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Hard-core bowhunting: an all-out approach to bowhunting yields game in the bag -- and much more.

MY EYES WEREN'T FOCUSING anymore. My knees and elbows were raw, and my neck felt as if it were made of stone. I hadn't stood up for more than 3 hours. I was tired, thirsty, hungry, and beginning to understand why my wife so often questions my sanity.

She just might be on to something.

Snow geese seemed to mock me as they flew within a half-dozen arrow lengths, nearly landing on my motionless, camouflaged body lying face down among the multicolored lichens and moss-covered boulders.

An Arctic fox, dressed in brilliant white, skittered along the edge of the lake, conducting his own hunt. And just over 50 yards away lay two gorgeous, white-maned caribou bulls, eyes half-closed, groggy heads bobbing under the weight of sweeping velvet antlers 4 feet tall. Bright Arctic sunlight illuminated the scene, burning it into my permanent memory.

Finally, the bulls stood. They stretched awkwardly, shook lazily, and then sauntered over to the edge of the small lake. Both drank, then walked another 100 yards down the shore and bedded again, facing downwind.

That was my opening to crawl to the water and take my own drink. The water was extremely cold, gin clear, and soothing, as I splashed it quietly on my face. When the ripples faded, I was left staring at my own reflection.

"Why don't you just play golf?" I whispered to myself.

I'd stayed with the bulls for all of 6 hours, most of the time on my belly. My eyes were so tired from looking through my eyebrows, I had to lay my head down and look sideways just to get the focus back. Had my wool pants not been equipped with padded knees I surely wouldn't have lasted that long on the rocks.

As the sun neared the horizon, the bulls became restless. They rose and made their way with purpose toward a large rock formation on the second ridge over. I stood up, got my legs, then took off running for a gap in the rocks. I was 10 seconds late. Both bulls walked through the opening, a 30-yard shot from cover, and were gone forever.

I didn't kill one of those bulls, but that was one of the most fun days I've ever had bowhunting (oops, there's that insanity thing again). I gave it everything I had, lying in ambush, waiting for those caribou to make the mistake they never made. I felt the same gratification I would have, had I killed one of those bulls. Well...almost.

As I hiked back to the boat, beached on the northwest shore of Repulse Bay, Nunavut, I thought to myself, Whew, that was hard-core! And it was. Not wild and crazy, reckless or careless, but truly hardcore bowhunting.

Definition and Purpose

To me, hard-core bowhunting is an intense, take-no-prisoners, maximum effort approach to bowhunting. It means getting up earlier, working harder, hiking farther, and staying longer. It means never giving up and always staying positive, no matter how tough the situation. And it means wringing the most excitement and exhilaration from every bowhunting experience.

Now that we've defined hard-core bowhunting, what's the purpose? Why go to extremes? Because it will elevate your hunting. You will plan and prepare for hunts more thoroughly, practice better and more often, hunt harder and longer, separate yourself from the hunting masses, create more opportunities, recover more game, and, equally important, you'll have more fun.

One of my favorite deer hunting spots is on the far side of a 4-foot-deep river that often runs strong and fast enough to prevent wading. Crossing the river is the only way to access my hunting ground without trespassing.

This was a problem looking for a solution. So, I bought 175 feet of 1/4-inch steel cable and strung it between two strong trees on each side of the river, tightening it with a coffin hoist. Then I rigged up a rope and pulley system, built a makeshift carton pulleys, and installed a safety belt. By now you're getting the idea. I climb on my cart in the morning darkness, strap myself in, and zip across the river. The cable approach is quieter than wading the current, and I can transport my deer across the river the same way.

I'm careful whom I explain this technique to because the average person would consider me some kind of a nut. But you people are all bowhunters and you understand me completely. Scary isn't it?

Speaking of scary, here's another one. A few years back, an old farmer froze to death in a blizzard. He died 20 feet from his house. A hunting buddy purchased the farmstead, which is inhabited by migrant workers during the summer. Those farm workers have speculated that the house is haunted, knowing the previous owner's tragic end and citing some strange sights and sounds.

Whitetails live in and around the abandoned farmstead year-round, and a decent buck was using the nearby food plot last fall. I decided to sneak into the rundown house, slip upstairs, and open a second story window. Sitting in a chair, with my bow lying on the bed, I watched numerous does, fawns, and smaller bucks pass by the window. Unfortunately, the buck I was after never showed.

The excitement began when the sun went down and I found myself sitting in a dark bedroom, by myself, in a "haunted house." I heard every noise and creak, and when I had to walk down the pitch-black staircase, with only my flashlight, all I could think of was the movie, The Blair Witch Project. Twice I hunted there in the morning, which required that I walk into the possessed house in the morning darkness and feel my way upstairs without using a flashlight. Anything for a deer, right?

Hard-Core Attitude Equals Opportunity

Let's examine some of the tangible benefits of hard-core bowhunting. On occasion, carrying a hard-core attitude in your mental backpack can present opportunities a conservative approach might not.

For example, one November I found myself watching a one-antlered buck bed down in some snow-filled prairie grass. When I could still see the buck's antlers protruding from the grass and realized the wind was right, I went into my hardcore mode. It took me 2 hours of crawling on my hands and knees through the snow to get within what I thought was 25 yards from the buck. I had to throw a tree step over his head to get him up. Unfortunately, he stood and looked my way as I settled my 20-yard pin high in his vitals. My broadhead trimmed hair from his brisket, just behind the front leg. I stepped it off at 33 yards.

My hard-core attitude prompted me to abandon my original plan to climb into a treestand and forced me to wonder if I could get the shot at that buck. It didn't matter that he had only one antler, or that the odds of getting the shot were slim. I had to know if I could do it. Yes, I missed, but I got the shot. That challenge was answered.

Hard-core bowhunting is about creating opportunity.

More Examples

While mule deer hunting in the badlands of North Dakota, I've spent hours slinking around on my hands and knees, unsuccessfully dodging cactus plants. At day's end, it's time to get out the tweezers and do extractions. It's difficult, sometimes painful bowhunting, with a slim chance for success, but it's worth it to the hard-core bowhunter.

Sometimes going to the extreme is the only way to have any chance at all. How many bowhunters will strap on their daypack, carry a bow, a ground blind and two full-bodied decoys a half mile through prairie grass to hunt a hay meadow? I've done that and failed to see even a single deer some evenings. Some might call it stupid, but I see it as hard-core.

Climbing into a treestand at 5:30 a.m. and not getting down for the next 12 or 13 hours may sound insane to the average bowhunter, but it's standard operating procedure for the hard-core bowhunter.

Hiking a seemingly endless ascending ridge just to listen for bugling elk in the pre-dawn darkness, then staying there until the sun dies and walking back in the night, in bear and lion country, would not be in the game plan of many bowhunters. But for the hard-core members of our clan, there's no hesitation.

Hard-Core Equipment

A hard-core philosophy will infect more than your attitude. It will change the equipment you use. Put simply, it doesn't pay to go all out in your hunting, while depending on inferior equipment that cannot withstand the rigors. One note: hard-core bowhunting equipment doesn't always mean the most expensive. It just means reliable.

It does mean a bow that's tuned to perfection; ultra-sharp, dependable broadheads; tough, quiet clothing; and high-quality gear that not only will hold up but will actually facilitate a hard-core attitude because you know you can create the opportunity and then pull it off.

Hard-Core Game Recovery

Another facet of hard-core bowhunting, one that demands extremism, is game recovery. No effort should be left undone when presented with the task of game recovery.

I am a fanatic in this regard, and so are my hunting partners -- or they hunt with someone else. Sure, there are times when it's hopeless, but we all avoid being the one to admit it, no matter whose animal it is. We've tracked deer and elk until nearly dawn, and we once blood-trailed a cow elk for 7 hours over 5 miles before we claimed our prize.

A hunting buddy once made a poor hit on a whitetail buck that required a next-day tracking job. He rousted the buck from a willow clump, and it ran toward a river and jumped down the bank. When he got there, the buck was nowhere to be seen. He finally spotted a patch of fur and an antler tip floating down the river, amongst ice chunks formed in the late November cold. My friend immediately dropped his bow and jumped into the chest-deep river, grabbed the antler and pulled the buck's head above water. The deer was still alive, so my buddy had to hold its head under a bit longer. Fortunately, he had help climbing the frozen bank and pulling in his trophy, but he refused to lose his buck.

Hard-core? Of course. As it should be.

It's often necessary to go to the extreme once an animal is recovered. Another hunting buddy and I found ourselves with a freshly killed bull elk late one warm Montana evening. We dressed and skinned the bull and returned the next morning, leaving camp at 5 a.m. with pack frames and strong legs. We ended the day at 9:30 p.m., after two trips over a total of 13 miles, with rubbery legs and backs, but a supply of fresh elk steaks. That day was the most work I ever put into my hunting, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. My hunting partner worked just as hard, even though it wasn't his elk. Hard-core hunting buddies are like that. Treasure them.

Hard-Core Satisfaction

Another benefit for me is the feeling of gratification, almost serenity, I experience every time I go to the extreme, success or not. It's knowing I've done all I could, even if the animal won.

But sometimes they don't win, which takes that feeling of satisfaction to the highest level. I felt that "glow" after slipping in behind a herd of elk in Montana and shadowing them for hours until I was able to kill the call-shy 6x6 herd bull with a 30-yard shot. And the time I passed up nearly two dozen smaller bucks until I got a shot at the singular whitetail I had been hunting all season. There was great contentment in knowing I'd gone hard-core, hunting every possible moment, being selective, and making a lethal shot when the opportunity finally presented itself. That special feeling of satisfaction is unique to hard-core bowhunting, and it's what stokes the fire that burns in this bowhunter.

Hard-Core But Safe

I mention safety last, but it should always come first. Nobody should take risks for the sake of risk. We're not daredevils. We're hunters.

Sometimes the line separating hardcore hunting and unnecessary risk can be jagged. Imagine arrowing a Dall ram that collapses on slippery shale near the edge of a 1,000-foot cliff. Or, simply sitting in your treestand without a safety harness. In either case, a poor decision can have disastrous consequences.

When I got the brainstorm (some may call it a brain cramp) of stringing my river cable, the first thing I thought of was safety -- for myself and for others. High banks ensure the cable is far above what little boat traffic there is on the river. My cart was designed with fail-safe measures in the pulley system, the cable is 8,000-pound test, and I always wear a safety belt.

Whenever I slip into the hard-core mode, I immediately ask questions like: What are the risks? What could possibly go wrong? Is there a purpose? Is there a safer way?

Weather extremes can be the proverbial double-edged sword. Bad weather, or the threat of it, can make game active and shield you from their superior senses. But hunting during severe weather, which is a form of hard-core bowhunting, can also take your life. I've hunted in weather so cold my eyelashes froze to my binocular lenses. Snowstorms offer some of the best whitetail hunting, as long as you're deep in the woods. Trouble is, you have to consider how you're going to get to and from your hunting ground when roads may be impassable. Conversely, spend an entire day in an antelope blind on a hot August day and you'll also know the meaning of hard-core bowhunting.

It should go without saying that no one should ever cross the boundaries of law and ethics in our pursuit of hard-core bowhunting. Such behavior only makes one a poacher.

Summary

Some say that archery is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. I believe hard-core bowhunting approaches that ratio. It's an attitude, a philosophy that can apply to any bowhunt, from the urban whitetail excursion to the Arctic polar bear hunt on dogsled. A hard-core bowhunter is one who is willing to put everything on the line and hunt as if there is no tomorrow.

How can you tell if you're becoming a hard-core bowhunter? Well, you begin to believe those people who think your mental quiver isn't quite full. You talk to your own reflection. And, you start using four-letter words like...golf.
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Author:Wells, Curt
Publication:Bowhunter
Date:Aug 15, 2002
Words:2457
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