It simply hadn’t happened before, the path made by the old, wise doe.
The view from old faithful. Updated travel routes kept the shooters out of archery range.
And with it, came little appreciation for the likelihood that the long-proven patterns of deer in this area of my farm had indeed changed.
It wasn’t until after I saw more deer, including a fine 8-point buck, make the same route from a common bedding area and into the hardwoods, that I realized deer aren’t behaving the same as they had for many years.
Even after briefly scouting the new, well-established trails on this new route well away from my faithful stand, it was hard to consider a change needed to be made. You see, many bucks have passed by this stand over the years, and no fewer than three bucks have been arrowed within 40 yards of this tree. Surely, this was the ideal location to be sitting.
Except it wasn’t. And it played a small role in not filling my 2018 archery tag. So too did my stubbornness to not change the stand location earlier.
Familiarity can be a detriment to an archery hunter. The reams of data that exist within a hunter’s memory from decades of hunting a familiar location can skew his or her decisions. That was reinforced enough in me this year that I’m eager to consider how I’ll change several of my stand locations for 2019.
This young buck followed one of the familiar trails.
Upon further pondering the challenges of familiarity, it dawned on me how valuable scouting can be to a new hunting location. These are often the most valuable – and fun – elements of hunting the unfamiliar. Those minutes and hours dedicated to learning about the local deer of a location can often be the primary indicator of success.
And advanced scouting before hunting familiar ground should be no different.
It sounds simple, and it probably is. But when you’re coming from hundreds of miles away to ground you know as well as your backyard, you try to skip the scouting update portion of the hunt and take advantage of the knowledge you already have.
It’s easy to do, right?
Things change within the terrain (felled trees, food sources, erosion, etc.) that provide enough of a reason to, at minimum, confirm your intuitions.
I should have done that. I’ve learned my lesson. And leave it to those old, wise does to teach me.
Things are different now. Some parts are better, some are … well, different.
I was able to catch up with my buddy Nick Pinizzotto today, and we spent a good deal of time talking about the evolution of our hunting passion.
In a little more than a week, I’ll be enjoying the familiar view from the woods with bow in hand!
Days of worrying about how big the buck might be on the receiving end of an Easton arrow have been replaced more by the full nature of the experiences.
That’s not to say that we don’t dream of big bucks, or that the experiences of yesteryear weren’t important. It’s just that the priority is … well, different!
Nick, who also serves as the Executive Director of the National Deer Alliance, recently moved back to his home stomping grounds in Pennsylvania. He became a father a couple of year’s back. Both of those life changes have an innate ability to change perspective on the true values of hunting. We spoke at length about the eagerness of hunting with our kids – how that trumps any time we spend in the
Having a little fun in the blind while waiting on deer can be an acceptable practice these days!
woods on our own.
I’ll be returning to my own home land in Western New York in just a week to spend several quality days looking for the biggest, oldest and baddest buck on the farm. The likelihood of seeing a buck soaring near the minimum Boone & Crockett standards are very low. I know that going in, but my excitement to get there couldn’t be much greater.
For starters, I don’t take the hunting part quite as serious. I still work hard and put in my time, but saying that is more of an indictment on how serious I used to take deer hunting.
So too can taking a brief cat nap!
Additionally, my new career has me headed to the woods during the heart of the rut without the backdrop of serious end-of-season stress that my former job at NASCAR provided. I’ll be able to dedicate my energy to the daily chess match with the land, trying to execute a strategy that puts me within reach of taking a great deer.
This trip also means so much due to the fellowship with my dear friend, Kenny Roberts. We’ve made this trip together for over a decade and it serves as our opportunity to catch up on family, friends, parents and life. Over the years, there have certainly been more laughs than tears during those conversations. That said, there always is some time earmarked to get serious about life and chat through many of the important stuff in each of our lives.
Greg Johnston with NYS’s No. 1 muzzleloader buck in 2017!
Just as special for this trip, though, is the land. I love it on our family farm. I took it too much for granted as a young hunter. It’s hard, as a teenager, to understand that very few have the opportunity to leave school, grab their bow and get into a tree before dark. I thoroughly cherish my time spent in those woods now. Those woods shaped me more than I can easily explain.
Here’s to the challenging week ahead that will be anchored with anticipation. I can’t wait for the journey there, the cabin upon arrival, the time together with friends while I’m there. I can’t wait to get into a stand and steal a small part of that magical time during November when the rut is in full swing.
Come to think of it, maybe not everything is different now.
It’s back! After a couple few year hiatus, the ever-popular AHuntersTales Holiday Gift Guide has returned.
The focus of the 2017 edition will be on value purchases! Whereas, the products selected to be in the gift guide have practical value that exceeds the asking price.
Without further ado, let’s get to it.
Ridge Hunter Windproof Vest It’s missing the big brand name associated with hunting clothes, but this vest was a mainstay for me on a recent elk hunt in Colorado. )It’s currently on sale at Bass Pro Shops for $24.97, which is a steal for something that I would put against the big-name hunting vests on the market. I’m not joking. I found the vest did it’s advertised job of cutting wind perfectly. Ridge Hunter also makes pants and hoodies out of the same material.
The All-in-One Processing Kit I’ve had my Outdoor Edge Game Processor Kit (12 pc.) for many years. In fact, it was a gift my late father bought for me more than a decade ago. He had purchased one for each of us and I can assure you mine has gone to remarkable use. The difference, though, is the price 10 years later is more than 25% off the original price he paid!
You can find this kit for right at $50 from several outdoor retailers. I think my favorite part of the kit is having every piece together. When it’s time to butcher a deer, or clean ducks, it’s as simple as grabbing my green kit and getting after it! Mine still has a sentimental piece of green masking tape where my dad wrote my name on it – a fun memento for see each time I use it!
A Hunter Never Has Too Many Pairs of Boots If you’ve never stepped foot in a Muck rubber boot, then you’re missing out on comfort. I have several pair. The Fieldblazer model, which is a great summer / early season boot for an outdoorsman, is available from a number of retailers for under $80. In fact, Cabela’s currently has it for $79.99. That’s a great price for a well-made, comfortable rubber boot.
Shoot, Reload, Repeat RCBS had a similar rebate available all year, but if you’re looking to spend a bit more on your shooting enthusiast this holiday, the time-tested and ever-popular Rock Chucker Supreme reloading kit currently comes with a holiday rebate on top of the sale price of $269.99 (Cabela’s).
Once complete of all rebates and sales, you can end up getting an all-in-one kit for under $250. That’s a solid value in a time when you can make that back very quickly with the prices of ammunition. Does your shooter already have a reloader? Ask if there are any die sets he or she is missing that would be a fine addition. Those oftentimes meet a lighter price range for shoppers (around $50).
What? I can’t hear you! I’ve become a major proponent of hearing safety – then again, several ear surgeries (including a full mastoidectomy) will help instill the importance of hearing to you very quickly.
I have ear plugs everywhere! I carry the cheap foam ear plugs in my work bag and my shooting bag has two pair of fitted ear molds. I also recently picked up a pair of electronic earmuffs and think they’re worth every bit of their price. Walker’s Razor Slim ear muffs are on sale this holiday season for roughly $45. That’s a value price for a quality pair of earmuffs.
The Ol’ “Any Chance You Can Help Me Drag ‘Em” Call! I’m getting older. Those deer drags are not as kind as they used to be. It’s time to consider a deer cart! It might be time for one for your hunting enthusiast too.
After spending four hours quartering an elk and getting the sacred quarters just to where we could get a four-wheeler, I have a new appreciation for getting game out of the woods.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
Nearly 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.
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.
"In a civilized world, wild animals exist at all when preserved by sportsmen. The excellent people who protest against hunting and consider sportsmen as enemies of wildlife are ignorant of the fact that in reality the genuine sportsman is, by all odds, the most important factor in keeping wild creatures from total extinction."