It’s all a part of the bowhunting journey
Early in my bow hunting career, after several years of bow hunting Mississippi, I had managed to take only a few hard-earned does. So when I received an invite to hunt the early season in Wyoming, I jumped at the chance.
This trip would offer a much better opportunity to both see and shoot a buck due to more plentiful animals that would pattern easier. The anticipation was almost more than I could stand. Little did I realize how many lessons I would learn on this week-long trip out west that would stick with me throughout my journey as a bow hunter.
We arrived in Kaycee, Wyoming a few days prior to the Sept. 1 archery opener. Our host was a rancher named Stuart Gosney.
Stuart reminded me of Curley from the movie City Slickers. A man of few words, the ones he did say often carried a lot of weight. Stuart owned a huge swath of land along a river bottom which was loaded with both whitetail and mule deer. I had shipped my Summit climber out ahead of time. And my dreams were filled with big bucks meandering carelessly under my carefully placed stand.
The first rude awakening? The few straight trees that existed were rarely located close to deer trails or obvious sign. We had to hunt from ground blinds or fixed homemade pallet stands. I was at a loss having only archery hunted from portable elevated stands in the past.
Another lesson (one that has stuck with me long since) was the inherently nocturnal nature of buck deer. Even though we were hunting an area with little to no pressure, the bucks were often headed to bed as dawn’s first light broke the horizon. This was easy to observe because the alfalfa fields the deer were feeding in at night lay on one side of the road. But the hills they bedded on lay on the other.
The extra visibility afforded by the more open terrain allowed us to really pattern deer. But the hunting was tough because they were staying at higher elevations. It took several days to figure out why, and it was another lesson in deer behavior. The mosquitoes were almost unbearable that year, and they were biting us and the deer so much it was miserable. By staying at elevation, the deer were avoiding the mosquitoes. But that meant difficult hunting for us.
With deer not traveling very far from their beds to feed, it was nearly impossible for us to intercept them along their travel routes. On the last morning of our hunt, Stuart relocated us to the top of the mountain. We had to drive almost 15 miles around using rough dirt tracks to get ahead of the deer as they returned to their beds. Another lesson learned — literally going the extra mile.
As dawn broke, I found myself on the ground nestled into the root ball of a fallen juniper tree facing a cliff that dropped off into the river bottom. I was set up in white shale rock with scattered junipers making for narrow, but open, shooting lanes. After an hour of nothing, I heard shale rock rolling down the hillside and turned to face a mule deer doe at about 3 yards.
She wheeled and ran toward her bedding area just as I saw a buck’s velvet-covered antlers break the cliff’s edge. He too ran, but I drew anyway. I knew he hadn’t seen me, and I’d read that mule deer often stop to look back. As he skidded to a stop in the loose shale rock, my sights settled just behind his shoulder. My Muzzy broadhead found its mark. I was literally convulsing I was so excited. I anxiously awaited Stuart’s return so we could track my deer and recover it.
After about an hour, Stuart returned. We followed a short blood trail to my heart-shot forkhorn buck. Although he wasn’t very big, he was a true trophy to me. One of the coolest moments of my hunting career was when Stuart took me aside, cracked open two beers, and told me, “You done good son.” Stuart rarely gave attaboys, and I was happy to get one.
Hunting other parts of the country will not only broaden your hunting skills, but will also often teach you lessons that can be applied to your home hunting grounds.
It’s all part of the journey.