house.

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Dad ended up carrying my shotgun throughout the recovery, one that included him providing several blood tracking tips that soaked into my young hunting soul.

A voracious photo taker (I’m not sure any person has purchased more disposable cameras over time), dad played lead photographer for so many of those post-hunt field photos. I wish he was in more of them alongside me. I am fortunate that we were together in several though. After an introduction to trail cameras several years ago, he became just as passionate about getting photos of deer and bear by way of several cameras. He turned into my best long-distance scout!

As dad got older, he seemed less interested in the hunt itself. He was just as happy about the fellowship hunting camp brought with his family and friends.

Taken several years ago, no one at this table realized this would be the last time our entire immediate family (mom, dad, three sons) would share deer camp together.

Taken several years ago, no one at this table realized this would be the last time our entire immediate family (mom, dad, three sons) would share deer camp together.

That, too, is something that has rubbed off on me of late. I still love hunting, but I’ve come to learn that sharing the field with family and friends can be just as important.

Shortly after I killed my biggest buck in Illinois, I wrote a post-hunt recap on this very site. In it, I noted how thankful I was for my dad introducing me to hunting. I was sitting in a stand in Illinois the next day when my dad texted me that he liked the story. I explicitly recall asking if he read that part. He said he had and that he thought it was nice. I told him I meant it, and that I loved him.

Then, I teared up on the stand.

I knew dad became a frequent lurker of this site a while back. I hadn’t updated the blog in a while and he pointed that out during a phone conversation.

Dad and me with a buck we'd nicknamed Ol' Wide Boy, a mature 4-point. A too-rare occasion when dad was on the subject side for a photo!

Dad and me with a buck we’d nicknamed Ol’ Wide Boy, a mature 4-point. A too-rare occasion when dad was on the subject side for a photo!

He was right.

The truth is I wished I’d have posted more too. I have so many stories with dad that have gone untold, and I wish I’d used them to help him understand just how much I value those memories afield.

Those memories are very much like the rest of the traits he passed down. And I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything – not a single damn thing.

-30-

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The Illinois Whitetail Disaster

By Don Higgins
AHT Guest Commentary

I am blessed to have watched the whitetail herd in my part of Illinois rise from nothing to become the greatest whitetail herd on planet earth. As a kid running the creeks and woods of east-central Illinois we basically had no deer whatsoever. Seeing a deer track was newsworthy and announcing such a discovery was more likely to bring ridicule than belief.

Author Don Higgins with several Illinois giants from years of hunting the Land of Lincoln

Author Don Higgins with several Illinois giants

Then, slowly at first, the deer started to appear. When I shot my first buck back in 1979 I only knew of three men who had taken a deer and two of those were harvested down in southern Illinois.

Back in the early days Illinois was blessed with a couple of cutting edge whitetail biologist who were ahead of their time in their approach to state-wide whitetail management. Forest Loomis and Jack Calhoun micro-managed Illinois growing deer herd county by county utilizing county check stations manned by college students and started a new management approach that other states would soon adopt; either-sex hunting.

Up to this point, states that allowed deer hunting managed their seasons by larger zones or even state-wide and only allowed bucks to be harvested. Loomis and Calhoun put Illinois on the fast-track to whitetail stardom with their hands-on approach to managing Illinois most precious natural resource. These pioneer biologist deserve way more credit and recognition than they have been afforded.

Soon whitetails were at huntable populations in every Illinois county. Not only that but with the management approach of these cutting edge biologists, the state enjoyed a whitetail herd with great age structure and proper sex ratios. By the mid-1980s Illinois was home to a whitetail herd that would please any deer hunter. Monster bucks were present in suitable numbers in every county for those seeking the challenge while a growing population meant plenty of opportunities for the meat hunter as well. Illinois became the destination of choice for whitetail addicts from across the globe.

Then disaster hit. No, it didn’t hit with the force of a tornado that was obvious and clear to see. In fact many didn’t even realize anything happened. But it did. And it was bad. Loomis and Calhoun retired and some time following a new whitetail biologist was hired. Paul Shelton was a waterfowl biologist from Tennessee when IDNR director Brent Manning hired him to come to Illinois and oversee the greatest whitetail herd on earth. Shelton was noted for his “computer models for waterfowl management” and apparently the idea was that he could bring this experience to Illinois and use it on our beloved whitetail herd. The problem is that whitetails are not waterfowl and in the past 20 years Paul Shelton has yet to figure that out.

Today the Illinois deer herd is in serious trouble and Illinois deer hunters are finally seeing it. Most are blaming two straight years of massive deer die-offs from EHD as the culprit. They are only partially right. Today’s deer herd disaster is the result of 2 years of EHD and 20 years of bad management. The quality of Illinois deer herd has been slowly trending downward for some time but the casual deer hunter didn’t see it and most wouldn’t even acknowledge the possibility … until this year.

With a firearms season harvest that was down 25% statewide and archery harvest figures likely to mirror those of the gun seasons, eyes have been opened and voices raised. The thing is, most of those who are finally upset have no idea how bad things really are. The “harvest” may be down roughly 25% since last year but the “herd” is really down more like 70% in some areas. On top of that, if you compare this year’s firearms harvest to that of 2005, it is actually down 40%. If you think the deer hunting was off this year, mark my words, the worst is yet to come.

IDNR biologist Paul Shelton and his cohorts John Buhnerkempe and Tom Micetich are in over their heads and yet have never worked under a DNR director with the guts, motivation, desire or wisdom to rein them in and get them on track. Current director Marc Miller seems to be no different. Team Shelton has destroyed the great deer herd nurtured to life by Loomis and Calhoun, yet I am not sure if that fact is as sad as having a string of IDNR directors without the concern for Illinois deer herd to insist that the management of our deer herd get back on track. I find it frustrating and more than a bit odd that Illinois fish biologists do an awesome job of managing Illinois waters for quality fishing with well-designed regulations such as creel limits and size limits, yet our whitetail biologist manage our deer herd like high-school drop-outs using $1.99 Wal-Mart calculators.

I personally was at a meeting in Decatur a few years back where John Buhnerkempe was telling a group of hunters about the approach they take to manage Illinois deer herd. Buhnerkempe said that they simply look at the herd numbers at the beginning of the season and set a goal of how many of those deer they want to be killed by the end of the hunting season. He went on to explain that they don’t care how those deer are killed or which ones are killed, they just want to get the herd down to a specific number. I’m serious folks, that is Illinois’ whitetail management approach in a nutshell. No regard at all is given to setting regulations that will improve sex-ratios or age structure. Nope, just go out and kill X number of deer. What’s worse is they can’t even do this right as evidenced by this year’s dramatic drop in harvest. They are so slow to react to changes within the deer herd that calling them “reactive” rather than “proactive” is too kind. It takes them years to even address a problem and never really admit that there was a problem to begin with. Again, mark my words, we haven’t seen the worst yet.

This leaves us with the obvious question of “where do we go from here?” Personally I hold out almost no hope that we will ever again see a deer herd of the quality that we once had. I have heard a couple of older hunters note that we still have more deer today than we did in the early 1970s so we can turn things around and have a good deer herd again in a few years. Let me give you three reasons why this won’t happen.

First and foremost we had Loomis and Calhoun in charge in the early 1970s whereas today we have Shelton, Buhnerkempe and Micetich. The former were clearly cutting edge pioneers whereas I have seen absolutely nothing from the latter to hint that they even care about the resource that they are in charge of managing. On top of this IDNR director Marc Miller has shown me nothing to indicate that he will step in and insist that the ship be righted. Strike one.

Secondly we have a lot more deer hunters today than we had during the 1970s. I would venture to guess that we probably have 4 or 5 times as many deer hunters now as compared to then. That represents a lot more pressure on a resource that now needs to be expanded rather than simply maintained at current levels. On top of that we now have a younger generation of deer hunters who do not remember the days when we had so few deer that a hunter would typically go years between deer harvests. Most of today’s deer hunters have always hunted during a period when they could easily kill multiple deer each and every year. It won’t be easy, and will likely be impossible, to get this group to accept a more limited role as true conservationists. Strike two.

Finally, Illinois politics will never allow for the proper management of our whitetail deer herd. Besides the fact that hunters themselves cannot agree on what is best for the herd, we also have to throw in the wishes of groups like insurance companies who want all the deer gone and are willing to fork over the bucks (pun intended) to see that their opinion carries plenty of weight with politicians who make key decisions regarding the management of our deer herd.

Let’s face it, IDNR director Marc Miller is simply in his position because he was appointed to be there by Governor Quinn. It is no secret that Illinois politics is a dirty business and Marc Miller is really nothing more than a puppet whose strings are being pulled by someone else. Strike three.

In a perfect world the management of big game herds is left to qualified professionals. That is what created the Illinois deer herd that was truly the best deer herd on the planet. Loomis and Calhoun loved what they were doing and did so without politics tying their hands. The Shelton gang has clearly demonstrated that not only do they not know what they are doing with regards to deer management; they also don’t seem to care. Illinois politics is simply the final nail in the coffin.

Loomis and Calhoun left us the greatest whitetail herd of any state in the nation as their legacy. Now it’s Shelton and Millers turn to leave theirs. Just as decades later I remember and reminisce about Loomis and Calhoun, so too will others someday do the same with Shelton and Miller. Shelton created this disaster and this is clearly his legacy. IDNR director Marc Miller didn’t create this mess but he clearly came on board in time to turn it around. He didn’t. Instead he went along with status-quo and the wheels came completely off the bus under his watch. Shelton won’t do anything to right the ship, I am certain of this.

From what I have seen from Miller, I don’t really expect him to do anything significant enough to make a real difference either. Mark my words, we haven’t seen the worst. I just hope that 30 or 40 years from now someone remembers the names Shelton, Micetich and Buhnerkempe as the ones who destroyed the world’s greatest whitetail deer herd just as clearly as I remember Loomis and Calhoun as the ones who created it.

About the Author
Don Higgins is a freelance outdoor writer from Shelby County, Illinois who has had articles published in just about every major outdoor magazine. Don has also authored 2 books on hunting whitetails and operates Higgins Outdoors, a multi-faceted company specializing in wildlife habitat consultation and creation. He can be reached through his website – www.higginsoutdoors.com

DonsBookCoverScreen shot 2014-01-02 at 8.46.11 PM


Sixteen Hours of Separation

Sixteen Hours of Separation

Sixteen Hours of Separation

Patience is defined as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

My wife can attest that I don’t always posses that distinct quality, but in the month of November my patience increases – at least in the deer woods.

Up until November 15, my deer season was going so-so. I had harvested several does with no luck at punching my tag on a Hit List buck.

As you read last week here on AHT, my father tagged our number one target deer in on October 31, which was enough for me to call the season a success…even if I had to eat a tag sandwich.

I hunted hard through the early part of November, burning over a week’s vacation in an effort to try and seal the deal on a shooter buck. As the days of November ticked by, so did my chances.

With the NYS firearms season opening on November 16, I headed in for my final sit of the 2013 archery season on the afternoon of the 15th.  I got to my stand early in the afternoon and by 4 p.m. I hadn’t seen a deer.

We called my buck 'No Tail' for obvious reasons [see above].

We called my buck ‘No-Tail’ for obvious reasons [see above].

“That’s it,” I thought to myself. And then I heard the distinct sound of a deer walking.

I looked down the ridge and to my amazement, a good buck was headed my way.

In disbelief, I grabbed my BowTech and prepared for the shot. As the buck walked, I came to full draw. At 18 yards, I stopped the buck with a soft bleat. I centered my pin on his chest and let the arrow fly. It was a center punch. BOOM (fist pump, fist pump)!

'No Tail' goes down.

‘No-Tail’ goes down.

The buck bounded over to an adjacent knoll and began to go down. As the buck expired I sat down to replay what the heck had just happened. In the final half hour of the season, I had closed the deal. Suddenly all of those hours I put in setting stands, checking cameras, and scouting all seemed worth it.

I called my Dad with the good news.  After filling out my tag and collecting my buck, I headed for home to show my Dad and my 6-year-old son. Both were proud.

In our celebration and discussion, we’d lost focus of the fact that the next morning was the opening of the firearms season.

'No Tail' Hero Pic.

‘No-Tail’ Hero Pic.


Still on cloud-nine from my archery kill, I racked my brain for ideas on where to go the morning.

In a hasty, yet fateful decision, I decided that I’d sit in make-shift ground blind the next morning.

There was one buck frequenting this area that I was interested in, but surely I thought he wouldn’t show himself on opening morning. I was wrong.

The one image I captured of the deer I came to know as 'The Bonus Buck.'

The one image I captured of the deer I came to know as ‘The Bonus Buck.’

As the sun rose, I was still replaying the happenings of the night before in my head. At around 7:30 I thought I could hear a deer walking in the swale in front of the blind. I came to my feet and couldn’t believe my eyes.

There standing 30 yards from me was the exact buck I was after. I grabbed my trusty old Remington 1100 20 ga., centered my crosshairs and fired. Game over. The buck went down immediately.

‘Seriously?’ I said to myself. ‘Seriously!’ I told myself. Unreal. My season had pivoted in a matter of 16 hours.

I texted my Dad four words: ‘Well, that plan worked.’

Father & Son bonding moment.

Father & Son bonding moment.

After yet another photo session with my son, I sat down with a cup of coffee and began to reflect. Several words came to my mind: Blessed, Fortunate, Family, Persistence, and Patience – The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

Cat Tales:

This year was my 20th consecutive year of hunting the New York State firearms season. It seems like yesterday I was 16-years-old and hunting with my father and grandfather.

Grandpa died in 1998, but I will always cherish the memory of opening day of 1993.

Nov. 15, 1993

Nov. 15, 1993


On that morning a fine 8-pointer walked to me and became the first buck I’d ever kill with a gun. Grandpa was there with me that day. I also believe he was there with me this year as I harvested the buck with my gun some 100 yards from where this image was taken 20 years ago to the day.

Greg Johnston is a contributor to AHT. He is most notably known here for his weekly report on rut activity. The WNY native balances time between the woods and home where he and his wife are busy raising their two young children.


5th Annual AHT Holiday Gift Guide for Sportsmen

It’s sort of like taxes, except instead of being a thorn in the bum, it’s welcomed by wives across the nation globe.

The annual AHuntersTales.com holiday gift guide is back! And the easiest way to get your wish list to your wife / girlfriend / both, mom, dad or anyone else frustrated by your picky hunting needs is to send them right here to this page.

Without further ado, here is the 2013 version of go-to gifts, selected after hours of consultation among the AHT staff.

Pals for the Paws
Cold feet aren’t just for nervous grooms. I don’t recall a season where I’ve hunted in colder weather consistently than during this deer season. And I have an idea for how I’m going to fix the cold feet that are often times destined during a long sit on stand. I thought I had a formula for keeping my feet toasty, but one sit in a ground blind in the snow and five degrees last month left me with a slight case of frost bite.

Thermacell Insoles

Thermacell Insoles


Check out the Thermacell remote control insoles. Available at a number of big box outdoor stores and a number of places online, these insoles are size specific and slip into your boots. The best part is you can control their use while in the stand, meaning you won’t have to deal with sweaty feet that freeze when still.

Prices very, but expect to pay around $115 for a pair of the insoles.

Start a Fire, Charge your Phone
For the outdoorsman or camper who likes all the gadgets, this one ranks right up there on the “cool” factor.

The CampSove

The CampSove

The CampStove by BioLite is not only eco-friendly, but using it can now double to charge your phone by the built-in USB hookup.

The mini-stove is only 8 1/2″ x 5″ but can boil a liter of water in less than five minutes. Another item on the pricey side, this one goes for $125 or so online.

A Dog Needs Food to Bark
I’m not sure I ever expected to have ammo on the wish list here, but times have changed. With the prices on ammo continuing to rise, and limits being placed on the volume allowed at purchase, few outdoorsmen are turning their nose to having a little extra ammo in their storage locker.

AA target loads are a safe bet for a lot of hunters

AA target loads are a safe bet for a lot of hunters


This one takes a little more work to make sure you’re purchasing the right ammo for the right guns, but it can lead to an extra wink from your significant other when done correctly. The other great part is you can customize the ammo purchase to meet your gift budget by quantity. Some target loads start at $7 and a box of hard-to-find rifle ammo will exceed $30. Mix and match to really get it right!

A Repeat Reminder
Each year, we identify a couple repeat gift ideas.
Why?

Havalon's Piranta Series Knives come in a few different colors

Havalon’s Piranta Series Knives come in a few different colors

Because they’re that good and we want to remind you in case you didn’t get that gift last year. In addition to a great pair of socks (should be on the list every year), this year’s pick for repeat status is the Havalon Piranta Series Knife.

These knives are extremely handy, and a number of manufacturers have developed similar razor-style knives. I’m sure many have similar effectiveness. Regardless of the brand, this is a great tool for the hunter that finds common success afield.

The Havalon version sells for roughly $40.

Smoke Signals Make Me Happy
My wife and I comment quite regularly how surprised we are by the frequency that we use our smoker to cook food. On the heels of an all-day venison jerky making smoke festival, we have few things that have paid off over and over again with respect to how much we’ve paid for them. Our smoker has done that.

A typical box-style smoker

A typical box-style smoker


I opted for the propane fueled box style smoker, but have friends with the electric version and others with the more barrel-style original style. When used correctly, they’re fantastic for cooking all kinds of meats, vegetables, etc.

Several box stores have smokers on sale this time of year, meaning you can find one for $150 quite regularly. Well worth it. And remember to buy a bag of smoke chips if your outdoorsman doesn’t have dried hickory at his/her immediate disposal.

A Neat Meat Reminder
Admittedly, I’ve yet to read one of the books that’s on my growing “to read” list.

The Mindful Carnivore

The Mindful Carnivore

Upon learning more about the book, The Mindful Carnivore by Tovar Cerulli when reading a review earlier this year, it provoked me to add to my list and reminded me to include it in this year’s gift guide. I’ve noticed it on a couple other gift guides in 2013.

I have a couple friends who had similar searches for sustenance and it sounds like Cerulli went through a very logical experience that led him to adding meat to his previously vegetarian diet.

You can find the book on Amazon.com for under $15. I look forward to reading the book at some point this year.

Not good enough?
If this list doesn’t quench your shopping thirst, or you’ve bought everything and want to buy more, here are links to the previous four gift guides. Each has some terrific gift ideas that remain relevant and useful.

2012
2011
2010
2009

Also, I stumbled upon another gift guide on a fellow outdoor bloggers site. Al Quackenbush notes he’s a fellow Western New Yorker. For that, I’m happy to share his guide as well. Read it on his The SoCal Bowhunter site.

Happy Holidays! Remember the Reason for the Season!


‘The Show’ Stopper

The Show Hero Pic

Shooting mature deer in New York State isn’t the easiest task to accomplish. Heck, let’s face it – shooting mature deer in Iowa or Illinois isn’t easy either, but you get my drift.

That’s why I take great pride in saying that between my Dad and me, we’ve killed at least one mature buck the past five seasons.

Putting on a show.

Putting on a show.

Heading into this archery season, Dad and I had a handful of target deer, but there was one buck in particular we were hoping to get a crack at. I had nicknamed the deer ‘The Show’ after a particular series of trailcam photos captured him standing on his hind legs while working a licking branch.

Fast forward to September of this year when I pulled one of my cards only to find this same buck make reappearance. I was ecstatic.

Sept. 15, 2013

Sept. 15, 2013

He was now mature and sported a handsome Pope and Young 8-point rack. I relied heavily on my trailcams throughout October, monitoring the buck’s daylight activity.

On October 22 I got my first daylight pic of him. It was time to move in. Dad and I hunted this deer’s core area hard for the next week or so, without any success.

On the afternoon of October 30, Dad texted me around 3 p.m. to say he hadn’t seen a single deer all afternoon. Things soon changed. About a half-hour later I got a call from him saying that he’d just shot ‘The Show.’ We were pumped. Dad marked the blood and returned home where he waited for me to return from work.

'The Show' bedded with a hot doe less than 24 hrs. before Dad's encounter with him.

‘The Show’ bedded with a hot doe less than 24 hrs. before Dad’s encounter with him.

We gave the deer roughly three hours as Dad was concerned the shot may have been a touch back. When we initially took up the trail, I was astonished at the amount of blood. It was as if someone had walked through the woods dumping red Kool-Aid from a gallon jug. But just as the trail began, it ended.

The blood trail.

The blood trail.

I was confident the deer was liver hit and in fear of us bumping him, we backed out. I had to work the next morning and get my kids to school, so Dad took up the search by himself. It wasn’t long before my phone vibrated. It was Dad. He had located the buck, but the deer wasn’t yet expired.

Dad knocked an arrow and moved in for a final shot. We had done it – Dad had done it. Our number one hit list buck was down. I wanted to jump through my skin with excitement.

A mature NYS buck.

A mature NYS buck.

I returned home that night just in time to snap a few nice photos of Dad and his trophy.

My Dad is 66-years-old and has overcome more than most. He suffered a severe back injury in 1995 and has fought through numerous other ailments including broken bones and most recently a detached retina in his right eye.

To say that I’m proud of him would be an understatement. Having him shoot our number one hit list buck gives me more pleasure than I ever would have if I had tagged the buck myself.

Next week on AHT read how my slow season picked up in a matter of 16 hours.


Legacies Left: Sage (2003-2013)

She filled the role of dog very well. Forever labeled “man’s best friend,” she was absolutely that.

When reflecting on the legacy of my faithful yellow lab though, it’s the “friends of this man” that her paw print has left that showcases the remarkable life of this dog.

KJCs Sage Brooke Athena (2003-2013) "Sage"

KJCs Sage Brooke Athena (2003-2013)
“Sage”

Sage left us yesterday, November 23, 2013, after a short battle with what our vet believes to have been a brain tumor.

If friendships were to be plotted like a family tree, there are so many branches in my life that would connect to a trunk like that of a century-old oak tree.

And that trunk, with its roots, would be Sage.

And to think that she was able to do that in 10 short years.

Ric Aikman, Richard Faulkner, Tony Hawkins, Brad Taylor, John Comey, Chris Tester, Jason Watkins, Keith Trexler, Cam Watson, Mike Parker, Steve Ledford, Tara McCreedy, Jim Swart, Robbie Julian and on and on and on.

Some of those folks are some of my dearest friends. Without Sage, I’d know zero of them. Not one.

The affect she made on friends I already knew, or would find without her help, is remarkably deep too.

We didn’t have a hunting show and quit running hunt tests before Sage was 3-years old, but her impact was far reaching. The short notes and texts that came to my phone yesterday, many toting “Remember When” stories, helped ease a lot of pain losing a dog can create.

There were her first retrieves and the retrieves she made of “first ducks” for no fewer than three youth hunters. Trips to the coast where she refused to let cold January weather stop her from her favorite hobby. The retrieving demonstrations for bystanders awed by a working dog, and even a few months of joining Burgin Hardin and me in a downtown Charlotte office. Neighbors and friends considered her part of their lives.

She was amazingly versatile.

The texts and e-mails that came in didn’t have line of sight to some of my favorite memories of Sage. You see, for as much as she was a great hunting companion – one that was limited only by the flaws of her trainer – her best role was that of our family dog.

My wife and I were damn near newlyweds when Sage became our biggest responsibility. For five years as our “only child,” she was a great test for us becoming parents. We’ll never forget those annual Christmas card photo shoots and those funny birthday hat pictures each time Sage celebrated another year.

For some reason, she loved the feel of a curtain on her back. We called her “Sister Sage” when she sat in those window curtains as they resembled a nun’s veil flowing over her head.

Never forgotten will be those on-the-road phone calls from my wife imploring me to command Sage to “drop” over the speaker phone in order to end a game of chase with a sock, a toy or whatever Sage had decided to run around with that day!

Countless “Marley and Me” instances evolved into her serving the role of protector, for my wife while I was traveling and for my kids as they entered our world. I’ve heard of other dogs acting like she did, but it was incredible to see Sage lay in front of the nursery door for both of our children as infants. Their cries were met by her pacing near my wife and me, all the while making sure we knew our attention was requested.

Enough cannot be said about having your best friend meeting you at the door after work, unable to care less about how your day was and hoping only that she could find a way to serve you. The wagging tail said everything you needed to hear.

Today I spent some time packing up a number of her things. It’s not as though I’m trying to remove her completely from our lives. There are too many great memories to make that remotely possible.

However, each time I walked by a dog dish or saw a retrieving bumper in the garage, it led to a great deal of sadness. Few were more sorrowful and long than the 21-step walk I made this morning to retrieve my paper. That’s a job Sage relished for the better part of the last 300 or so Sundays.

I’ve been asked several times if we are ready to get another dog. We’re not yet. We definitely will be at some point, but our lives have become a bit hectic as our young children become more active. For now, we will chip away at the sadness knowing full well the memories will turn at some point from tears to smiles.

Thank you, Sage, for being my best friend. Thank you for leaving an indelible mark on our family. Thank you for making so many lives, so much better.


Never How You Want to Find Them

As I found him.

Where I found him

My fears had come true. It was May 11, 2013 and I was out chasing spring gobblers in Upstate New York when I stumbled upon him. It was the end of the mystery – I now knew what had happened to this buck 8 months prior.

It’s something we as hunters never want discover, but unfortunately we do from time to time. Finding a dead rotten buck is never a pleasant sight, especially when it’s a deer you recognize. It’s a theme that many deer hunters experience, we focus in on a particular buck only to have the animal disappear for one reason or another. Such was the case here.

I had captured several trailcamera photos of this buck back in mid-September. They weren’t the best quality images, but I saw enough of the deer’s antlers to interest me. I knew the buck was a definite up-and-comer and I looked forward to monitoring his progress and finding him back the following season.

Trailcam image from Sept. 2012.

Trailcam image from Sept. 2012.

The 2012 hunting season came and ended without a single sighting of this buck.

The next time I would lay yes on him would be that warm May morning. The buck lay dead nearly a mile from where my Bushnell Trophy Cam had captured those images of him back in September.

It’s always a bitter-sweet moment when you discover an animal like this. On one hand you’re relieved that you know what happened to him and on the other; you’re disappointed and saddened that he’s gone and won’t be around for the upcoming season. And then there’s always the question of how the animal died.

G5 T3 - Illegal in NYS.

G5 T3 – Pokes out from bone.

I began inspecting the 8-pointer for clues as to what may have lead to his death, and there in pain sight was the answer. A G5 T3 Broadhead was wedged in to the buck’s right shoulder blade. The finding left little doubt that the deer had been shot by a fellow archer and never recovered – most likely because the arrow never penetrated the deer’s vitals.

This story would end here if I lived in Texas or Illinois, but I don’t. I reside and hunt in New York State. I tell you that to tell you this: G5’s T3 Broadheads are illegal for hunting purposes in NYS.

A quick check of the NYS Department of Conservation’s website will tell you that ANY barbed broadhead is illegal. Period.
broadhd

Image if T3 - illegal in NYS.

Image of G5 T3 – illegal in NYS.

Here’s how the DEC defines a barbed broadhead: “A barbed Broadhead is one in which the angle formed between the trailing or rear edge of any blade and the shaft is less than 90 degrees.”

Clearly the T3 fits this description.

I’m unsure of who shot the buck – and to be honest, I don’t really care, but may I suggest that he or she pay a visit to http://www.dec.ny.gov prior to heading out to the local pro shop to stock up on next season’s broadheads.

As for the buck, I salvaged his head and plan to do a european mount on him.

It’s a shame really, but at least I now have answers to my questions.

Mystery solved.


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