The Strugglestick Addiction: Part II
By Aron Snyder, Host of Kifarucast
Spring time was over and I had all summer to get ready for the fall hunting season. I had learned so much already, but still felt like I had barely scratched the bottom of the barrel when it came to traditional archery. I knew I needed to keep focusing on my shooting form but also knew that above all I needed to change my hunting style and understand that where my hunt ended with a compound, it was just beginning with a recurve (inside of 60 yards)! So how was I going to prepare myself for this? I had no idea, but it would be fun figuring it out!
The one thing I knew is that this bow needed to become an extension of my body and shooting with good form was the best way to become more comfortable. So I packed the strugglestick around with me pretty much everywhere and literally shot every chance I could; stump shooting, blind-bale shooting and 30-60 minutes a night (before backpack cardio) at the locale outdoor range. I also hung out around RMS Gear as much as I could, sucking up as much info as possible from the Clum family and anyone else around me that had information to give. I also had Tom Sr. giving me shooting lessons as well as filming my shooting form. I did this so much that I probably drove him crazy! The patience this man has is rivaled by few and my confidence level was always higher after a shooting lesson or just a BS session about hunting.
During the summer months, my daughter always comes to visit and she was a trooper through all of this! As a part-time father the summer months spent with my daughter have always been precious to me. I’ve been super lucky that she’s an outdoor kid that loves hanging out shooting her bow, backpacking, and pretty much anything else that involves daddy daughter time! I only bring this up because of how important I feel it is to pass these things on to future generations. I could have just as easily left her at home in front of the TV but having her with me through all of the practice made it even more memorable.
COLORADO ELK AND MULE DEER
I was lucky to have a tag for both elk and mule deer in the same unit in Colorado. This saves a lot of traveling time and if either species happened to walk in front of me throughout the day, I wasn’t going to complain about a gimme either!
With loaded packs and high hopes, my good friend Brian Call and I hiked in the day before season. Brian is the owner of Gritty Bowmen podcast and he had been filming/documenting this adventure since the beginning. I was lucky to have his help on this hunt, but I also knew there would be a lot of people watching all of the updates on social media and Youtube. It had been like this most of the season anyway, but I really didn’t want to fall on my face with thousands of people watching either.
HUMBLE PIE FOR DINNER!
As far as picture perfect hunting spots go, the area Brian and I found ourselves in opening morning would pretty much be the definition! We were in the middle of an aspen meadow about 100 yards from a well-used elk wallow. I was about 80 yards in front of Brian as he ran through his calling sequence and the light fog was just starting to burn off. This hadn’t gone on for long when I caught movement coming though the aspens. My heart rate jumped up a bit and my first thought was an elk was making its way towards Brian’s calling. I grabbed my binoculars and quickly found that it was actually a group of mule deer bucks feeding my way. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t really use to the adrenalin rush that I was now feeling. This was obviously due to the fact that I just couldn’t shoot them where they stood and with the strugglestick I was looking at a par three to get within range. I kept telling myself,
“Keep it in your pants Snyder…don’t do anything stupid, and just let the hunt come to you.”
At about 50 yards, the bucks started feeding to my right and I knew I’d need to start moving towards them to get close enough. I took a step each time they dropped their heads to feed and slowly closed the distance. It took me about a half hour to go 25 yards (this would have been impossible for me normally), but I somehow pulled it off and finally was within range……I THOUGHT!
None of these bucks were giant by any means, but the guy in the back was the biggest (135-140” I would guess) and I would be more than happy to put an arrow in him. So after the first two fed by, I slowly drew my bow and let loose the arrow. I watched the bright yellow and orange feathers fly through the air in slow motion in amazement, having a hard time believing that my deer tag would be filled opening day! That was until my arrow landed underneath the buck of course and my picture-perfect morning started to go to hell in a hand basket!
What the freak just happened! Reload man, reload!
The deer had no idea what was going on and only went a couple steps. I tried to keep my shit together as I went to full draw again and was actually somewhat calm while all of this was going on. When I released my second arrow I would have bet a large amount of money that it was going to connect…..wrong again, chuckles! It hit just underneath him again and he bounded away a few more yards. My composure went to shit at this point and I have no idea where MY THIRD ARROW actually went. I stood there for a couple minutes, humbled beyond words, and tried to assess what happened. I couldn’t actually tell you for sure, so I’ll just say the strugglestick and human error was the cause.
I walked back to Brian looking like Eor from Winnie the Pooh, head down with my quiver half empty. He was smiling at the time and was sure I had killed something. I told him the story and he responded
“You missed? You don’t miss!
I laughed for a minute and said,
“Well Brian, I missed three times in one sitting, so I obviously do miss”.
We both laughed for a while, camera on of course, and he filmed me digging my arrows out of logs and grass.
The next four days of elk hunting were filled with close calls, adrenaline, and a lot of questions that all came down to
“Why didn’t you shoot?”
Brian didn’t mean anything negative by this and he was truly just curious as to why I couldn’t get a shot when elk were, at times, within 20 yards. A lot of this had to do with the simple fact that I could hit just about anything with a compound and for the last few months he had seen me shoot very well with a recurve (during practice of course) out to 50 yards. Not letting an arrow loose was something new to me as well and Brian and I had MANY in-depth conversations about how the strugglestick was making me a different hunter and I was focusing more on getting close than anything.
Brian and I headed back to the trail head on the evening of the fifth day. I needed to handle some things at work and Brian had to get caught back up on Gritty Bowmen business as well. We were going to take a couple days to regroup and then head back in for a final four-day hunt. I wasn’t totally down in the dumps, but killing an elk did start to seem a bit more difficult than I had originally anticipated.
BACK IN THE GAME!
When I got back to Kifaru the next day, I didn’t have as much to do as I thought and it only took me a day to get caught back up. I asked my partner in crime at the office, Frank, if he wanted to head out the next day for a quick mule deer hunt? That was a stupid question to ask him since he’s a mule deer fanatic and I was happy to have his help behind the glass. As we loaded our daypacks that evening, I got Frank up to speed on the recent elk hunting adventures and told him I needed to get as close as possible on tomorrows hunt. He understood completely and with limited time we decided that I would go on the first stalk that presented itself that would put me inside of 20 yards.
After spotting a few different bucks, we finally picked up one that bedded in a perfect location. He was roughly 1,200 yards from our current location but bedded just beneath a big boulder. It was around 10:00 AM and I figured he wouldn’t move again for a while, so Frank stayed put to flag me in if needed and I made my way around the mountain to get behind him. This whole stalk took over three hours and poor Frank, the trooper he is, stayed on that rock the entire time. I on the other hand had a few issues along the way! I stalked the wrong rock two different times, lost my boots once, and got pinned down by other deer for an hour! But after three hours and a lot of cussing, I had finally found the right rock! I was about 40 yards away and as luck would have it, we were getting 20-30 MPH wind gusts. Something I should probably bring up is that I now love the wind. When I had a compound it was the enemy, but windy days keep animals in their beds and it’s also a huge bonus for noise concealment.
I slowly pulled off my boots and crept my way forward. I couldn’t see Frank just yet, but in about five yards he should be in sight. When I closed the five yards I couldn’t see Frank with my eyes, so I pulled my binoculars out and instantly spotted him standing up and throwing his arms in the air liked I had just kicked a field goal! This was the signal we had discussed earlier to let me know that I was in the right spot and all was good go.
It’s all up to me now, went through my head, and the adrenaline started to flow freely. I made my way slowly, taking a step with every wind gust and it didn’t take long before I was 10-12 yards away. I could see about four inches of velvet sticking above the boulder (always look for the rack when your stalking) and that rack wasn’t moving an inch. I bent over and grabbed a few rocks and put them in my pocket, keeping one in my hand to throw in hopes of getting the buck to stand. I found out later that Frank was photographing all of this through the spotter and he told me his legs were shaking like crazy through this ordeal. I was actually pretty steady, everything considered, but after I threw the fourth rock I was starting to think I’d be stuck at 10 yards for a while. The fourth rock I threw was pretty dang big and the deer didn’t move an inch, so after a few different scenarios passed through my head, I decided to just keep getting closer. The wind was a helping me on this and every 5-10 seconds I would get a huge wind gust. This did two things: kept the deer in his bed and hid all of my noise from those big ears.
When I got to the boulder, about five feet from the deer’s position, it was becoming pretty clear that the only shot I was going to have was from the top of the boulder he was bedded beneath. My typewriter leg was kicking in a little bit, but I was keeping my crap together relatively well. I just needed one more wind gust and I’d have this thing licked! My left foot was on top of the boulder and I pushed up right when the wind hit. As it turns out the wind gust was a bit stronger than I anticipated and it actually blew me back down. I just about lost my shit when this happened, but I didn’t make any noise when the wind hit. Another gust followed the last and I pushed back up. The buck’s horns were inches from my foot and I noticed my shadow was about to hit his eye level. I didn’t want him to think he had a mountain lion above him, so I started my draw from a somewhat awkward position. My arrows almost hit his antlers when I started to draw my bow. By some miracle I got my bow to full draw and released the arrow. It blew straight through him into the dirt and bounced back a little. The buck took off out of his bed like a rocket and blood flew onto my pant leg when he went by me.
WOW, I thought to myself, that was close!
I could hear Frank across the canyon after the deer expired and could see him making his way over to me. I sat down for a minute in disbelief, replaying everything in my mind. This was by far the craziest stalk I’d ever done and the most exciting too. As you can probably imagine, this stalk was one of those that made the addiction to the strugglestick even greater. I can’t say for sure I wouldn’t have gotten this close with my compound, but I’ve hunted with one for over 20 years and it hasn’t happened yet. This was truly an amazing day and Frank and I would have a story to tell for many years to come!
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
So far, the season had been an emotional roller coaster and it was actually just getting ramped up. Brian and I were running out of time in Colorado, but we did have four days left before heading to Idaho, and I was keeping good spirits on the hike back in. When we got back to the area it looked like most of the elk had traveled to a different area for the rut. This is somewhat normal as the bulls break up and start to establish dominance, but it seemed to be happening a little earlier this year than I expected. No matter, we still had a few elk in the area and we went to bed with high hopes! Those hopes were crushed pretty quickly the next morning, but this wasn’t for lack of elk as we could hear them above is bugling all night. It was because I choked my ass off when I finally had a decent shot!
That next morning we got up early and headed for higher ground. It was raining/snowing and we could hear bulls all around us. Brian set up in a thick patch of timber behind me and after a few minutes of calling I had a small 5×5 coming in hot. I was in good cover when he came into range and everything was falling into place. He stopped at 30 yards and turned broadside, just like you always hope for. I slowly drew back, but he caught a little movement and started to muscle up a bit. He didn’t blow out, but he definitely saw movement, but I had reached my anchor point and finished my shot execution. The arrow released and traveled though the air in slow motion. It looked to be a perfect shot, but that could have been in my mind as well because when I hit him I wasn’t sure what exactly happened. He took off up the mountain after the hit and I made my way over to wear he was standing. It was definitely a hit, but the rain and snow had me worried, so I followed behind him in hopes to get another arrow off.
He traveled a few hundred yards and never looked back and I felt confident I was going to get another arrow into this bull. He was getting close to a thick willow patch and I figured that whatever side he took I would take the other and cut him off. He went left and I hurried ahead to get in ambush position on the right side. When I reached the end of the willows I got an arrow loaded and waited for my shot. After a few minutes had passed and no elk appeared, I thought he must have bedded down somewhere in the middle.
This will be perfect.
I made my way back to the spot we split off and kept around the willows. To my surprise I didn’t walk into the bull I shot, but several bulls, both bedded and feeding and I couldn’t figure out what bull was mine. I scanned the area like crazy and I would be lying if the thought of upgrading didn’t cross my mind. I had a 320ish bull within 25-30 yards and several others that would eventually feed my way as well. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just hunkered down in hopes to spot the bull I already had hit. This only lasted a minute or two when the wind changed and the earth erupted. I could see bulls running everywhere and not one really looked injured. After the dust settled I walked up to where the majority of the bulls were hanging out and found a small amount of blood. It looked like a muscle hit and I from my memory that bull did not look injured when he took off. Brian was probably wondering what the hell was going on and letting things calm down wasn’t a bad idea, so I made my Eor walk one more time to let him know what happened.
We tracked the elk for a ways before we lost blood and searched for the entire day. Both of us agreed the bull was fine and headed our way back to camp. I was trying to stay positive about all of this, but I hated wounding animals. I felt better knowing the bull was fine, but I still was mad at myself for not closing the deal when I had the chance. So there we sat, running through what happened and trying to figure out how to make what seemed the impossible, possible.
NEVER GIVE UP
So there we were, sitting inside the tipi listening to “Shelter from the Storm” by Bob Dylan and drinking coffee. It was the last morning before we headed to Idaho and the realization that I may not get a Colorado elk was becoming apparent. This hadn’t happened to me in a long time and I was starting to get a little depressed. The coffee always help with the mood, but I’m not sure the great Bob Dylan was good or bad. Either way, we had one morning left and we needed make the most of it.
We started our hike in early and headed to an area that we had got into a heard a couple times before. When we reached the top we could smell elk, but couldn’t hear anything. We were moving though the moonlight and I was hoping we would eventually hear something start talking. It was just about legal shooting light when we found ourselves right in the middle of the herd. This wasn’t on purpose by any means and the elk started to scatter. I wasn’t sure which direction the bull went, but I was happy that they split into two groups. We pushed forward a few more yards and I could see a cow 20 yards below me. We quickly took a knee and I started scanning all over to find the bull. He was about 80-100 yards in front of us, raking a tree with a few cows around him.
I thought to myself. We could hear cows to our left as well and I knew what to do and whispered a command to Brian,
“Scream on that bugle!”
Brian cranked on that thing like the horn of Gondor and the bull snapped his head in our direction and started running in. He screamed in our direction, covering ground fast. Brian, trying to stay concealed, was laying down when he let out his second bugle. I went to 3/4 draw when he hit 20 yards, but we were behind a log with dead branches going in every direction and I didn’t have a clear shot. He kept coming, but at a slower pace. At 12 yards, I went to full draw. I released the arrow and the bull immediately hit the ground. I thought it was a good hit, but he was up and moving downhill fast. I released another arrow and hit him again. The first shot was actually high and put him in two-wheel drive. I ran down the hill after him and put a final arrow into him.
I was pretty much speechless at this point and a river of emotions were running through me! I couldn’t believe we actually pulled it off! Brian was excited as I was and we gave each other a big man hug. It was a feeling I don’t think I had ever experienced and I couldn’t thank Brian enough for the help. We sat down for a few minutes, taking a pause for the cause and then got on the SAT phone to get some help. Both Frank and Dave were more than willing to help out and a couple hours later they met us at the kill site. It was one of those four mile pack-outs that didn’t hurt as much as usual. This hunt and the friends I shared it with will never leave my memory!
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