By Dave Lee – Bass Pro Hunting Staff
I would have never thought that on December 26th, of all days, I would come face to face with my nemesis. The buck I’d been hunting for the last 80 days shows up at 1:00 in the afternoon, broadside, without a care in the world. Only one problem…he had broken off a portion of the left side of his head gear!
The pain really began to set in when I reflected on the Cuddeback pictures from the week prior at 12:42 in broad daylight. His entire 160-inch frame was still intact. I was in awe as I watched the largest whitetail of my 2011 season browsing eyes deep in the snow at 15 yards and I knew I couldn’t take the shot.
For a half-hour, the four-year old lumbered under my stand searching for acorns, carefree. I’ll never forget the calming effect that overcame me. I lost a whole year’s anticipation and nerves in less time than it took to hang my bow.
That night, I was able to reflect on my fondest memories of my youth when my family and I hunted a Wexford County Swamp. At that time, we weren’t looking for world-class animals, but instead shared unforgettable life experiences.
Many of us were fortunate to have mentors who made sure we were exposed to what the outdoors had to offer. For me, hunting revolved around family bonding and values.
These few years in a child’s life are critical. They need to see beyond video games and find a path to their primal instincts that, in turn, will make them better equipped for life.
In my mid-teens, I was on a mission to figure out the ways of the quarry I pursued. My friends and I focused on waterfowl for more than a decade, sharpening our skills on small flying targets. We spent a quarter of the year in their habitat, which without doubt, honed our overall predator and marksmanship skills.
My twenties led me to some of Michigan’s finest whitetail habitats as well as journeys throughout the Cascade and Rocky Mountain ranges, all the while soaking up information that heightened my skills even more. During that time, I realized that our planet’s amazing ecosystems had more to offer than could be found in one lifetime.
Throughout the years, my friends and I began a friendly competition on who would harvest the largest buck of the year. All of us had harvested countless animals and took on the challenge with a vengeance. During this period, the Quality Deer Management movement was introduced. Television began broadcasting this newly researched phenomenon. In my opinion, this was the tool to use in order to produce what every hunter dreams.
We learned that by taking subordinate animals, we would end all opportunity for mature bucks with filled tags. This lesson took us to the next level. Looking back, I can’t even imagine how many mature bucks my friends and I simply did not know existed.
Twenty plus years into it, I finally figured it out. I’ve covered thousands of miles of ground, learned as much as I could about the game I’ve hunted, and the number one thing I learned was . . . location . . . location . . . location!
Time spent researching where to be in order to intercept a trophy animal means the difference between harvesting the intended trophy or another fruitless season. I’ve found that going in to it blind is worse than not hunting at all.
If I had a dollar for every time I was asked how I find the properties I hunt, I’d be hunting heavy horned sheep in Kazakhstan. The simple answer is networking. There is not a day that goes by that I do not throw hints to newly met people, almost subconsciously, picking their brain for any information leading to my next trophy. Hunters as a whole are very friendly group. Sharing experiences with new people can create lifelong relationships and that can lead to endless opportunities.
Every hunter has a wealth of information at their fingertips. A serious hunter can research the best areas to find any species of game on the planet. A simple browsing of the web can produce statistics, trophy areas, planning, and all the information needed to get the hunt started.
One of the most recent additions to the hunter’s arsenal are cell phone apps, such as Google Earth which gives you a birds-eye view of any spot on the planet. The GPS has evolved into a hunter’s guide to his own destiny. While hunting with my grandfather, he trusted his compass to negotiate his stomping grounds. We can now pinpoint our exact location via satellite photos and see what’s over the next ridge without even climbing it.
Trail cameras have replaced the need to spend countless hours in the field scouting. This innovation is the mainstay of the trophy hunter. At any one time throughout the year, I have a half dozen or more cameras working for me, documenting every animal which crosses their path. I’ve been able to track antler development, travel corridors, pinch points, bedding and feeding areas, and ultimately find the largest bucks with little disturbance to my hunting properties.
One has to choose their path and realize what they can do economically and research the opportunities within their grasp. No matter where you live there are mature animals to be hunted. Time may not be on your side, but technology can maximize your time and fulfill your dreams. Hunting smart will line your walls faster than just depending on dumb luck.
As I try to portray my experiences in this article, I’m reflecting on my own life and trying to decode my own efforts to share. During a recent seminar, I was asked if I believe I’m a better hunter than others. My answer was no. I’ve just spent the time and energy in the wild environment to realize that nature has a plan for everything. We make our own destiny. After all, we are the ultimate predator.
I’ve seen what our Nations Mountains, hard woods, river bottoms, thickets, and farmlands have to offer. Years of trial and error have molded me into what I am. I’ve done my share of missing, wounding, and killing. Because of that, I know that, when presented with an opportunity, I will follow through and harvest the animal. But, I would let a trophy animal pass if he presents no shot rather than wounding him.
Today, we have generations of people who have not been exposed to what we as hunters take for granted. It’s up to us to take the time to involve as many kids as possible. Realizing this, I’ve made it an annual mission to donate a youth hunt and take a new hunter out to harvest their first animal in order to help save our heritage. It’s a rewarding and humbling experience.
The buck I mentioned at the beginning of the article was no ordinary animal for the State of Michigan. It was a world-class animal that I followed with my trail cameras for the last three years. I knew he would become an animal of epic proportions and elected to let him pass last season . . . not an easy task.
Twenty years ago, I would have never seen a buck of that stature. I would have been tagged out and happy. Who would have figured that decades later, I would spend hundreds of hours hanging in a tree waiting for a certain buck to cross my path and ultimately let him go?
On October 23 of the 2012 season, I harvested that very same buck with my PSE X-Force. If I had taken him in the past December, he would not have evolved in to this 180-plus inch giant. I love when a plan comes together!
By Jared Bloomgren
As backcountry hunters we are always looking for the best way to remove our animals from the terrain in which we take them out of. We look for improved gear and anything that will make the pack out more comfortable. A pack is very important and I am going to talk about an external frame pack that I have been using for the last 7 years with great success. But it is nearing that time when this pack needs to be replaced as it has seen plenty of wear and tear while packing out thousands of pounds of venison over the years. About the only type of company that I do not have a sponsorship from is that from a pack company. I am a free agent so to speak!
The pack I speak of is the Cabelas Alaskan Guide external frame pack. Granted it is not a Kifaru or any other kind of sought after pack. But it is a pack that is worthy of notable and proven features that have proven themselves to me time and time again. As described, the pack is made of 420-denier Oxford nylon rip-stop material and 5,000-cu.-in. capacity. Five exterior storage pockets, including a 22″L x 7″W padded spotting scope pocket. Easy-access steel rod loading system; unlike traditional frames that use noisy, hard-to-adjust pin-and-ring attachment systems, the Guide Model’s lightweight yet tough aluminum frames have quiet, simple-to-adjust webbing attachment points to guarantee not only complete in-the-field silence, but ultra-quick adjustments as well. The holster-compatible hip belt and shoulder straps are heavily padded for comfortable carrying. And the belt is Nylex-lined to prevent perspiration buildup in warmer conditions. A built in rain fly will keep your contents dry during those downpours and snow bouts. Removing the pack from the frame leaves you the option of using just the frame to carry your meat out of the backcountry. The adjustable meat shelf allows you to distribute the weight in the correct spot and keeps your load from shifting.
I have never had trouble with not having enough space for even hunts as long as 17 days with this pack. The variety of pockets and a zippered internal shelf allows me to get at my sleeping back from an external pocket down below. Various locations of straps allow you to attach more gear to the outside if you so wish. Compression straps also help to keep things from shifting and moving. If you remove the pack from the frame, the pack still has built in shoulder and waist straps. This means you can still use the pack detached from the aluminum frame. Another great feature!
Although I am hoping to replace this pack soon as it is getting worn I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this pack to someone who is trying to find a pack that can really pack a heavy load and a lot of supplies or meat. The price is right too for those hunting for an external frame pack on a budget.
Jared “J-Rod” Bloomgren is a hardcore Do-It-Yourself bowhunter who strives to better himself each year in the outdoor community. As a professional hunter, freelance writer and photographer, he likes to relive his outdoor adventures through written expression and photography making the reader feel as if they were along on the hunt. He attributes much of his success to the vital education he has learned from the various big game animals that he hunts. He is quoted as saying, “In each and every hunt, success or defeat, I learn something from every outing and that I can put in my arsenal of knowledge to use at a later date, a later date that will again put my wits against that of my prey.”