I say it every year, but it bears repeating: If you are not wearing a treestand harness, you’re nuts. Take a look at this picture. The man hanging from the strap is Jim Barta of Hunter’s Safety Systems, makers of one of the original high-quality, hunter-friendly safety harnesses designed to keep you upright if you fall from a tree stand. I shared a camp with Jim on my recent Oklahoma hunt, and during a lull in the action one afternoon, he delivered his popular harness demonstration, wherein he intentionally steps off a tree stand hung 20 feet up. It’s pretty cool. It also gets people’s attention.
Part of Jim’s normal routine is to deliver a portion of his it’s-important-to-wear-a-safety-harness lecture while dangling from the tree. Then he swings himself over to a tree step or ladder stick and climbs back on the stand to finish the speech. But this time, just as he grabbed the stand to help him reach the ladder, the stand—a brand-new model hung by experienced guides—inexplicably collapsed. Now Jim had no platform, just the ladder. Did we help him? No. We took pictures. But this wasn’t Jim’s first rodeo, and he handled it all expertly. After a few more swings, he had his feet safely on the ladder.
Shortly before our October 1 bow opener, I found a new rub line leading roughly from a creek crossing to a lush alfalfa field. So I hung a stand overlooking it about 20 yards into the woods (labeled S1 in the accompanying chicken scratching). Walking in on my first hunt, I noticed a new scrape on the field edge more or less in line with the rubs, so I was feeling confident. But nothing showed near the sign that night. Instead, from my stand, through gaps in the foliage, I watched a pile of does mill in and out of sight in the alfalfa. I thought, If one of them gets close enough to the field edge, I’m going to climb down and sneak in for a shot.
As I’m sure you can imagine, people are constantly coming up to me and asking, “Dave, how do you kill so many big deer?” And up till now I have gotten away with the usual BS about persistence and a positive attitude and the discipline to hold out for a trophy—all while secretly working my contacts with the local highway department.
Then this comes out. Damn this lady. Now everyone will know that all you really need to do is get your hands on a couple of deer-crossing signs.
That’s what I paid for a 20-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew at my local gas-n-skedaddle this week. And since I typically use my own, fresh, all-natural, um, “product” to saturate a mock scrape, I fueled up with the Dew. Then I grabbed my mock scrape kit—a weed scythe, garden pruner, and hand saw—and hit the woods behind my house three days ago. In 20-minutes I’d created four big mock scrapes, and then hung a camera over one of them. When I pulled the card the other day, I had pics of four different bucks, including this one.
This may bring some pain to those of you who have already spent $5K or even $10K in years past to get your sub-MOA, long-range deer rifle with befitting scope and comparable binocular. But the gun and glass I carried last week while hunting mule deer in Oregon cost, all together, about a grand—which in this rotten economy should bring great delight and jubilation to anyone just getting into deer hunting or, say, to the Easterner or Midwesterner planning his first deer hunting trip out west where hyperaccuracy and quality optics come in handy.
I carried a Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic in .257 Weatherby Mag (about $490 real-world price) topped with a 4.5-14x44mm Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Scope (about $280 street price) and a Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x42 binocular (about $250 street price). That comes to $1,020. I’ve used guns and glass costing much more and I don’t believe any of them would have served me substantially better as a practical matter. (By the way, NRA writer Aaron Carter—a far more accomplished rifleman than I—used the same rig to take his buck at 359 yards.)
If you haven’t filled your tag yet, it’s going happen soon. And when you shoot that buck, your friends are going to want to see it, and you’re going to want a memento. That’s why being able to take a good field photo (which has somehow been horribly dubbed a “hero shot”) is so important. To me, this is every bit as important as taxidermy. Nothing captures the memory of how that buck looked and the place you hunted better than a good harvest pic.
I’m always a little shocked at how bad so many field shots are—especially when taking a good one is, in fact, not that hard to do. Early this month F&S Wild Chef David Draper and I were on an Oklahoma hunt together. Draper shot a beautiful, mature 6-point on the last afternoon, and I was there for his photo shoot (go here for one of Draper’s best shots). After taking some photos of Dave and his deer, I took some frames of Van Holmes, a rep from Yamaha, as he shot some pics of Draper. This photo illustrates some of the keys to taking a great field photo, including:
Well I suppose I ought to tell you about how I embarrassed myself on an Oregon mule deer hunt last week. But first, let me just get a couple of excuses out of the way:
 I’m a crappy long-range rifleman.
 I can be really, really stupid.
There. I feel so much better. Now, to the story:
I’ve been on enough western hunts and shot enough deer at longish range to know academically that hitting stuff out in the great wide open mostly boils down to getting a really good rest. On the other hand, when a good mule deer buck unexpectedly springs up and goes boinging across the cheat grass, I can quickly forget all that, which is what I did.
Poachers make dumb mistakes all the time. An Indiana violator tripped himself up when he shot a monster whitetail that area hunters knew well. According to this story in the Indianapolis Star, Don Ward confessed to shooting “Nightmare,” a 300-pound, 10-point buck, with a rifle and a spotlight last week.
The buck has been pursued by a pair of passionate bowhunters for several seasons. Jesse Fulwider and Mike Marsteller, both law enforcement officers, recorded their encounters with a buck they nicknamed “Nightmare,” a monster whitetail that eluded them on multiple occasions. The pair’s hunts have appeared on the popular “Dream Season: Working Man” television show, which is produced by Drury Outdoors.
According to the newspaper, the owner of a property that Nightmare frequented heard a shot in the hours just before daylight. He drove quickly toward the rifle blast, arriving just in time to get not only a description of a truck leaving the scene, but a license plate number.
My wife, Michelle, has been bowhunting for the past five years. Though she killed a couple deer with a bow during her second and third season in the woods, she also blew a plethora of “gimme” opportunities. That’s part of it.
But she killed a nice buck the second week of Kentucky’s bow season last year, and after that, something clicked. She arrowed two deer right out of the gate during opening week this year, including a good velvet buck I reported on in a Mid-South Rut Reporters entry. Despite her lack of a goatee (have we run that in the ground yet?), she became a certified Bad-Ass Deer Hunter.
Her confidence has soared. Curious, I asked her what changed; what one thing had she learned above all else that helped her to begin consistently killing deer with a bow? Her answer: when to stand up and when to draw.