When we embarked on this journey to start Heavy Hitters Outdoors, our biggest concern was to get some quality sponsors with products that can stand up to the punishment we put them through. When we first looked into some serious bivy hunting packs, we searched high and low for a product that could not only hold up to our rigorous hunting and hiking but that could also hold all of our gear. Now I know what you are saying, “any pack could hold our gear”, and yes you are partially right, but with our size, our gear tends to be a bit larger and heavier then your average bivy hunter (all of us are over 250 lbs). After we eliminated some other brands, we saw an online ad about Oregon Packworks so the research started. I had tried on packs at every store I could find that carried quality hunting style packs and was not convinced that some of them could hang with us big boys. So far my short list of must have’s in a pack was fulfilled with Oregon Packworks pack. After trying on the pack, I was fully convinced this was the best pack I had ran into and it would fit the bill for Heavy Hitters Outdoors. There were a few very close runner ups as far as quality and comfort but what sealed the deal were two things; 1. Made in the U.S.A. and 2. a local product from my hometown Bend, Oregon. It was a win win for me.
With around 6000 cubic inches, we found that The Whole Shebang had more than enough room for a three to seven day hunt and actually found ourselves questioning if we had enough gear and started looking for items to put in to fill the space that we probably didn’t need. The “WholeShebang” is the complete setup OPW offers and what I can say is that they don’t leave any stone unturned with the amount versatility you can do with this bad boy. With about a dozen different configurations, you can take it all or whatever you need for the type of hunt you are going on. The “Hydration Pack”, is what holds your water bladder for those long hikes is one of the packs best features. Most packs have your water bladder stuffed between the pack and your back where it doesn’t keep it’s cool. OPW makes it to where you can adjust and place the Hydration Pack to where you want it but mainly, keeps it off your back and relocates it to the outside of the pack to keep it temperature safe. I was surprised after hiking for over 10 miles in the sun, my Hydration Pack with an MSR 4 liter bladder inside, it kept it nice and cool throughout the whole hike.
Not Every hunt consists of having the “WholeShebang” so it was also nice that I am able to break the pack down to what is called an “Orion” pack which is the whole shebang minus the main large piece referred to as “The Green Gate” (the belly of the beast). After removing The Green Gate and reconnecting the side overflow bags, Hydration pack, relocating the “Lumbar Pack” to the bottom and snapping in the outer cover aptly called “The Meat Shelf”, which is a long cover/support that starts at the bottom of the pack and connects with two clasps atop the pack to hold in your game, bow and even a rifle, I then had what OPW calls “The Orion”. Remove the side overflow bags, meat shelf and you now have “The Rogue”. Even if you are just going for a small jaunt and just need a small day type pack to carry some small essentials, “The Lumbar Pack” is a great choice as it’s just a waist pack but is spacious, lightweight and comfy.
Once big game season came around this past year, we were able to put these packs to the real test. We hiked close to 70 miles in 7 days with them in all different configurations and I will be the first to say that not only were they very comfortable but they were also quiet and durable. Some of the time, I forgot I had a pack on. I have done the same hunt years before with lesser competitors and struggled the whole time. Temperatures reached near the nineties and dipped down into the teens in the early morning and late night and the pack had no issues with zippers freezing shut, getting caught on anything and the clasps and belts all functioned great. Everything from the plastic to the stitching is heavy duty and the strength was evident when H2O pro staffer Glenn Doney packed out a near 300 pound Black Bear with no issues at all.
The packs are also easy to clean. After packing out the bear, the blood wiped right off in a creek near our camp and we were off hunting once again. We have also used them to hike in gear duck hunting as well as coastal deer and elk hunting during the rifle seasons in Oregon and it had no problem shedding water with the nasty weather the coast range has to offer. If you are as serious of a hunter, hiker or all around outdoorsman or woman that likes a great piece of equipment then I highly recommend you pick up what will be the last pack you will ever buy; an Oregon Packworks Pack.
By Jeff Coxen
Heavy Hitters Outdoors Pro Staff member Nick Laviolette has made a previous appearance on the hit T.V. fishing show on Root Sports (previously FSN) Hawg Quest and Glenn Hall has asked him to come back and enjoy some more fish slayin’ action! Here is a little teaser of the last episode Nick was on that you can still catch on Root Sports! You can also watch previous episodes on Hawg Quest Vimeo page! https://vimeo.com/hawgquest
Everyone has heard the phrase “don’t try to reinvent the wheel.” I’m pretty sure everyone is riding around on all terrain, or radials tires, and not bias ply. Sometimes taking an already good idea and making it better is just what is needed. That is just what the guys at T-REIGN Outdoor have done. They have taken a product that you may have seen or used in every day life and made it better. They have given it the sportsman’s touch, upgraded it, suped it up if you will. Anyone who has worked for a company that requires an I.D. badge has probably had the retractable badge holder. Maybe working as security for your keys, these items are there simply to make things accessible and to make your job easier with many different styles and models to choose from for your exact applications. T-REIGN has that for your outdoors excursions, makes thing easier and more enjoyable.
They have made a retractable device big, and rugged enough for even the most hardcore outdoorsman. With many different variations to hold for almost anything you can think of. We here at Heavy Hitters Outdoors have used them for elk calls, binoculars, range finders, and GPS systems to name a few. They have made a locking mechanism for larger items such as rangefinders. Surprisingly even if you forget, they are heavy duty enough to still keep them retracted. Having done some fly fishing in my time I immediately think of how much time and effort T-REIGN will save me, giving me more time to fish and not worrying about making sure my gear is secure so it is not going down river.
As I state before, there are a ton of configurations that these tethers come in. I seriously have not found a hunting utensil as handy as these. The last few hunts, I have not forgotten where I put my range finder or call. I know it’s attached to my backpack or jacket. They have several different styles and colors to fit your surroundings and taste. Other than the convenience of versatility and knowing where you gear is, is that you know you aren’t going to drop it and lose it when hiking. The tether just pulls it back to its cradle and you are on your way, no stress, no worries. I don’t know how many calls or tools I have lost because I dropped something and didn’t know.
My most recent enjoyment from this product has been out waterfowl hunting. Most everyone uses a lanyard around their neck. For the most part this was the easiest and only way to keep or have your calls accessible. The problem which any one has had to deal with is the weight of calls. Some calls weigh less or more than others causing the lanyard to spin on your neck. Not a huge deal, but when a duck goes flying by when you go to grab your call and it isn’t there, well it’s a good day for that duck. The time it takes to look down grab the call at the speed a duck flies by is huge. Not to mention if your duck call is similar to your goose call and you grab the wrong one and blow, that’s no good either. T-REIGN allows you to always know right where the call you want is at, and to always keep your eye in the sky as well. Sometimes it is the little things in life that make it more enjoyable. In this case it’s very true. I’m sure right now you can probably think of a few things that T-REIGN would come in handy for (other than what I haven’t mentioned). My advice is when you go to order I would order one or two more because it will amaze you how handy they are.
This blog post is courtesy of SavvyBoater, which carries a wide selection of de-icers, boat covers, bimini tops and boat propellers.
When you wake up to nippy mornings and the changing of the seasons has left the trees nearly bare, you know that duck hunting season is here. In the midst of a tranquil, mist-filled morning on the chilly water, it’s easy to forget how vulnerable you are to the elements. But boating during late fall presents its own hazards – namely, water temperatures below 50 degrees. Cold water saps body heat 25 times faster than cold air, which means in 49-degree water, hypothermia can drown a person with surprising speed.
To ward against hypothermia, and to ensure a fruitful hunting trip, prepare your rig for duck hunting season by following the guidelines below.
1. Examine your boat for structural integrity.
The last thing you need is to spring a leak when you’re right in the middle of frigid water. Take this opportunity to thoroughly inspect your boat’s hull and non-motor parts to make sure everything’s ship-shape.
• If your boat has an aluminum hull, inspect it for stress damage and wear spots.
• Examine the gas tank, gas line and fittings for rust or leaks. Always start the season with a fresh tank of gas.
• Inspect anchor lines for fraying or dry rot.
• Repaint the deck, if needed. (Sun glare from an aluminum deck can scare away the ducks.)
2. Tune up your outboard motor.
Run the motor on your boat well before your hunting trip to determine whether any major repairs are required. If it’s in good working order, perform a few routine maintenance tasks to keep it that way.
• Flush out the motor using a flush kit from a marine dealer.
• Change the lubricant in the lower unit.
• Put in new spark plugs.
• Lubricate all fittings and moving parts.
3. Check your safety equipment.
Vessels are required to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise, as well as in any weather that restricts visibility (such as heavy rain or fog). Try out your boat’s running lights before your trip to make sure they’re working properly. It’s also wise to take inventory of your safety gear. Make sure there’s a lifejacket on board for every passenger; check each one for wear, and replace any that are badly weathered. Verify that you have flares, a first-aid kit and a marine radio.
It’s also important to perform a quick safety check on your trailer. Test out the lights; examine the winch line for damage or fraying and replace it, if necessary; and lubricate the wheel bearing protectors.
4. Consider a de-icer.
If the body of water on your hunting grounds is frozen, your chances of seeing water fowl are slim to none. A de-icer, however, can help. De-icers feature a motor and a propeller that draws warmer water from the bottom of a lake or pond to the top to either prevent ice formation or to melt ice that may have already formed. In addition, a de-icer helps you attract ducks directly to the location of your choice (like right next to your hunting blind). After melting the ice, float a couple of decoys in the water and wait for your game to get in range.
5. Prepare your blind and decoys.
If you use a boat blind, inspect it for damage and replace, if necessary. Now is also a good time to consider any modifications you want to make based on last year’s experiences. Replace (or repair and repaint) any sinking or faded decoys.
By preparing your boat properly for duck hunting, you can enjoy a successful trip without worrying about succumbing to the elements.
If you have been graciously following us, then you know by now that we absolutely sleep and breathe Elk hunting. Since April of this year, we have been planning what we thought would be the Elk trip of a lifetime. The guys spent days scouting and hiking in the high ridges of the Eastern Oregon Mountains trying to find a few good spots to drop some game cameras. Glenn was able to take a small trip up in late May and was met with every type of weather you could think of. He still managed to get the cameras into place, drop some Voodoo Buck Grub and a few mineral rocks and off he went. We were able to let those sit for a month or so and then Glenn returned to check the camera. Now, we’ve done this in the past and have had mixed results. We would see a cluster of pics here and there and sometimes none at all, so when Glenn texted me saying we had almost 4000 pics, I almost didn’t believe him. It took me hours to go through the pics and what we saw were nothing short of amazing. Full of soon to be bulls and rag horns, we knew the season would be amazing. Glenn would wait about another four weeks and would be taking some of the team with him to retrieve the pics one last time before making our maiden voyage during the season.
During this time I was busy back in Durham, N.C. Getting all the teams gear ready from our sponsors, testing gear and trying to line everything up to make the hunt as smooth as possible. I can’t remember how excited I had been for a hunt before. I bet I had my bags packed for at least a month before the trip. With a little over a month, I decided to run down to N.C. Hunter Supply in Raleigh and have my Martin Firecat 400 bow tuned and make sure it was dialed in. I left it down there for about a week and when I came to pick it up we noticed how loud it was. There was a recall that had occurred since I bought the bow a little less than a year before I dropped it off. We changed out what they called a TRG/SOS system (Torque Reducing Cable Guard/String Oscillation Suppressor) back to a standard cable slide on a carbon rod. The guys down at NCHS did a great job helping me try every possibility and every combination we could think of to quiet it down. Nothing worked, it only got louder. Now, I don’t mean it was loud to my standards…this thing hurt my ears to shoot. We had people walking over from the gun counters 50 feet away wondering what the sound was. We noticed the garbage string stop they sent with the recall kit was too long so we took it off. That helped a little bit but not much. We also noticed the top cam was bending, yes, bending to the right. The carbon Cable slide bar was bending almost a half inch down at full draw. The list of issues was amazing. I called Martin to try and see what we could do as I did a year before when I noticed my strings being chewed up by the TRG/SOS system. The only answer I could get from them was “Send it in” or Drive here on the way to your hunt 4 hours out of your way so we can “look at it”. That was not going to be an option. It really sucked because I liked the bow and it was fast as hell but I just couldn’t support a bow company that couldn’t stand behind their product and couldn’t offer good if not great customer service. NC Hunter Supply was able to get the bow to a manageable decibel where I would be happy after stripping every part from Martin we could think of and putting quality parts on. After all that, I couldn’t see myself ever using that bow while I have a camera on me or in photo’s. I can’t give props to any company that won’t look out for it’s products or customers. I very rarely bash a company and I rarely post anything bad about products but If I can help a fellow hunter that is about to spend close to a grand on a brand new bow, I will do so. If you are buying a used bow, it’s usually a price point you are trying to stick to and that’s cool. Can’t go wrong with a setup under $500.
With that said, I called a few places and got some prices..rather large prices on getting a new bow. I made one last call to Mace Sporting goods in Mebane, N.C. and told them my story and that I had 2 weeks to get a bow, have it tuned and sighted in before my flight. They told me what they could do and that they had one Mathews Heli-m left in my size and draw weight and to get my ass on down there so they could help me. The staff was amazing, the guy worked on my bow from start to finish and they blew everyone’s prices out of the water. Put on my Spot Hogg Real Deal site, B-Stinger stabilizer, NAP Carbon Apache rest then tuned in the bow until the timing was perfect. He also hooked me up on some other odds and ends I needed and cut my Easton Full Metal Jackets to size. I still can’t believe how bad ass this bow is. Super lightweight, whisper quiet right out of the box and shoots like a dream. Big thanks to both archery shops for helping me out before the season with such short notice.
So as the time came, I grabbed my luggage, packed the bow and hit the road to the airport. I had 9 hours of flight time until I dropped down into Portland, Oregon. The guys were waiting for me at the gate and we made a fast getaway to go grab the motorhome. Once we commandeered the Battlecruiser aka UM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle, it was on to Ty’s for a quick 4 hour sleep. Of course we can never be on time and even though we woke up early, a few guys were draggin ass to find Ty’s house. We got a late start and headed on out to a surprise meeting halfway there with the owner of Oregon Packworks, Karl Findling. Ty had ordered a pack from Karl and we hadn’t had the chance to get down and grab it from him. Ty thought for sure he was without his pack and was gonna have to roll with something different. So when we pulled in, Ty was completely oblivious to the OPW white and green Tacoma parked right in front of the building. Was a pretty cool surprise for him and it’s always a treat to see Karl.
The road out to Eastern Oregon is about a 4 hour trek but when you are screwing around and making stops here and there, it goes by pretty quick. Once we got down to the unit we decided to hunt, we setup camp and started mapping out where we were going to hunt. We figured we would split up and check cams first to see if it was wise to setup shop at each one in our ASAT blinds and wait it out. 5am came very quick, especially when you are running on very little sleep and your body is adjusting to climate and altitudes. The temperatures and dipped into the teens and it was freezing. When I left Durham, it was near the 100′s almost all summer long with a ton of humidity. I was having a hard time with it but the excitement of getting out and hearing the Elk was enough to forget about it. The one having the hardest time was Glenn the Genius. We have a motorhome and tents and this guy brings an Eno Hammock. Cool idea if you are bivy hunting but I still don’t know what he was thinking. It was slow going for him that morning and I’m pretty sure he got sick cause of breathing in all that cold air but hey, lessons learned. Now, I couldn’t hear anything in that motorhome and I’m a pretty heavy sleeper so I couldn’t hear Aaron getting sick all night long. Come to find out, he had come down with some food poisoning from the restaurant we stopped at on the way out. The rest of us do a pretty good job of eating gut rot on a daily basis since the common places we go are dives and bars (No better food) so maybe that’s why we didn’t get sick plus Aaron was the only one that didn’t order an omelet.
With a man down and the rest of us deciding to stick together, we forged on to check the cams. Right before we got to the first cam we hear constant howling and serenades from a pack of coyotes and guess where they are? Right in our damn wallow. By that time, we already had a gut feeling that today would not be the day to see anything but we would at least get some photography in and at least check the cameras. We got to the camera and noticed the wallow had been untouched for quite some time. The edges were all dried up and there was no apparent mud anywhere that was fresh. We popped the cam open and not a single picture. Now not a single picture because nothing walked by, but rather, the camera decided to not function properly. I’m not gonna say what camera it was but it rhymes with Moultrie. We have been fortunate enough to team up with Covert Cams and this next year, we hope to avoid situations like this.
When we checked our other two cams, we noticed only one out of three were working. We were hoping for at least a Meatloaf song at the very least but only got one cam with about 75 pics. And it had some dandy bulls in it too. We saw that he was coming in around 7:30 a.m. and thought that would be a great place to start and set up the blind again. We ended up scratching that idea when we heard bugles right out of the gate the next morning. We could see the heard across the valley and they were close to a half mile away. It was going to be a trick to get close to them with being seen. The sun had just rose above the mountain line and it was starting to get hot. It was in the low twenties and teens during the night and early morning and almost 90 during the day. Less than ideal conditions…. (To be continued)
As a hunter I’m often asked by non-hunter’s the question. If you are a hunter you know what question I speak of, “So tell me why do you hunt?” When asked this question a smile comes over my face and my heart begins to beat faster. The common and easy answers always come first. The challenge, to provide food for my family, relaxation, its fun, I like being outdoors, man vs. beast. These are all great and truthful answers. However, there is always that unexplainable reason that kind of makes you snicker at not being able to explain it. You know what it is and the reason is, right at the tip of your tongue yet you are still unable to produce the words. Like that monster bull or magical buck you chase. You know it’s there you just can’t find the words to explain it in a way a non-hunter would understand.
This unexplainable reason often keeps a hunter quiet when under attack from an anti-hunter. In my opinion an anti-hunter often has reasons not to hunt that are very easy to explain and put into words. They can be brash, farfetched and most times not true because they have not experienced the hunt. A reason I have heard a lot from anti-hunters for people wanting to hunt is “you’re just a savage who likes to kill things.” First of all, we as hunters are far from savages and the hunters who really respect the sport of hunting don’t do it for the kill. The harvesting of an animal is always welcomed and appreciated by a hunter, but for many hunters is by far not the most important reason of why we hunt.
Every hunter who has been fortunate enough to experience the thrill of hunting knows what it’s like to not be able to explain this to someone. I have personally stumbled, mumbled, babbled and coughed my way through an explanation only to feel stupid for even trying to explain it in words. I can give the reasons I mentioned earlier but they only skim the surface of why we do what we do.
Being a hunter is hard. It’s expensive, it’s demanding and it’s exhausting. It is also the most rewarding thing I have ever done. The views, the scenes, the scenarios, the work, the dedication, the heart wrenching close encounters and the everlasting excitement are what push me to continue to hunt. You can tell if a hunter knows “The reason” by the way he shakes your hand and the way they tell their story.
You can see the passion and level of commitment and frustration when trying to answer the unexplainable question. While trying to answer the question, my mind always gravitates to one answer when I get close to the end of trying to explain. After all the mumbling and stumbling, I can only come up with one good answer. It’s the only way I can truly answer this question for them. It simply comes down to I really can’t explain it, but I can show you!
The only way to explain it to someone is to show it to them. So the next time a non-hunter or an anti-hunter start in about how we shouldn’t hunt, or why we shouldn’t hunt and then ask you the question….. “So why do you hunt?” Allow that smile to come across your face, your heart to race and your mind to drift off to the hunt or the animal that makes it unexplainable for you and simply offer them this….. I really can’t explain it, but I could show you!
In the fall of 2003 I killed my first big game animal. Now for most youth they begin following a parent around and tag a nice little buck to which they lose their virginity.. NOT ME.. My first big game animal was a cinnamon colored North American Black Bear. In my first year hunting I caught the hunger for big bull elk and had spent much of my off season scouting, studying different hunting techniques and practiced my calling. It was the third day of the season when I tagged the little cinnamon bear that invaded one of my favorite elk spots, but this was just my first bout with these menaces in my elk territory. Three years later I was about a mile from the place where I had killed my first big game animal and much later into my season. It was the final week of the and my crew and I had driven the 6 hours from home up to camp to give the elk in the area one more go.
We had decided to split up one evening across a several square mile area equipped with walkie-talkies should we find any success. I strolled down an old skidder road that I had ventured only once before and when I was much younger so I didn’t remember it much. After splitting from my closest hunting partner I walked for another 30 minutes at a slow pace taking my time as I knew elk were frequent visitors to the area. The elk in that area also had a notorious nature of being silent as they entered new areas when they got there so a surprise appearance was not out of the question.
After about 45 minutes of doing the ishi Shuffle I came across a well-used trail with fresh elk tracks on it, I decided this was as good a spot as any and decided to let off a couple cow calls. No response. Still I decided to head down this trail mainly out of curiosity of where it led. I crept for another 45 minutes taking care to not spook anything that might be lurking in the area. Little did I know how well that worked.
Just as the sun was beginning to fall behind the high ridges surrounding me I came upon a fresh bull rub. The bull had destroyed a 6ft tall reprod no more than 2 days earlier by my analysis. I was excited at this fresh sign. I continued down the trail another 50 yards and came upon something I didn’t expect. A fresh pile of bear scat and a big pile at that. I was on alert. Continuing down another 10 yards coming to the edge of a small ravine and stopped. With the waning light and the possibility of bear presence I began my walk back. I did not expect what happened next.
Just as I was passing the bull rub I gave one more cow call just for the sake of calling more than anything. Right after I gave the call I heard a loud rustling in the trees 50 yards in front of me. Immediately afterward a large black figure appears. A Black Bear, and what is crazier is that he is running straight at me! My adrenaline shoots into overload and I can barely remember what happens next. I quickly remove an arrow from my quiver seeing the bear barreling down on my location. I get the arrow on the nock. He gets closer and closer. I snap my release on the string. He’s getting bigger as he gets to about 15 yards from me. I draw just as he gets to about 5 yards and he stops. He and I are locked in a gaze. I actually didn’t have much of a desire to shoot him and briefly considered not. But he stood there at 5 yards and slightly uphill. I knew if I chose wrong and he jumped my arrow, I was done. His dark gaze into my soul with a quick lip curl and my mind was made. I was NOT going to be HIS dinner. With the other looming thought that he could attack even after being shot sitting in my mind I chose to try and even the odds a bit if this happened. So I put my 20 yard pin right on his shoulder and let it rip. The arrow buried deep thru his front shoulder and disappeared. He did what I hoped and took off in the opposite direction, crashing and making a ton of noise as he ran. My adrenaline still in full swing I quickly got on the walkie. With the light dwindling and the knowledge that an injured bear can be more dangerous than a healthy one. We decided to wait for first light to go looking for him.
Thankfully I have not had any bear battles since then but I am now ever cautious of how quickly they can come to you even when you aren’t looking for one. So like the boy scouts, always be prepared. Because sometimes, even though we would rather be lucky than good… some days.. You don’t get lucky.. And then you gotta be good.. Keep Hunting!!
By Austin Yager
I would rather be lucky than good… these words ring thru my mind as I stand at the feet of something that seems out of a fairy tale… But the story of this animal starts many years prior.. I made my first pilgrimage to my forest of solitude when I was 13 years old. I was young, naive, and full of ambition and I had no idea of what fate had in store. Not long into the season and I felt alive in the woods, the thrill of the hunt, awesomeness of the animals within it… I was hooked.
Later that season I heard my first bull bugle up close. I sat by while my uncle attempted to get a shot and listened to its awesome roar thru the dwindling daylight, imagining a monster of the woods and believing a creature not of this earth could have made such a sound.. like I said.. young and naive.. As my uncle returned to me he simply states “well I would rather be lucky than good cause today the bull got lucky”, but this mattered not because the adrenaline that flooded my body in the presence of this magnificent animal had awoken a hunger within me. Something transcendent of time and space.. I still feel it to this day.. a search, a longing for the feeling to be returned to me.. There is only one way… and that’s to be up close and personal with a bugling bull. And so it began.
I was filled with a desire to be like archers in the stories of old. Silent and accurate at ranges few could claim to be deadly. I made it my goal to be able to take any reasonable shot that was put before me and so I began shooting as much as possible. I began shooting competitively, pushing my abilities. Making each mistake or missed shot only fueled my desire to be better and to be able to shoot further.. As for silence, well, that came naturally. My skinny and light physique made my footsteps like shadows in the woods and I was able to get closer quieter than anyone in camp, but this wasn’t enough.. A Bull still eluded me.
I was still being out smarted by these creatures that I desired to be around so much. So knowledge was my shortcoming, quickly rectified as I began to read every article and ask every seasoned bow hunter about how they found success hunting elk. This created a vast knowledge base from which Icould draw but some ideas conflicted. Some guys said to call regularly and pressure the bulls, while articles i read said to only call periodically and be more laid back.. so who was right? There was only one way to find out.. trial and error..
So I began each archery season with a new mind and a new tactic. As the years rolled on I began to see what my uncle was talking about that night that seemed so long ago. It began to dawn on me that it did not matter how far I could shoot, how good, I could call, or how silent I could be.. Elk are unpredictable creatures and cannot be hunted by any set of rules or tactics. You must be willing to react in the moment, make a split second decision that can make or break a hunt, and be willing to push yourself. It comes down to realizing that you cannot control the situations we are forced into, only how we react to them. And even then, luck it seems, still the gatekeeper. In the fall of 2008 this became all too real for me.
The season had been long and the closing, days weighed heavy in the back of my mind. I began hunting harder and staying out longer than ever before; much to the dismay of my hunting buddy at the time I’m sure. I was searching for a bull that I knew had taken over my forest of solitude and had claimed dominion. I had searched for days finding only trailing signs of his presence and no elk to be seen, no small herds, no young bulls roaming free… this told me one thing.. A BIG herd had formed together and in command was a true herd bull. A week before the end of the season we had our first encounter. I came down off the backside of Russ’s Knob with my buddy and was making my way slowly towards Megan’s Wallow when a bull bugled from beyond it.. flat, tune.. a hunter was in my zone. But this had its use because I was not the only one who was not convinced. As I waited in silence a band of 20+ cows broke from the wallow and headed off towards a bedding area nearby.. I bugled once from my position, having the wind in my favor to calm the ladies who surely had a big boy nearby. After a few minutes we began our slow stalk towards the bedding area where they were holed up. Not more that 30 seconds into our attempt I round a small patch of reprod (reproduced trees planted by the forest service after timber is harvested) into the smallest of nooks only to come face to face with a perfect square frame 5×5 black antlered bull… S%@T… Luck had sided against me once again.. But as he ran away.. I heard it… From the bowls of the woods where I rarely dared to travel due to its extreme nature.. Came a lions roar from a Bull I could only then imagine… With the high likelihood of being busted before getting anywhere close to the bull being present, we retired for the morning and decided to re-group back at camp… But I knew where he was and I knew where he was going… I would be back that evening.
As the afternoon waned on we began a careful path into the lions den, the only one that gave us any hope to get to this monster from the deep woods.. It was a long trek up to a saddle in the ridge where we would drop in. As we crested the hill now came the reprod.. a 40 yard thicket of reprod trees that stood between us and the open area to where they were rising from their bed.. Just as we reached half way and just enough to be able to see the other side we heard HIM… a bugle rang out from the tree tops and the woods were alive… The satellite bull that had busted me earlier that morning was taking a small band of cows off to my left into the gap to the corridor to their next hole.. right where I was trying to get to… unlucky… as he cleared and silence fell over the woods I began to creep softly towards the lion’s roar. I reached the other side of the reprod and could see nothing. This wasn’t good. It meant he knew we were there and he was waiting… silent. To see what emerged and yet still nothing. In that moment I made a decision.. a decision I regret to this day.. I chose to attempt to move to my right, away from the path of the satellite, to get a better angle and get a better view of the opening.. bad choice.. no sooner had I taken 3 steps did I see something out of the corner of my eye about 70 yards on the other side. I turned my head and I peered at it, black as smoke, looking much like a fallen tree’s branches over the short reprod, I knew what it was. Just as I turned my head the whole tree moved and I could see him at last. The bull swung his MASSIVE rack to the side and moved 20 yards and disappeared like the ghost he was. I had never seen one bigger. Magazines or in person it mattered not. This bull was HUGE… I called and I chased, but it mattered not, he had vanished. I searched the days to come avidly in every hole I knew of attempting to cut his trail once more. But I was always one step behind him, only the shrapnel of his rubs to satisfy my search. Luck it seems, had sided with him. I was consumed. He was unlike any bull I had ever seen with his massive whale tail rack that was black, and I knew he was out there. The following off-season was more of an obsession. I shot at much as I could and I made it my mission to not be outsmarted like that again pouring over my maps and memories of the past defeats.. Attempting to uncover the final piece I needed to bring it all together and finally fulfill a then 8 year journey, yet, hope remained. Over the last couple years I had gotten closer and had more encounters each year than the one before it and felt I was gaining traction. Success seemed within my grasp.
As the fall of 2009 approached I was ready and waiting for the start of the season. As it drew near a lightning storm over our hunting area ignited a fire within the wilderness area near where I hunt. For those who do not know, the forest service cannot act and do anything about a fire within a wilderness area and so it burned, wildly, and with increasing strength. The season started and roads were closed and animals were confused. On the opening day of my hunt I went out with my long time hunting partner Doug to one our favorite places where we had had lots of encounters. We left the truck and not more than 5 minutes had passed before I saw tracks on the ground, fresh tracks. I guessed that they had been there only a few minutes before us. We walked to a hidden entrance to a elk highway that I knew of and I let out a long bugle. The woods exploded! A bull not 30 yards through the trees answered my call. I quickly cow called over my shoulder as to make it seem they were behind me and he was hooked. The bull began to come in and I instructed Doug to draw up. Just as he did the bull showed himself. I had a clear line of sight to the bull thru a small opening that I knew I could shoot thru but I decided to get this one for him. I relished in the thought of calling in a bull for my buddy on the first day and yet.. still no shot. Finally he took his shot and the bull took off. We waited almost sure he had made contact, but no blood. Luck it seems had taken us for a spin once again. This time almost torturing us with a bull, within our grasp. After further investigation we found a broken twig on a reprod tree not 6 feet from where the bull stood. I knew what had happened. The tiniest of twigs at the closest of ranges can deflect an arrow a mile. Discouraged we chased the bull all day never tempting him to face us once again.
The season continued on and we chased bulls and cows from here to there only to keep coming up empty handed. Many times we went out and came up empty handed. It seemed that the Elk had gone into the hole. I had discovered a pattern several years ago of bull behavior when hunting pressure began increasing they entered a hole where deadfall reigned supreme and no hunter ever entered, I being one of them. But they must emerge, I knew this and it was only a matter of figuring out where. I had to return home for a re-supply and to work a few days and planned to return about 6 days before the season ended. As my buddy and I began to pack we discussed where we wanted to go and what we were thinking. We had our camp supplies packed and loaded and the only thing remained was to get fuel before hitting the road. The following events that transpired over the next 24 hours can only be interpreted as transcendent. As we went to leave the gas station I went to put some ice in the rig. What I did not realize is that on the other side of the door were our recent purchases from the local libation store for our trip. A full bottle of JagerMiester tumbled out of the car and shattered all over the ground. I looked in shock and as me and my buddy wrote it off as a loss the words left my mouth “Hey! It’s a sacrifice to the hunting gods!” Little did I know how true that statement may have been.
We arrived in camp at midnight and set up our stuff, unloaded the Jeep, and went to bed wanting an early start. The next morning, me and two of my hunting buddies went up to where we had been defeated earlier that year. Once again, nothing. We went back to camp and began to stew… where were they? That afternoon I would find out. As the time to hit the woods approached, my other two buddies indicated they wanted to go back up to where we had gone in the morning and I felt this to be a lost cause. I knew the area well and decided to investigate up by the cabin. A location in my mind the last couple years of possibilities and yet I hadn’t visited in years. But something called me there. Perhaps because it was close to the fire line and I figured the animals pushed by the fire would still be near the edge of it… or perhaps this is an afterthought analysis of why he was there after the events unfolded. Either way, there he was…
I left camp late and in a light hearted mood to investigate. Even though the season and the rut was on I never really expected to find anything except sign. I was wrong. When I arrived at the cabin where I would leave my quad and enter the woods I came to a horrible realization..my pack had fallen off on the rough trail up here. Now the next decision may come to those as possibly unethical but I reacted to a situation and decided to go into the woods with just my bow and see if they were in the area since I had only an hour of daylight left and possibility for an encounter let alone a shot was next to none. I wandered into the woods following one of the many paths into it and found a large mule deer doe. Uneasy with my presence she moved off towards the east. With no other reason to go the other way,I followed. She moved slowly and stayed no closer than 60 yards of me but was not scarred so I continued. After about 15 minutes I reached a point and had seen a great deal of sign that elk had been in the area recently and decided to let out a bugle.
What happened next was only a blur for a long time afterward. To my left a large bellow erupted from the patch of heavy trees below me. I responded in kind, no sooner had I finished my next bugle did another bull up to my right further away responded at which point I found myself in the middle of a bugling battle. I decided to seize the opportunity. I began to sneak to my left towards the closer and seemingly bigger bull by his raspy tone. As I got about half way the noise became an even bigger issue. It had been dry for about a week or more and had made the ground like walking on cornflakes. So I took off my boots. An odd notion I know, but I had thick wool socks on and knew they would silence my feet. I crept closer and within 60 yards of the thick trees and let out another large bugle. A response was given, but not the one intended… Cow talk, and they were coming..
I drew up quickly just as 6 cows came across my path. I guessed the closest cow elk with no obstruction or at risk secondary cow to be at 30 yards. I was wrong again. I heard the arrow hit the log under her belly and they too off to my right. As this happened the bull I was calling lets out a large bellow. I respond, he bugles again, I respond. I can hear and tell he’s moving and going after his cows and I realize that he is not going to come into me and is chasing his cows. I start running. Still in my wool socks with my bow in one hand and my bugle in the other I run as fast as I can over the fallen lodge poles while bugling. I feel like an actual elk at this point with the bull in full pissed off bugle mode like I match each with my own response while running to cut him off.. After about 100 yards I reached a point where I can see him running now just as I am after his cows. Only a thin patch of trees lie between us but he is almost across the small clearing. Now is my chance. I slow my pace, draw up, walk through the trees between us and let out a short “mew” with my mouth to hopefully stop him just before he leaves my sight forever. It works.. he stops.. but it’s not that easy. He is standing at a more than quartering away angle with only a small amount of his chest showing. His limited chest cavity lies between two 10 ft reprod trees leaving only a 6 inch gap between their branches.. Now I do not remember thinking about the yardage or trying to guess it, only knowing it, 60 yards. From a shot on a buck a few years earlier I knew of small gap that existed only at certain angles. This gap at an acute away angle lies just in front of the animals rear flank and just behind the rib cage. If I hit, the arrow penetrates right up through the body cavity to the shoulder. Now this shot should only be taken by those who are confident at the range at which they are taking it because it has many risks.
In my case I had a 2 inch gap to shoot into at the tight angle through a 6inch gap in the trees, oh and it was at 60 yards. Like I stated earlier a shot like this should not be taken by anyone who does not feel absolutely confident that they can make it, but I did. I heard the wisp of the arrow as it neared him and I did not know if it connected or if it hit one of the branches I feared. I chased after him to attempt another shot but could not see him.. I began to walk back to where he stood when I heard noises off to my right… it sounded like rustling and like something was tearing stuff up. I called… no response. At this point I figured I had nothing to lose but to walk up to where I heard the noises coming from. I walked for about 50 yards up to where I thought I heard the noises coming from but could see nothing. Then I smelt it, death.. It has a unique smell that has a certain origin. 10 yards from me I see him. My jaw drops.The monster 6×6 that lay before me was a true force of nature. And as I stood there the realities of my situation began to hit me.
I quickly left an arrow stuck nearby to indicate it had been found and not forgotten. I then left in a hurry back to my four wheeler. I rushed back at dangerous speeds to camp as the last light faded. 3/4 of the way back I spot my pack in the headlights, well at least there’s some luck I think..I get back to camp and rally the troops. Despite knowing exactly where it was in the daylight, the wickedness of the dark woods in the night defeated me. So we returned at first light. On our way in we came across a smaller 4×4 bull, most likely the other one in the battle the night before. We quickly find my bull and after a few minutes to wallow in the ambiance of his size and glory begin to go to work on the process before us. As I stood there however I remembered the words my uncle had said to me years before, “I would rather be lucky than good”. I finally understood. Despite all our skill and all our abilities, knowledge, and tools, without that little bit of luck to put us into that moment where we are able to use them, they are useless. Even then as M.J. says it best: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that’s why I succeed”. No matter what happens…Keep hunting.
By: Austin Yager
by Glenn Doney