It was opening day for archery deer season, and I was in Eastern Washington on the hunt for a big whitetail buck. I was hunting some CRP land near my brother in-laws house that I had been scouting for almost a week prior. I had seen lots of movement early in the morning. Of course everything was at least 600 yards away. The deer seemed extra jumpy and more aware than most days. Almost like they knew it was opening day.
About 2 hours into the hunt, I jumped two small 3×3 whitetail bucks who were bedded down in some tall grass. The thought of drawing back on those bucks ran through my mind. But the thought vanished as quickly as it arrived. They stopped and turned broadside about 150 yards away. It was almost like they were laughing at me because they knew I wasn’t going to take that far of a shot. As the hours wore on that morning and the temperatures grew near 90 degrees, I decided to head back to the house about 11am and get some lunch and rehydrate because it was only going to get hotter.
About 4pm I geared up and headed back out. It was 104 degrees out, but with a decent west wind I knew it would be cooling off enough that the deer would be on the move. I decided to walk in on a maintenance road on the south end of the property, a route I had yet to take in my days of scouting the area. The bordering piece of private property was divided by a ravine with a creek running through the bottom. I was about 2 miles in and came to the bottom of a draw. I could see an overgrown brush patch that sloped down towards the ravine. I could see lots of sign that a lot of deer had been bedding in that area. I decided to hold in this area. I had a feeling that once it cooled down, there would be plenty of deer.
After almost 2 hours of waiting for the sun to crest over the west hills, I decided to get back to my feet and see if the deer were moving yet. As I rose to my feet, to see over the tall grass, I saw a 3×3 buck and two does walking my way. Just as I thought, they came out of the brush patch that I figured they had bedded down in. As I watched the deer file out of the brush patch my brother-in-law, who decided to come out with me as a second set of eyes, grabbed me by my belt and pulled me to the ground. I was irate! He told me to posture back up and look back to the hillside to the west. At first I didn’t see what he saw, but then out of nowhere appeared the biggest Whitetail buck I have ever seen in person. A 5×5 monster was headed my way…..
As he came within 100 yards I noticed that he had 4 does hot on his trail. I prayed that they didn’t bust me. I ranged a spot on the hillside where I figured he would cross the my path. 49 yards is what the readout read. I was sitting flat on the ground with my legs straight out in front of me. A shot that I had practiced a few times leading up to hunting season. When he came into view, I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest. The buck I had been dreaming of for the last 2 years, since I had switched to archery, was at reach. I came to full draw, he was just a few yards uphill from the spot I ranged earlier. He showed no sign of slowing down. I led him by just a few inches. Suddenly, he came to a stop. I came back to him and let my arrow fly. It was like time had slowed to a crawl. I watched my arrow fly like a rocket right at the kill zone. Just before impact he took a step forward. Then…..THWACK!!!! He buckled and took off over the hill. I saw my arrow stuck in the hillside. I could see the blood drip from the nock of my arrow. But I had this sinking feeling in my gut that it wasn’t a perfect shot…..
I watched as he skylighted himself. Then he went down. Finally, time came back into full speed again. I confirmed with my brother-in-law that from our point of view, the buck went down. We gave it nearly 30 minutes before we went after him. When we approached my arrow, it was covered in blood….DARK blood. My suspicion had been confirmed….liver shot. We headed in the direction we last saw him. Just after dark we found a large pool of blood where he had gone down. However, the buck was nowhere to be found. We searched with flashlights until nearly midnight. With no other sign of blood, we decided to call it a night and continue the search at daylight.
After a near sleepless night, we headed out at 5am. My hopes weren’t very high on recovering much of the animal, if any. The temperatures stayed in the high 60’s overnight. Not to mention all the coyotes that ran that area. We searched for another 8 hours that day, and when all was said and done…..the day ended the same way it had began. I felt defeated.
Unfortunately, we had to load up and head home. With a 6 hour drive ahead of us, I had a lot of time to replay my hunt. No matter how many times I replayed it, I couldn’t pinpoint anything I would have or could have done differently. Nonetheless, it didn’t make it any easier to accept the results.
There is always that one minor thing, no matter what it is, that can happen out in the field that you may have no control over. It is that one minor thing that constantly drives me to be a better hunter today, than I was yesterday. Unfortunately, not every hunt will end with an animal on the ground. Every hunter has had and/or will have that hunt that ends with a “tag sandwich”.
So as I bring this to a close, I share with you this…..
I still to this day, have that very arrow, hanging above my work bench. Yes, it’s still covered in dry blood. People always ask me why I haven’t cleaned it off or taken it down. My answer is the same every time…..”It reminds me to never be satisfied with my skills as a hunter.” No matter how physically and mentally prepared you are for a hunt, it’s never enough.
~ Sean Schulz
So as the teams finalized their commercial drafts to the Full Draw Film School staff, we all waited to be critiqued and see where we stood. As our team’s (Team 1) commercial was finished, we could feel the tension in the house. You could cut it with a spoon. Guys were running around getting last minute footage, audio voice-overs, and whatever else they needed. Was good to see smiles every once in a while but these guys were focused. Full Draw guys were also working on their commercial and their film school edit for the evening award event. This was the last night before guys headed home the next morning. It was go time.
As I sat down to reflect on what all went down, it occurred to me that Josh and I had some extra time to do a few short films for Realtree and some diary clips. We were tired of all the seriousness and wanted to lightened everyone’s moods and do a parody or spoof. What we thought would take us about a half hour ended up taking about 2 hours because we couldn’t stop laughing. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation or the lack of real human interaction besides filming but we were losing our mind from the hilariousness of the situation. The editing was even harder to get through. Josh was a real trooper for being my test subject. I put him into some situations even I wouldn’t do and he did them without question and had a blast doing it. I’ve filmed a lot of stuff and edited a lot of shorts and this was one of the funnest I’ve ever done and I don’t care how cheesy it is.
As the afternoon dwindled down and the films were all turned in we sat down to enjoy everyone’s thirty second commercials, product short films and give out some prizes and awards. Each commercial was shown and we were all impressed with every bit of cinematic and creative thought put into each one. Was a humbling experience for everyone to see what each team was able to create from scratch. For myself, it was a sigh of relief. For the last two years, I have been fighting tooth and nail to create a cohesive unit of allstars that can perform in every aspect of filming hunts. This industry turns out a lot of people that think they have what it takes and only a few shine through and prove they have what it takes to create a real, cinematic film. I am glad and proud to know that we can now do that very same thing. We have raised the bar for ourselves and those around us to create better, more enjoyable films for the Northwest community. I cannot wait to see what this year has in store for us. The work has only just begun.
Thank you for taking this journey with us and sticking through thick and thin. From the bottom of our hearts, we are truly grateful! Without our fans and sponsors, there is no Heavy Hitters Outdoors. We look forward to bringing you the best we have to offer and hope you stick around. Thank you! And enjoy these commercials! ~H2O
At first light the teams set out to film their 30 second commercials. Team 1 drew Alps OutdoorZ, Team 2 drew Alpen Optics, Team 3 drew Flying Arrow Archery and Team 4 drew Copper John. With storyboards in hand, gear in the rides we all set out to the locations we scouted the previous day. The weather was near perfect for slow motion with snow falling and great for epic timelapses with rolling, heavy HDR-like clouds. Every time I return home to Central Oregon, it reminds me why I belong there. The winters are awesome, the spring and summer boasts amazing weather and great activities and the fall brings world class hunting and scenic backdrops right before winter.
Team 1 and 2 headed up towards Paulina Peak near a place we used to camp out and fly fish called McKay Crossing. There is a small river that flows through the canyon with a few waterfalls and some amazing views. We split up into each team and began shooting. Team one’s slow motion project with the Sony FS-700 was a scene where a successful hunter is walking up to a canyon with a waterfall. The water dropping over the edge along with the snow dropping is nothing short of a masterpiece as far as slow motion goes. The only real downfall is that Josh was wearing ASAT camo and he is hard to pick out. The ASAT, like always was doing it’s job. Will Bales of Full Draw Film School was there to assist with shot and instruct on how to operate the camera with the added slow motion. At 240 feet per second, it’s really interesting to see how a camera operates differently than your normal 60fps max.
After Team 1 was done with their slow motion scene it was time to move on and help team 2 out with theirs. Unfortunately, the FS700 ran into a condensation issue and needed surgery. It was only 30 degrees out and with the snow falling, even with plastic over the camera, it got too wet and needed to dry out. At this point, everyone is freaking out because an eight thousand dollar camera is not working properly. Being outdoor videographers, this is unfortunately a common issue when shooting in rough conditions. You have to be able to risk the life of your lens and camera to get that shot that can put your film over the edge.
Team 2 adapted well and changed their storyboard accordingly. They did a great job adapting to the problem at hand and carried on. We found a great location where they could shoot their rifle sequence for Alpen Optics. By this time, the snow stopped falling and the clouds broke up a tad to give some great light. There was an opening in a canyon with a ton of Manzanitas that built great contrast. Took them about an hour and they completed the scene. We hiked back out, shot a short sequence for team 1 with the Glidecam and we were out. On the way back down the mountain we dropped off team 2 do finish up their 2nd timelapse and a little more b-roll and team 1 went back to the house to edit film sequences.
Josh and I (team 1) didn’t have to film our finishing sequence until it was dark. We were going to return back up the mountain to a second waterfall location and shoot a nightlapse and a campfire scene. So with the daylight still out, we took the short time to relax, prep for the long night ahead and build a short storyboard for a product demo for Realtree. A few hours rolled by and around 10pm we headed out. Once we got to the location we set up the tent in front of a waterfall near one of my favorite camp spots, lit up the tent with an LED light, dropped another light behind the tent to light up the trees and waterfall then let the Canon 6D do it’s work. I wasn’t able to get the waterfall in the shot but we got extremely lucky with the clouds rolling back and letting the stars come out and say hi for about an hour.
With the timelapse rolling for the next few hours, it was time to setup the campfire scene, get it out of the way then relax by the campfire, light some stogies and crack open a few choice beverages. We did get bored a few times and started tracking bear prints in the snow. There was an unusual amount of bear tracks. We also ran a go pro timelapse at the camp to see how it did in low light. The result was actually pretty good considering how little light the campfire was able to produce.
After getting back to the house, we rendered the timelapse, put everything together and presented a rough draft for the Full Draw instructors. On to color correction, audio then dialogue. Was going to be an all-nighter.
As I said before, going into the school we had a few true novices. The idea of investing the money into a craft such as videography and photography can pay itself off fast if your path is well thought out. For me, any expense I was willing to spend was worth it a hundred times over. Not only having a plethora of guys that can run and gun a camera or two makes doing a full time show that much easier but that is not the only reason why I decided for us to do this school….It’s the reward of seeing guys with the same passion that I have for filming and shooting the outdoors. Since the school has ended and we have all gone to our perspective locations, I get a kick out of the guys talking about what they learned and what they are planning to do with what they learned. That was worth the price of admission all day long.
The first day, was an eye opener for the team. They had to take their basic knowledge of how to run a DSLR and apply it in a timelapse. Cinematic footage for any show or movie is never complete without a timelapse. It can set a mood, pace or fill between scenes. It’s a true art form to find the right angle, foreground and background. The teams had some great ideas and a some great executions. We set into 4 teams, each led by a Pro Staffer with experience.Team 1 – Jeff C., Josh T. Team 2 – Glenn, Cass, Steve Team 3 – Brad, Jeff H., Sean Team 4 – Jake, Damian, Mike
As timelapses were taking place in their perspective spots, the teams went to work on their storyboards. No show or project can be properly shot without a solid storyline. I believe wholeheartedly in this. A base, foundation of your shot outline and scene timing is key. FDFS (Full Draw Film School) showed the guys exactly that. Through trial and error, the guys built storyboards for their thirty second sponsor commercial. Some took longer than others and some were very interesting to say the least. I’m pretty sure there was going to be a stabbing if one wasn’t approved by the FDFS staff..haha.
Around dark thirty, the green light was given to the teams and some filming commenced. A few of us had already had everything lined up and it was movie time. We wanted to get the creative juices flowing so we watched a few great hunting flicks. After some good face time we called it a night and the morning would boast a ton of amazing filming!
As an annual tradition, all of us at Heavy Hitters Outdoors get together and plan a film school somewhere out in Oregon each year to gain higher knowledge, brush up skills and try out new gear on the market. It’s a great way for us to stay ahead of the curve and stay creative. As a photographer I’ve seen a lot of guys get complacent with their skills and never progress. We don’t want that for ourselves, especially with all the other shows on the market in the outdoor industry. To stand out, you have to find ways to think outside the box and set yourself apart from the rest. Nobody likes to watch a show that is the same, week in, week out. Last year we had a small 2 day school with just a few of us. We learned a lot, did some hands on training but the 2 days just wasn’t enough. This year we wanted to get all hands on deck and make a team event. We contacted Grady Rawls of Grady Rawls Productions who has teamed up with Full Draw Film Tour to make the Full Draw Film School.
Scheduling the event we decided that we wanted to go back to my hometown in Bend/Sunriver, Oregon. This place boasts some amazing backdrops for shooting scenic locations, great food and accommodations. We were fortunate enough to connect with Sunset Lodging in Sunriver and stayed in amazing house that fit the H2O crew as well as the Full Draw Film Tour instructors as well. We can’t thank Sunset Lodging enough for their generous contribution and treating us to a huge house that made this happen for us. After getting settled into the house we started breaking down and doing inventory of all of our equipment. As photographers and videographers, you can never have enough equipment but it’s always funny to see all this gear out on the tables but in all reality, you only ever use a portion of it. With almost the whole crew at the house, we all tried to wind down from traveling from different locations in the U.S., shoot the poo and have a few beers while telling old stories and jokes like we always do. My favorite part about these schools is the comradery of the guys. It is such a blast to sit and talk for hours in good company. It’s amazing how much you can learn while talking to other hunters about their experiences as well as photographers and camera guys. A simple conversation can have you running to grab a camera and start shooting just to see what you talked about work.
The goal behind this school and trip for us is obviously to better our skills. Taking hunters that film and hunters that have never filmed and get them to a point where I can send them out on their own and have them make a film on their own, without help, is the goal. This year we had a few newcomers to the art of filming. These guys had just recently purchased DSLR’s and had no real experience behind them. The school is designed to start from the ground up, basics of the camera first then onto lenses, gear, etc. Building a cinematic film is no easy task. Having multiple guys filming, taking timelapses and getting multiple angles is key. See my guys learn this was incredible. Being able to provide them with the necessary tools to be successful is gratifying and very beneficial to Heavy Hitters Outdoors. The Next few posts will be our experience while at the school and what we got out of it. We won’t be going over what the school does, you’ll need to make that investment yourself but we will be showing the ups, downs, trials and tribulations. We hope you enjoy!
By: Jeff Coxen
For more info on Sunset Lodge in Sunriver, please visit their website and let us know we sent you!
I grew up as a fishing fool. My dad said I was born with a Lamiglas in my hand but I didn’t hunt much until I was 12. My dad didn’t hunt much either after having me and my brother plus living in the city didn’t help much. I fished as much as possible, even caught my first salmon at age 2 (with dads help of course). My dad would pull me out of school to go fishing, when the salmon were running or we would go slay a few bass or even blue gill. I never cared much about hunting, I guess it seems weird now days as I think back.
When I turned 12 I moved in with my mom out in Eastern Oregon and the hunting in the area was awesome so I thought I would give it a try. I drew my first deer tag that year and my mom’s boyfriend, Craig, told me he would take me and teach me how to hunt.
He was a rough man. He gave me little direction, and sent me out, pointed to a hill an told me to stay in cover and use the wind. Hell I didn’t know how to do that. That day I got very lucky and shot my first buck. A Benchleg 3×4 with eye guards. From their I was hooked, I almost forgot about fishing.
Craig took me out hunting all the time after that and taught me a lot. That same year I also harvested my first bull elk, a big spike by fork.
Those years I feel were peer luck and lots of learning, not much skill involved at all.
Since then I have been very fortunate to have taken many big game animals. I am 10 for 10 on my bull elk tags and this year I tagged out with all 3 of my tags (muzzle loader, archery bull elk, cascade archery buck). After I tag out, I’m still out with friends helping them fill their tags. This year alone I helped fill tag after tag. It was a very successful year.
I get asked a lot, “what do you do to be successful in the field?”
My first answer when people ask me is stubbornness. I’ll wait out an animal for days, ill hunt the nastiest weather, and I stay out from sun up to sun down. I also use the wind more than any other tool. I don’t care if I have a 400-inch bull at 80 yards and know it’s my only chance, if the wind is wrong, I will back out. I have always been told that a deer/elk can see you twice, hear you three times, but if they smell you they are gone. Wind can be your best friend and your worst enemy. Learn to use it and your odds of tagging out will intensely increase.
Over the years I have learned patience pays off more than anything. I used to just stumble around and never sit. Always wondered what’s in the next draw, and usually walk over the hill into the draw, sun at my back and skyline, spooking everything out. Now I will sit and wait, watch everything, find ways to not cross a ridge without cover and always, always watch my step. I don’t know how many rocks I’ve sent down cantons on accident just to spook all the deer out.
When I am walking through the woods I will move like I’m 100 years old. I see so much more that way. Before I learned to move slow, I would blow animals out all the time. Always look ahead. I’ll take 3 steps, stop, look around, and listen. I see ten times the game now that I do this.
Success also comes with knowing your equipment and practicing with it. I shoot my bow year round and hike with my hunting gear, I shed hunt in the off-season to scout, and see what bucks made it through winter. I practice stalking animals when I am she’d hunting too. I try and see how close I can get. I scout my ass off all year and try and pattern my prey, so I know what they do at any given time of the day, or in any weather. 90% of my success on a hunt is in a storm, rain, lightning, and wind. The harsh weather gets the animals moving.
I try to set my season up to where I have several spots to hunt. That way if someone is where I want to be I can go to the next. Or if the wind is wrong I can go to a spot where I can use it to my advantage. If I haven’t tagged out, I am in the woods. I’ve killed 9 of my 10 bulls on the last weekend of season.
Those are what I would consider my main keys to success. To this day, I still don’t know if it’s Lady Luck, skill, or just being in the right spot at the right time, but whatever it is I hope nothing changes for me. I feel very lucky to have harvested all the animals I have.
November 30th. It was the last day I was going to be able to hunt Oregon’s late season Blacktail season. I picked my brother up at 5:30am and we headed to my spot. We started the 2 mile hike about 45 minutes before the sunrise. We made it about 150 yards from the gate before jumping our first deer in some re-prod. We never saw it but we heard it bound off. We tried to back track after it, but after 20 minutes we gave up. We knew there were more deer in the area and didn’t want waste any more time.
The rest of the hike we went slow. I didn’t want to spook anymore deer. The deer back in the area we were heading don’t start moving through until 9:00am so we weren’t in a hurry. We stopped a few times shedding layer as it was pretty warm for being the end of November. For that whole week the weather was warm and clear skies, but today was cloudy and a big storm was moving in later in the afternoon. It was setting up to be a good day.
At about 8:45 we made it to our area. We were only 100 yards from what we call the split. It’s where the road we walk in on splits. We see deer at the split almost every time we go back there. Today was no different. I spotted some movement behind some brush and picked out a deer. I stopped my brother and got a better look. It was a doe, and like I said it was my last day and had made up my mind to take a doe if presented a shot. I watched it as it fed towards the road. I ranged it at 45 yards and waited for it to clear some small trees. It put its head down to feed and that’s when I noticed it wasn’t a doe but a small 2 point. At that same time it must have known something was wrong and turned and went the way it came. I told my brother I was going in after it. Where we spotted this little buck was in a 7 year old clear cut. I snuck down the road in onto a skid road going along the top on the clear cut. I stopped to glass up the little buck but I couldn’t find him anywhere. I was just getting ready to turn around when I spotted some movement off in the distance. I checked it out with my binoculars and found a very nice buck. I immediately dropped to my knees and took my pack off. My heart began to beat furiously. I watched this deer for about 20 minutes as he walked my direction. He stopped to thrash trees and feed. A couple times he turned and heading the other direction only to turn and come back my way. While watching the buck my brother had no clue what was going on and started to come down to see what was going on.
While the buck fed I stopped my brother at the top of the skidder trail and had him drop to his belly. The buck must have seen him or something because he through his head up and looked in our direction. After what felt like an hour he started his walk towards me. I ranged him at 60 yards now, right at my comfort range. I got my arrow ready and waited. The wind was perfect and the buck was still coming so I waited. He walked behind a brush pile that I ranged at 45 yards. I stood up and when he cleared the pile I drew back only to have a small shrub right in my shooting lane. I took 2 steps to the left and with a clear lane, the buck stopped, I put my 30 yard pin a little high on his back just behind the shoulders and let my arrow go. The buck took a step just as I released. THWACK! Was the sound I heard; My arrow shooting straight into the air and with the buck taking off running is what I saw. My first thought was Holy s*%t I missed!!! I thought my arrow went right over his back and hit a brush pile right behind him. My heart sank. The buck ran off about 40 yards and stopped. He stood there for about 3 minutes. Then he stared to wobble a bit and turn broadside. Seeing his reaction my heart began beating again. I hit him!! I threw up my binos and saw blood! He had blood on his body. It was a little far back so I knew it was a liver shot. About a minute later he laid down just behind some shrubs.
My brother, through the whole situation had no idea what was going. He didn’t have a view of the buck or me the entire time. He heard the sound of the shot and the sound of a hit. I called back to him to come down and told him I was sure I just hit a nice 3 point maybe even a 4. I wasn’t sure yet what he was. The only thing I knew was he was big and the shot was a little back. We started to high five and celebrate. I gave him about 45 minutes and decided to get my arrow. I took about 10 steps and the buck jumped up and ran over down a hill out of sight. My heart sank just a little. I went to where my arrow was and found it covered in blood. I had a straight pass through and 38 yards and it hit a stump and flew straight in to the air. Now know he was for sure hit we decided to give him some time. My brother still had a tag to fill and we have been seeing deer all morning.
After about 2 hours we decided to track my buck. We got to where he bedded after the shot only to find one little puddle of blood. We stared to look around and couldn’t find any more blood. I was getting frustrated. We slowly made our way down the clearing in the direction he ran. About 60 yards down the hill my brother waived and pointed down the hill. He then called out saying the buck jumped up and ran down into some thick timber. Again my heart sank. With no blood trail and him running into thick timber we gave him more time. We made a call to my dad to come help track him. I knew he wasn’t going to make it much farther as he was slow to run when we jumped him. An hour passed before we pressed on. My brother took the tree line and I went 30 yards into the timber next to a creek. I found a game trail with some fresh tracks so I walked down the trail. I went about 40 yards and went around a small bend. I looked down the trail and about 15 feet in front of me laying on the trail was my buck. He was facing the opposite direction and that’s when I noticed how big he really was. My heart now pumping out of my chest I knocked another arrow drew back and let it flight. Direct hit! Down he went! I was at the highest of highs at this point. I called for my brother to come down and the celebration was on. This hunt was an emotional roller coaster! From the high of the first shot, to the downs of jumping him with no blood trail to follow, ultimately the payoff was worth it as I walked up to my biggest Blacktail ever. He turned out to be a very nice 4×3 with small eye guards and very good mass. ~ Josh Taylor (field staff)
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