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TENSION ON THE STRING ...Classic Bowhunting Tales and Insights
By MARK R. BAKER
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Mark R. Baker
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNo Waiting on the Wind
The headlines of the local paper said it all. Thirteen boxcars were blown off the tracks in town today. Not by some sort of explosion, or terrorist event ... BLOWN by the wind. No storm, just another windy day. But unusual to say the least. Even for the town I live in. You see, everything here that can blow away has long since headed down along the Yellowstone River towards Billings, airborne. So when wind damage occurs, it's newsworthy.
Now I'm not sure that I live in the windiest place in the United States, but I've gotta say, it sure has to be right up there. There may be places that have to deal with hurricanes, or tornadoes ... terrific events to be sure, and in no way would I want to swap places with them. And there are surely places that experience great gusts, like we do, for days at a time. But the town of Livingston, Montana has got to have it over them all, I'd bet, when it comes to day in and day out hard blowing wind.
This particular year, it seems, we were getting more than our fair share. The wind had blown it seemed, steadily for a couple months, the whole of bow season, and now into the general season, in excess of 40 miles per hour. Steady, day in and day out.
Surely I am exaggerating, you say. Well, I'm not. Just ask any Montanan about Livingston and they'll tell you all about it, and why they are glad they don't live here! I won't go into the details about why the wind blows so hard here, suffice to say it has something to do with the Yellowstone plateau and a long narrow valley on the upper Yellowstone River, and meeting up with compressional winds and thermals coming down the Bozeman pass ... all converging in one place—here. Okay ... I'm no meteorologist or anything. I just know it blows.
I had been hunting this particular year hard on a number of promising places, trying to figure out the local whitetail rut, and find sites that were semi-protected to hang stands in. Although I knew better, it was as if the rut was not yet happening. Scrapes were scarce and activity seemed to be slow. I just wasn't seeing the bucks moving around at all.
Now, many of you would say to me, Ah Ha! The wind must be affecting things. But I know better. These deer are accustomed to our wind and would long ago have perished if they waited for a calm day. No lie.
No, they just aren't rutting like they usually do. Maybe it was the moon, who knows. Sometimes you can analyze these things to death. I just know that there are so many days I can hunt, and moon, wind, or whatever; I didn't have the luxury of waiting. It was already nearly two weeks into November. This is my favorite time of year and the time I have the most luck encountering big bucks on the prowl.
I decided to try another spot that had always held promise for me. An island in the middle of the Yellowstone River. It was too close to town for gun hunters, and surrounded by private property. The only access was by boat, or wading. Funny how people are discouraged by that prospect. Okay by me though. I had pretty much had this 80 acres of thick cover to myself for some years now, and had taken a number of deer here. I found the place while fly-fishing one summer, and with the proper inquiries and phone calls I was "in", and have enjoyed it ever since.
I got done with work early and had plenty of time for an evening hunt. So I quickly ran home, scarcely a mile away from the island, gathered my gear and was off. From home, I can be in prime habitat within 15 minutes.
I slipped on my hip boots, grabbed my bow, arrows, and a wading staff, and walked the quarter mile or so to the riverbank, then began the slippery wade across the riffle. The water was just above knee-deep, but the rocks were moss covered and with the strong winds blowing, keeping my feet under me was a chore. As I reached the opposite bank, it was clear that there was no way I was going to spend any time in a tree this evening.
No problem. Although I had several stands ready on this island, in conditions like this, I really preferred to be on the ground. The wind must have been blowing at least 60 miles per hour and gusting upwards of 70 or 80. Limbs were coming down all over the place.
I suddenly remembered I'd hunted this island exactly a year ago to the day in the evening, on a windy day just like this. I'd still-hunted along a circuitous trail, keeping the wind in my face or crossways, and rattled in a wide buck to point-blank range, and promptly missed. You never forget the misses.
He was bedded, unknown to me, in a brush pile alongside the main trail I was hunting. Amid the noise of the wind through the trees, like a 747 taxiing down the runway, limbs cracking and rattling together everywhere, I had heard a branch break ... unmistakably a result of weight being applied on it. And so I squatted down, knocked an arrow and laid my bow on the ground before me, grabbed the antlers and racked them hard together.
The brush pile before me started moving and then all of a sudden up stands this wide 4 by 4, barely 7 yards away. He looks my way for the source of the antlers clacking, rather non-chalantly, and then begins to walk towards me. My bow was up, and as the buck turned and crossed in front of me, I pulled back and shot—low. No he didn't jump or react or do anything that I could use as an excuse. I just shot low. I remember.
At any rate, I decided I would hunt this same trail. A number of scrapes usually appeared along it, anyway, and I hoped I'd see something working them.
For the first hour I slowly worked along, spotting a couple does ahead that took a more direct route across the island. They were headed across the river to an alfalfa field that drew in a couple dozen deer every night. The trail they were on passed by a large cottonwood that stood alone in a small clearing. I had used that tree in the past as a stand, and had even taken a doe from it one Thanksgiving morning. I decided to check a scrape site right below the tree, as this had been one of the regular places that the bucks seemed to like using.
Sure enough, a large fresh scrape was right where I thought it would be. All right! This was the best sign I'd seen so far this year, indicating any kind of real rutting activity. I decided to backtrack the trail to the east about 100 yards away to another scrape site I knew about beneath a Russian Olive's branches. There was a line of brush and large trees in a swale between me, and the edge of another small clearing where the scrape was located. I walked alongside a scant trail towards there, when I spotted a deer moving on the opposite side of the far clearing and coming fast to me. I didn't need binoculars to see he was a good buck, and I knew just where he was headed.
I needed to get off the trail I was on, as this would be the path he was going to use after he visited the scrape I was heading for. He would then come by me on his way to the scrape I had just been at. The wind was howling in his direction, and so I quickly got off the trail and set up in a big, freshly blown down cottonwood, conveniently 15 yards off.
The buck did his business at the Russian Olive, and then just as I had anticipated, used the trail and headed towards the other scrape. He disappeared momentarily as he walked through the swale within the brushy tree line, and I prepared myself for the shot in order to minimize movement. As he passed by me, I released a heavy shaft his way. He turned at the strings release, and the arrow caught him just back of the ribs angling steeply forward towards the opposite shoulder.
I watched him bound off three or four jumps, then all heck broke loose behind me as a couple other young bucks had snuck in within 10 feet or so of my position, no doubt heading for the same place my buck had been going. The commotion startled me, and I turned to look, then looked back to my buck, but he was gone.
I gave him the appropriate amount of time, then checked quickly for blood or my arrow. Nothing. I walked about thirty or forty yards along his exit path without any luck at all. No sign, no tracks through the waist high weeds. Nothing. I decided to go home and get help.
Armed with flashlight, and Coleman lanterns that were impossible to keep lit in the windy conditions, friend Todd Cooper and I searched the weedy, blowing clearing he had run through in the dark without any luck. Finally after a fair bit of time, and afraid we would destroy important spoor, we surrendered to the night, to try our luck in the morning.
At first light, I was back, and found my buck almost immediately. We had probably walked within five yards of him a half a dozen times the night before. But the wind blowing the waist high weeds around made for tough conditions. And I never did find any blood. The arrow had traveled forward through the lungs and into the shoulder, but all the bleeding had been internal. He died almost instantly. The meat was plenty cooled down and proved to be just fine.
Field dressing chores followed, and a short drag to, through, and beyond the river to my truck was over in no time at all.
He was a good mature buck, an even six by six. I was very proud to have taken such a magnificent buck while still-hunting with my longbow.
Oh yeah, there are times when I cuss the wind. Especially when I have to be out working in it. And the incessant blowing can get many folks down. But hunting in it, that's another story. The deer and I have adapted well enough I guess. And I won't let a little, or a lot for that matter, of wind keep me from enjoying my hunting season. When it comes to waiting on the wind, I really don't have much of a choice, anyway.
Chapter TwoPayoff for Persistence—The Scripted Season
Let me say right up front that I'm not a trophy hunter ... at least in the generally accepted definition of the term. Only in the respect that I like to set certain goals for myself, and give it my all in trying to attain them, without compromising certain parameters I might set. Most of the time I like to limit my choices of equipment, or hunt in a specific manner to create that challenge. That way, for me, every hunt becomes a memorable achievement, and every animal I take becomes a memorable trophy. Still, like most hunters, I love a set of antlers to place on my wall.
With only one buck tag available to me in my home area, and a lot of time to try to fill it, I do enjoy "holding out" for mature animals, whitetails being my favorite beast to hunt. Don't get me wrong; taking a whitetail doe is, in my opinion, as hard sometimes as filling a buck tag. But as is the case most places, there are plenty of does, and I usually get multiple chances at them, and can usually fill those couple of tags quite early. A mature buck, on the other hand, is harder to find, increasing the "challenge" factor, and my time in the woods chasing them. And that's a by-product I can enjoy, even if I don't succeed in the end.
In my area, spending as much time in the woods as I do, I will get literally dozens of opportunities at the "lesser" or younger bucks, while waiting for that one good chance at an older, mature animal. It sometimes takes a great deal of self control to pass up opportunities like that, where a guy can at least be sure of filling the freezer with venison as some measure of success ... results all of us can be proud of. At least I am, when I do so. Bowhunting being a state of mind kind of pastime, we just feel better about our equipment and abilities when they work in harmony to produce table fare, and psyche's get some positive reinforcement. We all need that.
So it is no surprise that most years, when it gets right down to the nitty-gritty ... the crunch time ... the last days of the season, I sometimes let my goals for horns slide, and make up my mind that I will take the first doe that comes by.
Not so, however, this particular year. I had already taken a couple does, and had a freezer well stocked. So I had made up my mind to hold out, all the way.
I was concentrating my efforts on an island I frequently hunted near my home. In past years I had taken a couple good bucks here. There always seemed to be one around, especially during the rut. Earlier in the season I had spotted a real dandy buck as he was exiting his bedding area. He proceeded down a ditch in the woods to where it intersected a well-used trail. He paused at the intersection, rubbed his forehead and antlers on an overhanging limb, then turned right around and went back to where he had come from.
From my treestand, about 70 yards away, I could see that he was a beauty, a very even six by six. He was frequenting a common bedding area where I had seen bucks many times before. I felt that I had a good idea how to hunt this buck, without violating his "space" by concentrating on the "loop" trail around the island that connected the many scrapes that would soon appear there.
So later, while adjusting my stands for the rut that was soon to come, and between our archery and general seasons, I did a quick scout through the thick cover where I had seen the buck, discovering many big rubs in a concentrated area. He was definitely spending some time in there. Surely, I thought, I'd get a chance at this bruiser.
The general season opened, and I found myself once again, sitting a half a dozen stands in likely places that I might catch the buck. No luck. There were plenty of other bucks, though, and a couple dandies. One buck that I kept seeing was an older buck that had been injured somehow, probably by a vehicle on the nearby highway, which caused him to lose the use of his left rear leg. It was an old injury, but it caused his right antler to grow down and around his muzzle. He was a mature five by five, and neither the freak antler, nor the gimp, seemed to hinder whatsoever his ability to go about normally. I named him "Limpy", for his obvious gait. He was really caught up in the pre-rut rituals, running scrape lines with regularity. Twice, while stalking into a treestand, I got within range and passed up shots on this buck. I had to think hard about it, but the desire to get a shot at the big boy was greater.
Early November passed without any more sightings of the big buck, although I hunted the area quite hard. Finally, one evening in mid November, while heading back across the river, and then to my truck, I spied the buck in a pasture along the highway, with a half a dozen does. No doubt, one of them was in estrus. I watched as long as light would permit me, and finally headed across the opening towards my vehicle. I had begun to doubt he was even around, and was glad to see him, although I knew that patterning a big buck would be impossible during the rut's peak.
I slipped back and hunted the island hard for another week, passing the lesser bucks. The rut was in full swing now, and activity, although plentiful, was random. I watched Limpy a couple more times, competing with other bucks in the frenzied pace of the season, but failed to catch even a glimpse of the big guy. I decided to give the island a rest for a week, and spend a couple days hunting another locale with a hunting buddy.
As is often the case, snow came and as quickly disappeared with a Chinook wind. My friend harvested his first doe ever with a bow, and I was glad to be there with him on what turned out to be a long blood trail. And, too, as is often the case, the season wound down fast, and I was faced with the reality of it all ending with an unfilled tag.
On the last day, Todd Cooper and his buddy Greg wanted to fill their remaining doe tags and we decided to spend the bulk of the day doing a few pushes. These were very successful, as Greg filled one tag and Todd another. I played "dog" for the guys, as my doe tags were already filled.
I had planned to sit the island on the last evening, in the stand where I had first seen the big buck weeks earlier. I invited Todd, who had hunted this island previously with me, to sit another well-used travel route on the down-wind side of the island, as he still had his buck tag. We would hold out for a big buck or nothing we decided.
Greg also had a doe tag to fill, so he was going to still hunt the large brushy woods across the river, with the idea that if he bumped any deer they would cross to the island. Just before dark, Greg would cross, and then meet us.
With hip boots and wading sticks, Todd and I carefully negotiated the slippery rapids, and entered the thick tangle of brush near the crossing. I told Todd about a couple scrapes along the perimeter trail, and where I thought a likely ambush spot would be, and then we went our separate ways.
I carefully stalked along the high water ditch that cut across the island, then up and over a huge blowdown cottonwood tree. I stopped to glass a couple small clearings carefully, then checked out another ditch line before slipping along a main trail and quickly climbed up into my tree.
I'm always relieved to reach this stand unnoticed by deer, as it sits near the center of the island, at the edge of bedding cover. There are numerous scrapes to the north of that cover, and the stand is at a critical junction of trails for deer that are checking them, or are heading for the crossing to the other side of the river and the hayfield. It was a classic funnel.
The wind was blowing fairly hard, although not near the hurricane force that commonly can occur here. My stand was not a high one, and I felt comfortable. It wasn't long before I spied a couple does to the south of me, exiting the bedding area and heading due west to the river. The rut was on the downswing, and most of these does had been bred, surely. Still, late rut activity can sometimes mimic pre-rut, and I held hopes of seeing the big buck again.
Excerpted from TENSION ON THE STRING ... by MARK R. BAKER Copyright © 2012 by Mark R. Baker. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword ... By Doug Campbell....................3
SECTION ONE ... DEER....................15
Chapter 1—No Waiting On The Wind....................17
Chapter 2—Payoff For Persistence—The Scripted Season....................23
Chapter 3—A Return To Paradise....................31
Chapter 4—By The Numbers....................41
Chapter 5—The Last Hoorah....................51
Chapter 6—Big Deer Are "Wheezy"....................57
SECTION TWO ... ANTELOPE....................65
Chapter 7—Murphy Must Be Asleep Today....................67
Chapter 8—Two In Twenty....................73
SECTION THREE ... ELK....................81
Chapter 10—Gravelly's Elk—A Hunt Remembered....................91
Chapter 11—Those Fabulous Baker Boys!....................99
Chapter 12—The Scrapper....................111
Chapter 13—The Life of Riley....................117
SECTION FOUR ...PRIMITIVE....................125
Chapter 14—The Therapy Bow....................127
Chapter 15—Board Bows ... beyond building basics....................135
Chapter 16—A Primitive Adventure....................141
Chapter 17—Quiet Counts for Something....................147
Chapter 18—A Hardscrabble Trail....................157
Chapter 19—Slow Dogs Can Still Bite!....................165
SECTION FIVE ... MORE WILD ADVENTURES....................171
Chapter 20—The Others....................173
Chapter 21—Second Season Elk....................181
Chapter 22—River of Memories....................187
Chapter 23—Two in Twenty ... Too!....................207
Closing (and rambling) Thoughts....................213
About the Author....................217