One of the most frequent questions that I’m asked is, “How do you go about hunting white-tails from the ground with a bow?” With the availability of cheap and easy tree stands, it seems that hunting from the ground is a craft that’s being lost. Below I relay a short story about a buck I took this year and then follow that up with a deeper dive into ground hunting.
Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” And so it was on November 3rd of this year's bow season. The plan was to set up an ambush at the intersection of a faintly used deer trail leading from a cut-over CCC-era red pine plantation and a deer super highway leading to a cluster of overgrown apple trees. The faint trail was a good bet for one of two good bucks that I knew bedded in the old red pines and the super highway would almost guarantee me a doe. I just needed to get in a tree on the downwind side of the intersection.
When I arrived with a Lone Wolf climbing stand on my back, it was clear the plan was just as Eisenhower had predicted—nothing! The planning had gotten me to this perfect deer hunting scenario, but the plan had failed to predict how the steep mountain ridge to my west would turn the steady northwest wind into a swirl that most often puffed out of the northeast. I had to re-think my approach and set-up.
I backed out and made a loop of 200 yards to avoid tainting potential shooting lanes with my footfalls. However, once on the downwind side of the trail intersection, I realized there were no trees in suitable position for my climber. So, I backed out and headed home for a beer…NOT…hunting is sometimes making lemonade out of lemons. A a deeper evaluation of the options revealed a solution.
In just the right spot, 18 yards from the intersecting trails, stood a gnarly white pine with its lower trunk growing in an “S” pattern so that the four foot long horizontal portion stood about three feet above the ground. I stashed my climber 50 yards away and returned to the white pine. I was able to sit on the horizontal trunk, while resting my back against the vertical portion to block my silhouette. Also, the shade provided by the dense pine foliage put me in the inky shadows. This was just enough concealment to hide my form, providing that I didn’t move at the wrong time.
The rest of this story is pretty textbook. I didn’t see a deer until 30 minutes before dark, when a big-bodied, 2 ½ year old six point slipped down the faint trail from the pines. He was a buck that I wouldn’t have shot from a treestand, but I considered him a trophy from my makeshift ground blind. When his head went behind a white ash, I took the opportunity to draw. I then had to track his chest for about 10 yards until he cleared some dogwood brush, giving me a clear shot. The arrow was as true as any I had ever released. The buck lunged hard forward, before making a “J” pattern back toward the pines, revealing red smudges on each side of his chest. I looked down at the 1967 Shakespeare Ocala resting in my lap and wondered how many “notches” it had achieved in its 50 seasons.
For 15 minutes I sat quietly with my new white pine friend, reflecting on how hunting connects us to the animals, the landscape, and our own spirit like no other activity I know. How could we possibly conceive of privatizing even one acre of public ground, a behavior which could diminish our ability to enjoy this great sport and our natural landscapes. I didn’t even bother to take up the blood trail, instead walking straight to the place I last heard crashing sounds, where I found the buck wedged against a tree. It was now nearly dark and I headed home to retrieve my son Rex to help me with the extraction. This was Rex’s fourth buck retrieve and he’s not yet four years old.
This hunt was a little unusual in that I switched strategies mid-stream. Below, extracted from A Traditional Bowhunter’s Path, I describe how I would typically prepare for a ground-based hunt.
Excerpted from A Traditional Bowhunter's Path
Everyone knows that to kill whitetails with a bow you have to be at least 15 feet off the ground, right? Wrong. Today’s combination of safe, inexpensive portable treestands and an extreme focus on hunting trophy bucks has turned ground hunting into a dying art—a trend that’s likely causing bowhunters to miss out on some great opportunities and a lot of fun. On nearly every property I hunt, there are excellent ambush sites that offer no possibility of placing effective treestands. I emphasize the word effective because there are sometimes trees available, but those in poor position relative to deer movement don’t offer shot opportunities and trees with too little cover are a sure recipe for getting busted.
Deer move in spatial patterns governed by food, habitat structure, topography, and wind direction. Bucks especially like to move in thick cover or on the edge of it, like where a thicket meets a swamp or a field. It’s no coincidence that thick places have few trees, as tree canopies block sunlight, which prevents development of brushy security cover. In my area of upstate New York and much of the northeast, farm abandonment during the past 50 years has created a plethora of brush-choked fields that provide bedding cover and food, but few trees for hanging a stand. I would guess that many of the very best areas for daytime deer activity go unexplored by bowhunters who think that hunting on the ground is a waste of time.
I remember watching a video several years ago that featured Mark and Terry Drury hunting the early deer season in Wyoming. After numerous unsuccessful hunts, the reluctant brothers decided to set up on the ground at the edge of a brushy bedding area. Improvising, they used 5-gallon buckets for seats and brush trimmings for cover. The duo seemed embarrassed at trying this ridiculous tactic and one of the brothers was genuinely dumbfounded when he tagged a wide 8 point that went down within sight. It takes just one experience like that to make you a believer.
Hunting mature bucks is fun and I don’t deny that it turns my “bowhunting crank,” but in my family home-grown venison is our primary source of red meat, so filling the freezer is just as important. For the experienced hunter, shooting does can get a little routine, especially in farmland and suburban areas where deer are abundant and relatively easy to ambush from elevated stands. So, a while back I started spending more time on the ground for the added challenge. Getting down to Earth has taught me a lot about deer behavior and what works and what doesn’t when you’re at eye level with deer. The main principles of successful deer hunting are the same whether you are aloft or planted on the ground, but there are some nuances. It’s all about fooling a deer's senses.
Be Easy on Their Eyes
In their video, the Drury brothers unknowingly debunked a common misconception about ground hunting and a deer’s ability to see. Many hunters believe that if you are on the ground, you must be totally hidden within a pop-up blind or wall of brush. I’ve actually found that having complete concealment isn’t necessary and is sometimes a liability because it limits your line of sight and effective shooting zones. I like to set up with a sparse screen of brush or mesh fabric in front of me and a visually complicated backdrop behind me. Good backgrounds include upturned stumps, the dense tops of fallen trees, thick shrubs such as rose or honeysuckle, and rocky outcrops. The idea is to break your silhouette, not completely hide your form.
My standard set up is a lightweight folding, aluminum stool and a 24” tall skirt type blind, which is nothing more than camo fabric attached to telescoping fiberglass stakes. With these items attached to my backpack, I can be setup in a few minutes. Brush blinds work great if they are built ahead of time, but for shrewd whitetails, building an impromptu blind can cause too much visual disturbance and leave behind a web of scent trails.
If I’m hunting an open area where I know that it’s difficult to find a good backdrop, I’ll often wear a ghillie suit. One note of caution: ghillie suits are great at breaking the human silhouette, but they are not so great for unfettered bow shooting. I strongly suggest practicing in your full suit and trimming the cloth strands that interfere with the travel of your bow string.
When evaluating your ground set up, try to imagine how a deer might see the situation. As prey animals, a deer’s eyes are positioned on the sides of their head, allowing for a 310-degree field of view and an excellent ability to sense movement, but poor depth perception. Deer are able to see some color, especially in the blue to yellow-green spectrum and there is evidence that their color vision might help them to see shifting patterns of dark and light, which could contribute to their uncanny ability to sense movement. For example, deer probably do not see the color orange as we do, but it’s likely they can see the unusual brightness of fluorescent orange, especially if it’s moving against a darker background. To minimize the relative difference between ourselves and our backgrounds, I like darker colors for ground hunting and lighter colors for treestands.
A recent study conducted at the University of Georgia points to other differences between the vision of humans and deer. The human retina contains a region called the optic fovea, which supports a high concentration of cone cells and about half the eye’s optic nerves. These characteristics give humans an unusual ability to see fine details. In contrast, a deer’s cone cells lie in a dispersed horizontal streak across the eye. These differences suggest that deer vision, in human terms, should be about 20/200, meaning that a deer’s ability to detect detail at 20 yards is about the same as a human’s at 200 yards. This is likely why deer are often more puzzled than scared by a motionless hunter. In my experience, the keys are to stay in the shadows, make sure you have adequate back cover, and mostly importantly limit your movement.
If you’re nestled in heavy cover, such as a cattail marsh or standing corn field, cut a few narrow sight windows to either side of your shooting lane, so that you can see deer coming and be prepared. Otherwise, if a deer pops from the cover unexpectedly, you’ll have to make too much movement to get ready. The key is to be in position before the deer steps into your shooting lane. In open habitats, such as field edges and power-line cuts, it’s good to give the deer something to focus on other than you. Deer decoys work best, but they are often cumbersome and can be dangerous to use when hunting from the ground, especially during firearms seasons. An alternative is to use a turkey decoy, which will focus a deer’s attention and give it confidence that everything is safe.
Several seasons ago, during New York’s late archery season I pushed the limits of good sense by setting up on the ground in a large opening with little cover. It was too cold to crawl up in a tree and the unusual east wind didn’t allow me to hunt from my usual ground blind on the opening’s opposite side. I hoped my doe decoy would keep any passing deer well distracted so that I could draw my bow unseen. It worked, in the middle of a wicked snow squall; a year-and-half old doe tarried too long at my decoy, giving me just the chance I needed. The shot was true, adding some much appreciated venison to the freezer.
Nullify Their Noses
Deer are notorious for their acute sense of smell. Scent molecules from our bodies drift from a treestand like snowflakes on a gentle breeze. On a day with consistent wind, we can use this to our advantage, as a deer approaching from upwind can move downwind near our tree while our scent drifts harmlessly overhead. From the ground; however, there is no buffering of our stench. If a deer gets downwind, you are usually busted. For this reason, playing the wind is do or die when ground hunting. I’m pretty careful about my scent control, but the fact is, if a deer gets downwind of you, you might as well have a neon sign advertising your location. The best medicine is to not let that happen. For this reason, I try to follow these rules: (1) never hunt flats on days without a predominant wind direction, (2) in the evenings take advantage of downward moving thermals on ridges, (3) always be cognizant of when the wind shifts uphill during mid- to late-morning; (4) when possible, hunt with your back to a feature that deer are reluctant to move through, such as a water body or open field. To be sure of my wind situation, I like to use baking powder in a squeeze bottle to frequently check wind direction. During pre-dawn a disposable lighter works great to detect subtle air movements. I talk more about how to detect and use the wind in Chapter 6.
Sometimes the wind just doesn’t cooperate. A few years ago, I was after a good buck that I’d seen a handful of times on one of my favorite hunting properties. After arriving at the property one day, I discovered that the weather forecasters must have been smoking something funny because the wind was not behaving as predicted. I knew that to hunt the blind I had hoped to would just send my scent sailing through the main bedding area, so I headed for the other end of the property. Decked out in my ghillie suit and tucked into the top of a fallen white pine, I was eager to see how my set up performed. I didn’t have long to wait. Just after nocking an arrow, I saw legs approaching through the dogwood brush to my left. Before long the old doe was nearly in my lap. With a steady wind in my face, I focused on remaining completely motionless. After browsing some multi-flora rose not 25 feet from me, she moved to the far side of the opening, turning away at a hard angle. I remember thinking that the angle might be too hard as it really narrowed my effective target, but I was already committed and the string slipped from my fingers. I shouldn’t have worried. The arrow angled forward, providing plenty of penetration to reach the vitals.
Don’t Underestimate Their Ears
In my opinion a deer’s sense of hearing is its most underrated ability. We hear a lot about how deer see and, of course, how to beat their ultra-sensitive olfaction; but what about their ears? How many of us have missed a shot opportunity because of some unintended sound? I’m not talking about egregious errors, like an aluminum arrow bouncing off a bow’s site window. I’m thinking of the whisper of fletchings brushed against a pant leg or the muffled swish of clothing during a draw. When deer aren’t making much “self-noise” from walking or feeding, they have an uncanny ability to pick up sound and locate its source. I like to clear sticks and debris from around my feet to reduce the chance of an unintended noise. Also, a small piece of old carpet carried in your pack or left at permanent blinds really deadens noise made by your feet. Quiet clothing like wool or fleece is a must.
Like many traditional bowhunters these days, I’ve switched to shooting carbon arrows. I like everything about them except the noise they make when being drawn across an arrow rest. Make sure your arrow is dead silent as it slides over your rest material. If shooting off the shelf, I find that Velcro works about as well as anything. A strip of Teflon tape on an elevated rest will reduce noise, while having no impact on arrow flight.
In the 1980s, Barry Wensel and Rick Blase produced a video series called “Hunting October Whitetails.” It has become a cult classic, but beyond that it was one of the first hunting videos to teach a systematic approach to scouting and positioning stands. The video stressed an important lesson. That is, scouting is used to find the right general location, but actual hunting is the only way to fine tune the set up to put you in the sweet spot. How many times have you watched deer pass by out of range from your treestand and said, “Geez, I wish there was a tree over there that would work?” Well, maybe you don’t need a tree. If it’s not already a part of your hunting strategies, give ground hunting a try. I think you will be surprised by its effectiveness.
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
Since returning from Newfoundland in early October, I’ve been trying to catch up at work and at home, and get in a little whitetail hunting. A conference for work took me to Denver, where I spent several hours one evening with Tommy and Danny Clum at Rocky Mountain Specialty Gear . They are great folks and their store is as close to a traditional archery mecca as you are ever going to find. It’s well worth the visit if you are passing through Colorado!
The hunting has been going well. Since returning from Newfoundland, I hung up the 55#, 1972 Super Kodiak in favor a 50#, 1967 Shakespeare Ocala. I have been redeeming myself for the “moose miss” and I’m happy to say the freezer is filling up and there's some antler to show, as well! I’ll provide some hunting stories and photos soon, but that’s not the purpose of this post.
Let’s get down to business! This past weekend, I drew the names for The Classic Year BowVote prize winners. I had planned to draw this out over several blog posts, but given that hunting season is in full swing and then the holidays will be upon us, I have decided to do it in one shot.
Without further ado, the winners of the following prizes are:
T-shirt of your choice from Traditional Spirit Outdoors: Chris Walker.
Signed copy of A Traditional Bowhunters Path: Jeremie Smith.
Custom wood arrows from 3Rivers Archery: Gary Savaloja.
Bear Super Kodiak bow from RMS Gear: Craig Stamper.
Congratulations to these lucky winners and many, many thanks to RMS Gear and 3Rivers Archery for providing prizes!
I’ll be in touch with the winners to work out details.
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
Yesterday we made the five-hour drive south from St Anthony to Deer Lake. I’m now waiting it out in a hotel room until my flight for home leaves at 5:30 am on Tuesday. One year ago today I was in the hospital with my wife and our sweet little girl, Leela Bell, was coming into our lives. I really miss my family and can’t wait to get home to see everyone.
I’d like to wrap up this adventure with a few thoughts about my hunt and hunting in general. One could write a book on the topics below, but I’ll try to stick to the salient points.
When I was planning this hunt, I was surprised by how little information I could find on Newfoundland natural history, culture, or tourism. There are a few useful websites, but if you search Amazon for books about Newfoundland, you’ll mostly find information on the Newfoundland dog breed. At 42,031 square miles, Newfoundland is the 16th largest island in the world. It is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is the world’s largest estuary. It’s people are wonderfully friendly and mostly of Irish and British decent. The culture ranges from eclectic, European-like city life in St. Johns to outlying, hardscrabble communities with small economies and people who derive much of their sustenance from the land, including berries, cod, moose, caribou, and seal to name a few iconic wild foods.
Newfoundland’s nickname is “The Rock,” as there is very little soil here. It is bedrock, covered in just a few feet of soil, peat, moss, and mostly WATER. Other than very small gardens, I saw no commercial crops in my travels and, at least in the west, for the most part trees don’t grow large enough or fast enough to permit sustainable forestry. On several occasions we hunted near the site of a large forest fire that burned in 1979. The site has recovered very little and after nearly 40 years supports only a low density of trees that are mostly under knee high. I could go on and on about travel, natural history, etc, but what I really want to do is give a few bits of information about bowhunting conditions.
Caveat. I only hunted in the far northwest of “The Rock” and conditions elsewhere are likely to vary.
The weather was as unpredictable as I have ever seen. I’d say that forecasts were only accurate for 8 to 12 hours. You’d go to bed with a forecast for sunny skies the following day, but awake to wind and rain with a forecast for more of the same throughout the day. It seems that small, unpredictable frontal systems develop quickly over the ocean and then move inland. Though we continued to hunt, I functionally lost two-and-a-half days of a six-day hunt to weather. If hunting Newfoundland, bring good rain gear, wind-proof clothing, and consider fletching a few arrows with plastic vanes or at least bring something to cover your fletching while hunting. Even when it’s not raining, the vegetation is so wet and thick that it will drench your fletcchings. After several day of having my feathers soaked, they would no longer stand tall even when dry, so I swapped some spare arrows into my quiver. I also touched up my broadheads nearly every night, as the wet conditions caused them to rust. I’m not sure that rain bothers moose, but I suspect it was the high winds, in part, that kept moose from moving and calling.
Walking/Stalking—With a foundation of bedrock, water simply cannot percolate through Newfoundland’s soil. Standing water is everywhere. You can hike an hour to the top of a mountain and it’s as wet as the lowest bog. Furthermore, the ground is composed of moss, open peat, sedges, and mucky soils. In many places, every step will find you in ankle to calf deep muck and three out of ten steps will submerge your leg to nearly the knee. High quality, knee-high rubber boots are a must. In fact, I’d recommend bringing two pairs or a set of boot dryers. I wore LaCrosse Aeroheads and they did pretty well, but my right boot started leaking near the end of the hunt. Don’t even bother to bring leather hunting boots. At most places, stalking to within stickbow range of a moose would be nearly impossible because of the wet conditions. Every step starts with the splash of a foot meeting surface water and ends with the sucking sound of boot being pulled free.
Moose are hunted in three primary ways: 1) spot and stalk, 2) ambushes along trails, and 3) calling during the rut. Where I hunted in Newfoundland, numbers 1 and 2 are difficult. As I’ve already mentioned, the stalking conditions are not favorable for getting to within 30 yards of a moose. Sit and wait strategies might be productive, but there are trails, food, and bedding cover scattered everywhere, so patterning a moose here in northern Newfoundland would be difficult. Furthermore, the moose population here has been declining for at least the past 15 years. Densities used to be around five animals per square kilometer, but at this density moose were having negative impacts on forest health, especially regeneration of balsam fir, which is a favored food. Through aggressive hunting, the wildlife agency in Newfoundland has recently thinned the population to around 1.5 animals per square kilometer, making a sit and wait strategy less effective. I saw LOTS of moose sign and plenty of moose at long distances, so I’m not suggesting that the current populations size limits hunting opportunities, it just reduces the number of effective techniques. Killing a moose with a rifle in northern Newfoundland is not difficult.
This brings us to the rut. Moose are far more vocal than any other deer species, including elk. Bull elk bugle on a regular basis during their rut and cows give subtle but regular calls too. Both bull and cow moose, on the other hand, call loudly and frequently during the rut. Cows give estrous bellows to attract bulls and bulls grunt to attract and defend cows. These behavioral traits mean that both cows and bulls reliably come to human-created calls and, at the right time, bulls become so fixated on calls that they come without much regard for caution. This Youtube video (careful somewhat graphic at the end) shows an entranced bull throwing caution to the wind.
For bowhunters, this means the rut is vitally important in getting close, especially when stalking conditions are poor. My hunt seems to have fallen at the very beginning of the rut here in far northern Newfoundland. What little information I can find, suggests the rut tends to be a bit later in Newfoundland than other moose populations at similar latitudes. Predicting the precise breeding period of any animal is never easy and will vary among years. That said, if you are planning a moose hunt, do your best to time it with the rut.
Some hunts just don’t go as planned. I saw nine moose during six days of hunting, but only had one shot opportunity and we know how that went… When I talked with my wife on the phone after missing the cow moose on day 8, she said, “I don’t understand. You never miss.” The fact is, we all miss. I was shooting great throughout this hunt. I’m still not sure why I missed, but I’m chalking it up to a combination of wanting it too badly and a touch of moose fever. Below was my perspective of the approaching moose.
I’m bringing this up because I think it’s important to acknowledge that missing is part of hunting. My stomach was in knots after I missed that moose. As traditional bowhunters, we don’t get many chances and blowing your best shot at success is really painful. On the last day of hunting, my guide asked if I’d like to carry a rifle. I declined. To me the hunting method is more important than guaranteeing of success. Missing is simply an opportunity for reflection and learning. That’s how we improve.
Okay, enough for now. Below I've posted some additional photos from my trip.
Thank you all so much for following along. It truly means the world that so many people are interested in my adventures and writing.
Also, many thanks to The Classic Year sponsors: RMS Gear, Three Rivers Archery, Sporting Classics, and Mountain Muffler Strings.
Stay tuned for information on the drawing for the Bear Super K, custom arrows from Three Rivers, and other prizes.
Now it’s time to go home and hunt whitetails!
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
Well, the sun has set on my Newfoundland moose hunt. I’m going home without a moose, but with a heart renewed with adventure and swelling with new friendships.
The last day of any hunt is filled with high anticipation and today was no different. We awoke to clear skies, light wind, and a skimmer of ice on the ponds—a perfect day for hunting moose.
In the morning Steve, Bob, and I did a 5-km loop across a large flat that was dappled with forestland, bogs, and cutovers. We moved slowly into the wind, interspersing cow in heat calls with bull grunts. On a forested ridge, we found a fresh rut pit that reeked of bull-moose urine. We hid ourselves among some spruces and called for about 20 minutes, but got no response. The rest of the morning went along in much the same way—walk, hide, call, no response.
In the afternoon, I went with Michel, Mario, and Steve. We dropped Steve and Mario off at the trailhead leading to the location where I missed the cow, while Michel and I hit a new spot a few kilometers away. We worked timber, bogs, and blowdowns, but didn’t see or hear anything.
Back at the trailhead, we waited for Mario and Steve and when they didn’t show up by 30 minutes after dark, we started calling their cell phones. We didn’t hear back from them until nearly an hour after dark. Steve said he got confused on the way out and they wound up on the wrong side of the lake. He asked Michel to blow the horn, so they could find their way out. By this point, Michel was unhappy that Steve had gotten lost with a client in tow. After a long wait, we could see flashlights coming. Mario was first and you could tell by his body language that he was pissed!
He went straight to Michel and demanded to know why his guide was not carrying a GPS. Steve soon arrived and tried to explain what had happened. It was tense for a second, then all of a sudden, Mario thrust his arms in the air in a sign of victory and yelled in English heavily tainted with French, “we kill, we kill!” His smile beamed in the flashlight and we saw Steve’s bloody hands to confirm Mario’s antics.
It turned out, they worked the same group of cows that we encountered the night before. Just before dark, the cow I missed emerged from the timber showing no signs of injury, but this time she had a small bull in tow. Being the last day of the hunt, Mario happily took the small bull with his rifle.
I’m too tired for coherent writing at the moment, but tomorrow, I’ll draft a wrap-up post with a few thoughts about this hunt.
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
Despite the difficult weather and few moose sightings, I am loving Newfoundland and enjoying this hunt. This morning I hunted with Michel Breton who is the owner of White Hills Outfitters and a rock star moose hunter. Michel teaches moose hunting and calling techniques in Quebec and has produced several instructional videos. Michel’s style is to work the timber with the wind your face while calling and scraping trees and brush with a shed antler.
This morning we made a four-mile loop along the Parker River. It took about an hour to climb up the mountain, then we turned and hunted the spruce-fir timber alongside the river until we reached the bottom. There was terrific sign and it was exciting to be slipping through the timber while calling.
At one point, about 30 minutes into our down-river hunt, we had to cross a large deadfall. Michel went first and gave a cow call just after he crossed the log. As I climbed over, Michel was in front of me, but I was perhaps four feet higher than him when standing on the deadfall. I looked right over his head and there was a cow moose coming straight for us as at about 50 yards. There was no way to shoot from amid the deadfall’s limbs, so I had to scramble down and take several steps forward to gain a shooting position. By this time, the cow was on to us, but not badly spooked. As she ambled away and to our right, we noticed a calf with her. It was an exciting encounter…I think I might be hooked on moose hunting.
We worked our way down and, as is always the case here, we saw lots of fresh sign, but couldn’t drum up another moose. The weather was miserable again, with light, cold rain and winds gusting to 40 mph.
This morning Mario hunted with John and for more than an hour they watched a giant bull at around 200 yards. To Mario’s credit, he never had a shot angle he was satisfied with and chose not to pull the trigger. They plan to be back in the same spot tomorrow morning.
This afternoon, I went to a new location with Steve and Bob. Steve is a French Canadian and Bob is from St. Anthony, Newfoundland. We set up on the downwind side of a large patch of blown down timber. Steve was behind me calling and Bob was using a shed antler to rake trees and brush. About 10 minutes into the calling, we could hear two cows responding from different locations in the timber and occasionally a bull would grunt. Then things mostly fell silent and after another 20 minutes, I was thinking that perhaps the calling was too aggressive for so early in the rut and the animals had moved away. I glanced across a large pond to my right and when I looked back to the left where I expected animals to approach, I clearly saw a moose ear flicker between the trees at 40 yards.
It was a large cow and she came at a steady walk, angling straight to me from my left. At 10 yards she cleared the trees and was in the wide open, but always quartering to me. I was tucked in a row of head-high balsam firs and she just kept coming. At 20 feet I started to get concerned, but she just kept walking. She reached a point at around 10 FEET where I could have touched her with my bow. She towered above me and I could clearly look up into the nostrils of her fleshy nose and see her soft eyelashes. The closest thing I can compare this to is being stared down by a horse at 10 feet. By this point, I’m ready to come unglued! There’s no shot, nowhere to go, and she shows no sign of stopping.
Finally, she realized something wasn’t right and wheeled her 600 pounds in a crashing half circle, coming broadside at 20 yards without so much as a wisp of grass between us. I remember seeing some blondish hair behind her elbow and I remember my hand against my face, but then my arrow was going wildly in a bad direction. How you can miss something the size of a sheet of plywood at a mere 20 yards is beyond me, but that’s what happened. I think I jerked my string hand upon release and sent the arrow way high and to the left, making just a slice across the top of her butt. To be sure, we searched for blood, but found none. While she sustained little injury, my hunter’s spirit was badly wounded.
I always carry a judo-tipped arrow in my quiver and have been nailing spruce samplings out to 30+ yards. Ninety percent of being consistently good on game animals isn’t our physical ability, but our psychological wherewithal to make a good, “blueprint” shot in spite of heady anxiety.
I am putting that shot behind me and focusing on the next one. It’s all I can do.
Just one more day to make it happen.
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
Just a short note for today. Newfoundland brewed up another miserable day for us. This morning was a complete rain out. This afternoon we hit a couple of spots in heavy rain and wind. The bad news is that we didn’t see anything. The good news is that we heard a cow calling numerous times, indicating the rut is starting.
Just two days to go, but my spirits are high and I still feel confident!
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
PHOTOS AT BOTTOM
Click to Enlarge
Today was a long and unproductive day. In the morning, we hunted an area near where we hunted on the first day. We covered a lot of ground and saw good moose sign, but not a single animal. We got back to the truck around 11:00 and I asked John if it would okay if I stayed out instead of returning for lunch.
He dropped me off at a spot that I was familiar with and where there is a large rock outcrop, restricting a well used trail. Any moose coming down the trail would have to funnel within 30 yard of my hiding spot in clump of blown down trees. I stayed until 2:30, calling every 45 minutes, but saw nothing.
In the afternoon, we hunted a new spot, but despite good sign we again got skunked.
The other two hunters in camp (Mario and Charlie) both heard moose calling and had them respond. Charlie took video of a large cow that came into 15 yards in response to his guide’s calling. Charlie is the hunter who shot the cow earlier in the week, so he wasn’t even carrying a gun. In addition to Mario and Charlie, Michel has two other gun hunters who are staying elsewhere in a small cabin. Yesterday they got a cow and a small bull, which they brought here to hang. I’ll try to get some photos.
This gives me hope that the rut is picking up. Getting within recurve range of a moose without being able to call them in will be VERY difficult. Everything here is wet and it’s nearly impossible to stalk without making tremendous noise when your boots break free of the sucking peat/mud.
On the upside, I am having a great time with my new French Canadian friends. They are very friendly and happy, and are enamored with traditional bowhunting. They ask many questions and show great respect for what we do. We laugh a lot and usually one of them understands me well enough to interpret for the others. Except when I’m with John during the day, I’m surrounded by people who don’t speak my language. This has been unexpectedly fun and I feel a real bond with these people.
Tonight for dinner a local guy brought fresh cod that he had just caught a few hours earlier. It was some of the best fish I have ever eaten—a completely different food than what we buy in the grocery stores.
Photos at Bottom, but very few today, as the rain kept my camera in backpack.
This morning, Newfoundland threw us a curve ball. We awoke to rain and temperatures in the high 30s. John and I decided that we were far too ornery to melt, so we hiked up our pants and headed for a series of small bogs and lakes where John had seen a lot of moose last winter while cutting firewood.
When we left the truck at 6:13, John said, “good thing about this spot is that’s it’s not too far so we can come back to the truck if the rain picks up.” I’m still trying to figure out John’s definition of “not too far.” At 7:15, more than an hour’s steady hike from the truck that’s “not too far,” we finally reached the first bog that John wanted to hunt. By this point, the rain had picked up considerably and cold wind had begun to blow. We braced against Mother Nature and moved from bog to bog, giving wailing moose in heat calls and scanning the spruce-fir for movement. I really liked the set ups, as the bogs were small and the edges offered good cover, which meant close shots.
By the time we reached the fourth little bog, we were both soaked. I was wringing water from my shooting glove and my fletchings were drenched and laying nearly flat against the arrow shafts—not good for guiding a heavy broadhead. We set up to call toward a small lake, but after about 15 minutes I think we were both ready to pack it in. Behind us, I was watching sheets of rain sweep over the bog when I caught movement. Then, straight out of the rain curtain, stepped a bull moose, just like that there he was. I tugged at John’s sleeve and did the old “hunter’s point” with my index finger extended and my hand close to my chest.
John dropped down and did a backward crawl to get 20 yards behind me and resume calling. I tucked into some head-high spruce-fir and nocked an arrow. The young bull was about 75 yards away and looking our way. When he began to move off, John called and the bull snapped his head toward us. He came a few steps forward, then tossed his head in the air. Our scent was blowing straight to him! With a few strides of those long legs, he was gone—back behind the rain curtain like he’d never been there.
Soon after, we heard a cow moose moaning in the wind and we headed in the direction. We did one more bout of calling, but by this point the rain and wind were just too much. We admitted defeat and headed for that truck that “wasn’t too far away.” On the way out, we found a fresh rut pit and a rub.
Perhaps the rut is heating up, after all.
The rain finally let up around 2:00 this afternoon, but we didn’t see anything on our afternoon hunt.
It’s been a long, cold, and wet day so I’m going to wrap it up for tonight.
With the rain ending and colder temperatures arriving, I think tomorrow is going to rock!
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
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This morning after a quick breakfast, my local guide John and I, drove south on the hard-top road for about 30 minutes, before parking and heading into the bush. We talked along the way and I immediately liked him. He was born and raised in St. Anthony and has spent his entire life hunting, fishing, and trapping. His family lives on wild game, including mainly eider ducks, moose, harp seal, caribou, and trout. I asked, which was his favorite and after a brief pause he said, “seal.” They also grow potatoes in small fenced plots along the road where the government Crown Land has been cleared. John says the practice is illegal, but the government leaves them alone, as it’s part of the subsistence lifestyle.
We left the truck around 6:30 am and walked hard for an hour before we slowed to a hunter’s pace. John was trying to reach a series of bogs, lakes, and stunned spruce-fir fields while moose were still likely on their feet. Despite our best efforts to spot or call a moose, we encountered nothing until around 9:30.
We were walking along the edge of a narrow bog and scanning the opposite side for feeding or bedded moose. Abruptly, John stopped and blurted, “what the fuck is that?” I saw it immediately. Lying in the sun at the edge of a spruce-fir patch, was what appeared to be a dead moose. I said, “looks like a dead moose.” John agreed, but then after a quick look with my binoculars, I hastily said “she’s not dead she’s sleeping!” In unison, we both dropped down and backtracked to put some cover between us and the moose.
We watched for a while and then I decided to stalk closer to see if there was a bull with her. It was an easy stalk, but when I got to within 20 yards, my left boot made a slight sucking sound as I lifted it from the mossy bog. At the noise, she made a hard blowing sound and simultaneously jumped to all four feet. In a split second she made the forest edge and disappeared. It was fun and encouraging to have gotten so close.
We continued on, calling and glassing. On two separate occasions, we jumped a cow and calf and then a lone animal that was ghosting through the trees. John was disappointed with the number of moose and the lack of rut activity, but I was having blast seeing so much country and was grateful to see a few moose on my first morning.
John’s woodsmanship extends well beyond moose. At one point, we stopped to call and a bird landed immediately above John’s head and then flew to within feet of me. After our calling efforts, John said “do you know what that bird was?” I reeled off a know-it-all ornithologist’s answer and said, “well, it’s commonly known as a Gray Jay, Canada Jay, or Moose Bird.” John looked at me, smiled patiently and said, “you missed Whiskey Jack and around here we call them “Brazen Jays.”
Around 11:15, John must have decided it was time to roll. Without a word, he picked up the pace and again we were out of hunting mode. John is about 6’ 2” and around 225 pounds, and at 63 he can still move! I noticed on the way in that I had to walk about 25% faster than normal to keep up with him and when we hit those blasted bogs, look out—he was poetry while I was a drunkard on the sidewalk.
On the way out, I was feeling really spent. John must have sensed this and we stopped for a brief break in the middle of a massive bog. I thought we were fairly close to the road when John said, we’ve got about another two miles of bog to cross and then after we hit the road, we’ll have to walk south for another two miles. “Gulp!” Two miles of bog walking is like 5 miles of woods walking. About halfway across the bog, John turned to me and said “you’re doing great, most new guys would be dead by now.” I said, I think you’re right I can feel rigor mortis setting in!” John believes that native Newfies learn to walk the bogs at a young age and develop muscles that most other outdoor folks don’t excercise.
I have secretly nicknamed John, “Moose John.” He certainly knows moose and his long, moose-like legs are built for bog walking. I was relieved when we could finally catch glimpses of the road about 300 yards ahead. But then, all of a sudden there was a creek—too wide to jump and too deep for knee-high boots. John plowed ahead, saying he had an extra set of boots at home. With only one pair of rubber boots, I didn’t want to get them wet. I stripped to the waist and waded across. Wow! What a first morning.
My afternoon hunt was the polar opposite. We sat up on a single bog/spruce-fir field and didn’t move for nearly three hours. We simply called and watched. With just 30 minutes of light remaining, a single, large cow skirted the timber and we got satisfying, but ineffective looks.
One of my new French friends shot a cow today with a rifle. We had moose liver and onions for dinner.
The rest of the group is also seeing moose, but the rut seems to be lagging.
Tomorrow morning we’ll be back on our feet and bog walking.
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
Just a very short note tonight, as it’s late and we’ll be hitting the bush tomorrow at 5:30 am.
Today was a transition day. We drove from Deer Lake to the cabin near St. Anthony. It was about a 6 hour drive north and east along the coast. You can see Labrador directly across the channel to the north from our location (see map below). Polar bears sometimes ride ice floes and end up here in far northern Newfoundland. The landscape and fishing villages along the drive were stunning. Had I been driving it would have taken 12 hours with photo stops.
There’s not much to report. They are seeing lots of moose, which are beginning to rut and call, so my timing seems good. The area looks fantastic. Tomorrow I will be paired up with a local Newfoundlander named John who has lived here all his life and knows the local forest and its moose. Temperatures will be in the 30s tomorrow, so it should be a great day.
I’m the only English speaking person in camp. Everyone else speaks French. Fortunately, a few of them are bilingual so we are managing to communicate. I’m learning a lot and having fun. Everyone is very intrigued with my vintage recurves and arrows.
Tune in tomorrow for a report from the first day in the field.
Keep the Traditional Spirit Alive!
I’m Ron Rohrbaugh, a professional conservation biologist, author, and long-time traditional bowhunter. For the next year, I’ll be hunting exclusively with vintage archery gear in what I’m calling The Classic Year. We’ll explore natural history and travel, geography and culture, and of course archery and hunting. The adventures and stories will be steeped in conservation, both past and present.
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