The Strugglestick Addiction: Part III
By Aron Snyder, Host of Kifaru Cast
After the last day success in Colorado, Brian Call and I were headed North to Idaho for another elk hunt. I’d hunted Idaho before but not for elk. My hopes were high that I would get another chance for a second elk of the season.
With Brian calling for me in Colorado, he would be getting first swing in Idaho and I would be on calling detail. That didn’t mean I would be leaving my bow behind as there’s always a good chance a rag horn or cow could swing in, but our focus would first be on Brian.
It didn’t take long for the two of us to get into action, but it wasn’t the action we had planned on! On day three, I had a good bull coming to Brian, but somewhere in the middle of the calling sequence, the bull blew out for no apparent reason. I didn’t know at the time what was going on but shortly after the bull took off I could hear movement all around us. At first, I thought it was a lost cow or calf, but when Brian’s bow went off I knew something was up. I didn’t want to screw anything up for Brian, so I hung back for a few minutes and waited to hear or see him move. It didn’t take long before Brian was heading back my way.
“You called in a pack of wolves! he said quickly, “and I shot one!”
“What, are you kidding?
“No I’m not kidding, but I’m not sure of the hit!”
We talked for a few minutes and decided to hang tight for a bit before taking off on the tracking job. As it turns out the wolf did not travel far after the shot and Brian made a great shot in less than perfect conditions. I couldn’t believe this actually happened and was just admiring the fact he killed a wolf with a bow! It was a cool moment in the hunt as well as the season, but we both still had elk tags to fill and so we got the wolf loaded up in the backpacks and headed down the mountain towards base camp.
After the wolf incident, Brian and I decided to split up as calling in the area was attracting as many wolves as elk, so we got a game plan together, loaded up for a two-night bivy trip and headed up the mountain. After we’d hiked in a couple miles, we set up a base camp and went in different directions. The idea behind this was simple: if one of us pushed the elk out of that area, they would be heading towards one or the other of us by default. Sounded simple enough and we headed out early the next morning.
The next morning I found myself, after a grueling climb, looking at a large heard of elk across a canyon. The bulls were screaming their heads off and a couple of the larger bulls were sparring. I was pretty much at my last large patch of trees at this time before I would be totally exposed for a few hundred yards, so I was nervous to try and approach anything as they would probably spot me. I also wasn’t sure if I had any elk around me either. I decided to let out a few cow calls just to test the mood. To my surprise, the bulls across the canyon went crazy from this and the largest one started licking his lips and looking right in my direction.
I had a Heads Up Decoy in my pack, so I pulled it out, stuck it on a dead branch and called again. WOW, the bull started moving in my direction! I couldn’t believe my eyes! This bull was a giant and I definitely had his attention. I slowly worked my way into some estrus calls and sure enough, the bull dropped into the canyon below me and looked to be coming to my calls.
After I lost sight of the bull I moved to the front of the patch of trees I was in to prepare for a shot. I didn’t have full confidence I was going to call this bull in from 600-800 yards away, but it sure seemed like that was what was happening. It was pretty much a perfect spot for a shot and I figured I’d give it 30-40 minutes before moving down towards him. Fast forward 40 minutes of me waiting for the bull and I found myself doubting he was actually coming to me and I decided, like a dummy, to sit on my butt and grab a drink of water and a snack. My trusty strugglestick lay across my legs and just after putting my water bottle down the bull appeared right in front of me and let out a bugle that scared the crap out of me. I couldn’t get to my knees as he was only 12-15 yards away and just when I was ready to try and do something (not sure what that was) the bull he was fighting with across the canyon bugled behind me. The thought raced through my head,
Good Lord Snyder, you couldn’t have given it another five minutes to feed your face!?!?
This bull was a true Idaho giant, narrow frame, but crazy mass and long tines. He was licking his lips and breathing heavy when the bull behind me screamed again. This caught the bull’s attention and at that point I did my best traditional archery gangster style shot (my bow was parallel to the ground). At this time, it seemed like a bright idea, but after further testing after the shot, I was probably getting to 3/4 draw at best when the arrow released. The shot went high and the bull turned inside out, heading back into the canyon below. The bull behind me was still trying to figure out what was going on, so I loaded another arrow for him and pivoted 180 degrees and went to full draw. This wasn’t the smartest move either as that bull’s attention was already in my direction and he blew out just as fast as the other.
I was cussing at myself for the mistakes I’d made and started to assess what the hell I should have done differently. The answer—like most answers are—was simple! I needed to set up like a hunter that can only shoot 30 yards and stay focused at all time. I was still used to the compound, and with the wheel bow I could have drawn easily from a sitting position and made the shot. I also needed to use my brain more when it came to sudden movements at close range as I wouldn’t be able to get a quick shot off as distances of 40 yards (the distance the bull behind me was standing). Looking back at this, I’m sure that the bull behind me would have hung out for a bit longer, looking for the cow they’d both come for. If I wasn’t such a dummy, I could have pivoted slowly after the bull started moving away and brought him back in with a soft cow call. As far as the bull I’d missed, well, he should have been dead as fried chicken, but I got lazy. A little more patience would have done wonders for me on that one and from here on out, I knew I’d need to be a lot better at all of this with the recurve in my hand!
A couple weeks after the Idaho hunt, we were heading to Alberta with Jeff Lander, owner of Primitive Outfitting. Jeff, as I’ve mentioned before, is a long time traditional archer, a great friend and someone I look to often for advice. He also happens to have tags for some giant deer in Alberta and I was pumped to get up there and see what all the talk was about with the mule deer.
The first day out didn’t offer any stalks and the weather was pretty crappy, but you could see how this place could hold giant deer! We were pretty much fogged in until noon and by that time the deer were bedded down already. On the evening of the first day we spotted several bucks, but nothing was in a location that allowed for a stalk.
Things were much different on the second morning and by 7:30 AM I had a very good buck spotted and watched him bed down in a very approachable position. He actually picked his resting place about 10 yards off of a cliff edge, just in front of a thick patch of willow bushes. This was perfect for me as I could get on the plateau above him, slip my boots off and get a few yards above him and hope he would eventually stand up and present a shot. Everything worked like I planned it and about two hours after I watched him bed, I was 12 yards behind and above him. The wind was starting to swirl a bit and my bootless feet were starting to go numb in the cold. I waited another 45 minutes and started to think that chucking a rock by him may make him stand. I couldn’t see but a few parts of him, mostly one to two-inch patches of hide, so shooting wasn’t an option. This buck was smart and put himself in a perfect spot and if I hadn’t seen him bed, I wouldn’t have ever spotted him.
Three hours had now passed and the wind was really starting to make me nervous and all at one time I felt a huge gush of air hit my neck. I went to full draw immediately and the buck stood out of his bed. He didn’t get a full whiff of my scent as it blew above him and not down to him, but he knew something was up. The spot he stood had a perfect 12” hole that exposed hit vitals.
It’s now or never
I tried to execute my shot like I’d done a thousand times before and the arrow broke free of my fingers. My first thought after seeing the arrow travel towards the small opening of willows was absolute joy…..right up until it skipped off the upper portion of the hole, shooting my arrow into the badlands of Alberta, not even remotely close to the buck. He blew out like a spider monkey on Mountain Dew, giving me the middle finger as he bounded away. I didn’t consider this as a defeat at all as I felt I had done everything right and the shot was a difficult one, but I’d executed it well and just hit a couple inches high.
Day three was epic, but I’ll need to skip ahead to the part where I was 55 yards from a 210+” buck for three hours. I didn’t take a lot of effort to get 55 yards from this giant, but that was as close as I was getting! The ground was terraced and the point I had made it to had a five-foot drop-off in front of it. The buck was bedded in a similar position with a Yucca plant behind him. I had a clear view of the top of his front shoulders, neck, head and GIANT rack, but 55 was too far for the stick. So there I lay for three hours, hoping the buck would eventually get up and use the trail to my right to work his way out of the canyon he was bedded in. It was actually a perfect spot for me and the trail was 28-30 yards from my current location. I just needed to be patient and not do anything stupid.
Mother nature has a funny sense of humor and after three hours and 15 minutes, she stuck it in and broke it off for me 🙂 The trail I’d been waiting for the buck to travel on was used by every animal around and sure enough, nine does started filtering down the trail towards me. This wouldn’t have been a big deal normally as I would have just stayed put until they passed by, but my wind was blowing up and right and the does eventually caught my wind, blew out like crack heads and the buck followed along with them. I watched that buck for three hours and when he took off out of his bed, he seemed to get even bigger. Either way this deer was a true giant and other than not killing him, everything worked out pretty well.
On the 4th morning Jeff, and I didn’t find anything that offered a stalk. Brian had tagged out the day before on a good buck and he was spotting for us in another location. When we met up with him for lunch, he told us he bedded down two great bucks across the canyon and they were very approachable!
Jeff, Brian and I all low crawled up to the edge to get a look at what we were dealing with and the bucks were still there, bedded about 800 yards away in a great location. After a few minutes of arguing if Brian flagging me in was worth the risk of blowing the deer out, Jeff and I headed to the other side. It took about an hour to get into position and I couldn’t see Brian with just my eyes. He did have a bright orange dry sack in his hands that he used to wave me in and that I could see without issue. When Brian finally gave me the pre-determined signal that I was above the buck, I dropped my boots and slowly moved forward. Jeff hung back and watched the whole thing unfold
I was about 100 yards from the cliff edge when I dropped down to my socks and I swear I stepped on every cactus around on the way to the drop off point. When I was close to the edge of the valley, I pulled out my binoculars, scanning for antler tips all over the terraced terrain. It didn’t take long before I spotted one of the bucks, but he was 56 yards away and I wasn’t in a position to get any closer. I decided to back out and move in from a different route. I still hadn’t spotted the other buck, but I had a good idea where he probably was bedded and kept an eye on a couple of Yucca plants just below me. My new route worked perfect and I was above the buck in a few short minutes. I scanned quickly, still concerned the other buck I had not seen yet would spot me during the middle of all of this. Nothing had blown out and I was almost within range of the buck I had first spotted.
My point on (when I’m at full draw and put my point on the animal) is 40 yards, so for me It’s basically like having a pin on the animal at 40. I had three more yards to go before I would even consider taking a shot and the Yucca bush I’d guessed the other buck to be at was now 18 yards away. So here I am, 40 yards on the dot from a 6-year-old 175+ buck and 15 yards from just as big of a buck that I had not actually seen yet (I thought anyway). My mind was racing through all if the potential outcomes, but the moment was actually in slow motion as the thoughts raced through my brain,
Do I stay totally exposed of the buck at 40 in hopes there was a buck at 15 and he would eventually present a shot?
Or should I try and slide in a few yards closer to the buck I was already within range of?
Sliding closer wasn’t an option, mostly due to the three-foot drop at my feet and the high probability of blowing out the other buck. Standing there, totally exposed wasn’t going to happen either, as these Alberta bucks don’t seem to waste time blowing out of their beds and I didn’t think the closer buck, if he was even there, would actually even give me a decent shot anyway. So I took a deep breath, ran my shot sequence through my mind and went to full draw…..BUT I SCREWED UP! Like the dumb ass I am, I never listened to Jeff and covered my extra fletchings and one of my feathers drug across my leg slightly. This normally wouldn’t matter at all, but you could hear a flea fart at the current time and there was ZERO wind. This literally took a split second in time, but in my mind I may as well if yelled at the deer! He flipped his ears up immediately and I was prepared for him to stand or blow out. I brought my bow up, but did not go to full draw. I didn’t want to hurry a shot at this distance and figured letting him calm back down was the smarter choice. It took 20-30 seconds, but his ears went back to rest and everything in the world was right again!
I made another quick glance to my left, double checking on the other buck and then went to full draw. Tom Clum Seniors voice was in my head like he was standing beside me
Pull through Aron, it’s no different than a compound, execute your shot and everything else will come together
….and I did just that! The bright yellow and orange fleeting launched through the air, traveling in slow motion towards this giant buck. My release hand went straight back and touched my shoulder just before the arrow went into the buck. It hit the buck about 6-8 inches back from where I’d aimed, but I had good penetration and made a great shot. The buck exploded out of his bed and went out of sight quickly. Sure enough, the other buck blew out as well, 15 yards from where I stood and stopped at 36 yards to look back. WOW, I thought, that buck is giant too, but it didn’t matter to me what buck was bigger and I looked back for Lander.
He was giving me a funny look with his hand held up at his sides and quickly turned his right hand into a thumbs up or down motion. I gave him a wobbly thumbs up and hurried back towards him. He started moving towards the ridge-line that was just a few yards from him to get eyes on the buck. When I got to him he said
“Good job man, that buck is dead!”
I told him I hit him too far back, but he said he was bleeding like crazy and not to worry.
This section of the article will be 6,000 words If I type everything in detail, so I’m going to skip ahead to the part where I met up with Brian who told me what it looked like from his perspective and that he couldn’t even see the buck I’d actually hit. All he could see was my arrow traveling over the top of a giant buck below me and he first thought I had just screwed the pooch. When the buck I’d hit came into sight is when he actually figured out what was going on. Jeff, Brian, Kenton from First Lite and myself all gathered up about the same time and decided where the buck went after the shot. Brian and I started the final tracking job and we split up to check the two most likely drainages he traveled down.
Not to get weird on anyone, but very few times in my life have I had a voice telling me what to do, but this is one of those times that a voice in my head was telling me where to go. I went ahead and followed the voice:) and sure enough, it lead me right to the buck. He was still alive, beaded and I had a good avenue of approach for another shot. I could see the buck’s tines through the grass as well as my fletching and kept an eye on both as I moved in. When I got to 40 yards the buck started to get up out of his bed with his chest exposed. With my point on being 40, I drew back and put another arrow dead in the middle of his chest and the buck fell in his final resting place. I stood there in amazement, not really believing what had just happened! It was another whirlwind of emotions and this feeling of taking an animal with the recurve was like nothing I’d felt with a compound bow.
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