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The 26 Year Quest

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The Author Posses With a Buck He’s Been Chasing Since 1991

I’ve been extremely fortunate to harvest some great New York State bucks through the years that any hunter would be proud of – and I am, but I’ve always been chasing the elusive ‘giant.’ And by that I mean a buck I would be consider a trophy whether taken in the Midwest or the Northeast – a monarch so to speak.  My 26-year quest came to an end Saturday Nov. 18, 2017.

History/Quest

My whitetail hunting career dates back to 1991 when I was 14-year-old. My first kill came that year. I was so proud of that button-buck.  I’m now 40 years young and have been chasing whitetails ever since.

The opening day of the 2017 NYS firearms season would dawn at sunrise that Saturday morning. I had made my way in the dark to a part of our Livingston County farm that I’d never hunted. Why? Well, the wind that morning was blowing out of the southeast and for our property that just doesn’t work well. All of our sets work best with a north or west wind and I had strategized the night before on where I would have to set up to give myself any chance of seeing deer.

The Plan/The Gun

Once making the trek down the hill I picked out a tri-maple tree and shimmied my Muddy climber up it. At sunrise I was set up. In tote with me was my CVA .50 muzzleloader. After a successful archery season, I had made the decision to hunt with the smoke-pole because any deer I’ve been able to take with it just means more to me. It’s a personal thing. I’m an archer at heart, but the second best weapon in my opinion is a muzzleloader. One shot, one chance and when successful I feel like I’ve accomplished a heck of a lot more.

As the darkness faded and light began to hit the forest floor I could see a stark-white rack moving through the woods. I grabbed my gun, shouldered it and readied for a shot. As the buck moved his way through, I couldn’t make up my mind if it was a deer I wanted to take a crack at. By the time I decided I would shoot, the buck was gone. As he worked his way off and out of my life I was left to ponder if I had just made a mistake. I would soon be assured I had not.

I sat for a few more minutes and had a small spike work past my stand. I was taking onus in the fact that my game plan was working. Execution? Maybe not, but the plan, yes.

He Appears

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A Trail Camera Image of The Buck Just Five Days Before The Author Would Come Face to Face With Him.

As I sat there enjoying the morning I looked up to see a sight I’ve waited more than two decades for. I didn’t move as the buck was looking down the hill and appeared to be looking at me in the tree. I slowly grabbed my gun and came to my feet. I raised and steadied only to see that the buck had walked several more feet and was now behind a large blow-down. I waited knowing  he was still headed my direction and I knew once he stepped out from behind the downed tree, that  would be my opportunity.

The Shot

As the buck cleared the blow-down, I clicked my safety off and gave a small grunt to stop him. He stopped, but in doing so turned slightly and faced nearly right at me. This was my chance. I centered the cross hairs on the buck’s chest and squeezed the trigger. Boom! Smoke rolled out of the muzzleloader and the buck whirled and ran. I was extremely confident I’d made a good shot, but I didn’t see him go down – although it looked like he was about to when I lost site of him. With a finger to the sky I made the call to my Dad.

The Biggest Buck of My Life

“I think I just shot the biggest buck of my life!” I told him. After recapping and replaying the shot over to Dad, I became even more confident it was good. The buck never flagged (put his tail in the air) when he ran which is always a good indication of a lethal hit.

I gave it 10 minutes or so and made my way down the tree in hopes of finding a solid blood trail. And I did. I clicked my iPhone to video and recorded the moment I walked up on the buck for the first time. He had only gone 80 yards or so before expiring. The shot was perfect. As Bon Jovi would sing, ‘Shot Through The Heart!’ I called Dad again and told him the good news. I then proceeded to call and FaceTime my best hunting buddies.

What’s He Score?

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The Buck in a Bed

I don’t know that yet, but do have intentions of having an official NYS Big Buck Club scorer put a tape to him. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been blessed to take some beautiful animals over the years (you can read about many of them on here @ AHT), but score has really never meant a whole lot to me – in fact, I’ve never had a single deer officially scored. This buck is a bit different for me though. He fulfilled that 26-year quest on Saturday Nov. 18, 2017.

Cat Tails

In the wake of this hunt and week long celebration, I’ve been reminiscing about many of the hunts and deer that got me to this point. I’m going to include some of those photos to selfishly help me reflect back through the years.

 

 

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MrMr & The Master Plan

The planning and hunt for this buck I would later nickname, MrMr began in 2016 when my trail cameras captured a dozen or so images of him throughout the hunting season. Though, I never laid eyes on him, I was confident he was a 3.5 year-old buck and hoped he could squeak through the (entirely too long) NYS firearms season to reach the ripe age of 4.5.

My strategy was to continue to run cameras throughout our property during the winter months in hopes of capturing an image or two of the buck to confirm he was alive. My New Year’s wish came true when on January 2nd, MrMr was captured entering our food plot planted to Frigid Forage Big N Beasty.

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This Image Confirmed the Buck’s Survival

This buck was now my No. 1 target for the upcoming season and I would spend the next 10-plus months orchestrating and strategizing a game-plan that I hoped would result in the two of us crossing paths.

I continued to build a history with MrMr as spring rolled around and my son and I hit the woods for our annual shed hunt. As fate would have it, the first set of antlers we located were the match set of MrMr. It was another piece to this whitetail puzzle.

As spring faded and the dog days of summer arrived, my father and I once again planted our strategically located food plot where MrMr was captured in that January 2nd picture. As dust rolled from underneath the rototiller, I envisioned what it would be like to see MrMr step out into bow range.

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A Boy & His Shed

It’s goal like this that motivate whitetail junkies like me. We think, plan and pray for opportunities at a mature buck and in this part of the country, harvesting mature buck is the ultimate hunting challenge. This isn’t the Midwest, rather Western New York where a decreasing few, but still some subscribe to the ole brown-and-down way of thinking.

I began running trail cameras again in September hoping to once again capture and maybe even establish an early season pattern on MrMr. Hope as I did, MrMr was a no-show. No images, but many questions began to fill my mind. Had he died during the winter months, been poached or even hit by a car – like my No. 1 target buck two years prior?

As we flipped the calendar to October and the NYS archery season opened, I still had no images or evidence that MrMr was still around. I decided to take a conservative approach to my season and be patient. I’ve learned a lot over my 26-years of chasing whitetails, but none more important than knowing when to hunt a certain deer. The risk is often not worth the reward – and to minimize that I would let my cameras do the work. Based on that intel, I would react accordingly.

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And He Makes an Appearance

And my strategy paid off on Oct. 26th MrMr was captured bumping a doe past one of my cameras. It was time to act, but not quite yet. With temperatures in the mid 70’s to near 80, I would wait for the right weather – and by that I mean a cold front. Getting an arrow in MrMr would require help from Mother Nature in the form of a barometric pressure drop and some assistance from the Deer Gods.

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MrMr Appears in Daylight

That cold front would arrive in the days to come as MrMr continued to be active – and this time in daylight. I planned to try and intercept the buck at a pinch-point on our farm where the deer are forced to walk up and around a massive gully on their way to food. As I sat in the stand and daylight began to fade, I was shocked to look up and see a solid big-bodied buck heading my way. It took a matter of second for me to grab my bow and come to full draw. A release of the arrow and like that, my 10-plus month plan had come to fruition. The buck bounded out of the woods, hit our open field and went down 60 yards from my stand. It’s a memory that will be forever etched in my hunting archives. I called my father to tell him the news.

Upon taking some nice field photos with the buck, I wanted to verify his age so I took him to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation where a DEC biologist examined him. And as I has suspected and hopes, MrMr was confirmed to be a 4.5 year old. The biologist thought it was really cool that I had his match-set of sheds too.

The hunt for this buck is one I’ll cherish for a long time. It’s so rewarding to build history with an animal, game plan, peruse and then harvest that animal. Nothing is more gratifying to me.


Meaningful Journey – Quest for First Elk Complete

It took a half hour to close the 240 yards to reach the majestic beast. Euphoric adrenaline was met with the daunting task of hiking the steep slope in front of us at 11,500 feet elevation. My lungs were quick to recognize that the air is thin at these heights.

Finally, we arrived at my first elk kill.

The journey for this one, though, dates much further back.

The Gun

At the urging of his friend Len Palmatier, my dad bypassed all his own hunting rifles for his first elk hunt, and decided instead to take Len’s .300 Weatherby Magnum. In addition to being a friend of my dad’s for many years, Len also is one of the best rifle shots on the planet. A competitive distance shooter with a rifle, he’s forgotten more about ballistics than I’ll ever learn.

Len promised his rifle was a tack driver. It delivered, and dad shot his first elk on that hunt in 1996. He also fell in love with that rifle. He returned from the hunt asking Len, who helped steer many of my dad’s ballistic adventures, to find him a .300 Weatherby Magnum for his collection.

Settling on a familiar Remington Model 700 Classic that made up many in my dad’s collection, Len put a tedious level of effort customizing it into an absolute locked-in, tack-driving machine. Len still argues this .300 Weatherby Magnum throws a superior bullet to the gun he’d originally loaned my dad to take with him. This rifle was ready to serve as the big game rifle of choice for any of my dad’s future elk excursions. I dreamed of one day joining him for those hunts.

Only he never made it west again.

While several years passed where he could have made the trip back to the Rocky Mountains for elk, he put off those trips. He died in 2014 without the rifle ever making the trip.

With several rifles of my own to consider, there was no question which gun would be on the mountains with me when I made my first quest for an elk.

The Hunt

My Colorado hunt was several years in the making. Following a thorough review of locations and awaiting the non-resident draw for the first rifle season, I was on my way.

IMG_0212The five-day season leaves little time for rest. My first two days were filled with walking, listening, hiking and close calls. I was in decent shape but some of the steep elevation climbs and an accelerated heart rate impacted by elevation, adrenaline, and pace all made me wish I was readier than I was for these Rocky Mountains.

There were close calls over the first two days. Bull elk bugling within 50 or 60 yards failed to present themselves in thick terrain. Several small bulls, amidst the normal education process nature provides them, came well within range. Those young bulls clearly hadn’t graduated adolescence to learn “not all sounds in nature are in fact the animals that they’re imitating.”

It was quickly the third day of the season. We opted to trade the flatter foothill meadows for the high-elevation terrain to start this morning.

Mikey, my Sherpa on the 60,000 acres that made up the ranch I was hunting all week, navigated a nearly hour-long drive up the mountains on a Polaris. We parked, then hiked through the mountains another hour in the dark to an elevation exceeding 10,000 ft. There it became daylight.

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We could see elk feeding up the mountainside, taking advantage of unseasonable green grass still growing along the avalanche slides that make the mountain look like a deserted ski resort. One bull, a good looking 5×5, caught my attention. We were still too far away for a shot and decided to hike closer.Once we closed the distance to 300 yards, the elk fed his way just out of the opening and into woods that made keeping tabs on him a tall task. Another close call.

We moved to another area on the mountain where we could watch over the direction the bull was seemingly headed. Over the next two hours, small bulls and cows meandered through the openings of the mountain. The sun was continuing its trek through the sky, a welcomed sight for a guide and his underdressed hunter sitting still on the mountainside in the low 20s temperatures. Elk bugles warmed the spirt, coming from both the east and west of where we were settled.

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At the very top of the mountain, we could see elk moving to the east, bypassing the openings of the slides. We opted to move down the mountain where we could get a better view of the direction they were headed. We settled into another spot and continued waiting. We had just agreed that we might just stay on the mountain all day. Something felt right.

Bugling continued and seemingly was starting to get closer. I convinced myself more than once that a bull was about to step into the opening at any moment. The adrenaline rush was spectacular. Cows with calves, and one small bull hit the opening. The deep growls from other bulls continued.

While watching a buck mule deer navigating a slide to the eastern side of the mountain, Mikey saw an elk.

“I think it’s one of those cows,” he said.

I needed only my eyes to tell that it was surely no cow. I quickly shouldered the scope-topped .300 Weatherby, my dad’s gun, to realize it was the same bull from the first part of the morning. He was standing on a rock some 240 yards away.

The first two days of the hunt proved how quickly you need to decide and make a shot on these bull elk. The opportunities come quickly. They leave even quicker.

Mikey and I didn’t say a word. I settled the crosshairs onto the bull and squeezed the trigger.

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The bull fell immediately. The 180-grain bullet is like a sledge hammer at these speeds. The steep terrain could have easily forced him to roll down the mountain.A small deadfall caught his antlers and he settled right where he fell off the rock.

Following a moment of jubilation for Mikey and me, we started the climb to the bull elk. Already holding a great deal of respect for the animals we’d been chasing, it’s hard not to marvel at the ability of 800 lb. animals to traverse these mountains. They make it look so easy.

It’s not.

IMG_0231The trek off the mountain was grueling. It also ranks among the most exhilarating efforts in nearly 30 years of hunting.

After quartering the elk, it took nearly four hours just to get to a location we could get the Polaris.

IMG_0230Nearly six hours after I pulled the trigger, we made it back to camp!

The entire experience that day was remarkable. There was exhaustion, warmth, freezing hands, sleepiness, a heartbeat of 140 beats per minute, snow-capped mountains, laughs, cussing, back-slapping and smiles.

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There also were a few tears.

After getting the elk quarters cleaned and hanging in the meat cooler, I walked into my cabin to change clothes. I stopped at the nail in the corner and hung up dad’s rifle. I stepped back and took in the moment.I was tired, and the moment got me. A happy tear or two rolled down my cheek. The rifle and I both waited a long time to chase elk in these mountains and I wished my dad was there to help us both celebrate.

I look forward to returning to those Rocky Mountains again someday. This journey, though, was complete – for me and the gun.

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The Buildup For the Wapiti is Real!

It was in my teenage years when my dad returned from a western hunting trip with a set of elk antlers and a treasure chest full of the finest wild game I’d ever tasted. Several years before that, though, my fascination with elk hunting was well underway.

Banded Peak

The vast terrain of Banded Peak’s 50,000+ acres should lead to ideal elk hunting prospects. [image borrowed from BandPeakRanchOutfitters.com]

I love deer hunting. I’m talking that would-walk-to-Iowa-in-the-middle-of-the-rut kind of love for chasing the majestic whitetail with a bow and arrow. It’s driven me to success beyond what I ever imagined. I’ve chased deer in nine states, including many within the rich and sacred grounds of the mid west.

But I’ve always held a special place in my hunter’s imagination for pursuing the elk. Finally, after four decades on this fine Earth, I’m a week away from checking that proverbial box off of the ol’ bucket list.

As I embark on the final days of preparation, I can’t help but think that this might be the perfect time to do this hunt. While I never imagined that it would take me this long to journey west for such a hunt, I’m also somewhat thankful. I think I’m going to enjoy the experience far more today than I would have as the young hunter who once thought fulfillment was predicated by success.

To be clear, I’m traveling to Colorado next week with all of the drive to find success. However, I’m almost equally excited to fill storage cards with pictures and video of the terrain, landscape and overall experience. I’m serious!

I’ll be hunting the Banded Peak Ranches, which consist of three equally sized ranches that collectively encompass 50,600 acres of well-managed land. This ranch essentially serves to a potential elk hunter what the mid west does to a whitetail hunter.

Someday I will chase one of North America’s biggest game with a bow and arrow. For the first time, though, I opted to go through a two-year process of acquiring a non-resident bull tag to rifle hunt during Colorado’s first season. If all goes as planned, we’ll be catching the latter part of the elk rut and still have large bulls bugling to catch the attention of potential suitors.

My goal is to keep this blog updated with posts along the way.

Cat Tales: As part of getting ready for the hunt, I’ve been doing more exercise than I’ve done in years. Coupled with a work “get healthy” contest, I’ve been able to lose 17 pounds in the last 10 weeks. I feel better than I have in a long time and feel confident I’m headed to Colorado in the best shape I’ve been in since college. That all nearly crumbled earlier this week when I showed my age in experiencing a calf muscle strain during warm ups of a company softball game! Thankfully, it looks like I’ll be good to go for the trip! 

 

 

 

 


Wall Hanger Memory on Canvas

My burning outdoor passion is fueled by the lasting memories and vivid imagery that weave their way through my noggin.

Kindling to that fire often comes from those documented moments I capture afield. I take some kind of video cimg_7702forblogamera and still camera with me every time I hunt. I work hard to capture those memories that I’m nervous my mind will someday forget.

I also love fine wildlife artwork and its ability to take me to a place, many times in places I’ve been before, or even places I only dream of someday going.

One of my fondest hunting memories came in November of 2010 when luck manifested itself in the opportunity to shoot my biggest buck to date. Coincidentally, it was a series of pictures – two, taken over the course of two days – that had me perched 17′ up a tree for nine hours filled with optimism for the chance at this deer, that day.

I was in Hancock County, Illinois.

Ryan Kirby grew up in Hancock County, well within walking distance of that tree.

Kirby is a rising star in the world of fine wildlife art. A seasoned graphic artist with a rare brush talent, Kirby and I first met not long after I arroimg_7715wed that deer. He was living in North Carolina and mutual friends recommended we meet up.

Kirby recently finished a project for me that I’m absolutely thrilled about. I wanted him to memorialize my 2010 Illinois giant, and pleaded with him to consider doing so. At his recommendation, we opted to have Kirby alter an existing piece of work (“Posting Up”) to have it depict my buck.

The transformation of “Posting Up” into “The Culbert Buck” was fitting for a number of reasons, most notably the fact the midwestern giant is depicted alongside a rub on a sapling. My buck made a rub moments before I shot him! In fact, I also have that actual tree, which leans next to the mounted buck in my game room!

(Check out this awesome video of Ryan’s final work in the transformation.)

 

I was able to share in the experience of picking up the buck with my 8-year old daughter Sara. She documented the trip, and captured a brief interview with Kirby while we were there! Please watch that below!

 

I could not be more pleased with how it came out! The fine piece is a marvelous addition to our dining room. With it playing a role, the memories of that hunt will #LongLiveTheWildlife!

Cat Tales: To learn more about Ryan, and to see a number of his fantastic fine pieces of art, visit his site at www.RyanKirbyArt.com.


Ducks in the Dakotas

It doesnimg_2628‘t happen annually, but the near regular trip to North Dakota to chase waterfowl has become something I look forward to very much.

The hunting there is far better than what we enjoy in the Piedmont Region of North Carolina. This hunt, though, is rooted in the greatness that is camaraderie with longtime hunting buddies.

Richard Faulkner was half of a duo who introduced me to the Dakotas on my first hunting trip there more thaimg_2640n a decade ago. For 2016, we made the trip on our own. He’s also a great friend and the hours spent scouting (you often end up scouting more than you hunt) provide a great opportunity to catch up and ponder some of life’s situations.

This year, we had to work hard for the birds. That’s not a complaint. In fact, it was almost more gratifying to find success after working so hard – and driving more than 1,000 miles of North Dakota flat land.

img_2624Among the great things of meandering the roads of North Dakota is seeing so much history. It’s easy to find your mind wandering to potential stories of old land, some of which you can tell hasn’t been lived on since the dust bowl some 80 years ago.

The video below is a mash-up of our hunting in North Dakota over the first four days of the non-resident duck hunting season.

 

 

 


Success Misses Something, Sets Course for New Traditions

The setting was magical and paid off countless dreams my imagination summoned for the last several months.

I was in my favorite tree on the west side of the Mississippi. The wind was ideal and delivered what this day’s forecast had predicted over the previous five days. The calendar corresponded to

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The author with his 2016 Midwestern Whitetail Success.

those supreme days of November that eons of history have shown to be premium for having a shot at a buck-of-a-lifetime.

And I did.

It was an amazing feeling – euphoric in every way. Through the hours of jubilation that followed, though, I was quick to realize that something was missing. I knew it immediately, and I’d be lying if I didn’t forget for a moment that this great tale would miss an important piece that all others of its kind had held over the last two-plus decades of bowhunting.

Immediately following a moment like this, I have a small checklist of folks to communicate with to follow along with a fruitful hunt’s conclusion. My dad was always position No. 1 on that list. On this successful day, one of the most memorable and enjoyable of my hunting career, he was not there.

He passed away nearly three years ago, but him following along via phone calls or text messages when I connected with a big buck was among some of the best parts of the journey. No matter which state I was hunting.

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Another view of the beautiful deer.

I think it was fun for him too. He often offered advice or positive reinforcement from afar, doing his part to feel like he was alongside me the way he was all those years tracking deer on our farm in Western New York.

I wiped away a few small tears selfishly wishing I could call him.

I knew I couldn’t reach him, but prayed he was following from afar this time too.

Don’t get me wrong. Being able to connect on a majestic Midwestern whitetail remains one of the best feelings a hunter could have. This time was no different.

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A magical day, only one thing was missing from making it even better.

I celebrated success with some of the dearest friends a deer dude could ask for – both in person and by phone. It was just missing some of the individual tradition that had for so long accompanied the joy.

Like all traditions, this one must change too. For me, I welcomed the updated version of celebrating with my own kids, who are still too young to hunt, but know the passion the outdoors has sowed in my soul. I look forward to their successes afield someday. Then, I hope to become part of their small checklist too.

Maybe even position No. 1!