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.

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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!


How a :60 Sec Hunt Etched a Life Long Memory

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The Author and his prized ‘Bully 5.’

The actual hunt for this buck lasted all of: 60 seconds, but the memories made will last a lifetime. The morning of October 25, 2016 started as mine usually do – getting my kids out of the house and off to school. Except this morning, I didn’t have to continue on to work. Instead, I had taken the day off and had to head to one of my two hunting properties to retrieve a doe my son and I and hit the night before.

For this, I asked my Dad to tag along for some help and hunting companionship. Days like these are rare. Dad and I don’t have time to spend alone hunting like we did back in the glory days of my upbringing. Now it’s me and my wife who are raising children and teaching them the art of hunting and the respect for the great outdoors.

Once scooping Dad and hitting the road for school drop-off, I noticed an SUV pulled to the side of the road adjacent to our home property. I rolled down the window and could see the damage to the vehicle. The driver soon confirmed that he’d hit a deer, but wasn’t sure what it was or if the animal was fatally wounded. We exchanged pleasantries and continued on our way.

After dropping my son at school, Dad and I soon arrived at our property in Livingston County where I had shot the doe the night before. It took us approximately :30 minutes to locate the downed whitetail. However, upon walking up to the doe, I soon realized we weren’t the only ones who had discovered the kill. Coyotes had beaten us to the scene and had devoured the venison I was so looking forward to depositing into my freezer. Gosh, I dislike coyotes.

With a disappointing ending, Dad and I hopped back in the truck to return home. On our ride back I suggested to Dad that we do the ethical thing and check the area where the gentleman had struck the deer hours before to ensure the animal wasn’t laying in the brush suffering.  Dad agreed and we formulated our plan. Upon arriving back to our Ontario County property, I grabbed my bow and gear. Dad and I made the short walk through our property to the neighbor’s lawn where the man had told us the deer was seen flopping around after he’d struck it. We began searching the edge of the road and the perimeter of the lawn for any sign of the wounded deer. We didn’t see any evidence. No blood, hair or any other sign of a wounded animal.

Not sure what to do next, Dad suggested I grab my bow and stand at the end of a section of brush while he entered to continue the search. Our idea was; that if the wounded animal was to get up and try and escape the brush-lot I would at least see it or maybe even get a shot at the wounded animal. I agreed and headed over. I knocked an arrow and waited.

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The ‘Music Camp.’ The remnants of the old bandstand can be seen in this satellite image.

It’s important to note that this section of brush we call the ‘Music Camp’ is very familiar to Dad and me. We’ve hunted it our entire lives. The 4 acre swath got its name from the 1960’s when in its glory days the property’s former owner literally ran a music camp there. Kids would come from all over New York and points beyond to attend the camp. As of a few years ago, the old bandstand – including chairs and music stands still stood as they were left by the children decades ago. The camp is long gone and in fact resembles more of a jungle now as the brush is well above my head. The deer love it though and we love it, too because it acts as a deer sanctuary and allows them to escape the area’s heavy hunting pressure.

As I stood at the end of the brush lot and watched, I was reminded of some of the previous hunts Dad and I have shared in years prior. There was that big 8-pointer I had tagged with my muzzleloader back in the early 2000’s and the time I saw one of the biggest bucks of my youth, but choked when I shot a dogwood (tree) and not the deer.

And then it happened. I had glanced up to the north and I could see a large-bodied buck moving through the brush and headed to a clearing. Could the ‘Music Camp’ produce yet another magical memory? I was around 80 yards from the buck and needed to close the distance – and fast. I tucked my bow and arrow under my arm and began to run. As I edged closer and closer to the clearing, I glanced up to ensure the buck was still on his way. He was. I closed another 20 to 30 yards and waited. I could see the buck walking slowly through the brush – he was nearing the clearing and I knew the encounter was going to happen. I drew my Bowtech 101st Airborne and waited. At 22 yards, the buck stepped out of the brush. It was the moment of truth and in the game of hunting I was in the driver’s seat because the buck hadn’t detected my presence, but I had his.

I waited, aimed and let the Easton arrow fly. It was a true and perfect shot as I’d hit the buck right in the boiler. He spun and ran right back into the ‘Music Camp.’ I dropped to my knees and laughed. What the heck had just happened? Unreal!

I could hear Dad in the brush and he was making his way. He had no idea that I had shot or had even seen a deer. I grabbed my phone, clicked it on video and hit record:

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‘Bully 5’ (foreground) makes an appearance just hours prior to his face-to-face meeting with the author. Date and time clearly wrong in photo.

“I’m pulling out my phone to record this because no one in the world will believe what just happened,” I said. “What,” Dad said it a surprised look on his face. “A monster just walked out of the ‘Music Camp’ and I shot him at like 20-yards,” I relied. “You’re kidding me!” “Nope!” Dad and I started hugging and acting like all hunters do when we achieve success. Dad said to me he was just thinking that every few years he and I do something so stupid and end up shooting a nice buck. He was right and we had.

We decided to give the deer some time to expire and headed back to the house for a coffee and to reminisce on the morning’s events. On the way back to the house I decided to pop a card on a camera I have located not too far from the ‘Music Camp.’ I replaced the card and headed to the house. I popped the card in the computer and, as fate would have it, on this memory-filled Monday, there was he was. The buck I had just arrowed posed for that camera just hours prior. This was certainly cool and added to the hunt. He was a deer we had limited history with, but one I’d coined as the ‘Bully 5.’ This buck was a tank with a set of wacky antlers that only sported 5 points.

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Where the Bully landed.

Dad and I returned to the site of the shot and took up the blood trail. Some 80 yards later, we walked up on ‘Bully 5.’ He was down.

He was exactly what I thought he was – a fully mature Western New York bruiser of a buck. I was thrilled with him. After tagging ‘Bully 5,’ Dad snapped a few pictures to document the day. They turned out great, but the memories made will remain as vivid in my mind as the images captured.

As it turns out, we never did find any sign of that wounded deer – and ‘Bully 5’ didn’t have any injuries to him. So that mystery remains unsolved. I do owe that motorist a ‘thank you’ though. Had he not struck that deer with his car, Dad and I would have never done what we did.

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The Bully & The Bolt. The buck’s 170 lbs. field dressed weight proved to be too much for the author’s hanging system. #busted

‘Bully 5’ tipped the scale at 170 lbs. The big boy proved to be too much for one of my eye bolts as it snapped in half when I was hoisting him up.

What a blessed day in the deer woods of WNY.


NC Record Buck Killed: Davis Buck of Davidson County

Steven Davis killed one of those bucks that drive hunters across the country to settle into deer stands in the Midwest. For there is where so many whitetail monarchs roam the woods and plains.

Except instead of taking the deer in one of the heartland states of Iowa, Kansas or Illinois, Davis shot the nearly 190″ buck on his family land in Davidson County, NC. That’s not a typo!

Steven Davis with his Davidson County, NC, buck - one that will likely be the new No. 1 with archery in the state. (Photo borrowed from northcarolinasportsman.com)

Steven Davis with his Davidson County, NC, buck – one that will likely be the new No. 1 with archery in the state. (Photo borrowed from northcarolinasportsman.com)

According to an article on North Carolina Sportsman Davis had trail cam pictures of the giant and watched him on the hoof for four days before getting a crossbow bolt into him on Sept. 18.

The buck is likely headed to the top of the list of bucks killed with archery gear in North Carolina. He is a remarkable animal regardless of the state.

In addition to seeing the deer, he even had the opportunity to watch the buck shed his velvet.

What strikes me about this amazing opportunity for Davis is not only that he was able to shoot the deer, but how he enjoyed the excitement that came with actually pursuing him over several days. I’m not sure I would have been able to sleep during that time!

Also interesting is that several neighbors had photos of this buck dating back several years and as far away as five miles from where Davis shot the buck! What a great legend of a deer.

Congrats to Davis, who is a full-time firefighter for the city of Winston-Salem.