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"The Alternative Lifestyle Bulls" and other Tales from the Idaho Elk Rut

Posted by Ford Van Fossan on

Trying to get away from the crowd, I've shifted my elk hunting locations several times in past 4 years. The area I spent 2014 and 2015 had a lot of bulls and very little hunting pressure. Sounds great right? However it also possessed another very strange characteristic. Up until the last week of the season the bulls in that area were 100% uninterested in any vocalization or rutting behavior. Main obvious reason- there were no cows! It was very strange to spend days of September amongst bull elk and not hear a single bugle. Quite honestly it was very disappointing as strategizing and calling is the entire reason I love to archery hunt elk. Non-vocal elk are typically a result of intensehunting pressure, and I'd finally discovered an area with little to no hunters, so it made no sense at all!

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So I decided for 2016 I needed to change locations once again. I decided to move to an entirely new region as I also very much enjoy exploring Idaho. Many hours of pouring over maps, Google Earth and property ownership info, along with a couple actual scouting trips led me to a new area that held a large population of summer range bulls.. The lack of well traveled roads into the area and established camp sites led me to believe this area was also overlooked by most hunters. So my hope was that come August 30th, the elk would still be there and hunters like myself would not.

My longtime friend Brian from Bend joined me for the first few days of the season. We were stoked to find no other hunters, and the bulls I'd seen during the month of August were still in the area. We explored this new range with many, many close encounters and near shot opportunities at various sized bulls. We heard a few bugles and saw at least one cow, good early season indicators for a return to "normal" elk hunting. Many times we had bulls come in to our calling setups, but without any bugling or response of their own. At one point I was able to stalk to within bow range of 4 mature 6x6 bulls. But the wind shifted as I was just about to have a clear shot at the nearest. Our opening week was encouraging, filled with lots of close encounters.

The following week I made another trip back and again found no other hunters and plenty of bulls. I had several close calls before shifting wind occurred, and was even able to pass up two opportunities at small bulls. Still however, not much for bugling activity or interest in calls. This was very curious given these bulls were completely un-harassed or pressured by hunters. One would expect them to be very responsive to calling.

Third week of the season was another solo trip for me. Perched high atop a ridge, the early glow of sunrise revealed a group of 8 bulls in a meadow below me. A few minutes later I spotted another group of 7. All bulls, not a single cow. "What the hell is going on?!" I wondered. "Where are all the cows?!" This new area was turning into a bazaar repeat of my previous location. Later that morning however a few of the bulls did begin a volley of bugles as they dispersed to their various bedding areas. I pursued with several close encounters before eventually hooking into a legit calling exchange with one particular bull. Everything was perfect as he responded instantly to my calls and branch-rubbing racket. When he reached about 60 yards of me I was able to see he was a very large mature bull- the kind of bull I've always dreamed of.  At about 50 yards he paused and began rubbing a pine within the lodgepole thicket. I quickly took this opportunity to advance into shooting range and safer down-wind angle. With an easy 40 yard shot before me I waited for him to look away or block his vision so I could draw my bow. My guts twisted as I saw his nose begin to bob in the air and I new the deal was blown. The archers nemesis (the wind) had pulled yet another physics-defying stunt and somehow piped-in to tip the bull off. He whirled and trotted away, ducking and twisting his huge rack gracefully between the trees. My level of frustration at that moment can not be explained with words!

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To that point in the season I'd had many opportunities, maneuvering within bow range of 16 different bulls. 14 of the times the wind had swirled and blown the opportunities in the final moments. Two times the wind held for the 2 smallest bulls I'd encountered, which I'd passed up. The box score of 2-14 was grinding and made any optimism or hope feel nothing short of naive. The wind in this place seemed to be particularly defying. Every direction I'd head it would shift and blow my scent far in front of me. So I'd turn the other way and rearrange a different strategy. Same result. It felt simply impossible to do anything with any hope of success. No prevailing wind or compass heading was dependable, no time honored logic of rising or falling thermals could be trusted. It was like shaking a box with a rubber ball inside, constant rebound and zero predictability.

That was the second to lowest point of the day. After making my way to the area I'd planned my evening hunt the wind continued to shift from N,S,E & W. My confidence was low as I entered a panel of timber where I was certain I'd encounter elk. I covered up in full camo and knocked an arrow as I crept through the areas I expected to find bulls. I questioned the intelligence of pursuing elk with such shifty wind, but I had to do something with my precious hunting time! I wasn't but 60 yards into my planned loop before I spotted exactly what I was hoping to find. Ahead of me a single, medium sized bull fed through the patchwork of old growth timber and fresh Christmas-sized trees. It was the ideal scenario for a stalk. With the bull alone there would be less sets of eyes to keep track of, and the act of feeding kept the bull distracted along with constant chewing sound to reduce what noise he may notice from my approach. I moved swiftly and silently when each tree blocked his view. I knew it was only a matter of time before the wind would eventually shift in his direction, so I stepped with urgency when I could. In a matter of minutes I'd closed the gap and reached a point where I could see the bull would eventually walk through. I'd have a clear and broadside 35 yard shot, if the bull made it there before the wind tipped him off.

With my feet set, backpack and all my gear still on, an arrow knocked and focused as I could be, time crawled as the bull's pace seemed to slow. It felt like forever as I waited for him to reach the shooting lane. My heart pounded in my chest and I tried to control my breathing to keep composure in check. (I still get incredibly overwhelmed when I'm close to any shooting opportunity.) The wind began to blow and I could feel it twist around and eventually blow against my back. I cringed in anticipation of the tell-tale body language of an elk sensing danger on the wind. But somehow his head never stopped rocking along the grassy forest floor. Finally the bull approached the bullseye zone and I drew my bow as he stepped into it. The motion immediately caught his attention as he raised his head to look right at me and halted in his tracks. It was too late though, as he was now right where I needed him and presenting an ideal shot. I released my arrow and watched with great relief as it disappeared into the side of the bull within an inch or so of where I was aiming. I dropped to my knees then rocked backward as I unbuckled my heavy pack and released a great sigh of relief.

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I've had some harrowing experiences tracking and recovering bulls over the years. And because of that I've gained a wealth of tracking skills when blood trails dry up for one reason or another. The placement of this shot however left me with little concern as I approached the trail following a standard 30 minute waiting period. The blood trail was strong and flowing from both sides of the bull, confirming my arrow had passed completely through the elk. But I had not heard him crash to the ground in the initial moments after the hit, something that seemed a bit curious. An hour or so later the blood had trickled to a few drops every 10 yards and we'd covered over two hundred yards in total. It was getting late, the western sky was turning orange and alpenglow light tinted the spectacular view below me. "Why were these tracks still going- how could this bull have stayed on his feet this far after a shot that was so ideally executed?" I slumped to the ground and tossed my pack aside as I confronted the situation at hand. At this late hour and with the trail still unresolved, it was decision time: either leave the trail overnight to avoid pushing the bull further, or stay on the trail a little longer in hopes he was not far. My heart ached as I swallowed the bitter pill of considering that I was on the doorstep of loosing this bull. After a deliberate self-contained debate, I declared to myself that the hit was ideal, a passthrough of both lungs. I had to keep confidence that the bull was indeed down and must be close. Looking ahead, a thick stand of dark timber draped over the steep sidehill we were traversing. "I'll follow through that stand then pull the plug till tomorrow." I concluded. Within a few yards of entering those trees, I spotted antler tips, motionless and horizontal on the ground!

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Another twist to this new area was the presence of wolves. Nights prior I'd heard their haunting sounds with the falling of dusk. At first, just one would initiate a solemn sequence of notes. Then, from quite a distance away more would join in. It seemed they spent the days apart, then at night would call out to initiate the evenings activities- whatever wolves do at night. I tried to keep this though at bay as I swiftly worked to take my bull apart, into well-practiced pieces small enough to pack one at a time. The rear quarter and rump went first. The backstrap from the hip to the back of the neck came off next. It was while I worked to remove the front shoulder and brisket I that I reached the point my headlamp was needed. As I stood up to stretch my back and relax my shoulders it started. Below me the chilling should of wolves lofted into the sunset. I promptly concluded that I'm no mountain man, and packed what meat I had ready to go into my backpack. Then I covered the bull with my coat, vest and bow. I drained a piss in 4 spots around the bull, marking the site as human property for any marauding critters to avoid overnight.

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The next morning I arrived early to find some disruption. To my great surprise the coats had been thrashed, bloodied and pulled from the bull. My bow was on the ground and covered in bloody paw prints. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Over decades of past experience bears, coyotes etc had never touched meat left overnight in this fashion. I guess wolves are bolder however, and I counted myself very lucky that I'd already removed and bagged the accessible prime meat, and all the wolves did was gnaw into the areas I'd already made my cuts. Not more than a few steaks were lost. The next few hours I enjoyed the experience of field dressing the remainder of the bull. Something I've done may times before but this was the first time as a solo venture. It was a beautiful morning to be on a mountain top in Idaho, and I savored the solitude of the moment while basking in the satisfaction of success. It was awesome!

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Feeling a tad ashamed that I hadn't stayed overnight to defend my harvest, I considered another challenge to make this experience as fulfilling as possible. I decided that if I wasn't brave, I'd strive to be tough! I doubled the loads I'd normally carry in each trip, figuring I could pack the bull just under 2 miles to the truck in 2 trips. (IMGrr8,9) The loads strained my body to it's max. But it felt great and since I'd worked very hard leading up to and during the season to be as fit as possible, my body handled it well. I'd stop each half mile and sit for a few minutes, then recover and amble on. By 1:00 I was back at my truck with the entire bull loaded and ready for the drive back to Boise.

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For the final few days of the season I once again teamed up with Brian as he set out to fill his Idaho tag for the second year in a row. Idaho did not seem to happy to have him back! We were met with 3 days of intense wind, rain and fog. To make matters worse, the peculiar situation of these "alternative lifestyle" bulls persisted. Still- not a cow could be found, and the many bulls in the area showed only marginal interest in any calling. They did however give us just enough engagement that we were able to locate bulls on occasion, and bring a few in to calls. So between that and the simple density of bulls in the area we enjoyed a few very active days when the weather allowed. Brian had shot opportunities at a handful of respectable sized bulls, but for one various reason or another we just never found the perfect scenario for another harvest.

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Throughout the season between Brian and I, we figured we were within bow range of bulls on average about 2.5 times per day. Pretty incredible and due in part I'm sure to the strange all-bull and no breeding behavior. Overall it felt like a mixed bag- blessing in the lack of ever-vigilant cows that so often disrupt anything the bowhunter is trying to accomplish in typical bow season elk calling and hunting, but also a curse to spend yet another September in country thick with bull elk and not be able to enjoy the frenzied chaos of hunting elk in the rutt. I'm not sure what next season will hold, if I'll give this area one more year or yet again move on to explore more of Idaho in my search for elk hunting nirvana.

First Lite Pro Staffer, Bryan Huskey, is a photographer and filmmaker in Boise, Idaho. You can check out his work here.

The Backcountry

Posted by Ford Van Fossan on
2016-04-23 005 Getting away from it all is not always easy. Photo:  Author.

Born and raised in northern Michigan, my opportunities to hunt the West growing up amounted to a few rifle hunts near my uncle's cabin in Montana.  Although the trips were eye-opening, the regimented course of daily events largely followed the same pattern I experienced hunting whitetail in my native state.  Up early, hit the woods, search for game, then back under a roof at night for a good meal and hot shower.  Rinse, repeat.  The same process engrained in many a young hunter.

Fast forward a decade, or two, I found myself a permanent resident of the left coast.  About the time I settled in to my new life as an Oregonian, thoughts of chasing elk, blacktail, and bear had crept in.  One afternoon I found myself staring at large green rectangles on a map and flipping through the pages of a bowhunting magazine. Prominently, displayed on the cover was a successful hunter, pack bulging with antler and flesh from a trophy bull. In that moment, I struggled to connect the dots.

A path from my couch to the top of the mountain was unclear.  Unsure of myself, or where to begin, I saw a few more seasons slip past before I started the climb.  I now know I was not alone, as more recent conversations with both hunter and non-hunter alike regarding my passion for the backcountry are met with questioning looks and lost stares.  I believe all possess a desire to connect with the wilderness, yet the false need for convenience and familiarity often overpowers.

As I eventually discovered, there is no secret.  Make a conscious decision to get out and experience whatever the mountain has to offer, tackling your fears and questions head on.  Be warned, the path will present adventure and challenge guaranteed to invoke a full spectrum of human emotion.  Joy. Pain. Solitude.  Enlightenment.  Each extremely rewarding in its own right, and lending to an addiction for the experiences that can only be discovered where few care to tread.  Unfortunately, I cannot help tackle the individual mental barriers associated with making this choice, but I can share some resources I found helpful in my journey.

2016-07-09 026 Backcountry food supplement. Photo: Author.

Ask, and you shall receive.

Regrettably, interactions with hunters outside my circle of family and friends were largely adversarial growing up.  A relationship bred from too many people, too little land.  It was not uncommon to spend half the day hunting, and the other patrolling a property line.  As a result, I was hesitant to seek help from others when an interest in western hunting piqued.  I am pleased, and proud, to report my concerns eroded with each conversation, tip, and question answered from the hunters who were well-versed in the practice of mountain hunting.  As they well knew, and I have come to understand, educating others is the best way to protect our hunting heritage, and ultimately is the foundation of conservation.  There is strength in numbers, and through welcoming others into the family we will preserve the opportunities backcountry hunters are passionate about and live for.  Whether novice or expert, do not be afraid to ask for advice from veterans who live and breathe the lifestyle.

If you are fortunate enough to live "out west," the local watering hole may be a great place to strike up a conversation, but there are other resources full of useful information readily accessible to all.  Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is a great place to start.  BHA is an organization of sportsmen committed to protecting public lands, public access, and the wildlife within through education and promoting ethical use.  BHA is also a great way to connect with hunters of a shared interest.  With chapters across the country, from New York to Oregon, there are regular opportunities to meet & greet in your neck of the woods.  I encourage anyone interested in learning more about backcountry hunting to seek them out, and start making those worthy connections

2016-04-23 015 Dogs can sometimes (but not always) make great companions in the backcountry. Photo: Author.

Do your homework.

An invaluable resource I was fortunate to discover early in my quest for knowledge was the Rokslide community (www.rokslide.com). Particularly the forums were, and continue to be, the best location on the web to review and share all aspects of western DIY style hunting.  There is virtually no limit to the amount information at your fingertips, increasing daily, available via the dedicated contributors who frequent this digital “camp fire” style venue.  As a source supported and frequented by many of the top companies and hunters in the industry, it is simply the premier backcountry resource for up-to-date gear information, hunting tactics, or debates regarding the existence of Bigfoot.

I would also be remiss if I did not mention the top result returned when I first searched the term "backcountry bowhunting" several years ago, and in fact remains true to this day.  Backcountry Bowhunting: A Guide to the Wild Side by Cameron Hanes.  One of the first publications of its kind, tailored to a specific audience of hunters interested in learning how to hunt, scout, and mentally prepare for the challenge of backcountry bowhunting.  In large part this book is responsible for my first solo hunting trips, and continues to be a great read for anyone starting the journey.

While on the topic of literature, the works of Steve Rinella come highly recommended.  Although I fumbled through many of my first attempts at hunting unfamiliar game, boning meat, and preparing wild meat, you will have better luck after reading The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game: Volume 1: Big Game.  It is a valuable tool I have referred to many times since release.  If only it had been available when I began, a few of my early blunders could have been avoided.  The remainder of Rinella's collection caters to the soul, offering insight into the history and circumstances that make-up the modern hunter.   Take one along on your next trip to pass the time in camp, and you will not be disappointed.

It makes no difference where you reside; resources are at your disposal waiting to bridge the gap between uncertainty and confidence.  It is up to you to seek them out.

2016-07-10 038 Getting deeper than the competition can yield impressive critters. Photo: Author.

Gear Up.

I hold great admiration for the pioneers who pushed the boundaries of this country toward the Pacific.  In fact, my growing interest in backcountry hunting led to a thirst for knowledge surrounding the legendary hunters and trappers that opened up the west.  Colter, Bridger, and Beckwourth to name a few.   The feats performed by the men of this era, despite resources of the time, are nothing short of amazing.  I would be lying if I did not admit romanticizing about being born a century earlier; where not only was it possible make a living off hunting and trapping, but those skills were a necessary part every American’s life.  Of course, reality sinks in upon recalling the average life expectancy during this tumultuous time was a mere 37 years, and much lower for those enduring the mountain.  Yet, I still believe there is great value in remembering the lessons of a more primitive world as we reap the rewards that culminated as a product of its success and failure.  Technology.

In truth, we are living in an amazing time for the aspiring backcountry hunter.  Just in my lifetime, the explosion of hunt specific equipment is unprecedented, as improvements in everything from navigation to clothing have opened up new opportunities for anyone seeking

to explore those hard to reach locales and return home safely.   In a relatively short period of time, the progression of my personal gear rivals the antler growth of a trophy bull.  Each season adding, or upgrading, key pieces that mark lessons learned along the way.  Some may shun the idea of these new tools available to our trade, and while I would agree that no amount of gear can guarantee a fruitful harvest, the right equipment is essential for those who measure success based on miles traveled and time spent in wonderful places.

I advise you invest wisely, as often times the items carried on your back are the only resources available once your hunt extends beyond a day’s reach of the closest road or trailhead.  A pack comfortable handling a heavy load, supportive boots, warm sleep systems, and clothing that lends versatility to any foreseen environment.  I believe that gear should never hold you back, and you get what you pay for.  Although there is some value in learning the hard way, the right equipment is worth its weight in venison backstrap.  If I had better words, I would use them here, however, First Lite’s vision “Go Farther, Stay Longer” sums it up perfectly.  Utilize the tools at your disposal to push personal limits, and unfold the mysteries of your wilderness.

2016-07-09 041 (1) Though it requires planning and experience, time in the backcountry is irreplaceable. Photo: Author.

In closing, I hope this inspires and helps.  As difficult as it once was, I am now comfortable admitting the obstacles that prevented me from engaging in a pursuit I can no longer live without.  Do not fall prey to those same mistakes.  I do not know it all and, in fact, take comfort that I never will.  For the same challenge and anxiety once holding me back, is now the motivation to discover what is upon the next ridge, at the bottom of an adjacent draw, or simply beyond the next two pines in my path.

Pro Staffer Chad Harvey lives in Oregon and hunts across the Northwest. 

Why 3D Archery Helps Prepare the Modern Day Bow Hunter

Posted by Ford Van Fossan on
Micah 3D shooting is an awesome way to prepare for hunting season. Photo: Author.

For me, as well a large majority of the archery community, 3D shooting is a way to stay “tuned” up for hunting season. It is also a way to get together with friends who I may only see during archery tournament season or in the field: Where did you hunt, who did you go with, did you draw anything, do you have max points, and how far was the shot. These are all just samples of what I’ve heard while standing in line registering for an archery event, so I know I am not the only one with hunting on my mind all the time.  It also marks another season in the year of the sportsman. I know in time, I will be deep in the high mountain timber chasing deer and then on top of steep ridge lines waiting for that first bugle from a bull elk to cut the morning silence. Either way, 3D archery has its place in the preparation for hunting season.  It just depends on how you look at it!

So, with the above information, we should look into why 3D archery is important in preparation for hunting and why should everyone that is capable of doing it, challenge themselves before chasing after living breathing targets.

First and probably foremost, like any activity from hitting a baseball to typing this document, the human body recognizes and responds to repetition very well. So well in fact that from senses alone, I can make words, sentences, and phrases out of a large variety of buttons on this keypad even without looking at it.  This same repetition applies to 3D archery as well. For example, if I were to try and go straight into the field and hunt without target practicing first, I could probably hit my target. But, there is a very high likelihood that I would hit my target in a spot that I was definitely not aiming for. This comes from the disconnect that my mind, muscles, and eyesight are all trying to figure out at the same time. With practice, all of these motions and senses come together. They do this so well that after repeatedly drawing my bow back, I can come to the same anchor point, look through my peep the same, get the pressure on my release the same, and hopefully execute the shot the same. 3D archery allows for all of this repetition plus other invaluable features which later result in hunting attributes that people in general possess without even thinking about it.

shoot The author takes aim at the Western Classic in Redding, CA. Photo: Author.

Secondly, in most circumstances 3D archery lets you aim at life size animals. So, not only are you aiming at a spot on the animal, you also have the animal silhouetted in the background of your sight picture. This causes two things to happen. One, you are forced to aim at a small spot on a larger animal background, and two, your mind is constantly telling you to aim at that spot but there is a bear you are aiming at, or an elk, or a raccoon etc. Even though the painted spot may not be in the position you would actually try to put your arrow into an animal for a quick clean kill, you are still aiming at an animal that resembles the real thing. So in the field with practice on 3D targets, you will subconsciously feel more comfortable drawing back on the animal you are hunting if you have had experience drawing back on it before.  This experience is what will set the stage to allow for everything else to fall into place.

Third, 3D archery is usually competitive in nature and most humans when competing try to do their best. Don’t get me wrong, it is a very friendly sport that is great for exercise and just plain good for your soul. But, there are awards offered at these events, some people compete to take a cash prize home with them, and even friendly shooting usually turns to some mild form of competition. More importantly, this competition equates to success in the field. Sure, if you are lucky enough to find an animal to shoot at, you have to draw your bow back, aim, and release the arrow.  The difference between eating tasty elk back straps or consuming cold “tag soup” for the remainder of the year can come down to the most minute detail of your shot sequence. 3D archery forces you to constantly practice these intricacies which in turn you will take with you into the field when hunting.

Everything from your stance, the way your bow is gripped, controlling your breathing, and visualizing your shot on the target are just a few of those small things that can push you just outside of the spot, or just outside of the vital kill zone on an animal. As if this wasn’t enough to deal with, some people find 3D archery puts pressure on that shot sequence. Not only are your peers or competitors watching you, some of these events can be drawn out over the course of the whole day or weekend. This constant process of trying to do your best wears on both your mind and body. Throw in a bit of extreme weather be it hot or cold and now try to perform your best! 3D archery and bow hunting both demand that you pay great attention to every detail if you strive to be successful.

Lastly, 3D archery forces you to shoot at close ranges and sometimes out to extreme distances as well. During local tournaments which I shoot in northern California, I have shot at a target from as close as 2 yards all the way out to 113 yards.  Your gear should be set up to enable you to shoot anywhere in between those ranges. Obviously different shooting styles apply.  With today’s bows, most top end compounds can easily scream arrows out to 100 yards. Most traditional shooters would not shoot this far or even attempt it at an animal. Shooting at these targets also plays with your sight picture. Sometimes there is too much light coming into your peep making your sight or pins harder to acquire.

Blacktail Skills honed at 3D shoots can translate into success and helped take this mature high country blacktail. Photo: Author.

Shooting at 3D events also forces you to hold in the wind much like hunting situations. The most important thing that I find amazing is my ability to pay attention to my bubble while 3D shooting. Most courses are not at all flat. Some have extreme up hills while others may have extreme side hills. Paying attention to your bubble while out on the 3D course will allow you to quickly “feel” a side hill in a real life hunting situation. Your pin(s) may be a touch high or low and at most yardages if you do everything else correctly you still have a chance at filling your tag. If your bubble is even a little out, especially the further the shot is, the trajectory of the arrow away from the intended target only compounds and that animal you worked so hard for, has left only dust, tracks and if you’re lucky, a sampling of fur or hair behind.

So with that being said, grab your bow, round up some friends, and hit up your local archery club to find out when the next 3D archery tournament in your area will be held. Not only will you have a great time, but your skills will be “honed” as well. The next time you are in a hunting situation, your mind and body will be forced to get into that repetition mode without you knowing and hopefully you will be rewarded on the back end.

….Good luck, shoot straight, and happy hunting!

Micah Brown is a longtime First Lite Pro Staffer from California. He shoots competitively in the offseason and chases backcountry blacktails and Idaho elk in the Fall. 

Hunting the 'Burbs: A Glimpse into the Life of Urban Deer Slayer, Taylor Chamberlin

Posted by Ford Van Fossan on

I love to hunt. Its constantly on my mind. On any given day, it would probably be easier for me to think back on the times I wasn't thinking about arrowing whitetails than those I spent thinking about gear, strategy and deer movement. There is just one small issue with my this passion. I live here.

Capitol

In Northern Virginia. A bustling suburb of Washington D.C. home to McMansions, tiny ¼ acre lots and 2.8 million of my closest friends. In this packed suburban corridor, there most certainly aren’t any agricultural fields, farms or large chunks of ground to hunt. Needless to say – it’s not the perfect place for someone who loves to hunt – or is it? Over the years that urban sprawl has headed outward from Washington, D.C., forests, fields and streams have turned into subdivisions, strip malls, and blacktop roads, creating the perfect habitat for whitetail deer. Add in that there are very few hunters and natural predators left - as well as the fact that virtually every house is surrounded with delicious shrubs and flowers – and it’s easy to see that we’ve created the ultimate buffet for deer. Not surprisingly, the growing herd is significantly damaging both suburban landscaping and what's left of the area's forests. And that’s how I ended up here.

3Pane More and more homeowners are realizing that the population is way past a healthy balance, and needs to be drastically reduced and that bow hunting  is the most practical and reasonable solution. It’s safe, free, andeffective and most of the deer that I harvest get donated to the Hunters for the Hungry Program - where deer meat is provided free to people in need. What’s not to love?

I am proud to be part of the solution – a bow hunter who is happy to volunteer to come out to virtually any property and help harvest deer. I have to admit, it’s pretty neat to have homeowners track you down and ask you to come hunt on their property, instead of the other way around! I have hundreds of properties where I’m able to hunt deer with a bow and arrow – and I get to spend over 150 days a year sitting in a tree helping to thin the herd. In a normal year, a typical harvest would be anywhere between 30-50 deer – sometimes more in a good year, and sometimes less.

Here in Northern Virginia, we have a very liberal deer season. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has a special “Urban Archery Season” as well as a “Northern Virginia Late Antlerless Season.” The combination of all of the various deer seasons run un-interrupted from September through the end of April. Towards the end of April, the State allows landowners who have extensive damage from over browsing on their properties to apply for a permit that allows anextension of the season from May 1st through the end of August – making it a full, year round hunting season.  There are, quite literally, a full 100 degree (or more) temperature swings in my deer season. Sometimes in July and August, it’s 100+ degrees when I climb into the stand – and at times in January and February – the wind chill will be down at -15 or lower.

Some of the properties that I hunt on are as small as a ¼ acre while others are larger 5, 10 or 15 acre parcels – but they all have one thing in common. They’re overrun with deer. From my front door, I have over a thousand tree’s that are prepped and ready for me to hunt from that are within a 15-20 minute drive. All I need to do is get to the property, climb my tree and hunt. Zone This is a pretty standard

suburban hunting spot, with the property boundaries outlined in red. The area is about an acre, however, there are only two trees that are big enough to climb and hunt from. Luckily, those two trees happen to be within 20 yards of the deer trail that parallels the creek. With the amount of houses surrounding this property, it’s probably pretty hard to believe that this is one of my most productive properties – but it is.

Though most of the properties only have a few trees that are large enough to climb, their small acreage usually ensures that deer will pass within range. I prep every tree to be ready to climb, put a reflective tack in it, trim shooting lanes, and mark it on my GPS.  I stay in constant contact with all of the various homeowners whose properties I hunt on, and ask them to let me know when and where they are seeing deer. This helps me establish any possible patterns and determine what properties I should be focusing my attention on. I make sure to rotate pressure on all of the properties that I hunt on, but homeowners are the best trail-cam’s anyone can have, and their information is vital to success. It might seem like since there are so many deer around, that suburban hunting would be easy, but it’s far from it. With the overabundance of browse and varying pressures on the deer, they tend to be almost nomadic. They slowly roam from place to place without much rhyme or reason, making them hard to pattern, and homeowners are the best way to figure out where they currently are and what they’re doing. I have found that playing the wind and homeowner communication are two of the biggest factors that lead to consistent deer sightings. The day before a hunt, I’ll look at the upcoming wind and weather forecast and then try to make the most informed decision I can on where to head for my next hunt.

Over the years that I have been doing this I have developed an efficient system for how to hunt over a thousand trees without needing a thousand treestands by keeping all of my trees ready to climb, marked with a reflective tack, and stored in my GPS. I keep most of my gear in a plastic tub in the back of my truck under my bed cover. I’ll dress in street clothes on my way to my hunting destination and change into my camo at my truck once I’ve parked at the property. I then grab my pack, bow, portable climbing sticks and saddle and head into my location. Once at my tree, I climb up to 20’+, pull up my bow, and settle in; ready to hunt in no more than 15 minutes. Then it’s time to sit back, relax and wait to see if the deer will show up or not. I find that this method allows me to be as mobile and silent as possible without leaving anything in the woods that could rust and require maintenance or a safety issue later down the road.

Almost daily, I find myself going through the same routine of talking to homeowners, checking the wind, trying to determine what property and stand location to hunt, and heading out to go do it. You’d think that after 7 years of doing this day in and day out, it would get old - but it hasn’t. In fact, I think that I probably enjoy hunting now more than I ever have before. It’s great to have access to a variety of places to hunt so close to my house and to be able to help thin an overpopulated herd that really needs it, as well as knowing people in need.that the meat that I’m donating is helping to feed

Author

Isn’t it funny how we always seem to find a way to do what we love to do? Even if you’re a city boy who loves to hunt, stuck in a concrete

jungle, there’s a way to get out and do what you love to do. When I’m not waking up and climbing a tree well before the sun rises, or doing chores to keep my incredibly understanding and insanely patient-to-put-up-with-me fiancé happy, I’m out shooting ducks and geese over the Potomac River, or taking my GSP partner in crime to shoot pheasant, chukkar, quail or dove – all in the DC Metro area. I guess I’m living in just the right place after all.

First Lite Pro Staffer Taylor Chamberlin lives and hunts in Northern Virginia. You can follow his suburban adventures at The Urban Sportsman.