Sunday, February 13, 2011

Planning Ahead, 2011 is "Year Of The ELK!

I recently had a birthday and I am getting really close to the ages that begin with 4 (I can't even begin to say the word 40's let alone describe myself as being in that demographic).  It is times like these that I become a bit more reflective and think back about what I have done and what I still want to achieve.  Growing up I read about the great adventures of Fred Bear as he went to Alaska, Canada, and Africa to hunt big game and I consumed a steady diet of hunting magazines and other hunting books that told tales of pursuing North Americas big game.  I just knew that I too would be chasing deer, elk, moose, caribou, and bears as soon as I finished school.  Well, life has a way of changing those plans with getting married, having children, going back to grad school, and a job that doesn't locate you near the mountain states or Alaska.  I have been successful at hunting whitetail deer, wing shooting, freshwater fishing, and I learned how to saltwater fish from a kayak, but I still long for wild places chasing really big game.  I made a resolution last year (about this time of year) that I would take each of the major North American big game species with a bow before I am too old to hunt.  I am excluding the varieties of big horn sheep and mountain goats because these animals require serious money to pursue.  So my plan is to take an Elk, Caribou, Pronghorn Antelope, Mule Deer, and Moose.  This is my bucket list.

I have done some initial research and decided that I begin this journey by pursuing Elk.  So why did I make that choice you ask.  Well there are reasons.  First, to go on a good Mule Deer hunt, you need to draw a tag in a high quality area of one of the mountain states.  This requires preference points and that takes multiple years of drawing.  So cross Mule Deer off the list for this year, but put in for preference points, check.   Caribou hunting is a major expense as you have to go all the way to Canada.  I will likely make this one my second to last animal to take off the list due to the expense and time required, so cross Caribou off the list and start saving, check.  Moose is in the really expensive category as well, but there are also tags that can be drawn in some closer states.  I will begin to put in for those as well once I research them more thoroughly, but this will probably be the last animal on my list, so cross moose off the list for this year.  Now pronghorn was a tough decision.  I can afford this hunt, the season is at the right time of year, and the success rates for hunting over water holes is really good.  All the stars are aligned, but it came down to this.  I really want a true wilderness hunt in the mountains chasing Elk.  Cross off Antelope this time, because it is the YEAR OF THE ELK!

With the species selected. now I need to choose a state.  I looked at New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, and Idaho.  Not all the states had archery season dates that would fit my small window of opportunity due to work restrictions, distance is a consideration as I will be driving, and then there is the issue of drawing tags.  After reviewing all the information, I chose Colorado because it has the largest herd, I can buy and over the counter (OTC) tag and it is relatively close to where I live compared to the other states.  More to come on the actual area I have chosen to hunt.

Next decision is guide, no guide, or drop camp.  I have never hunted with a guide before so I don't know what it would really be like, but have always been a solo bowhunter and prefer being in the woods by myself.  I would like some assistance with packing deep into the woods and some help getting an elk out, so I have decided that a drop camp is the ticket for me.

My chances will be slim (probably about a 10-15% chance of success) and the conditions will be tough.  I am being packed into a wilderness area where vehicles and ATVs are not allowed.  I will be at significantly higher elevations so I will be out of breath and tired much quicker than I normally would.  I will need to be in the best shape of my life and then I might be almost ready for the challenge that lies ahead of me.

So, some, but not all of my future posts will be about my preparation for this trip.  Just off hand I can think of several things I need to do that I will likely write about as well, such as:

1.  Determining the optimum arrow weight and broad head selection for Elk
2.  Selecting the appropriate camping gear (back pack stove, sleeping bag, bivy shelter, etc.
3.  Selecting the food for the trip (I am leaning toward freeze dried backpack food)
4.  Testing the gear and food selections on a camping trip
5.  Researching Elk hunting strategies
6.  Learning to effectively call Elk
7.  Learning how to navigate in the mountains with a map and GPS and compass
8.  Chronicling my struggle to get into tip top shape for Elk hunting

I am sure this is not a complete list, but I am so stoked just thinking about it.  Now that the decision has been made, I must start with getting into shape.  I have been stuck behind a desk for the last two months and then there was the deep freeze of winter weather we have all been trapped in.  Yesterday was the perfect day to begin my journey to a more fit me with warm south winds blowing, it got up to 70 degrees and I had an afternoon hall pass.  I planned to go mountain biking, but after checking the web site for the trails I learned that they were closed due to muddy trails.  I opted for hiking instead.

North Shore Trail Link

My hiking trail of choice for a quick trip is Lake Grapevine on the North shore.  I took the west loop trail because it is has more rough terrain, rocks, and hills.  It isn't elk country, but it the closest I can muster up in North Central Texas.  I took the camera to take some pics of the more challenging rocks that mountain bikers make it over.

I am not an expert mountain biker and have to walk up some of these, but I can make it down most all of them.  It is a great work out and a lot of fun.

Although this is just outside many people's back yards, there are signs of wildlife.

So after I made two miles into the trail, I decided I should turn back.  After I had traveled the third mile, my knee began to hurt as I traveled down some of the more steep hills.  Later this soreness became real pain.  I had to just grunt through the last mile until I made it back to my truck.  I had bitten off more than I could chew by taking a four mile hike from a state of being completely out of shape.  This is a wake-up call.  Now I need to heal up and then get in shape.  As I write this post tonight, I have gone from limping around the house yesterday, to walking like frankenstein this morning, to looking more like a rapper with a limp in his gait.  I think by tomorrow I will be fine, but I will be more careful next time.  Now I will work up the miles more slowly so I don't repeat this event.  It really sucks getting old.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Blue Jay Deer (Video and Blog Post)

I am working 24/7.  So, with no time for an outdoor adventure now, I am forced to work on unfinished outdoor projects from 2010 at night.  I have pulled together a video from one of my two successful 2010 bowhunting trips.

It was early November and the temperatures were cold, but pleasant.  I was one of those still and quiet days when you can hear the smallest sounds from far away.  Song birds were singing and the turkeys are gobbling.  The deer were on the move just as the sun came up, but all of them were small bucks.  This didn't deter me, I had decided that I was not going to be picky this year.  I was hunting for meat.  My stockpiles of venison were  dangerously low and this was not the time to trophy hunt.

A small buck headed my way and I readied my bow.  He was headed on a collision course for my tree and would either need to walk in front of me or behind me.  My tree is a very large Pecan tree with wide broad limbs that sweep low toward the ground, to low for the deer to comfortably walk through.  He be forced to take one of the trails leading around me.  When he arrives at the point where he must choose his direction, he chose wisely and elected to use the trail behind me.  Traveling at a fast walk searching for a doe, his nose just off the ground with a desperate look in his eye.  There was no time to react.  I could only watch him go by out of the corner of my eye.  "There goes your one opportunity for this morning" I thought to myself.  Usually only one shot opportunity presents itself for a given hunt, but this day would be different.  I watched him disappear into the brush and looked back from where he had approached my stand, there was another buck approaching and this one was bigger.

When the second buck came to the "fork in the road" he selected the path that would put him in my shooting lane.  This is when time slows down and every second takes an eternity.  I wait for him to lower his head as he walks, so he won't catch the movement as I draw my bow.  When he does just that and I react quickly by silently drawing back the string until the familiar feeling of the release is on my cheek.  But there is a problem, the sun is rising be hind me and, although the leaves and branches of the tree break-up my outline, the deer caught the movement and has locked his eyes on me.  Now I am stuck.  The buck stands motionless looking in my direction, waiting for me to move and give away my position.  I am holding my bow at full draw, trying to remain calm.   Suddenly, good fortune arrives in the form of a bird.  A squawking blue jay flutters into my tree and lands near my general vicinity.  As the jay squawks, the deer looks as though he is thinking to himself, "I thought I saw a predator in that tree, but maybe it is  only that bird, oh I am just being paranoid".  The jay continues to put on a tremendous show as he hops and squawks in the branches behind me.  Then the deer relaxes his gaze, looks left and right and then turns for my shot.  This is where practice pays dividends.  If you aren't ready for this situation and never practice shooting after holding your bow at full draw for an extended period of time, you will end up flubbing the shot as your muscles begin to quiver and shake.  Luckily, experience (that is another word for my past failures) has taught me to prepare for this scenario.  There is only a brief opportunity as the deer turns broadside and begins a slow walk.  Up until now, I have not had a shot opportunity because the deer was at a sharp angle quartering toward me. Now I have a perfect broadside shot, but it will only be available for a few seconds and then he will be gone.  I look through the peep, the distance is 23 yards so hold the top sight pin just a little high.  I loosen the grip of my left so that I don't torque the bow.  The grip is now firmly pulling against the palm of my bow hand between my thumb and index finger.  I focus on the target, a small patch of hair behind the front shoulder of the deer.  I begin to squeeze the release with my trigger finger and at the instant the arrow is released, it is a surprise to me.  I can see the arrow sailing toward the deer and his instinctive reaction to lower his body as he prepares to spring away from danger, but the arrow is to quick.  It strikes him with a THWACK, and he leaps.  Turning into the thick brush of a plumb bush I hear him running and crashing.  He continues into thicker brush and then, silence.  I wait as I normally do before following the trail, replaying the shot in my head.  Trying to remember where the deer was hit and telling myself it was a good hit.  While I am waiting, a nice eight point steps out of the brush and stops about 15 yards from my tree.  Now I do have two buck tags, but I do believe I am getting old when I pass on a buck because I don't want to clean and butcher two at the same time.  Before I can change my mind he leaves and I am relieved.  I cautiously begin the tracking process and even though I think I know where he is, I always begin tracking at the point of impact.  I find my arrow and some hair and then spots of blood.  I ease into the stand of small trees and and find him about 20 yards in.

It is a unique blend of feelings when you kill a deer.  I am elated at taking a deer with a bow.  I feel a sense of accomplishment from the practice and preparation required, I relish the thought of the great meals this deer will provide, and I feel a large sense of responsibility to ensure I honor this beautiful creature by fully utilizing it.  I quickly begin the work of field dressing and dragging it out of the woods.  By Noon it is quartered and in my cooler for the trip back home where the final butchering will take place.  On the drive home I replay the events of the day in my head.  Not just the deer I had taken, but the birds, the turkeys, the coyote I had seen and the other deer.  I count myself lucky to be able to experience the outdoors and play a part in it as well.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I Dream of Turkey!

So I am working like a dog at work, coming in on weekends, getting up early, staying late and it is wearing me down.  Now a winter storm is at my doorstep as I write this blog post  and I need something to look forward to.  Something fun, with warm weather, green grass, spring in the air and tom turkeys gobbling.  Nothing says spring like turkey hunting.  Since I am day dreaming of turkey hunting, I decided to put together a brief you-tube video of a successful 2009 turkey hunt.  In this video, I have already gotten my turkey the day before and I am trying to call in a bird for my hunting buddy Ron.  This was our last set-up for the day and I had made a few initial calls and gotten responses from two toms.  I called until they sounded as though they were very close.  I stopped calling and began videoing.  So sit back enjoy some spring turkey hunting (as of the result of some excellent calling I might add)!