Western bowhunting presents unique challenges, with steep terrain and elusive animals making every hunt a true adventure. Zach Davis, 17, knows those challenges all too well. In fact, when he took up bowhunting at age 14, he spent two years chasing mule deer in Utah’s mountains with only close calls and memories to show for it.
By his third season, Zach’s bowhunting enthusiasm was stronger than ever and he did everything necessary to achieve success. (More on that later.)
Zach’s bowhunting journey began at the local bow shop. “Hanging around the archery shop is what really got me into bowhunting,” he said. “I gained a lot of knowledge by going in there and talking to the guys. Some of the best bowhunters I know work in that bow shop, and they’re in there every day.”
Those bowhunters became Zach’s role models. Hearing their hunting stories inspired him to get serious about bowhunting. Zach started with an adjustable beginner’s bow. Adjustable bows are great for youths because they “grow” with young archers. That bow allowed Zach to try archery, learn proper form, and build up his draw weight.
Zach’s bowhunting bug that first year led him to 3-D tournaments and his first bowhunting trips, which helped persuade his parents to buy him a new bow for Christmas. The new bow further improved Zach’s accuracy and performance.
Setting up equipment
All bows require accessories, and Zach modeled his setup after what he saw top 3-D archers using. Zach chose a target-style sight that easily adjusts to a target’s exact distance. This style of sight is becoming popular, especially for Western hunting. He also chose small-diameter arrows with low-profile fletching, a combination that improves long-range performance by reducing wind drift.
Zach shot religiously at the shop’s outdoor range, which has targets over 100 yards away. Zach said he practiced 100-yard shots every day because long-range practice makes closer shots easier. He also kept competing in 3-D tournaments to hone his skills and deal with pressure.
Physically Fit – Road to the Deer
Fitness also played a big role in Zach’s preseason preparations. He ran, hiked and lifted weights to prepare for hunting season’s grueling, high-elevation hikes. “It was a four-hour stalk up a mountain peak, so if I wasn’t in my top physical condition I wouldn’t have been able to get to my buck,” he said.
In most Western states, hunters can’t simply buy a mule deer tag. Hunters apply for tags in spring and hope their names get drawn in lotteries. Typically, the number of applicants exceeds the number of tags, so some hunters don’t receive a mule deer tag. Drawings can be difficult systems to navigate, so Zach read and memorized Utah’s hunting regulations.
That knowledge proved useful when he didn’t draw a tag in the lottery. He had read that youth hunters could buy unclaimed leftover tags on a first-come, first-serve basis. Zach and his twin brother, Nick, were first in line at 5 a.m. to buy a mule deer tag, which allowed them to hunt in Utah’s mountains.
Preparation and Determination
But getting fit, practicing and buying a tag are only part of the journey to filling a freezer with venison. Getting within bow range of elusive mule deer bucks is one of North America’s biggest hunting challenges. Muleys are elusive, and their home terrain is unforgiving for inexperienced hunters. To succeed in the rugged Wasatch Front, Zach had to face many obstacles.
Which obstacles tested Zach’s endurance and determination? Did his preparation pay off, or did the mountains defeat him? Did he ever come face-to-face with the elusive muley? That’s another story for another day.
Check back in on Bowhunting 360 on Feb. 23 for Part 2 of Zach’s epic first-deer story.