Archive for August, 2018

Past Septembers and the Incoming New One

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

It’s 1992, and I’m Inhaling the crisp mountain air while stumbling up an incredibly steep cow path on the far side of a box canyon in the darkness of an early September morning, not knowing what to expect when I reach the top of the hill. Although my father and I briefly saw from a distance what we thought was a bench on the top of the hill last fall, I don’t know what it looks like on that bench since I have never been there.

As I get closer to the top, I can see a bit of open air through the darkness, just enough to know that my climb is almost over. My father is a few steps ahead of me, and we are both starving for oxygen. Our lungs have just about reached their capacity at 11,000 feet, after all, we left New York a few days earlier, where the elevation in my hometown is less than 1,000 feet.


Breaking into the open at the top of the ridge, frost greets our boots, and we shuffle through the grass to sit on a fallen log. Just as we had anticipated, the bench is full of small meadows in every direction. Although it is still dark, a grove of aspen trees can be seen down the hill in front of us, and a drainage extends into blackness — an eerily peaceful darkness that holds the keys to the adventure that awaits us.


We sit quietly and wait. Wanting more light to navigate, we hope to hear a distant bugle or maybe even a few cows and calves chirping somewhere in the near vicinity. Instead, a coyote howls on the next ridge, which excites a few small bulls and gets them singing……………one bugle, two……….and before I know it, five different bulls are bugling and creating their own symphony that echoes across the canyon walls.


Having never experienced anything like it, we make a quick game plan and decide to split up. I’ll go after one of the bulls on the next ridge, and my dad will follow the aspen grove toward the mountaintop to chase the ones that are sounding off in that direction. Hopefully, one of us will be presented with an opportunity to put an arrow in flight.


Well, the morning I described took place 26 years ago next week. It was my first trip to Colorado to hunt elk with a bow. Although I had gone the year before with a rifle, I had never tried my hand with a bow. Five of us went on the trip, including me, my dad, two of his buddies from New York, and a guy from Maine; we were all greenhorns. We didn’t know the first thing about elk hunting, elevation, hydration, good footwear, perfectly tuned bows, or good backpacks. Instead, we just knew that we had to have more grit and determination than everyone else, and maybe, just maybe, we would get a shot at an elk.


A few days later, I crested the same ridge and heard bulls bugling in the far drainage, so I decided to go after them. After a few aggressive bugles out of my Quaker Boy bugle tube, I could hear him coming. Seconds later, I could see his antlers, then his entire body appeared in front of me. Searching for his competitor, he turned broadside at 15 yards and put everything he had into a hair-raising bugle. I drew back my 80-pound tree-bark camo PSE Fire-Flite Express and settled the pin behind his front shoulder as I watched the breath creep out of his mouth and extend into the air like he was smoking. Applying steady pressure on the trigger of my Cobra caliper release, I was startled when the bow fired.


Expecting it to go through his vitals, I was stunned as I watched the arrow harmlessly sail over his back and fly into the nothingness over the hill where he stood. How had my preparation during my 3D shooting failed me? How did I miss something the size of my Izuzu Pup truck at 15 yards?


Reaching toward my hip quiver, I grabbed another 2216 Easton Gamegetter II and nocked it. As the bull now stood 40 yards away, he didn’t let up as he found his way into another bloodcurdling scream. I slowly drew, anchored, settled the 40-yard pin behind the shoulder, and squeezed the trigger.


Watching the arrow travel in slow motion toward the majestic king of the mountain, time stood still. As it reached its peak in the arc and began coming back down, my focus remained on the spot where the pin was last seen when I looked at it through my peep sight. Jarred out of the serenity of the slow-motion film I was watching, all hell broke loose, and I could hear the bull gasping for air. His hooves clanked like a thoroughbred’s hooves pound the dirt while headed down the homestretch. A tremendous crashing noise followed, then all was quiet.


A magpie sensing it might have a free meal began chattering with its buddies, and before long, six of them filled the top of an evergreen tree in the meadow. As they squawked back and forth to determine their rank, another bull began screeching further up the drainage, but I was done and had a lot of work in front of me.



After meeting with my dad and going back to camp, we got help from the rest of the guys and headed back to take care of the bull. Although we made quick work of it and began packing it out, we weren’t fully prepared…………….we only had a few frame packs…………………and a very big duffle bag. Yes, we stuffed everything into the frame packs and duffle bag and began the journey down one side of the box canyon and up the other side. When we finally rolled back into camp, it was 10:30 p.m.



We have come a long way since that day – that year. I guess everyone learns as time passes. Hopefully, people grow and figure out better ways to do things. In the years that followed, we stacked up some elk, including bulls and cows, and never looked back. Many people have graced our presence, and for the most part, we have presented everyone with an opportunity to take an elk. While many have succeeded, many have not, and we have a lot of fantastic memories stored away from successful and unsuccessful hunts alike.


Why do I tell you all of this? It’s because this year, next week, I will be starting all over. I’ll head back into that same area where I killed my first bull, but this time, I’ll have someone tagging along behind me with a camera in tow. No, it’s not what you think. This isn’t for a hunting show or a hunting video. This will be the culmination of the project I’ve been working on with Alex Kershaw for the last handful of years. His project, which originally started as a visual art compilation, has now taken on more of a documentary type feel, but not like the documentaries you are probably envisioning. This particular documentary probably won’t have much talking, if any, and it examines a hunter’s intimate relationship with the outdoors, the animals he pursues, and the death of the animal that is killed. All of these things are interwoven into a tale that can only be told in this particular way. This isn’t a film directed toward hunters – or anti-hunters. It’s a film that explores something that very few people ever think about, especially people who don’t hunt and people who don’t become truly immersed in the hunting experience.


This year will be tough because Alex isn’t a hunter and doesn’t have the experience that is necessary to remain undetected long enough to get within bow range. I agreed to let him film this hunt to get some of the stuff he really needs to finish the project. I’ve taken enough elk over the years, which makes me no longer feel the need to get something to feel successful. Along the way, I have realized that I have nothing left to prove to anyone. Instead, I enjoy the journey a lot more now than I ever have in the past. Many people never get to that stage in their hunting careers, but I’ll be forever thankful that I had a great role model in my father to show me the way and make me understand how our thoughts and outlook change as we age. Father Time doesn’t slow down for everyone, and he’s undefeated in the game of life. If we can accept him when we finally realize he’s no longer running beside us, but walking with us, the time we spend doing the things we love will enrich our lives and everyone’s lives around us.


I guess this is my way of telling you that this trip will be an adventure unlike any I have ever had in my life, and I look forward to being a part of Alex’s adventure, because I am sure that this will be new for him, too. Hopefully, we get some good footage that can only be captured in elk camp amongst my friends and family. After all, that’s what hunting is all about, even though so many people in this social media era have failed to acknowledge it or even understand it. I’ll update the journal on my website after I return. Please enjoy the journey when I share it with you. Have fun in the outdoors and make your memories everlasting.


The Lost Art of Woodsmanship

Friday, August 17th, 2018



It’s that time of year when many hunters start blowing up social media with pictures of their “target” bucks. Even I have to admit that some of the trail cam pictures make me look twice. I often think I’d do the same thing if I lived somewhere in the Midwest or even somewhere that I wasn’t surrounded by big mountains and a limited number of deer, deer that don’t move too terribly much throughout the summer months. The woods are extremely thick in many of the places I hunt, and the places resemble the jungles of South America.

As more and more photos pop up, I see people, even young men and kids, who think they are only successful if they kill big bucks. They have to kill one of these “target” bucks. They begin talking about other deer and call them dinks, scrubs and management animals. I’m not sure why, but this type of behavior rubs me the wrong way. I’d say it’s because I was brought up in another era, an era when the hunt wasn’t all about plastering your success all over the internet. Instead, the hunt was considered a success if you had a good time afield and were lucky enough to shoot a buck of any kind. Every now and then someone might anchor a big buck to the ground, and that hunter would be considered the king for a week or two but no longer than that. After the kingship ended, he would fall back into the ranks of guys who loved being in the woods.

I began hunting when I was a kid. I was instantly taught how to respect the woods and learn how animals navigated from place to place. I became educated with the lifestyles of many animals, not just deer. As I wandered over hills and valleys and poked my way through swamps, I learned how to get around in the woods. Eventually, I was comfortable enough to go into different pieces of woods where I had never been, find a place on a map and meet my dad there for lunch.

I spent hours upon hours scouring through the woods in my teen years. Any time I had a chance to be in the woods, that’s where I went. I wanted to learn the ins and outs of terrain. I studied the landscapes and tried to figure out why I found deer sign in certain places. I became accustomed to why deer avoid some great looking places and go into the heart of places you would never expect them to be. I continued my education of deer by being in the woods throughout the year, even if I only had a few hours here or there to tramp around the corner of a hill next to the road. I learned how to use my compass to get to places on topographical maps, and I learned what to do if I got into trouble while I was hunting a mile or more from the road. I learned how to take notice of the telephone poles numbers where I went into the woods so I would know which way to walk to get back to the truck when I came out at a pole that was a mile from where I parked.

As the years rolled past, I realized that all of the woodsman skills I had gained were the true reason behind my success. I became accustomed to the forest, which allowed me to become familiar with the personalities of the animals that lived amongst the trees. I found those tricky spots that every deer in the woods would head to at least once during the course of the fall months. I also learned how drastically the patterns of deer change from week to week and month to month, sometimes changing as quickly as the flick of a switch. I saw how deer congregated in certain areas, but when the first snow stuck to the ground, those same deer disappeared and never came back until the following year.

You can begin gaining knowledge the instant you open an encyclopedia, just like you can increase your odds of getting nice deer if you make it a goal to learn more about the places they live. You’ll never get a big buck if you’re not hunting where one lives.


Maybe this year you should re-evaulate your goals. Instead of chasing deer all over the countryside, maybe you should just focus on learning more about the woods where you are hunting. It’s an education that will never leave you. Use this knowledge to become one of the animals in the forest. If you live in their world, you will find it easier to understand what they do and why they do it.  I’m going to try to do a few of these short essays before hunting season, although I will be gone to Colorado for a few weeks in September. If you are interested in me doing a Facebook live type of thing to talk about it, please sound off and let me know what you think.

————————————–> Good Luck this season. Shoot straight.