I have been on plenty of physically hard hunts. More than my share it seems sometimes. Fun hunts? Not so much. This year in Wyoming I guess I am making up for lost time. Both my antelope hunt and more recently my whitetail hunt were without a doubt, fun. The camaraderie of antelope camp with Guy Eastman, Nate Simmons and Uncle Pear was special. In whitetail camp while I went in not knowing anyone, other than ace cameraman, Bill Owens, from Barrett Productions which puts together the RMEF TV show I host on Outdoor Channel, I left with a great buck, sweet tasting meat and a handful of new friends.
I hunted with Mike Watkins who runs a great outfit and I will tell you, the area he hunts is loaded with tons of good whitetail not to mention the occasional mule deer. The best part, tags are very easy to come by. In fact, there are still tags available for this part of Wyoming right now. I don’t think they will even sell them all this year. The reason? Lots of private ground, which of course Mike has access to.
In regard to logistics, I flew in to Rapid City, South Dakota, rented a car and drove a couple hours to whitetail camp there in the very northeast corner of Wyoming. After meeting the guys, including TV hunting personality Stan Potts (he arrowed a big 8-point just the day prior on film) and putting my gear together, I turned in excited to get in the field the next day.
The morning was spent shooting a few dozen arrows and hanging stands on the edge of an alfalfa field. That afternoon Bill and I snuck ever so carefully into our tree stands at about 2:30 p.m. I figured we would get in a good 6-hour sit as it was getting dark around 8:30 p.m. A few hours into the sit, I glassed a big, wide 8-point coming down a trail that dropped of a sharp ridge into the field. He was a definite Pope & Young buck. He hit the edge of the field and started feeding, still 200 yards away. The field was huge, probably 700 yards long by 200 yards wide. What would be the chances that ol’ boy would feed by my stand?
Well, I look at everything like a math equation… Probability and Statistics if I remember right from school. Granted, the odds, all things being equal, of that buck coming within bow range weren’t that great. But, factor in the fact that I had a cattle fence running perpendicular to my stand, right to the trail the buck accessed the field and while those deer can easily jump the 3’ foot fence with barely any effort, most often it appeared from the tracks, they are content just feeding alongside it. I reasoned this swung the odds in my favor ever so slightly. Also, my stand was on the corner of a stand of trees that jutted into the field. Again, this bumped my chances up again. Also, I had a slight depression in the field directly in front of my stand. This seemed to have caused the water to pool when there was rain, which in turn really greened up the alfalfa there. With bucks so focused this time of the year on bulking up for the rut, I couldn’t help but think this patch of prime feed again, helped my number crunching. So, when that buck hit the field, I was hopeful he would feed within bow range of my stand. Could be long bow range as I could see about 500 yards in front of me, but I was hopeful. All I wanted was a chance.
It took him what seemed like forever but in about an hour’s time, he was finally 40 yards from my tree. I had a shot, but Bill couldn’t get a good bead on him with the camera. I had to wait, which killed me. Dang TV shows. The buck was doing just what I needed him to do, but I was afraid it was all going to blow up. Then my worst nightmare, with the wind quartering from left to right, while the big buck straight out in front of us was good, another deer worked in underneath us and slight to our right. The little buck got a big ol’ nose full of human scent and went ballistic blowing and stomping. Not a good combination on a quiet Wyoming evening. My buck, which was seconds from feeding by at 30 yards in full view of me and more importantly Bill’s high definition camera, spooked. He didn’t turn inside out, but he started moving off steadily. I was so frustrated. So close, yet so far away. I couldn’t believe something that was going so perfect could get so screwed up.
The wide 8 jumped the barbwire fence to my right. And, with the way the tree was growing and because of my tree stand placement, I couldn’t stand and shoot to my right. In order to shoot, I had to get on my knees on the tree stand platform. The buck stopped and stared intently back towards where the little buck that smelled us spooked from. I ranged the big dude at 60 on the button. I anchored in, leveled up and had no doubt I was going to pinwheel him. I practice all year, agonize over equipment and visual shooting perfection every single day to make shots like this. To me, a 25-yard chip shot is a formality. There is no excuse for not making a shot like that, even with a much less obsessive shooting regiment than I put myself through. But this shot, on my knees, in the tree on a buck that was getting further away with every step, camera rolling, is the exact situation that drives me. I expect to make this shot and I did. Absolutely hammered him through the shoulder. He boiled off and piled up on film after a quick 100-yard burst. Man, that is an awesome feeling. Bill and I were pumped. Watch for this footage on an upcoming episode of Elk Chronicles on Outdoor Channel.
You know, I didn’t grow up hunting whitetail and to tell you the truth as a western bowhunter, I kind of resented the species because I felt like it was shoved down my throat in every hunting magazine. As a young bowhunter, I longed for a blacktail article and instead was overrun with articles on licking branches, scrap lines and big 12 pointers. But you know, through the years and after a number of memorable hunts for trophy whitetail in all corners of the country, I am developing a little bit of a soft spot for trophy western whitetail bucks. I can admit, they are an awesome bowhunting challenge and challenge is what drives me.
Wanna hunt Wyoming whitetail? I can’t say enough good about Mike Watkins and his crew at Trophies Plus Outfitters – phone 406-828-4512 or 1-800-2 HUNT WY (248-6899). These guys know western whitetail!!!