Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Tales from the Past

Bull Elk
I have been struggling on how to introduce this new idea to the blog for several months now. I truly enjoy bringing my most recent experiences in my hunting life to the electronic world of A Colorado Hunter's Life, but I feel I am dismissing the lessons that brought me to this point in the first place.   As the summer months progress I plan on taking you along with me on the preparations and the actual adventure of the Alaskan Caribou hunt. However, until then I also recognize the need for variety and depth of different topics.  With that in mind I will introduce you to the first of what I hope to be many posts about past tales of hunting successes, failures, and hopefully some humorous situations along the way.


There are two shoulder mount elk heads that adorn the front entry way of my home.  These are placed there much to the dismay of my wife, she has even recently taken to the idea of writing a counter blog title, "A Colorado Hunters Wife."   Despite her protests about the heads, she and my daughter have named the two bulls,  Burt and Elmer.  Do not ask me what the origin of the names is, I have a theory it is some take on Burt and Ernie that came from the mind of a 4 year old little girl.  This story is about Burt and how he came to be up on my wall.

It was archery season 2011 in Colorado and despite nearly a week sitting my tree stand I had yet to even set eyes upon an elk.  It seemed that everywhere I went the elk where not.  My hunting partners had reported many sightings and a few arrows had even taken flight but had missed their mark. I had already filled my mule deer tag with a small 3x3 buck and was enjoying purely pursuing elk.

My 3x3 Buck

I hunt elk a bit differently than most archers.  While I will not tell it is the only way, it has worked repeatedly for me and consistently put me within bow range of the animals.  While some archers prefer to try to call the elk in, or attempt to spot and stalk them, I tree stand hunt elk over watering holes and wallows.  The scouting time required can be enormous but once you know an area the payoff can be awesome.   In the last five years I have taken four bulls with my bow, and the odd year out was because I failed to draw my elk tag.  The technique is simple, find water/wallows with a tremendous amount of elk sign, set your tree stand/blind, and wait.  It is the waiting part that is frustrating for some hunters. Sitting in the same place for up to eight hours each day can be draining for sure.   For me there is solace of letting the woods return to their natural state and forget that I am there.

Burt and I met on Thursday, September 1st, 2011.  It was a beautiful fall evening, and I was stationed 25 feet up an aspen tree overlooking a large watering hole.  Many elk have fallen to our clan's arrows and muzzle loaders on this particular spot over the years.  This year the action had been slow.  It was the magic hour before sunset when the whole forest comes to life with pre-darkness activity.  I heard the lone bugle about 200 yards down the drainage that was fed from the watering hole.  It was not a full challenge bugle, but a tending bugle; a bull moving his harem of cows.  I knew instantly it was a real elk and not a misguided hunter.  I decided to respond with a simple cow call in the hopes the bull was in the market more female company.  Immediately after I made the call he answered back, this time it was a full bugle and it was impressive.  The forest instantly was filled with the sound of an elk herd moving.  Now elk can be pure ghosts seeming to materialize out of thin air in front of you, or they can be incredibly noisy.  This heard sounded like a freight train was coming towards me, and fast.  It was clear the bull was pushing the cows up the drainage.  The bull gave me another bugle and this time it sounded much closer, he was coming and coming in a hurry.

Pond and view from tree stand.

I quickly grabbed my bow off the hanger stood up from the seat and notched the release onto the string loop of the Matthews Outback compound bow.   That was all the time I had before the bull appeared.  He was what we call a rag horn, barley passing the 4 point minimal legal requirement.  He was at the head of the column of cows and when he stopped broadside at thirty yards I resisted the temptation to send the fletched shaft into the side of him.  I knew from experience that the herd bull will often push the cows and I did not think this was the bull I had heard.  The herd slowly filed past me and walked to the pond for a drink.  As each cow walked by, my level of anticipation increased, had I made the right call?  was there another bull?  Then I saw him.  There was no need to count points and no wondering if he was a legal, he was a monster.  I could see his antlers towering above the scrub bushes, and his body was twice the size of the largest cow in sight.  This was the biggest bull elk I had ever seen in a hunting situation.

I knew I had to forget about the antlers, if I focused on them I would blow the shot for sure.  I instead merely looked for the biggest elk in the herd as that could only be him.  He walked passed me at 25 yards, but did not pause for a shot.  He then walked out to the pond and stood directly over the rock I had positioned at 35 yards.  There it was, my shot.  Recognizing and waiting for the perfect shot is hard thing to do for some archers, and I have both waited to long or shot too early.  This was it and I knew it.  I picked a spot on the vitals of the bull, pulled the bow to my anchor point and settled the sights with the 30 yard pin slightly above the center line.  I fought the urge to stab the release trigger and let the arrow fly. I instead worked through my release sequence, squeezing the trigger and waiting for the surprise shot.  The bull moved before the bow went off and with luck I stopped the shot before it was too late.  He entered the large pond and walked out to he middle of it to take drink.  I knew the middle of the pond was 50 yards, this is the maximum range I will shoot at an animal with my compound bow.  Too much can happen in the flight time at ranges past this point.  The water line was just below center of the bull and I knew I still had a shot.  Less than optimal, but I felt if I did not take it, I could lose this bull forever, plus I was still at full draw.  I once again picked my spot and aligned the pins on the vitals.

The twang of the string surprised me,  I can still see the arrow in flight.  The green plastic nock caught the evening light of the sun and glowed with green fire.  Everything was in slow motion and the arrow seemed to take an eternity to reach the target.  What was perhaps measured in milliseconds seemed to be hours to my hunter brain.  As the range was great the arrow arched high and then fell towards the bull,  I feared I had missed, until I heard the telltale thwack of the arrow striking the animal.

I did not see the hit, but he reacted instantly, trudging through the water towards the distant shore of the pond.  I immediately gave the bull a cow call, while reaching for a second arrow.  The bull ran back towards the draining he came from and paused in front of me at a mere 30 yards.  I began to draw the bow but stopped.  There was a bright red spot rapidly growing in size on the opposite side I hit him on, the arrow had passed through.  The exit hole was in the perfect place for a lung hit, there was no use spooking the bull any further, he was going to go down and soon.  I focused on calming him rather than sending another broad head into him.  I continued to cow call as he angled up and away from me on the hillside bordering the drainage.  He paused once again before I lost sight of him and I mentally marked where I had lost sight of him.  The cow calling worked on the herd, while they had spooked at the shot, they now regrouped in front of me.  The little bull even walked towards my tree stand trying in vain to figure out how a cow elk had climbed up a tree.  Meanwhile I could hear my bull cough from the side of the hill on the drainage, he was not too far away and more than likely down.

Any seasoned hunter can tell you about the rush that accompanies a successful shot.  For archers the rush is extreme.  I have nearly walked right off a tree stand into space after a shot as I was so amped up.  Whole body tremors, loss of dexterity, and uncontrollable shaking is common place.  Learning to manage this until after the shot is the mark of a veteran.  I had the shakes bad after this shot.  Even if I wanted to climb down and look for the bull, I physically could not. Twenty minutes later found me better collected, and following an archery hunting commandment of giving the animal time to expire.

There was not much blood to follow.  It surprised me as I had seen a clean hit.  I went to where I had last seen the bull and in the fading light saw a shape and color ahead of me that could be a down elk.  As I approached the shape it grew into the beautiful 6x6 bull that I thought it was.  He was down and expired.  I sat on a log opposite the elk and had a moment of silence with the animal I had just killed.  It is moment true hunters know.  An honoring of the sacrifice the animal made, and the bond that predator and prey share.  People like to forget what we really are; predators, ones with the unique skill of being able to kill at a distance. 

The Bull

The remainder of the evening saw the elk, which was as big as a small horse, carried out in pieces on the backs of my fellows hunters and I to the nearest vehicle trail.  Months later I had the bull measured by the Pope and Young Club.  His gross score was just shy of 300, but dipped to 280 4/8s after deductions.  While he was entered into the P&Y big game records, I do not hunt for this.  I hunt for that moment.  The moment where I know what it is like to be an animal and truly human. I would be lying if I did not add that I hunt for food, game meat is big part of my life and I would greatly miss it.

Closing thoughts this time are from David Frost.  As this tale is about a successful hunt I feel it is only appropriate. Don't aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally. - David Frost.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Enterprise and the Trac Grabbers

Bull Moose I came accross in my quest to get stuck for this blog post.

When I started this blog I did not have any idea of where I wanted it to go, or what it would become.  I had a basic vision of sharing my outdoor world with a wider audience, and was hopeful to perhaps inspire others to take up the mantle of hunter.  I perhaps had some loftier dreams that I might be able to bridge some of the gap between the non-hunting world and that of the outdoorsman.  I knew in the back of my mind there was a possibly that product manufactures might be interested in what I do, but this was always destined to be on some far off day, or so I thought.

It was my "How To Get Unstuck" video that introduced me to Jim Perry of Trac Grabber.   This was the same video that was welcomed by my co-workers with many laughs and several applications of the name, "Hillbilly" when they first viewed it.  I personally prefer the term, "mountain man," but that fight is for another day.  I even hear that the co-workers have a re-make of that video in the works, featuring the, "Yakety Sax,"  music.  Thankfully that specific song is copyrighted.

Jim had seen my video and wanted to offer me a chance to demo his new product.  The Trac Grabber is a unique product that straps over a tire and incorporates a rubber block that sits on the tire face.  This not only adds traction, but also lifts the vehicle when the Trac Grabber contacts the ground.  This lift factor is a huge addition to getting a vehicle out of a situation where it has sunk in the mud, snow, or sand.  Jim told me he had specifically developed these to help people avoid being stranded and stuck in a bad situation.  I could tell from speaking with him that he was very passionate about the safety of travelers, especially those who might not be versed in a vehicle recovery.  Jim offered to send me four Trac Grabbers to test out and send feedback about what I thought of them.

A Trac Grabber installed.
When the box arrived last month, I was excited to see them and actually get some hands-on experience with the product.  After a test fit on the dry roadway, I was ready to head to hit the hills.  There was only one problem: I did not have time, nor were the conditions right.  The mountains had already warmed in the mid-April sun, and while there certainly was some mud to be found, I wanted to try them in my favorite conditions; snow. Sadly, the Trac Grabbers have been relegated to sit unused on my computer desk for a few weeks.

Somehow the stars aligned and allowed me a solid day off from work on the same day the gods of winter smiled on me one last time before dismissing me to the heat of full summer.  A huge snow storm had deposited several feet of fresh snow in the mountains where I like to hunt.  It was the type of snow that is wet, heavy, and loves to cling to vehicles and entrap them.  The best description of this type of snow is "snowman-making" snow. 

As I drove to the mountains I thought about what I was going to do.  I was going to have to purposefully get my truck stuck, and preferably stuck in a fantastic fashion.  It was never something I had set out to do intentionally, and of course in true Colorado Hunter's Life fashion, I was alone.  I was confident that the Trac Grabbers would work, but I also had a host of shovels, tow straps and chains in the back of the Suburban just in case.  Taking these tools with me is kind of like car insurance: you hope you never need them, but still want to have them just in case.

I selected a spot on a roadway I knew there would be vehicles traveling down at some point that day.  It still was a battle to turn the wheel and power into the side of the snowbank at just the right spot to get stuck.  The first time I used the Trac Grabbers I was able to get out too easily.  The solution?  I backed up the truck and  buried the truck to the frame in the snowbank/ditch.  The snow was up to the bottom of the passenger windows on the right side. Usually the only way out would be hours of digging, or a tow truck.  I am sure I was quite the sight to the few people who passed me while I was working on getting out.  Of course being good Colorado mountain residents they each stopped to check on me.  They were flabbergasted when I turned down offers of assistance, but all were interested in the Trac Grabbers I was testing.

As the third person drove away I was reminded of an old story.  It is the story of the man trapped on top of his roof during a flood.  He prays to God to save him.  Shortly after a man comes by in a canoe and offers him help, the trapped man replies that God will help him.  A little while later a rowboat comes floating by and the occupants calls out for the man to swim to the boat.  The man still refuses the offer.  Soon a helicopter hovers over him and throws down a rope ladder.  The man declines the air rescue again having faith in God, and then the helicopter leaves to helps some other poor soul. The waters swiftly rises and the man then drowns and dies.  Once in heaven he stands in front of God and questions why God did not save him.  God is confounded and replies, I sent you a canoe, rowboat and even a helicopter!  I have to say that I felt a little like the man on the rooftop when each offer of help drove off into the snow.  Nonetheless, by using the Trac Grabbers I was out in less than twenty minutes, and the only digging required was clearing snow to get the grabbers on.

Crater left once I got out of the ditch.
I decided to film the use of the Trac Grabbers, and later made a video about their use and how they work.  I also stopped for a short time to film a segment on how to put on tire chains.  Both of the videos are posted below. I hope you enjoy them!

As for the title of this post?  It is an idea of what this blog might become.  Not only an outlet for me to write about what I do and share my life and thoughts, but perhaps a place for enterprise.  A place of enterprise for me, and a place of enterprise for the Jim Perrys of the world.  People who have great ideas and go out on a limb to see them realized.

Closing thoughts this time belong to the great Fred Bear.  As I am sure this is my last outing into the snow for the year it only seems appropriate.  " With the end of season comes countless hours of longing to be back in the woods with a bow in hand and the chase in your heart. " - Fred Bear

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Lessons from an Economy Bow

Samick Sable Recurve #35
I have always been a gear snob.  It is much to my wife's loathing that I typically go for the best of best when I am purchasing new hunting equipment.   Need a .308 for hunting Mountain Lions?  We all know any decent bolt action rifle with do the job, nope I have to order a custom built AR10 with personalized graphics.  So I was a bit surprised when I walked out of the traditional bow shop with a used economy bow in my hands.  New, the Samick Sable recurve was only a mere $175, I had picked up the used version for only $125 and there was not even a scratch on it.

I had not even intended to purchase a bow that day.  This is plight that many sportsmen find themselves in when venturing to their local favorite hunting shop.  An innocent errand for some simple supplies somehow turns into a new rifle or bow, and the creation of wonderful tale to explain to the Mrs.  why such a purchase was absolutely necessary.  This new bow did not need such a tale, this bow was a lesson.  One that I desperately needed, and had the good fortune to both ask for and swallow my pride and accept.

I had ventured to Rocky Mountain Specialty Gear,, in the quest to for some cedar arrow building supplies.  I have long dreamed to be a pure traditional archer, using just a longbow and wooden arrows. While I have dabbled in bare bow shooting for the past 10 years, last season I officially took off the training wheels and hunted with a Fred Bear Montana Longbow.  Any aspirations I had of returning to compound archery died at the same time the 5x5 bull elk did that had fallen to the wooden arrow from said bow.  To say I was hooked on traditional archery was an understatement.  The only thing that had not completed the achievement was that fact the arrow I used had been built by someone else. While I truly appreciated all the guidance and assistance the person who built the arrow had given me, it was still his.  I vowed to learn to build arrows for myself this season and take my journey into the traditional world one step further.

I had been sent to the RMSG by another master of traditional archery, who had recently graciously given me a lesson in wooden arrow building. His quote was they had some of the best raw shafts, and would fit the spine and flight specifically to my bow and draw length.  Shortly after arriving and shooting a few raw shafts it was proven he was not wrong.  RMSG was amazing, I have never seen such a collection of traditional bows and supplies matched anywhere else. The gentleman assisting me was both kind and patient, he later introduced himself as Logan.  He even did not comment when I explained that I often battle short drawing the bow and not getting all the way to my anchor point.  I have never had my traditional draw length measured and was shocked to find it was only 25.5 inches.  My compound draw length was 29.5 with a string loop and release.

Despite thousands of arrows in practice with the longbow I have never even considered myself proficient, and my shooting at the bow shop proved this so.  What I have always been decent at is reading people and I could tell that Logan wanted to saying something, but was holding back. I asked him for his opinion of my shooting, and he cut right to the chase, you are doing everything wrong was his reply.  That was it, I could turn away or perhaps learn a lesson and at worse lose a few minutes of my time. An hour later Logan had me stacking arrows on top of each other and drawing at 30.5 inches.

It was a complete rebuild of my shooting stance and anchor point.  Parts of it were not to far from my compound stance and at times felt more natural than the other way I had been taught before.  The only problem?  I could no long draw my longbow.  The Montana Longbow bow was 55 pounds at 28 inches, my new draw length was pushing the bow past the 60 mark. There was no way I could learn to shoot the new style with that weight, if ever.  I was forced to make the decision to abandoned the arrow building until I had a set shooting style and bow.  Logan suggested a lighter draw weight bow as a training bow, until I built the muscle mass necessary to draw the heavier weights.  The 35 pound Sable I had been shooting for the last hour fit the bill, and ended up going home with me.

After nearly week of pure form practice, I started shooting a blind bale to start working on the release and follow through.  This involves working on your form and ignoring the aiming portion of shooting.  To make sure I am really doing this I am closing my eyes and focusing on feeling the draw and the shot.  I have to say for a cheap bow the Samick does a decent job.  It is decently smooth and fast for the poundage.

Full draw on a blind bale shot
Closing thoughts this time are mine.  Don't be afraid to admit ignorance to learn something new, it might just be one of the better lessons you will learn.