"All good things are wild and free."

-Henry David Thoreau

The Unexpected Cougar

Posted by on Feb 6, 2013 in Feature Articles | 0 comments

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When I entered the dark, unassuming elk woods in early September, 2011, I never imagined what I was going to walk out with only a few short hours later. It was the second day of the elk bow season in Washington, but it was the night before opener that seemed to set the stage for the unexpected that was going to be the theme for this elk hunting trip.

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5 MORE Big Challenges with Bowhunting, and how to overcome them.

Posted by on Feb 1, 2013 in Hunting | 0 comments

Cougar tracks. I wasn't far behind this cat in Eastern Washington.

Cougar tracks. I wasn’t far behind this cat in Eastern Washington.

6. Scouting. When you only have to get to within 200 or 300 yards of an animal, your scouting can be substantially more lackadaisical. When you need to be within 20 or 30 yards, your scouting has to be as pinpointed as the shot itself. You can’t just find an “area with sign,” you have to find exactly where your game will be and when they will be there. Hunting in the National Forest is a different beast altogether, as it took me several years to pinpoint where the wily whitetail buck was going to show up. This year it paid off with a 140’s class brute. Although I have yet to employ them, game cameras are justifiably all the rage for obvious reasons.

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5 Big Challenges of Bowhunting…and how to overcome them.

Posted by on Jan 30, 2013 in Hunting | 0 comments

Tall-tined Blacktail on the Pacific Coast

Tall-tined Blacktail on the Pacific Coast

When I entered the world of bowhunting as a 40 year-old, I thought it was going to be easier than it was. I admit, part of my challenge is where I hunt, how I hunt, and for what I hunt. Although I have a decent resume of animals I have taken with a bow, none have been from a treestand, none have been on guided hunts, and none have been on private property. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against guided hunts or taking animals from trees; I am all for it and I want to do it! But the fact is, I was simply not afforded the opportunity. So I had to learn by trial and error as I taught myself the ins and outs of bowhunting public forests and mountains. Let it be clear, I am still learning every time I enter the woods. Here are 5 big challenges of hunting with a bow, in no particular order.

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Hunting Bear: The Downside of DIY

Posted by on Jan 25, 2013 in Feature Articles | 0 comments

Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Every fall, one cannot help but find stories of elk camps, deer camps and duck camps in the shiny pages of hunting magazines all over the country. And for good reason. Sharing the excitement is part of the excitement itself. How does that old adage go? Sorrow shared is half the sorrow; joy shared is twice the joy. Never is that sentiment more in-your-face than in hunting camps everywhere. Our first organized bear camp, in the mountains of Washington in August of 2010, was no exception. Our party consisted of three guys. Two of us shot our bear on that trip. I did not.

Like most good friends and hunting companions, when we left camp after that long weekend, I was genuinely happy for my comrades. But just because I was happy for them didn’t mean I wasn’t disappointed. I am always disappointed when I am not successful…at anything. But I usually don’t flog myself or stop eating out of self-contempt; I just do what any other obsessed hunter would do: try again.

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The Redemption Bull: Elk Hunting in the National Forest

Posted by on Jan 16, 2013 in Feature Articles | 0 comments

View of Mt. Adams, Cascade Mountains, from near elk camp.

View of Mt. Adams, Cascade Mountains, from near elk camp.

Opening day of archery elk in western Washington, September 8, 2008, found me sneaking through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in search of the wily wapiti. To be quite honest, it didn’t matter very much to me if my broadhead found its mark on the side of a world-class bull, or a small cow. Sure, most hunters have a yearning for a trophy in some capacity, but for me it was in part my goal to make up for some big mistakes I made the previous year in a close encounter with a cow. Quite simply, I was in search of redemption.

 I began my third year of bow hunting with new equipment, but most importantly, with new-found confidence.  I practiced in my back yard five days a week for months. I had numerous dress-rehearsals where I practiced in full camo. I practiced shooting from a blind, from behind trees, from under branches, kneeling, standing, sitting- you name it. As the season approached, I would practice with only one arrow, and sprint back and forth from the target to retrieve it in order to try to simulate the pounding of my heart in the excitement of the moment that I visualized a thousand times.  I wasn’t going to let another season slip by unsuccessfully on account of mistakes or ineptitude.

 At daylight, I began hunting the bottom of a big canyon where I had found elk on several occasions the year before. But this year there were no elk, no sign to get excited about, and the only bugling I heard came from a lazy hunter that I heard drive up to the edge of the forest around 8:30 in the morning.

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Black Bear vs. Mountain Lion

Posted by on Jan 11, 2013 in Hunting | 0 comments

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Left: Mountain Lion. Right: Black Bear.

Most often when we talk about predators, especially those in the North American mountainous wilderness, we lump black bears and cougars in the same breath. Both are generally considered more dangerous than a coyote or bobcat, but not quite as dangerous as a brown bear…probably a notion justified by sheer size alone. I’ve been very fortunate to have had the amazing experience of harvesting these two predators in recent years, and while the taxidermist is completing the mounts, I paid a few extra dollars to have the skulls cleaned, boiled and bleached (of sorts…not sure of the exact chemical). Yeah, I probably could have messed around with it myself, but that is exactly what I would have created in the process: a mess. Needless to say, I believe it was well worth it.

Obviously bears and cats are classified in two different families, but the differences have never been so glaring as when I began to take a closer look at their skulls. There is a lot to be learned about the differences between the animals, their behavior, and therefore, how to hunt them. The first obvious difference between the two skulls is the length and shape. While the cat’s head is short and compact, the bears head, especially the nasal canal, is much longer. So what? This tells me several things.

SMELL. Bear wins… hands down. There is an old Sioux Indian adage that goes: “The eagle sees a leaf fall in the forest. The deer hears a leaf fall in the forest. The bear smells a leaf fall in the forest.” In looking at the length of the snout, this is no wonder. Quite simply, many more olfactory receptors fit there, as opposed to the cat. And like dogs, having a long snout allows a greater volume of scent to linger in the canal, and for a longer period of time.

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We’re not in Iowa, Toto: Bowhunting Mountain Whitetails.

Posted by on Jan 8, 2013 in Feature Articles | 0 comments

Okanogan River

Destination: whitetail hunting the snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Growing up in the rolling hills of NE Iowa, I’ve hunted whitetail deer with a shotgun several times in the eighties and nineties; typically on small, partially wooded farms that were owned by friends or relatives. Now living in the Pacific Northwest, I don’t have the option of an affordable, private property hunt. So I did what any maniacal, masochistic hunter would do: I took up bow hunting— the same year I decided to chase the whitetails that roamed the public mountains of eastern Washington. To add to the challenge of hunting such an elusive beast in such a fashion, I intended to settle for nothing less than a mature buck, and I wanted to take him while hunting from the ground.

No trail cams. No food plots. No ground blind. No baiting. No guides. Oh, and I have to mention, in this state, over-the-counter bowhunters aren’t even afforded the opportunity to hunt the pre- or peak rut! Yeah, this is where the maniacal part comes in. I’d be honored and thrilled to hunt any deer in true “Midwest fashion,” but I just didn’t have the connections, pocketbook, or time to do it here. In addition, the mountainous, public-land geography of this state doesn’t lend itself to such an undertaking. Although my home farm in Iowa is now a whitetail bow-hunting Mecca thanks to efforts of my older brother, Larry; I have never hunted whitetails there with a bow or from a stand.

“It can’t be all that different than elk hunting,” I convinced myself. Ha. I’ve hunted mature elk successfully, and truth be told, this is a lot tougher. But I love to challenge myself, and I love the experience of having the experience. After several years, several encounters, and countless heart-breaks in my back pocket, I knew it could be done. It was only a matter of time before the perfect scenario would present itself.

 Day 1: Monday, 11/26/12.

There was nearly three inches of snow blanketing the forest floor as I left my truck behind in the darkness. It was parked on an old forest service road that my buddy Rich Sandstrom and I affectionately named, “The Number 2 Road,” for being the second area where you could pull off the main forest service road. It was 5:30 in the morning and the woods were black, but I knew the area well. I had been hunting this particular part of the Okanogan National Forest—in fact parking in the same spot—for six years in search of the wily animal. I’ve had several close encounters with true record book bucks, but I haven’t harvested a single deer in this area.

It was a dry and cold 17 degrees Fahrenheit, exactly 34 degrees warmer than my last experience at the same stand. But that’s a whole other, bone-chilling story. That’s also where the masochistic part comes in. I climbed to the top of the ladder and then up several small pine branches another three feet to reach my platform (In 2010, I broke down and hung a treestand, but to this day it remains fruitless). I hung my headlamp and bow, and started the ritual of dressing for standing still all day. Layers and layers of warm clothing, binoculars strapped on, range finder in my coat pocket, and on and on with gadgets and invaluable tricks of the trade.

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